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Do Ethics Matter? Tax Compliance and Morality

  • James Alm

    ()

  • Benno Torgler

    ()

In this paper we argue that puzzle of tax compliance can be explained, at least in part, by recognizing the typically neglected role of ethics in individual behavior; that is, individuals do not always behave as the selfish, rational, self-interested individuals portrayed in the standard neoclassical paradigm, but rather are often motivated by many other factors that have as their main foundation some aspects of "ethics". We argue that it is not possible to understand fully an individual's compliance decisions without considering in some form these ethical dimensions. Specifically, we argue here that there is much direct and indirect evidence that ethics differ across individuals and that these differences matter in significant ways for their compliance decisions. We then put this in the larger context of the inability of the standard neoclassical paradigm to explain compliance of at least some individuals, and we suggest several possible avenues by which theory can be expanded to incorporate ethics. We conclude by arguing that a full house of compliance strategies is also needed to combat tax evasion, strategies that include the traditional "enforcement" paradigm suggested by and consistent with neoclassical theory, a less traditional "service" paradigm that recognizes the important role of a "kinder and friendlier" tax administration in encouraging compliance, and, importantly, a new "trust" paradigm that is built on the foundation of ethics, in which the tax administration must recognize that it can erode the ethics of taxpayers by its own decisions.

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File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s10551-011-0761-9
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Article provided by Springer in its journal Journal of Business Ethics.

Volume (Year): 101 (2011)
Issue (Month): 4 (July)
Pages: 635-651

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Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:101:y:2011:i:4:p:635-651
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.springerlink.com/link.asp?id=100281

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  1. Benno Torgler & Friedrich Schneider, 2007. "Shadow Economy, Tax Morale, Governance and Institutional Quality: A Panel Analysis," CESifo Working Paper Series 1923, CESifo Group Munich.
  2. Naylor, Robin, 1989. "Strikes, Free Riders, and Social Customs," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 104(4), pages 771-85, November.
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  5. Bosco, Luigi & Mittone, Luigi, 1997. "Tax Evasion and Moral Constraints: Some Experimental Evidence," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 50(3), pages 297-324.
  6. 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.
  7. Hodgson, Geoffrey M., 2006. "Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution, Samuel Bowles, Princeton University Press and Russell Sage Foundation, 2004, 584 pages," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 22(01), pages 166-171, March.
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  10. Deirdre McCloskey, 2004. "The Bourgeois Virtues," World Economics, World Economics, Economic & Financial Publishing, 1 Ivory Square, Plantation Wharf, London, United Kingdom, SW11 3UE, vol. 5(3), pages 1-16, July.
  11. Martinez-Vazquez, Jorge & Rider, Mark, 2005. "Multiple Modes of Tax Evasion: Theory and Evidence," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 58(1), pages 51-76, March.
  12. Blumenthal, Marsha & Christian, Charles W. & Slemrod, Joel, 2001. "Do Normative Appeals Affect Tax Compliance? Evidence from a Controlled Experiment in Minnesota," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 54(n. 1), pages 125-38, March.
  13. 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.
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  18. Bruno S. Frey & Benno Torgler, 2006. "Tax Morale and Conditional Cooperation," CREMA Working Paper Series 2006-11, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
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  27. Benno Torgler, 2003. "Moral Suasion: An Alternative Tax Policy Strategy?," Working papers 2003/05, Faculty of Business and Economics - University of Basel.
  28. Alm, James & Torgler, Benno, 2006. "Culture differences and tax morale in the United States and in Europe," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 224-246, April.
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