Tax evasion, inequality, and progressive taxes : a political economy perspective

Phoon, Mark (2012) Tax evasion, inequality, and progressive taxes : a political economy perspective. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The standard approach to tax compliance applies the economics-of-crime methodology pioneered by Becker (1968): in its first application, due to Allingham and Sandmo (1972) it models the behaviour of agents as a decision involving a choice of the extent of their income to report to tax authorities, given a certain institutional environment, represented by parameters such as the probability of detection and penalties in the event the agent is caught. While this basic framework yields important insights on tax compliance behavior, it has some critical limitations.

Specifically, it indicates a level of compliance that is significantly below what is observed in the data.

This thesis revisits the original framework with a view towards addressing this issue, and examining the political economy implications of tax evasion for progressivity in the tax structure. The approach followed involves building a macroeconomic, dynamic equilibrium model for the purpose of examining these issues, by using a step-wise model building procedure starting with some very simple variations of the basic Allingham and Sandmo construct, which are eventually integrated to a dynamic general equilibrium overlapping generations framework with heterogeneous agents. One of the variations involves incorporating the Allingham and Sandmo construct into a two-period model of a small open economy of the type originally attributed to Fisher (1930). A further variation of this simple construct involves allowing agents to initially decide whether to evade taxes or not. In the event they decide to evade, the agents then have to decide the extent of income or wealth they wish to under-report. We find that the ‘evade or not’ assumption has strikingly different and more realistic implications for the extent of evasion, and demonstrate that it is a more appropriate modeling strategy in the context of macroeconomic models, which are essentially dynamic in nature, and involve consumption smoothing across time and across various states of nature. Specifically, since deciding to undertake tax evasion impacts on the consumption smoothing ability of the agent by creating two states of nature in which the agent is ‘caught’ or ‘not caught’, there is a possibility that their utility under certainty, when they choose not to evade, is higher than the expected utility obtained when they choose to evade.

Furthermore, the simple two-period model incorporating an ‘evade or not’ choice can be used to demonstrate some strikingly different political economy implications relative to its Allingham and Sandmo counterpart. In variations of the two models that allow for voting on the tax parameter, we find that agents typically choose to vote for a high degree of progressivity by choosing the highest available tax rate from the menu of choices available to them. There is, however, a small range of inequality levels for which agents in the ‘evade or not’ model vote for a relatively low value of the tax rate.

The final steps in the model building procedure involve grafting the two-period models with a political economy choice into a dynamic overlapping generations setting with more general, non-linear tax schedules and a ‘cost-of evasion’ function that is increasing in the extent of evasion. Results based on numerical simulations of these models show further improvement in the model’s ability to match empirically plausible levels of tax evasion. In addition, the differences between the political economy implications of the ‘evade or not’ version of the model and its Allingham and Sandmo counterpart are now very striking; there is now a large range of values of the inequality parameter for which agents in the ‘evade or not’ model vote for a low degree of progressivity. This is because, in the ‘evade or not’ version of the model, low values of the tax rate encourages a large number of agents to choose the ‘not-evade’ option, so that the redistributive mechanism is more ‘efficient’ relative to the situations in which tax rates are high.

Some further implications of the models of this thesis relate to whether variations in the level of inequality, and parameters such as the probability of detection and penalties for tax evasion matter for the political economy results. We find that (i) the political economy outcomes for the tax rate are quite insensitive to changes in inequality, and (ii) the voting outcomes change in non-monotonic ways in response to changes in the probability of detection and penalty rates. Specifically, the model suggests that changes in inequality should not matter, although the political outcome for the tax rate for a given level of inequality is conditional on whether there is a large or small or large extent of evasion in the economy. We conclude that further theoretical research into macroeconomic models of tax evasion is required to identify the structural relationships underpinning the link between inequality and redistribution in the presence of tax evasion. The models of this thesis provide a necessary first step in that direction.

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ID Code: 54682
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Lahiri, Radhika
Keywords: tax compliance, economics-of-crime, tax evasion
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Economics & Finance
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 08 Nov 2012 04:49
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015 11:20

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