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How Can Scandinavians Tax So Much?


  • Henrik Jacobsen Kleven


American visitors to Scandinavian countries are often puzzled by what they observe: despite large income redistribution through distortionary taxes and transfers, these are very high-income countries. They rank among the highest in the world in terms of income per capita, as well as most other economic and social outcomes. The economic and social success of Scandinavia poses important questions for economics and for those arguing against large redistribution based on its supposedly detrimental effect on economic growth and welfare. How can Scandinavian countries raise large amounts of tax revenue for redistribution and social insurance while maintaining some of the strongest economic outcomes in the world? Combining micro and macro evidence, this paper identifies three policies that can help explain this apparent anomaly: the coverage of third-party information reporting (ensuring a low level of tax evasion), the broadness of tax bases (ensuring a low level of tax avoidance), and the strong subsidization of goods that are complementary to working (ensuring a high level of labor force participation). The paper also presents descriptive evidence on a variety of social and cultural indicators that may help in explaining the economic and social success of Scandinavia.

Suggested Citation

  • Henrik Jacobsen Kleven, 2014. "How Can Scandinavians Tax So Much?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 28(4), pages 77-98, Fall.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:28:y:2014:i:4:p:77-98 Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.28.4.77

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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Comment les pays scandinaves peuvent-ils autant taxer leurs résidents ?
      by ? in D'un champ l'autre on 2015-01-06 02:51:00


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Neisser, Carina, 2017. "The elasticity of taxable income: A meta-regression analysis," ZEW Discussion Papers 17-032, ZEW - Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung / Center for European Economic Research.
    2. Litina, Anastasia & Palivos, Theodore, 2016. "Corruption, tax evasion and social values," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 164-177.
    3. Vesa Kanniainen, 2016. "A Comment on “What Is Wrong with the West’s Economies?” by Edmund Phelps," Homo Oeconomicus: Journal of Behavioral and Institutional Economics, Springer, vol. 33(4), pages 333-339, December.
    4. Kristoffer Berg & Thor O. Thoresen, 2016. "Problematic response margins in the estimation of the elasticity of taxable income," Discussion Papers 851, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    5. Andersen, Torben M & Kreiner, Claus Thustrup, 2013. "Baumol’s cost disease and the sustainability of the welfare state," CEPR Discussion Papers 9772, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Henk-Wim de Boer & Egbert Jongen & Jan Kabatek, 2014. "The effectiveness of fiscal stimuli for working parents," CPB Discussion Paper 286, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
    7. repec:bla:germec:v:18:y:2017:i:3:p:283-301 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Milena Mathé & Gaetan Nicodeme & Savino Rua, 2015. "Tax shifts," Taxation Papers 59, Directorate General Taxation and Customs Union, European Commission.
    9. Marcel Garz & Verena Pagels, 2017. "Cautionary Tales: Celebrities, the News Media, and Participation in Tax Amnesties," CESifo Working Paper Series 6795, CESifo Group Munich.
    10. Stanley L. Winer, 2016. "The Political Economy of Taxation: Power, Structure, Redistribution," Carleton Economic Papers 16-15, Carleton University, Department of Economics.
    11. Ingvild Almås & Alexander W. Cappelen & Bertil Tungodden, 2016. "Cutthroat Capitalism versus Cuddly Socialism: Are Americans more Meritocratic and Efficiency-Seeking than Scandinavians?," CESifo Working Paper Series 6278, CESifo Group Munich.
    12. Chen, Shawn Xiaoguang, 2017. "The effect of a fiscal squeeze on tax enforcement: Evidence from a natural experiment in China," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 147(C), pages 62-76.
    13. repec:kud:kuiedp:1801 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Vanschoonbeek, Jakob, 2016. "Regional (In)Stability in Europe: a Quantitative Model of State Fragmentation," MPRA Paper 73976, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    15. Bott, Kristina Maria & Cappelen, Alexander W. & Sørensen, Erik Ø. & Tungodden, Bertil, 2017. "You’ve got mail: A randomised Field experiment on tax evasion," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 10/2017, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics.
    16. repec:kap:jeczfn:v:122:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s00712-017-0557-1 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Clément Carbonnier, 2015. "Payroll Taxation, qualifications, wages and unemployment rates in a frictional labor market with productive interactions between segments," Working Papers hal-01203122, HAL.
    18. repec:ebl:ecbull:eb-17-00569 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. Bettendorf, Leon J.H. & Folmer, Kees & Jongen, Egbert L.W., 2014. "The dog that did not bark: The EITC for single mothers in the Netherlands," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 49-60.
    20. Matti Viren, 2015. "Why so little revenues are obtained from a presumed large shadow economy?," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 16(2), pages 101-123, May.
    21. Sugata Marjit & André Seidel & Marcel Thum, 2017. "Tax Evasion, Corruption and Tax Loopholes," German Economic Review, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 18(3), pages 283-301, August.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • H26 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Tax Evasion and Avoidance
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs


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