Natasha Sarin, Lawrence H. Summers, 24 April 2020

The US government’s spending needs have been heightened by the COVID-19 crisis. This column identify ways for the US to raise more revenue in a progressive way and estimates that the Internal Revenue Service could generate over $100 billion annually, and perhaps more than $200 billion, by substantially increasing audit rates (with a focus on high-income individuals), improving third-party information reporting, and investing in better technology.

José García-Montalvo, Amedeo Piolatto, Josep Raya, 19 April 2020

Tax evasion is a persisting problem across countries, with fraudulent behaviour especially common in the real estate sector. This column argues that tax authorities should use appraisals to identify potentially fraudulent real estate transactions. Transactions with an appraisal value that is low compared to the sales value are shown to have a higher likelihood of involving fraud. This is because low appraisals indicate an unconstrained buyer who, in contrast to a liquidity constrained buyer, is able to afford an (illegal) side payment to lower the sales value and thus the tax payment without resorting to a high mortgage.

Pierce O’Reilly, Kevin Parra Ramirez, Michael A. Stemmer, 31 January 2020

Since the G20 declared in 2009 that “the era of bank secrecy is over”, jurisdictions have implemented an unprecedented range of measures designed to increase tax transparency by ensuring that information on foreign financial assets would be disclosed to tax authorities. This column presents the main results from a recent study on the impact of exchange of information on foreign-owned bank deposits in international financial centres. The findings highlight the effectiveness of the expansion of automatic exchange of information and provide evidence of the success of a comprehensive multilateral approach towards tax transparency.

Marius Brülhart, Jonathan Gruber, Matthias Krapf, Kurt Schmidheiny, 23 December 2019

Wealth taxes are in vogue, and academic research on the subject is picking up. Recent studies have produced widely diverging estimates of the elasticity of the wealth tax base. Some of this is due to methodological differences. This column analyses wealth taxes in Swiss cantons and shows that jurisdiction size and enforcement also play a role. When applied at the sub-national level and without third-party reporting, wealth taxes are particularly easily avoided.

Neil Cummins, 08 December 2019

Sharp declines in the concentration of declared wealth occurred across Europe and the US during the 20th century. But the rich may have been hiding much of their wealth. This column introduces a new method to measure this hidden wealth, in any form. It finds that between 1920 and 1992, English elites concealed 20-32% of their wealth. Accounting for hidden wealth eliminates one-third of the observed decline of top 10% wealth share over the past century.

Joel Slemrod, Obeid Ur Rehman, Mazhar Waseem, 15 May 2019

Governments typically seek to reduce tax evasion by increasing the odds of catching tax evaders or by raising the punishments. Using social and psychological motivations may offer another approach to promoting tax compliance. This column analyses two Pakistani initiatives – public disclosure of income taxes and a recognition-and-rewards programme for top taxpayers – and shows that, to the extent that they are effective in influencing private and social behaviour, they potentially offer a cost-effective complement to standard tax-evasion measures. 

Nadja Dwenger, Lukas Treber, 30 October 2018

Many tax authorities use public shaming as a penalty for tax non-compliance. Yet, we lack empirical evidence on how the introduction of naming and shaming affects behaviour. This column uses a new policy in Slovenia to argue that shaming is an effective tool for tax enforcement, reducing tax debt by about 8.5%.

Banu Demir, Beata Javorcik, 17 September 2018

Smuggling, along with other forms of border tax evasion, is a substantial problem around the world. This column uses Benford’s Law, which suggests that the leading digits in various types of numerical data are not uniformly distributed, to identify suspicious import flows. Results using Turkish data suggest that deviations from Benford’s Law are consistent with higher rates of tax evasion. The approach could be employed by authorities to identify shipments that merit greater scrutiny. 

Vincent Bouvatier, Gunther Capelle-Blancard, Anne-Laure Delatte, 11 September 2018

Tax havens are estimated to concentrate 8% of global private financial wealth, reducing annual global tax revenues by about $200 billion. This column uses new country-by-country regulatory data on the foreign commercial presence of EU banks and compares it against gravity model predictions to examine the contribution of EU banks to tax evasion. It finds that bank activity in tax havens is three times larger than what is predicted by the gravity model, and that British and German banks are particularly present in tax havens. 

Annette Alstadsæter, 03 August 2018

It's routine for the rich to dodge tax by hiding it offshore. But how much of their wealth are they hiding illegally? Tim Phillips talks to Annette Alstadsæter of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences about how she and her colleagues used whistleblower data to discover the extent of tax evasion by the ultra-rich.

