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

Listed author(s):
  • Marcelo L. Bérgolo
  • Rodrigo Ceni
  • Guillermo Cruces
  • Matias Giaccobasso
  • Ricardo Perez-Truglia

According to the canonical model of Allingham and Sandmo (1972), firms evade taxes by making a trade-off between a lower tax burden and higher expected penalties. However, there is still no consensus about whether real-world firms operate in this rational way. We conducted a large-scale field experiment, sending letters to over 20,000 firms that collectively pay over 200 million dollars in taxes per year. In our letters, we provided firms with exogenous but nondeceptive signals about key inputs for their evasion decisions, such as audit probabilities and penalty rates. We measure 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, according to administrative data. We find that firms do increase their tax compliance in response to information about audits. However, the patterns in these responses are inconsistent with utility maximization. The evidence suggests that, much like scarecrows frighten off birds, audits can be a significant deterrent for tax evaders even though they would be perceived as harmless by a rational optimizer.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 23631.

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Date of creation: Jul 2017
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23631
Note: DEV LE PE
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  1. Dina Pomeranz, 2015. "No Taxation without Information: Deterrence and Self-Enforcement in the Value Added Tax," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(8), pages 2539-2569, August.
  2. 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.
  3. Kurt J. Beron & Helen V. Tauchen & Ann Dryden Witte, 1988. "A Structural Equation Model for Tax Compliance and Auditing," NBER Working Papers 2556, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Dhami, Sanjit & al-Nowaihi, Ali, 2007. "Why do people pay taxes? Prospect theory versus expected utility theory," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 171-192, September.
  5. Nadja Dwenger & Henrik Kleven & Imran Rasul & Johannes Rincke, 2016. "Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivations for Tax Compliance: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Germany," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 8(3), pages 203-232, August.
  6. Henrik Jacobsen Kleven & Claus Thustrup Kreiner & Emmanuel Saez, 2016. "Why Can Modern Governments Tax So Much? An Agency Model of Firms as Fiscal Intermediaries," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 83(330), pages 219-246, 04.
  7. Ricardo Perez-Truglia & Ugo Troiano, 2015. "Shaming Tax Delinquents: Theory and Evidence from a Field Experiment in the United States," NBER Working Papers 21264, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. 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(1), pages 125-138, March.
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