Jewish Perspectives on the Ethics of Tax Evasion

By McGee, Robert W.; Cohn, Gordon M. | Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues, July 2008 | Go to article overview
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Jewish Perspectives on the Ethics of Tax Evasion

McGee, Robert W., Cohn, Gordon M., Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues


The vast majority of articles that have been written about tax evasion have been written from the perspective of public finance. They discuss technical aspects of tax evasion and the primary and secondary effects that tax evasion has on an economy. In many cases there is also a discussion about how to prevent or minimize tax evasion. Very few articles discuss ethical aspects of tax evasion. Thus, there is a need for further research, which the present study is intended to partially address.

As part of this study a survey instrument was developed based on the issues that have been discussed and the arguments that have been made in the tax evasion ethics literature over the last 500 years. Similar survey instruments were used to test sample populations in Romania, Guatemala and a few other countries that will be mentioned later in this paper. The present study reports on the findings of a survey that was distributed to undergraduate Orthodox Jewish students at a branch of Touro College in New York. The results of the present study are also compared to the findings of a human values study that touched on the ethics of tax evasion (Inglehart et al, 2004).


Although many studies have been done on tax compliance, very few have examined compliance, or rather noncompliance, primarily from the perspective of ethics. Most studies on tax evasion look at the issue from a public finance or economics perspective, although ethical issues may be mentioned briefly, in passing. The most comprehensive twentieth century work on the ethics of tax evasion was a doctoral thesis written by Martin Crowe (1944), titled The Moral Obligation of Paying Just Taxes. This thesis reviewed the theological and philosophical debate that had been going on, mostly within the Catholic Church, over the previous 500 years. Some of the debate took place in the Latin language. Crowe introduced this debate to an English language readership. A more recent doctoral dissertation on the topic was written by Torgler (2003), who discussed tax evasion from the perspective of public finance but also touched on some psychological and philosophical aspects of the issue.

Walter Block (1989; 1993) sought in vain to find a justification for taxation in the public finance literature. He examined a number of textbooks but found all justifications for taxation to be inadequate. Leiker (1998) speculates on how Rousseau would have viewed the ethics of tax evasion. Alfonso Morales (1998) examined the views of Mexican immigrant street vendors and found that their loyalty to their families exceeded their loyalty to the government. McGraw and Scholz (1991) examined tax compliance from the perspective of self-interest. Armstrong and Robison (1998) discuss tax evasion and tax avoidance from the perspective of an accounting practitioner and used Rawls' concept of two kinds of rules to analyze how accountants view the issue. Oliva (1998) looked at the issue from the perspective of a tax practitioner and commented on the schism that exists between a tax practitioner's ethical and legal obligations.

There have been a few studies that focus on tax evasion in a particular country. Ethics are sometimes discussed but, more often than not, the focus of the discussion is on government corruption and the reasons why the citizenry does not feel any moral duty to pay taxes to such a government. Ballas and Tsoukas (1998) discuss the situation in Greece. Smatrakalev (1998) discusses the Bulgarian case. Vaguine (1998) discusses Russia, as do Preobragenskaya and McGee (2004) to a lesser extent. A study of tax evasion in Armenia (McGee, 1999e) found the two main reasons for evasion to be the lack of a mechanism in place to collect taxes and the widespread opinion that the government does not deserve a portion of a worker's income.

A number of articles have been written from various religious perspectives.

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