William C. Boning, John Guyton, Ronald Hodge, Joel Slemrod, Ugo Troiano, 25 May 2018

Tax evasion remains a pervasive problem. Fighting it efficiently is crucial, as resources spent on enforcement can’t be spent elsewhere in society. This column describes the outcomes of an enforcement experiment targeting at-risk firms in the US. Notification of risk status by letter saw an increase in remittances of 34%, while notification by in-person visit increased remittances by 276%. Remitted taxes also increased for the network neighbours of firms that received an in-person visit.

Annette Alstadsæter, Niels Johannesen, Gabriel Zucman, 09 May 2018

Tax records are often used to gauge the concentration of wealth and income in a society. However, if the rich dodge taxes more than the poor, tax records will underestimate inequality. This column uses Scandinavia as an example to demonstrate how tax evasion varies with wealth: the top 0.01% richest households in Scandinavia evade about 25% of the taxes they owe by concealing assets and investment income abroad. The very rich are able to do this simply because they have access to wealth concealment services. To reduce top-end evasion, what is essential is to shrink the supply of such services.

Paul-Adrien Hyppolite, 28 May 2017

The Greek crisis is typically seen as a sovereign debt crisis. Using a new dataset, this column explores the dynamics of national wealth accumulation in Greece over the past two decades. It argues that, despite certain idiosyncrasies, the Greek crisis can be better characterised as a balance of payments crisis. This implies that Greece shouldn’t be seen as an outlier amongst the periphery Eurozone countries. 

Jörg Paetzold, Hannes Winner, 17 December 2016

Since the Global Crisis, many governments around the world have initiated policies against tax evasion and harmful tax avoidance. This column uses data from an Austrian commuter allowance scheme to explore how the design of tax schemes and the social environment affect compliance. A substantial share of employees in the study misreport their commuting distance in order to receive more compensation. Employees also appear to be influenced by the misreporting behaviour of their co-workers, showing how tax evasion can have spillover effects.

Emmanuele Bobbio, 05 November 2016

Tax evasion imposes substantial costs on economies around the world. Beyond equity concerns, it erodes the tax base, with indirect effects on public investment and service provision. This column uses a model calibrated on the Italian economy to assess the direct and indirect effects of tax evasion on economic growth. Enforcing taxes would force small businesses to innovate, putting pressure on larger businesses and clearing the market of poorly performing small firms. Tackling tax evasion is thus important not only for equity reasons, but also for efficiency.

Heiner Schumacher, Iris Kesternich, Michael Kosfeld, Joachim Winter, 06 July 2016

Evidence shows that individuals often do not act in a completely selfish manner, but rather take into account the welfare of other parties when making decisions. But how decision-makers trade off costs and benefits when the costs are dispersed among many individuals is unclear. This column discusses new experimental evidence showing that a large fraction of individuals are ‘insensitive to group size’, attaching similar weights to small and large groups. These findings provide a new explanation for a number of empirical patterns, including political and medical decision-making, lobbying, tax evasion, and charity donations.

Valeria Pellegrini, Alessandra Sanelli, Enrico Tosti, 14 March 2016

Balance of payments statistics suggest that assets held abroad are greatly underestimated – particularly for mutual fund shares and bank deposits. This column looks into the role played by tax havens and estimates that unreported financial assets amount to between $6 and $7 trillion. On this figure, the related tax evasion is between $19 and $38 billion a year on capital income, and between $2 and $2.6 trillion on personal income. Recent policy initiatives such as automatic information exchanges constitute real progress, but some critical aspects might jeopardise their effectiveness. 

Michael Best, Anne Brockmeyer, Henrik Kleven, Johannes Spinnewijn, Mazhar Waseem, 05 January 2016

Developing economies are characterised by low tax revenue and widespread tax evasion. This column assesses what tax policy instruments governments should use to raise revenue. Optimal tax policy in developing countries may diverge from what is prescribed in standard textbook models. A turnover tax, for instance, is known to distort production decisions but may also to be more difficult to evade than a profit tax, and so can be optimal in high-evasion contexts.

Dominika Langenmayr, 13 November 2015

Voluntary disclosure programmes offer tax evaders the opportunity to come clean with reduced penalties. This column uses data from the US and Germany to examine the merits of such programmes. They are found to increase tax evasion, but also to significantly lower administrative costs, leading to a net increase in tax revenues.

Tim Besley, Anders Jensen, Torsten Persson, 12 February 2015

The Eurozone sovereign debt crisis has highlighted the problem of tax evasion. This column examines the effect of social norms on tax compliance using the UK poll tax as a natural experiment. Comparing councils where tax evasion spiked more during the poll-tax period to those where it spiked less, there was no systematic difference before the poll-tax period. However, once the poll tax was abolished, tax evasion remained higher in the former group, suggesting that high poll-tax non-compliance created a persistent norm of non-compliance.

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