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Measuring Illegal Activity and the Effects of Regulatory Innovation: Tax Evasion and the Dyeing of Untaxed Diesel

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  • Justin Marion
  • Erich Muehlegger

Abstract

This article examines tax evasion in the diesel fuel market. Diesel fuel used for on-road purposes is taxed, while other uses are untaxed, creating an incentive for firms and individuals to evade on-road diesel taxes by purchasing untaxed diesel fuel and then using it for on-road use. We examine the effects of a federal regulatory innovation in October 1993, the addition of red dye to untaxed diesel fuel at the point of distribution, which significantly lowered the cost of regulatory enforcement. We find that sales of diesel fuel rose 26 percent following the regulatory change, while sales of heating oil, which is an untaxed perfect substitute, fell by a similar amount. The effect on sales was higher in states with higher tax rates and in states likely to have higher audit costs. We also find evidence that heating oil sales were less responsive to demand factors, such as temperature, prior to the dye program, indicating that a significant fraction of predye sales was illegitimate. Furthermore, we find a pattern of price and tax elasticities consistent with innovation in new evasion techniques subsequent to the regulatory change. Finally, we estimate that the elasticity of tax revenues with respect to the tax rate was 0.60 prior to the dye program yet would have been 0.85 in the absence of evasion. (c) 2008 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved..

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal Journal of Political Economy.

Volume (Year): 116 (2008)
Issue (Month): 4 (08)
Pages: 633-666

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:116:y:2008:i:4:p:633-666

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Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JPE/

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Cited by:
  1. Marion, Justin & Muehlegger, Erich, 2011. "Fuel tax incidence and supply conditions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(9-10), pages 1202-1212, October.
  2. Mazhar Waseem, 2013. "Taxes, Informality and Income Shifting: Evidence from a Recent Pakistani Tax Reform," 2013 Papers pwa641, Job Market Papers.
  3. Kazuki Onji, 2009. "A tale of pork prices : evasion and attenuation of a Japanese tariff," Trade Working Papers 22883, East Asian Bureau of Economic Research.
  4. Stefano DellaVigna & Eliana La Ferrara, 2010. "Detecting Illegal Arms Trade," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 2(4), pages 26-57, November.
  5. Mirco Tonin, 2007. "Minimum Wage and Tax Evasion: Theory and Evidence," William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series wp865, William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.
  6. Kazuki Onji, 2009. "A Tale of Pork Prices: Evasion and Attenuation of a Japanese Tariff," Asia Pacific Economic Papers 382, Australia-Japan Research Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.
  7. Kumler, Todd J. & Verhoogen, Eric & Frias, Judith A., 2013. "Enlisting Employees in Improving Payroll-Tax Compliance: Evidence from Mexico," IZA Discussion Papers 7591, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Gabrielle Fack & Camille Landais, 2013. "The effect of tax enforcement on tax elasticities: Evidence from charitable contributions in France," Economics Working Papers 1406, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  9. Wojciech Kopczuk & Justin Marion & Erich Muehlegger & Joel Slemrod, 2013. "Do the Laws of Tax Incidence Hold? Point of Collection and the Pass-through of State Diesel Taxes," NBER Working Papers 19410, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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