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Tax Audits as Scarecrows: Evidence from a Large-Scale Field Experiment

Author

Listed:
  • Marcelo Bergolo

    (IECON-UDELAR)

  • Rodrigo Ceni

    (IECON-UDELAR)

  • Guillermo Cruces

    (Centro de Estudios Distributivos, Laborales y Sociales (CEDLAS), IIE-FCE, Universidad Nacional de La Plata and University of Nottingham)

  • Matias Giaccobasso

    (University of California, Los Angeles)

  • Ricardo Perez Truglia

    (University of California, Los Angeles)

Abstract

The canonical model of Allingham and Sandmo (1972) predicts that firms evade taxes by optimally trading off between the costs and benefits of evasion. However, there is no direct evidence that firms react to audits in this way. We conducted a large-scale field experiment in collaboration with Uruguay’s tax authority to address this question. We sent letters to 20,440 small- and medium-sized firms that collectively paid more than 200 million dollars in taxes per year. Our letters provided exogenous yet nondeceptive signals about key inputs for their evasion decisions, such as audit probabilities and penalty rates. We measured the effect of these signals on their subsequent perceptions about the auditing process, based on survey data, as well as on the actual taxes paid, based on administrative data. We find that providing information about audits had a significant effect on tax compliance but in a manner that was inconsistent with Allingham and Sandmo (1972). Our findings are consistent with an alternative model, risk-as-feelings, in which messages about audits generate fear and induce probability neglect. According to this model, audits may deter tax evasion in the same way that scarecrows frighten off birds.

Suggested Citation

  • Marcelo Bergolo & Rodrigo Ceni & Guillermo Cruces & Matias Giaccobasso & Ricardo Perez Truglia, 2019. "Tax Audits as Scarecrows: Evidence from a Large-Scale Field Experiment," CEDLAS, Working Papers 0254, CEDLAS, Universidad Nacional de La Plata.
  • Handle: RePEc:dls:wpaper:0254
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    4. Justin E. Holz & John A. List & Alejandro Zentner & Marvin Cardoza & Joaquin Zentner, 2020. "The $100 Million Nudge: Increasing Tax Compliance of Businesses and the Self-Employed using a Natural Field Experiment," NBER Working Papers 27666, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    7. Laura L. Leets & Amber Sprenger & Robert O. Hartman & Nicholas W. Kohn & Juli Simon Thomas & Chrissy T. Vu & Sandi Aguirre & Sanith Wijesinghe, 2020. "Effectiveness of nudges on small business tax compliance behavior," Journal of Behavioral Public Administration, Center for Experimental and Behavioral Public Administration, vol. 3(2).
    8. James Alm & Lilith Burgstaller & Arrita Domi & Amanda März & Matthias Kasper, 2023. "Nudges, Boosts, and Sludge: Using New Behavioral Approaches to Improve Tax Compliance," Economies, MDPI, vol. 11(9), pages 1-22, September.
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    10. Philipp Doerrenberg & Andreas Peichl, 2022. "Tax Morale and the Role of Social Norms and Reciprocity - Evidence from a Randomized Survey Experiment," FinanzArchiv: Public Finance Analysis, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 78(1-2), pages 44-86.
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    13. Nicolas Gavoille & Anna Zasova, 2021. "What we pay in the shadow: Labor tax evasion, minimum wage hike and employment," Working Papers CEB 21-017, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
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    17. James Alm & Laura Rosales Cifuentes & Carlos Mauricio Ortiz Niño & Diana Rocha, 2019. "Can Behavioral “Nudges” Improve Compliance? The Case of Colombia Social Protection Contributions," Games, MDPI, vol. 10(4), pages 1-23, October.
    18. Antinyan, Armenak & Asatryan, Zareh, 2019. "Nudging for tax compliance: A meta-analysis," ZEW Discussion Papers 19-055, ZEW - Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research.
    19. Bíró, Anikó & Prinz, Dániel & Sándor, László, 2022. "The minimum wage, informal pay, and tax enforcement," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 215(C).
    20. Giorgio Gulino & Federico Masera, 2023. "Contagious Dishonesty: Corruption Scandals and Supermarket Theft," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 15(4), pages 218-251, October.
    21. Holz, Justin E. & List, John A. & Zentner, Alejandro & Cardoza, Marvin & Zentner, Joaquin E., 2023. "The $100 million nudge: Increasing tax compliance of firms using a natural field experiment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 218(C).
    22. Kamm, Aaron & Koch, Christian & Nikiforakis, Nikos, 2021. "The ghost of institutions past: History as an obstacle to fighting tax evasion?," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 132(C).
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    24. Castro, Juan Francisco & Velásquez, Daniel & Beltrán, Arlette & Yamada, Gustavo, 2022. "The direct and indirect effects of messages on tax compliance: Experimental evidence from Peru," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 203(C), pages 483-518.
    25. Nicolas L. Bottan & Ricardo Perez-Truglia, 2020. "Betting on the House: Subjective Expectations and Market Choices," NBER Working Papers 27412, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • H26 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Tax Evasion and Avoidance
    • K34 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Tax Law
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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