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Tax Evasion and Inequality

Author

Listed:
  • Annette Alstadsæter
  • Niels Johannesen
  • Gabriel Zucman

Abstract

This paper attempts to estimate the size and distribution of tax evasion in rich countries. We combine random audits—the key source used to study tax evasion so far—with new micro-data leaked from large offshore financial institutions—HSBC Switzerland (“Swiss leaks”) and Mossack Fonseca (“Panama Papers”)—matched to population-wide wealth records in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. We find that tax evasion rises sharply with wealth, a phenomenon random audits fail to capture. On average about 3% of personal taxes are evaded in Scandinavia, but this figure rises to close to 30% in the top 0.01% of the wealth distribution, a group that includes households with more than $45 million in net wealth. A simple model of the supply of tax evasion services can explain why evasion rises steeply with wealth. Taking tax evasion into account increases the rise in inequality seen in tax data since the 1970s markedly, highlighting the need to move beyond tax data to capture income and wealth at the top, even in countries where tax compliance is generally high. We also find that after reducing tax evasion—by using tax amnesties—tax evaders do not legally avoid taxes more. This result suggests that fighting tax evasion can be an effective way to collect more tax revenue from the very wealthy.

Suggested Citation

  • Annette Alstadsæter & Niels Johannesen & Gabriel Zucman, 2017. "Tax Evasion and Inequality," NBER Working Papers 23772, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23772
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Jonathan S. Feinstein, 1991. "An Econometric Analysis of Income Tax Evasion and its Detection," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 22(1), pages 14-35, Spring.
    2. Michael Cooper & John McClelland & James Pearce & Richard Prisinzano & Joseph Sullivan & Danny Yagan & Owen Zidar & Eric Zwick, 2016. "Business in the United States: Who Owns It, and How Much Tax Do They Pay?," Tax Policy and the Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 30(1), pages 91-128.
    3. Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez & Gabriel Zucman, 2016. "Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States," NBER Working Papers 22945, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Simon Kuznets & Elizabeth Jenks, 1953. "Shares of Upper Income Groups in Income and Savings," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number kuzn53-1, January.
    5. 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, March.
    6. Simon Kuznets & Elizabeth Jenks, 1953. "Shares of Upper Income Groups in Savings," NBER Chapters,in: Shares of Upper Income Groups in Income and Savings, pages 171-218 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Raj Chetty & John N. Friedman & Søren Leth-Petersen & Torben Heien Nielsen & Tore Olsen, 2014. "Active vs. Passive Decisions and Crowd-Out in Retirement Savings Accounts: Evidence from Denmark," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 129(3), pages 1141-1219.
    8. Novokmet, Filip & Piketty, Thomas & Zucman, Gabriel, 2017. "From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia 1905-2016," CEPR Discussion Papers 12411, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    9. Niels Johannesen & Tim Stolper, 2017. "The Deterrence Effect of Whistleblowing: An Event Study of Leaked Customer Information from Banks in Tax Havens," CESifo Working Paper Series 6784, CESifo Group Munich.
    10. Boserup, Simon H. & Kopczuk, Wojciech & Kreiner, Claus T., 2016. "Born with a silver spoon? Danish evidence on wealth inequality in childhood," CEPR Discussion Papers 11490, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    11. Thomas Blanchet & Juliette Fournier & Thomas Piketty, 2017. "Generalized Pareto Curves : Theory and Applications," Working Papers 201703, World Inequality Lab.
    12. Henrik Jacobsen Kleven & Martin B. Knudsen & Claus Thustrup Kreiner & Søren Pedersen & Emmanuel Saez, 2011. "Unwilling or Unable to Cheat? Evidence From a Tax Audit Experiment in Denmark," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(3), pages 651-692, May.
    13. Bertrand Garbinti & Jonathan Goupille-Lebret & Thomas Piketty, 2017. "Income Inequality in France, 1900-2014: Evidence from Distributional National Accounts," Working Papers 201704, World Inequality Lab.
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    Cited by:

    1. Niels Johannesen & Tim Stolper, 2017. "The Deterrence Effect of Whistleblowing: An Event Study of Leaked Customer Information from Banks in Tax Havens," CESifo Working Paper Series 6784, CESifo Group Munich.
    2. Niels Johannesen & Tim B.M. Stolper, 2017. "The deterrence effect of whistleblowing," EPRU Working Paper Series 17-01, Economic Policy Research Unit (EPRU), University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    3. Boehl, Gregor & Fischer, Thomas, 2017. "Capital Taxation and Investment: Matching 100 Years of Wealth Inequality Dynamics," Working Papers 2017:8, Lund University, Department of Economics.
    4. repec:eee:dyncon:v:87:y:2018:i:c:p:152-172 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Katrine Jakobsen & Kristian Jakobsen & Henrik Kleven & Gabriel Zucman, 2018. "Wealth Taxation and Wealth Accumulation: Theory and Evidence from Denmark," NBER Working Papers 24371, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. repec:eee:gamebe:v:107:y:2018:i:c:p:123-134 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E21 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Consumption; Saving; Wealth
    • H26 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Tax Evasion and Avoidance

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