Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

Education Level and Ethical Attitude toward Tax Evasion: A Six-Country Study

Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

Education Level and Ethical Attitude toward Tax Evasion: A Six-Country Study

Article excerpt


Most studies on tax evasion have taken an economics or public finance perspective. They have focused on technical issues such as optimum tax rates, optimum evasion, reasons for suboptimum compliance, and so forth (Hyman, 1999; Marlow, 1995; Musgrave, 1959, 1986; Musgrave & Musgrave, 1976; Musgrave & Peacock, 1958; Rosen, 1999). Accounting journals have published articles that focus on practitioner issues, including professional ethics, but those studies have emphasized professional codes of ethics and how to conduct a tax practice that complies with the law and with the rules of professional conduct (Armstrong & Robison, 1998; Oliva, 1998). Some studies have appeared in the psychology literature that examine the psychological issues involved in tax evasion (Alm & Torgler, 2006; Kirchler, 2007; Kirchler, Muehlbacher, Kastlunger & Wahl, 2010; Torgler & Schneider, 2009).

In recent years, a number of studies have addressed ethical issues in tax evasion. Some of those studies have been theoretical in nature while others have been empirical. The present study begins with a review of the main ethical literature, then proceeds to examine prior student survey literature in more depth to determine what student opinion has been on the ethics of tax evasion.

We then use the Human Values data for Brazil, Russia, India, China, the USA and Germany to determine whether the level of education is related to views on tax evasion. The total sample size for the six countries in this study is 10, 034.


Perhaps the most comprehensive theoretical study of tax evasion in the twentieth century was done by Martin Crowe (1944), who surveyed 500 years of mostly Catholic literature on tax evasion, much of which was in Latin. Torgler (2003a) wrote a more recent dissertation on the topic. McGee has written several books (McGee, 1998a; 2004; 2012) and theoretical articles (McGee, 1994; 2001; 2006a) on the ethics of tax evasion. Alm, Torgler and others have done empirical studies on various aspects of the ethics of tax evasion in various accounting (McGee, 2006b; McGee & Tyler, 2007; McGee, 2008a), business ethics (McGee, Ho & Li, 2008) economics (Frey & Torgler, 2007; Martinez-Vazquez & Torgler, 2009; McGee & Lopez, 2007; Torgler, 2006a; Torgler & Valev, 2010; Torgler, Demir, Macintyre & Schaffner, 2008), management (McGee, Noronha & Tyler, 2007; McGee & Noronha, 2008), public finance (Alm & Torgler, 2004; Alm, Martinez-Vazquez & Torgler, 2005; McGee, 2006c&d, 2007, 2009; Torgler, 2006b), public policy (Torgler, 2005), legal (Gupta & McGee, 2010a&b; McGee & Gelman, 2009), criminology (Torgler, 2010), tax (Bird, Martinez-Vazquez & Torgler, 2004), social science (Torgler & Schneider, 2007) and sociological (Alm, Martinez-Vazquez & Torgler, 2006) journals. Jackson and Milliron (1986) wrote a classic study summarizing a number of pre-1986 empirical studies on tax evasion. However, those studies mostly involved U.S. participants. Not much has been done on non-U.S. sample populations. One purpose of the present study is to partially fill that gap in the literature.

Several studies have been done from various religious perspectives (Cohn, 1998; DeMoville, 1998; McGee, 1998d, 1999; Smith & Kimball, 1998; Tamari, 1998). As was previously mentioned, Crowe (1944) summarized 500 years of mostly Catholic literature on the topic. That literature included a number of arguments to justify tax evasion in certain cases, such as when the king or other government is corrupt or evil, when the tax system is unfair, when there is inability to pay or when the tax funds are used to support an unjust war.

Other scholars have also written on the moral obligation not to pay taxes based on just war theory (Pennock, 1998). Schansberg (1998) discussed the Biblical passage about the duty to render unto Caesar what is Caesar from a Christian perspective. …

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