Attitudes toward Tax Evasion: A Demographic Study of the Netherlands

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INTRODUCTION

Most studies on taxation are written from a public finance perspective (Hyman, 1999; Kaplow, 2008; Marlow, 1995; Ricardo, 1817/1996; Rosen, 1999). They focus on issues such as how best to raise tax funds, efficiency of collection, optimum tax rates and even optimum tax evasion (Musgrave & Peacock, 1958).

Some public finance scholars have included their own ideological beliefs in a subtle manner. Musgrave (1959, 1986) and his wife (Musgrave & Musgrave, 1976) incorporated their view that the government is justified in adopting any kind of tax system it wants into their work. Their justification for this belief is that taxpayers in a democratic society choose their own representatives; thus, it cannot be said that whatever public finance system they choose can be against the wishes or best interests of their constituency. Their underlying premise is that there is a social contract between the government and the people.

The social contract theory has been discussed in various forms over the centuries (Hobbes, 1651; Locke, 1689; Rousseau, 1762). The argument has been applied to public finance, although scholars have debated some of the specifics. Spooner (1870) denied the existence of any social contract and argued that even if there was a social contract at some point in history, that contract is not binding on future generations because no individual or group of individuals can sign a contract that binds those who are not a party to it.

Another view is that the public finance system a democratically elected government adopts can be justified on moral grounds within certain limits, but there are constitutional limits to what any such government can do in the name of the people. Buchanan (1967) and other members of the Public Choice School of Economics (Buchanan & Flowers, 1975; Cullis & Jones, 1998) subscribe to this view. Buchanan and Musgrave (2001) debated their two approaches in a series of published lectures.

Walter Block conducted two studies examining the public finance literature in an unsuccessful attempt to find any justification for taxation. Perhaps the reason for his failure to find justification is because public finance scholars begin their analyses with the underlying premise that taxation is justified. They simply do not address the issue because of their belief that such questions are outside the field of public finance. Perhaps they are correct. Such issues might be more appropriate for political philosophers to discuss (Nozick, 1974).

The present study focuses specifically on tax evasion, a subtopic within the field of public finance that is seldom discussed other than in passing. When it is discussed, the focus of the discussion is usually technical aspects of the topic. This study examines the attitudes of people in the Netherlands. The data used in this study was gathered by a group of social scientists who worked in conjunction with the World Values surveys, which has been gathering information about attitudes on a wide range of social science issues since the early 1980s.

This study breaks new ground in several ways. Most prior research into taxpayer attitudes on tax evasion has used a United States database, mostly because the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has published data on a regular basis and distributed it to scholars for analysis (Bloomquist, 2003a&b; Internal Revenue Service, 1978, 1983). It has only been in recent years that non-U.S. studies have been done on this subfield to any great extent. The present study reviews some of this international literature.

But it does more than that. It also examines some demographic variable that other international studies have not looked at and focuses on the Netherlands, a country where not much research has been done on taxpayer opinions regarding tax evasion.

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

Tax evasion has been in existence ever since the first rulers imposed taxes on their subjects (Adams, 1982, 1993; Webber & Wildavsky, 1986). …