Are VAT reforms an effective tool for promoting culture? A quasi-experiment in Spain

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Sponsoring culture is a long-term profit-generating investment that public policy makers can achieve by means of Pigouvian subsidy or tax schemes. This paper evaluates the effectiveness of the three VAT reforms implemented between 2012 and 2018 (one tax raise reform and two tax cut reforms) in the cultural sector in Spain. We first provide visual evidence and empirical estimates of the tax shifting and the distribution of the VAT burden between consumers and producers. We then use a regression discontinuity design to assess the causal effects of these VAT reforms on performing acts and cinema consumption (both in the extensive and the intensive margin). Several interesting findings arise from our results. First, we find that producers only passed through 45% of the VAT cut to consumer prices. Second, the effect of the 2017 VAT reduction on performing arts slightly increased the number of households consuming these cultural services, whereas the 2018 tax cut on cinema had no significant effect in the number of moviegoers (extensive margin). Third, the cultural spending per household conditional on participation (intensive margin) increased after the two VAT rate reductions. Finally, we test for asymmetries in passthrough with respect to the 2012 tax raise and we find (i) no evidence of prices responding more strongly to increases than to decreases in VAT, (ii) a symmetric response of the number of households consuming these cultural services, and (iii) an asymmetric response of the average cultural spending conditional on participation.
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