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The value of honesty: empirical estimates from the case of the missing children

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Abstract

How much are people willing to forego to be honest, to follow the rules? When people do break the rules, what can standard data sources tell us about their behavior? Standard economic models of crime typically assume that individuals are indifferent to dishonesty, so that they will cheat or lie as long as the expected pecuniary benefits exceed the expected costs of being caught and punished. We investigate this presumption by studying the response to a change in tax reporting rules that made it much more difficult for taxpayers to evade taxes by inappropriately claiming additional dependents. The policy reform induced a substantial reduction in the number of dependents claimed, which indicates that many filers had been cheating before the reform. Yet, the number of filers who availed themselves of this evasion opportunity is dwarfed by the number of filers who passed up substantial tax savings by not claiming extra dependents. By declining the opportunity to cheat, these taxpayers reveal information about their willingness to pay to be honest. In our analysis, we develop a novel method for inferring the characteristics of taxpayers in the absence of audit data. Our findings indicate both that this willingness to pay to be honest is large on average and that it varies significantly across the population of taxpayers. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2013

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  • Sara LaLumia & James Sallee, 2013. "The value of honesty: empirical estimates from the case of the missing children," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 20(2), pages 192-224, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:itaxpf:v:20:y:2013:i:2:p:192-224
    DOI: 10.1007/s10797-012-9221-4
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    Cited by:

    1. Tazhitdinova, Alisa, 2018. "Reducing evasion through self-reporting: Evidence from charitable contributions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 165(C), pages 31-47.
    2. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2008. "Human Genetic Diversity and Comparative Economic Development," 2008 Meeting Papers 617, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    3. Olivier Bargain, 2017. "Welfare analysis and redistributive policies," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 15(4), pages 393-419, December.
    4. Sara LaLumia & James M. Sallee & Nicholas Turner, 2015. "New Evidence on Taxes and the Timing of Birth," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 258-293, May.
    5. Maggie R. Jones & Amy B. O’Hara, 2016. "Do Doubled-Up Families Minimize Household-Level Tax Burden?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 69(3), pages 613-640, September.
    6. Lopez-Luzuriaga, Andrea & Scartascini, Carlos, 2019. "Compliance spillovers across taxes: The role of penalties and detection," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 164(C), pages 518-534.
    7. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2013. "The 'Out of Africa' Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(1), pages 1-46, February.
    8. Maggie R. Jones, 2017. "Tax Preparers, Refund Anticipation Products, and EITC Noncompliance," CARRA Working Papers 2017-10, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    9. Tazhitdinova, Alisa, 2015. "Reducing Evasion Through Self-Reporting: Theory and Evidence from Charitable Contributions," MPRA Paper 81612, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 2017.
    10. Fack, Gabrielle & Landais, Camille, 2016. "The effect of tax enforcement on tax elasticities: Evidence from charitable contributions in France," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 133(C), pages 23-40.
    11. Sarah Clifford & Panos Mavrokonstantis, 2019. "Tax Enforcement Using A Hybrid Between Self- And Third-Party Reporting," Economics Series Working Papers 876, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    12. Sanjit Dhami & Narges Hajimoladarvish, 2020. "Mental Accounting, Loss Aversion, and Tax Evasion: Theory and Evidence," CESifo Working Paper Series 8606, CESifo.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Tax evasion; Compliance; Honesty; Dependent exemption; H26; H24;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • 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

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