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Optimal income taxation in the presence of tax evasion: Expected utility versus prospect theory

Author

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  • Sanjit Dhami

    ()

  • Ali al-Nowaihi

    ()

Abstract

The predictions of expected utility theory (EUT) applied to tax evasion are flawed on two counts: (i) They are quantitatively in error by huge orders of magnitude. (ii) Higher taxation is predicted to lower evasion, which is at variance with the evidence. An emerging literature in behavioral economics, most notably based on prospect theory (PT), has shown that behavioral economics is much better at explaining tax evasion. We extend this literature to incorporate issues of optimal taxation. As a benchmark for a successful theory, we require that it should explain, jointly, the facts on the tax rate, tax gap and the level of government expenditure. We find that when taxpayers use EUT (respectively, PT) and the optimal tax is derived from a social welfare function that also uses EUT (respectively, PT), then, the calibration results are completely at odds with the facts. However, when taxpayers use PT but the social welfare function uses standard EUT, there is a very close match between the predictions and the facts. This has important implications for context dependent preferences but also for the newly emerging literature on liberalism versus paternalism in behavioral economics.

Suggested Citation

  • Sanjit Dhami & Ali al-Nowaihi, 2007. "Optimal income taxation in the presence of tax evasion: Expected utility versus prospect theory," Discussion Papers in Economics 07/10, Department of Economics, University of Leicester.
  • Handle: RePEc:lec:leecon:07/10
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    File URL: http://www.le.ac.uk/economics/research/RePEc/lec/leecon/dp07-10.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ali al-Nowaihi & Sanjit Dhami, 2010. "Probability Weighting Functions," Discussion Papers in Economics 10/10, Department of Economics, University of Leicester.
    2. Claude D'Aspremont & Louis Gevers, 1977. "Equity and the Informational Basis of Collective Choice," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 44(2), pages 199-209.
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    Cited by:

    1. Dhami, Sanjit & al-Nowaihi, Ali, 2013. "An extension of the Becker proposition to non-expected utility theory," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 65(1), pages 10-20.
    2. Giuseppe Ciccarone & Enrico Marchetti, 2011. "Macroeconomic effects of loss aversion in a signal extraction model," Working Papers 148, University of Rome La Sapienza, Department of Public Economics.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Prospect theory; Expected utility theory; Tax evasion; Optimal taxation; Normative versus positive economics; Context dependent preferences; Liberalism; Paternalism;

    JEL classification:

    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • H26 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Tax Evasion and Avoidance
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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