Attitudes toward Tax Evasion: A Demographic Study of South African Attitudes on Tax Evasion

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

A number of studies have examined the relationship between tax collection and various demographic variables. However, until recently most of those studies have involved a United States sample population. The Internal Revenue Service provides demographic data for researchers on a regular basis. The present study goes beyond those studies in several important ways. For one, it uses data on South Africa taken from the World Values database. Not much work has been done on the South African tax or public finance system. Thus, the present study expands on the very limited research done on South African public finance.

The present study expands on existing literature in at least two other ways as well. For one, it examines how various demographics interact with attitudes toward tax evasion. Secondly, we examine several demographic variables that were not examined in prior studies.

One of the questions in the World Values database asked whether it would be justifiable to cheat on taxes if it were possible to do so. Respondents were asked to choose a number from 1 to 10 to indicate the extent of their support for tax evasion. This study examines those responses, both overall and through the prism of more than 20 demographic variables. A trend analysis is also done to determine whether South African attitudes regarding tax evasion have changed in recent years. A comparison is made with other ethical issues to determine the relative seriousness of tax evasion.

The study found that attitudes toward the justifiability of tax evasion often do vary by demographic variable. Tax evasion was found to be a less serious offense than accepting a bribe, suicide or wife beating, equally as serious as prostitution, and more serious than receiving government benefits to which you are not entitled, avoiding a fare on public transport or euthanasia. The trend of opinion on the justifiability of tax evasion has been nonlinear. It is more acceptable in the most recent survey than it was in 1996 but less acceptable than it was in 1990 or 2001.

Although the present study focuses on South Africa, the methodology used in the present study could serve as a template for research on other countries or regions.

INTRODUCTION

Tax evasion has been in existence ever since the first person with sufficient authority attempted to extract tribute from some local population (Adams, 1982, 1993; Webber & Wildavsky, 1986). The topic of tax evasion has become multidisciplinary over the decades, expanding from economics and public finance journals into the fields of accounting, taxation, law, sociology, psychology and other behavioral sciences.

The present study focuses on attitudes toward tax evasion in South Africa. Not many studies have been made of South African public finance and even fewer of attitudes toward tax evasion in South Africa. One study that was made of South African attitudes toward tax evasion was a survey of 191 South African university business students (McGee & Goldman, 2010). That survey included a survey instrument that listed 1 8 arguments that had been used to justify tax evasion through history. Students were asked to choose a number from one to seven to indicate the extent of their agreement or disagreement with each statement.

The strongest argument to justify tax evasion was in cases where a large portion of the money collected was wasted. The second strongest argument was in cases where the tax system was perceived to be unfair. The next two strongest arguments had to do with oppressive governments - where the taxpayer lived in a repressive regime such as Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, or where the government discriminates because of race, religion or ethnic background.

Other strong arguments justifying tax evasion were in cases where the taxpayer was unable to pay, where the government imprisons people for their political opinions, where a significant portion of the money collected winds up in the pockets of corrupt politicians, their friends and families, where the proceeds go to support an unjust war, where tax rates are too high or where funds are spent on projects that the taxpayer morally disapproves of. …