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Tax compliance and obedience to authority at home and in the lab: A new experimental approach

  • C. Cadsby

    ()

  • Elizabeth Maynes

    ()

  • Viswanath Trivedi

    ()

In most experimental studies of tax evasion, participants are instructed that they may report any amount of income from zero up to the amount they actually earned or received. This amounts to an invitation to gamble. In contrast, real-world tax authorities unambiguously demand compliance. We develop two new settings for conducting tax experiments. Both involve an explicit demand for compliance. Thus, we can determine whether knowing that the experimental authority would regard evasion as wrongful disobedience will influence compliance decisions. We demonstrate that simply telling people that they are required to pay a “participation fee†analogous to a tax produces remarkably high compliance rates and less sensitivity to changes in economic variables than in the earlier experimental literature using invitation-to-gamble language. This suggests that many people pay taxes despite the financial attraction of non-compliance because they are strongly inclined towards obeying authority. Furthermore, we show that giving participants a week to make their reporting decisions at home without an authority figure physically present overcomes the inclination to obey for some people, significantly lowering compliance rates. However, the majority still complies, even after the audit rate falls from 25% to 1%, which would make non-compliance extremely attractive if it were viewed only as a simple matter of risk and expected return. Copyright Economic Science Association 2006

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File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s10683-006-7053-8
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Article provided by Springer in its journal Experimental Economics.

Volume (Year): 9 (2006)
Issue (Month): 4 (December)
Pages: 343-359

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Handle: RePEc:kap:expeco:v:9:y:2006:i:4:p:343-359
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  1. Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 1974. "Income tax evasion: A theoretical analysis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(2), pages 201-202, May.
  2. Alm, James & Jackson, Betty & McKee, Michael, 1992. "Institutional Uncertainty and Taxpayer Compliance," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(4), pages 1018-26, September.
  3. Allingham, Michael G. & Sandmo, Agnar, 1972. "Income tax evasion: a theoretical analysis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(3-4), pages 323-338, November.
  4. Alm, James & Jackson, Betty R. & McKee, Michael, 1993. "Fiscal exchange, collective decision institutions, and tax compliance," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 285-303, December.
  5. Alm, James & McClelland, Gary H & Schulze, William D, 1999. "Changing the Social Norm of Tax Compliance by Voting," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(2), pages 141-71.
  6. Alm, James & McClelland, Gary H. & Schulze, William D., 1992. "Why do people pay taxes?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 21-38, June.
  7. Alm, James & Cronshaw, Mark B & McKee, Michael, 1993. "Tax Compliance with Endogenous Audit Selection Rules," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(1), pages 27-45.
  8. Alm, James & McKee, Michael J. & Beck, William, 1990. "Amazing Grace: Tax Amnesties and Compliance," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 43(1), pages 23-37, March.
  9. Alm, James & Sanchez, Isabel & de Juan, Ana, 1995. "Economic and Noneconomic Factors in Tax Compliance," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(1), pages 3-18.
  10. Torgler, Benno, 2002. " Speaking to Theorists and Searching for Facts: Tax Morale and Tax Compliance in Experiments," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 16(5), pages 657-83, December.
  11. Feld, Lars P & Tyran, Jean-Robert, 2002. "Tax Evasion and Voting: An Experimental Analysis," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 55(2), pages 197-222.
  12. Alm, James & Jackson, Betty & McKee, Michael J., 1992. "Estimating the Determinants of Taxpayer Compliance with Experimental Data," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 45(1), pages 107-14, March.
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