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Ambiguity about Audit Probability, Tax Compliance, and Taxpayer Welfare


  • Arthur Snow
  • Ronald S. Warren


We show that an increase in uncertainty about the probability of being audited (ambiguity) increases tax compliance for ambiguity-averse taxpayers but reduces compliance for ambiguity lovers. Because experimental evidence reveals considerable heterogeneity with respect to ambiguity preferences, we conclude that fostering uncertainty about the probability of being audited may not be an effective policy for increasing taxpayer compliance. Moreover, because the tax authority can neither categorize nor screen taxpayers on the basis of their preferences for ambiguity, it is not likely to be either a useful or a desirable instrument for increasing taxpayer welfare. (JEL H26, D81) Copyright 2005, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Arthur Snow & Ronald S. Warren, 2005. "Ambiguity about Audit Probability, Tax Compliance, and Taxpayer Welfare," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 43(4), pages 865-871, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:ecinqu:v:43:y:2005:i:4:p:865-871

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Camerer, Colin F & Hogarth, Robin M, 1999. "The Effects of Financial Incentives in Experiments: A Review and Capital-Labor-Production Framework," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 19(1-3), pages 7-42, December.
    2. Schelling, Thomas C, 1984. "Self-Command in Practice, in Policy, and in a Theory of Rational Choice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(2), pages 1-11, May.
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    4. David Laibson, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-478.
    5. Thaler, Richard, 1980. "Toward a positive theory of consumer choice," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 39-60, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:kap:theord:v:82:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s11238-016-9581-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Charles N. Noussair & Stefan T. Trautmann & Gijs van de Kuilen, 2014. "Higher Order Risk Attitudes, Demographics, and Financial Decisions," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 81(1), pages 325-355.
    3. Lang, Matthias & Wambach, Achim, 2013. "The fog of fraud – Mitigating fraud by strategic ambiguity," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 81(C), pages 255-275.
    4. Arthur Snow, 2011. "Ambiguity aversion and the propensities for self-insurance and self-protection," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 42(1), pages 27-43, February.
    5. Nigar Hashimzade & Gareth Myles & Frank Page & Matthew Rablen, 2015. "The use of agent-based modelling to investigate tax compliance," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 16(2), pages 143-164, May.
    6. James Alm, 2012. "Measuring, explaining, and controlling tax evasion: lessons from theory, experiments, and field studies," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 19(1), pages 54-77, February.
    7. Castro, Lucio & Scartascini, Carlos, 2015. "Tax compliance and enforcement in the pampas evidence from a field experiment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 65-82.
    8. Hashimzade, Nigar & Myles, Gareth D. & Rablen, Matthew D., 2016. "Predictive analytics and the targeting of audits," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 130-145.
    9. Amedeo Piolatto & Matthew D. Rablen, 2017. "Prospect theory and tax evasion: a reconsideration of the Yitzhaki puzzle," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 82(4), pages 543-565, April.
    10. Dai, Zhixin & Hogarth, Robin M. & Villeval, Marie Claire, 2015. "Ambiguity on audits and cooperation in a public goods game," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 146-162.
    11. James Alm & Carolyn J. Bourdeaux, 2013. "Applying Behavioral Economics to the Public Sector," Hacienda Pública Española, IEF, vol. 206(3), pages 91-134, September.
    12. Rao, R. Kavita & Tandon, Suranjali, 2016. "Revisiting the tax compliance problem using prospect theory," Working Papers 16/169, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.
    13. R.Kavita Rao & Suranjali Tandon, 2016. "Revisiting the Tax Compliance Problem using Prospect Theory," Working Papers id:11225, eSocialSciences.
    14. Daniel Ortega & Carlos Scartascini, 2015. "Don't Blame the Messenger: A Field Experiment on Delivery Methods for Increasing Tax Compliance," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 91741, Inter-American Development Bank.
    15. Hashimzade, Nigar & Myles, Gareth D. & Page, Frank & Rablen, Matthew D., 2014. "Social networks and occupational choice: The endogenous formation of attitudes and beliefs about tax compliance," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 134-146.
    16. Daniel Ortega & Carlos Scartascini, 2015. "Don't Blame the Messenger: A Field Experiment on Delivery Methods for Increasing Tax Compliance," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 7284, Inter-American Development Bank.
    17. Duccio Gamannossi degl’Innocenti & Matthew D. Rablen, 2017. "Tax avoidance and optimal income tax enforcement," IFS Working Papers W17/08, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    18. repec:bpj:bejtec:v:18:y:2018:i:1:p:12:n:2 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. Philipp Meyer-Brauns, 2014. "Optimal Auditing with Heterogeneous Audit Perceptions," Working Papers tax-mpg-rps-2014-06, Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H26 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Tax Evasion and Avoidance
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty


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