Journal of Economic Perspectives
There is an apparent disconnect between much of the academic literature on tax compliance and the administration of tax policy. In the benchmark economic model, the key policy parameters affecting tax evasion are the tax rate, the detection probability, and the penalty imposed conditional on the evasion being detected. Meanwhile, tax administrators also tend to place a great deal of emphasis on the importance of improving "tax morale," by which they generally mean increasing voluntary compliance with tax laws and creating a social norm of compliance. We will define tax morale broadly to include nonpecuniary motivations for tax compliance as well as factors that fall outside the standard, expected utility framework. Tax morale does indeed appear to be an important component of compliance decisions. We demonstrate that tax morale operates through a variety of underlying mechanisms, drawing on evidence from laboratory studies, natural experiments, and an emerging literature employing randomized field experiments. We consider the implications for tax policy and attempt to understand why recent interventions designed to improve morale, and thereby compliance, have had mixed results to date.
Luttmer, Erzo F. P. and Singhal, Monica, "Tax Morale" (2014). Open Dartmouth: Faculty Open Access Scholarship. 2431.