“Tax morale” … why some folks don’t pay up.

Did you know that there’s a field of study devoted to the subject of how individuals make choices about paying taxes; it’s called “tax morale.”

According to BusinessWeek, the IRS studied the factors motivating taxpayers to comply with tax laws and concluded that the” fear of getting caught plays a much smaller role in keeping taxpayers honest than is commonly assumed.” They’re less inclined to dodge when they believe that their cheating creates national problems.

On the flip-side, when taxpayers learn that many people evade taxes, they are more likely to evade them, too. 

And, the IRS hired  social anthropologists to look more closely at the behavior of tax dodgers.

They divided evaders into eight categories of noncompliance.

  • Procedural noncompliants don’t pay taxes because IRS procedures are too complicated.
  • Asocial and habitual noncompliant taxpayers get a rush out of cheating.
  • Symbolic noncompliant taxpayers game the system out of principle.
  • Brokered noncompliants use accountants and lawyers to cheat
  • Some who don’t comply simply can’t afford their tax burden, or are too lazy to file.
  • Generational noncompliers think it’s normal not to pay taxes because people in their families didn’t pay.

The sociologists also found that there are towns in the U.S. inhabited by super-taxpayers who have high compliance rates in numbers and percentage of taxes due that are paid.

Now, the IRS is trying to identify the  super-tax-paying communities’ demographics to pinpoint what makes their residents so honest.

Among the hypotheses: an inspiring pastor, an immigrant community with values from the home country, or really good public schools.

Maybe they should test the locales’ water supply …

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