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Unwilling or Unable to Cheat? Evidence from a Randomized Tax Audit Experiment in Denmark

  • Henrik J. Kleven
  • Martin B. Knudsen
  • Claus T. Kreiner
  • Søren Pedersen
  • Emmanuel Saez

This paper analyzes a randomized tax enforcement experiment in Denmark. In the base year, a stratified and representative sample of over 40,000 individual income tax filers was selected for the experiment. Half of the tax filers were randomly selected to be thoroughly audited, while the rest were deliberately not audited. The following year, "threat-of-audit" letters were randomly assigned and sent to tax filers in both groups. Using comprehensive administrative tax data, we present four main findings. First, we find that the tax evasion rate is very small (0.3%) for income subject to third-party reporting, but substantial (37%) for self-reported income. Since 95% of all income is third-party reported, the overall evasion rate is very modest. Second, using bunching evidence around large and salient kink points of the nonlinear income tax schedule, we find that marginal tax rates have a positive impact on tax evasion, but that this effect is small in comparison to avoidance responses. Third, we find that prior audits substantially increase self-reported income, implying that individuals update their beliefs about detection probability based on experiencing an audit. Fourth, threat-of-audit letters also have a significant effect on self-reported income, and the size of this effect depends positively on the audit probability expressed in the letter. All these empirical results can be explained by extending the standard model of (rational) tax evasion to allow for the key distinction between self-reported and third-party reported incomes.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15769.

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Date of creation: Feb 2010
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Publication status: published as Kleven, Henrik, Martin Knudsen, Claus Kreiner, So ren Pedersen , and Emmanuel Saez “ U nwilling or Unable to Cheat? Evidence from a Tax Audit Experiment in Denmark ” , Econometrica 79(3), 2011, 651 - 692.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15769
Note: PE
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  4. Raj Chetty, 2008. "Is the Taxable Income Elasticity Sufficient to Calculate Deadweight Loss? The Implications of Evasion and Avoidance," NBER Working Papers 13844, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  8. Lars P. Feld & Bruno S. Frey, 2000. "Trust Breeds Trust: How Taxpayers are Treated," CESifo Working Paper Series 322, CESifo Group Munich.
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  14. Charles Christian & Joel Slemrod & Marsha Blumenthal, 2001. "Taxpayer response to an increased probability of audit: Evidence from a controlled experiment in minnesota," Natural Field Experiments 00332, The Field Experiments Website.
  15. 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.
  16. Naomi E. Feldman & Joel Slemrod, 2007. "Estimating tax noncompliance with evidence from unaudited tax returns," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 117(518), pages 327-352, 03.
  17. Gary S. Becker, 1968. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 76, pages 169.
  18. Rafael Di Tella & Ernesto Schargrodsky, 2004. "Do Police Reduce Crime? Estimates Using the Allocation of Police Forces After a Terrorist Attack," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(1), pages 115-133, March.
  19. Slemrod, Joel, 1995. "Income Creation or Income Shifting? Behavioral Responses to the Tax Reform Act of 1986," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(2), pages 175-80, May.
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