Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Working Paper Series, Center for Fiscal Studies,
Uppsala University, Department of Economics

No 2009:13: The legacy of the Swedish gift and inheritance tax, 1884-2004

Henry Ohlsson ()
Additional contact information
Henry Ohlsson: Uppsala Center for Fiscal Studies, Postal: Department of Economics, Uppsala University, P.O. Box 513, SE-751 20 Uppsala, Sweden

Abstract: This paper has two objectives. The first is to study the revenue from the gift, inheritance, and estate taxes in Sweden during more than a century. The second is to focus on a unique episode during the second half of the 1940s when gifts and gift tax revenue exploded. This episode has never before been discussed in the research literature. It gives an extremely clear illustration of behavioural response to taxes in general, and the impact of expectations of future tax increases in particular. It is also a very interesting episode in the economic history of Sweden. I have access to aggregate tax revenue data since 1884. Moreover, I have constructed a rich micro data set of all gifts reported during the period 1942-1949 in one county. A first main result is that gift tax revenue during the 1940s started to increase long before a new estate tax and increased wealth taxation were decided an implemented. The increase even began before the legislative process started. Second, both the number and the average values of gifts increased. Promissory notes were, in value, the most common way to give. Finally, gifts, inheritances, and estates were never important sources of tax revenue. Revenue as a share of GDP reached a peak already in the 1930s. The role of these taxes has instead primarily been equity and to provide integrity for other tax bases.

Keywords: gift tax; inheritance tax; estate tax; tax avoidance; expectations

JEL-codes: D10; D31; H24; N33; N34

26 pages, September 22, 2009

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