A Demographic Study of Polish Attitudes toward 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 Poland taken from the World Values database. Not much work has been done on the post-communist Polish tax or public finance system. Thus, the present study expands on the very limited research done on Polish 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 Polish 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 wife beating, accepting a bribe or claiming government benefits to which you are not entitled and more serious than avoiding a fare on public transport or prostitution. Tax evasion has become less justifiable since the dismantling of the Berlin Wall but the trend has not been linear.

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

INTRODUCTION

Many studies have been conducted in various areas of taxation and public finance. Practitioner journals focus on technical aspects of the tax code. Legal journals examine the tax code and various court cases. Economics and public finance journals emphasize the microeconomic and macroeconomic aspect of various tax systems. A few studies have examined ethical aspects of tax systems, most notably the issue of tax fairness or tax evasion.

The present study examines Polish attitudes on the ethics of tax evasion. Most prior studies on tax evasion have taken a technical approach. Scholars have examined some factors that enhance or deter tax evasion. Some studies have even speculated on how to determine optimal tax evasion by weighing the relative costs and benefits of attempting to deter tax evasion.

A number of studies have examined various demographic variables in connection with tax collection and tax evasion. Most of these studies, until recently at least, have involved a USA sample population, mostly because the U.S. Internal Revenue Service publishes data for scholarly research on a regular basis. Non-U.S. studies that examine demographic variables are far less common, partly because of a lack of data.

Social scientists have gathered the Human Beliefs and Values survey data in more than 80 countries. The surveys asked hundreds of questions on a wide variety of topics. One question involved attitudes toward tax evasion. The present study uses the data gathered from the Polish sample in the most recent survey.

The vast majority of prior tax evasion studies have not examined the issue of when, or whether tax evasion is ethical. The underlying assumption may be that tax evasion is always unethical, or perhaps the scholars conducting the study may not recognize ethical aspects of tax evasion as a topic they wish to examine or discuss, especially if their study involves some technical issues that apparently have little or nothing to do with ethics. …