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Taxpayers' Behavioural Responses and Measures of Tax Compliance 'Gaps': A Critique

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  • Gemmell, Norman
  • Hasseldine, John

Abstract

The work of Feldstein (1995, 1999) has stimulated substantial conceptual and empirical advances in economists’ approaches to analysing taxpayers’ behavioural responses to changes in tax rates. Meanwhile, a largely independent literature proposing and applying alternative measures of tax compliance has also developed in recent years, which has sought to provide tax agencies with tools to identify the extent of tax non-compliance as a first step to designing policies to improve compliance. In this context, measures of ‘tax gaps’ – the difference between actual tax collected and the potential tax collection under full compliance with the tax code – have become the primary measures of tax non-compliance via (legal) avoidance and/or (illegal) evasion. In this paper we argue that the tax gap as conventionally defined is conceptually flawed because it fails to capture behavioural responses by taxpayers. We show that, in the presence of such behavioural responses, tax gap measures both for indirect taxes (such as the ‘VAT-gap’) and direct (income) taxes exaggerate the degree of noncompliance. Further, where these conventional tax gap measures motivate reforms designed to increase the tax compliance rate, they will likely have a tax base reducing effect and hence generate a smaller increase in realised tax revenues than would be anticipated from the tax gap estimate.

Suggested Citation

  • Gemmell, Norman & Hasseldine, John, 2013. "Taxpayers' Behavioural Responses and Measures of Tax Compliance 'Gaps': A Critique," Working Paper Series 2853, Victoria University of Wellington, Chair in Public Finance.
  • Handle: RePEc:vuw:vuwcpf:2853
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    File URL: http://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/handle/10063/2853
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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.
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    4. Giles, David E A, 1999. "Measuring the Hidden Economy: Implications for Econometric Modelling," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 109(456), pages 370-380, June.
    5. James Andreoni & Brian Erard & Jonathan Feinstein, 1998. "Tax Compliance," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(2), pages 818-860, June.
    6. Gemmell, Norman & Hasseldine, John, 2012. "The Tax Gap: A Methodological Review," Working Paper Series 2435, Victoria University of Wellington, Chair in Public Finance.
    7. John Creedy & Norman Gemmell, 2013. "Measuring revenue responses to tax rate changes in multi-rate income tax systems: behavioural and structural factors," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 20(6), pages 974-991, December.
    8. Martin Feldstein, 1999. "Tax Avoidance And The Deadweight Loss Of The Income Tax," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(4), pages 674-680, November.
    9. Emmanuel Saez & Joel Slemrod & Seth H. Giertz, 2012. "The Elasticity of Taxable Income with Respect to Marginal Tax Rates: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(1), pages 3-50, March.
    10. Feinstein, Jonathan S, 1999. "Approaches for Estimating Noncompliance: Examples from Federal Taxation in the United States," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 109(456), pages 360-369, June.
    11. Allingham, Michael G. & Sandmo, Agnar, 1972. "Income tax evasion: a theoretical analysis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(3-4), pages 323-338, November.
    12. Emmanuel Saez, 2001. "Using Elasticities to Derive Optimal Income Tax Rates," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 68(1), pages 205-229.
    13. Sandmo, Agnar, 2005. "The Theory of Tax Evasion: A Retrospective View," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 58(4), pages 643-663, December.
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    Keywords

    Behavioural responses; Taxpayers; Tax rate changes; Tax policy; Compliance;

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