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Taxing Expats - Instrumental versus Expressive Voting Compared


  • Charles Beat Blankart
  • Simon Margraf


It is common knowledge that mobile individuals are difficult to tax. Governments accommodate these difficulties by granting special tax reductions to mobile individuals as it is expedient to get some tax revenue from these individuals rather than to lose them as tax payers completely. Taxing according to expediency is, however, criticized by ordinary tax payers who claim that the basic principles of tax equity are consequently violated. Therefore governments have to solve a difficult trade off between the two goals in order to survive. The variables entering in this optimization process remain disguised in the normal case of a representative democracy. In a direct democracy, however, the trade-off between tax expediency and tax equity principles is revealed by voters.In this paper we distinguish between situations where voters vote instrumentally in favour of tax expediency and where voters vote expressively in favour of equity principles. A popular vote in the canton of Zurich of 2009 serves as a natural experiment for testing the instrumental versus expressive voter hypotheses. We find that instrumental voting prevails in small rural municipalities and expressive voting in larger cities. As expressive voters are in majority in the canton, they exert a cross border externality by imposing their will on the majority decisions of the smaller municipalities. This observation may be of a particular importance when, on the federal level, expressive urban voters may impose their will on the voters of rural cantons voting instrumentally.

Suggested Citation

  • Charles Beat Blankart & Simon Margraf, 2011. "Taxing Expats - Instrumental versus Expressive Voting Compared," Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics (SJES), Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES), vol. 147(IV), pages 461-478, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:ses:arsjes:2011-iv-6

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Anthony Downs, 1957. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65, pages 135-135.
    2. Keen, Michael, 2001. "Preferential Regimes Can Make Tax Competition Less Harmful," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 54(n. 4), pages 757-62, December.
    3. repec:cup:apsrev:v:62:y:1968:i:01:p:25-42_11 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Mueller,Dennis C., 2003. "Public Choice III," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521894753, May.
    5. Tyran, Jean-Robert, 2004. "Voting when money and morals conflict: an experimental test of expressive voting," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(7-8), pages 1645-1664, July.
    6. Russell S. Sobel & Gary A. Wagner, 2004. "Expressive Voting and Government Redistribution: Testing Tullock's `Charity of the Uncharitable'," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 119(1_2), pages 143-159, April.
    7. Sinn, Hans-Werner, . "The New Systems Competition: YRJÖ Jahnsson Lectures," Monographs in Economics, University of Munich, Department of Economics, number 19614, Jul-Dec.
    8. Carter, John R & Guerette, Stephen D, 1992. "An Experimental Study of Expressive Voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 73(3), pages 251-260, April.
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    More about this item


    Political Economics of Taxation;

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • H24 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Personal Income and Other Nonbusiness Taxes and Subsidies
    • H71 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue


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