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Do Misperceptions Guide the Tax Policy Debate?

American households consistently say that increased economic inequality is a bad idea. Yet the same polls often show that Americans support tax cuts that are regressive—that is, cuts that give bigger gains to higher-income households and make the distribution of after-tax income even less equal than before. Can these seemingly contradictory findings be reconciled?

The Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, will convene a briefing with two experts—University of Michigan economist Joel Slemrod and Princeton University political scientist Larry Bartels—who will present their recent findings on the issues. Slemrod presents evidence that much of the support for regressive tax alternatives, like the flat tax, exists because people believe a flat tax would be more progressive than the current system, despite the fact that almost every study on the issue finds that the opposite is true. Bartels concludes that Americans simply do not understand the links between public policy choices and economic inequality.

Slemrod’s and Bartels’s findings could have widespread implications for the conduct of tax policy, the role of grassroots education in influencing political debates, and many other issues. Experts from Brookings and the Urban Institute will weigh in on the results of the studies, and the panel will take questions from the audience.




Rudolph G. Penner

Senior Fellow and the Arjay and Frances Miller Chair in Public Policy, The Urban Institute

Presentation of Findings


Larry Bartels

Director, Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, Donald E. Stokes Professor of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

More Information


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