Excess burden is used widely throughout public finance for both normative and positive analyses. Although it is generally treated as a universal quality of all but lump-sum taxation, the author argues to the contrary that it is not a universal quality of taxation but is at most a contingent feature of a subset of the possible institutional frameworks within which fiscal outcomes emerge. The conventional excess burden analytics transpose results from individual experiments where they do apply onto market experiments where they do not apply. In many respects, excess burden is like a grin without a cat, to borrow from Dennis Robertson’s assessment of Keynes’s liquidity preference theory of interest.
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