/ Séminaire « Capitalismes : crises, critiques, alternatives »

Histoire de la pensée économique
Korinna Schönhärl : « International history of tax morale »

7 décembre 2018, SEANCE ANNULEE


  • Korinna Schönhärl (Université Göthe de Francfort), actuellement professeure invitée du programme Minerve à l’Université Lyon-2.


“The imperative of scrounging, cheating and working the system” : Discourses on tax morale in Western Germany at the beginning of the 1980s

Scandals like the ones about Apple´s tax avoidance in Ireland, about the “Paradise” or the “Panama” papers regularly evoke public indignation. Why exactly do those who can avoid doing so not pay their taxes honestly ?

Is it really the case that they do not ? Real tax payment behaviour is difficult to measure. Since the beginning of the 20th century scientists have developed methodologies to measure tax evasion. Even today the results are far from being satisfactory : there is always a high dark figure, and the results are seldom comparable. All that is clear is that tax payers have avoided and evaded taxes since the beginning of measurements, and that this has not changed.

Avoiding these methodological difficulties, empirical social sciences follow a different approach : they examine taxpayers´ attitudes towards their tax duties, which can be measured in public surveys : “Can it be justified to cheat on taxes if you have a chance ?” (World Values Survey). Answers differ considerably, depending on age, gender, education, the weight of tax burdens experienced, perceptions of tax justice and many other factors. However, one aspect is not taken into consideration : do all interviewees in different regions worldwide understand the question in the same manner ? Results differ strongly between countries, suggesting that this is not the case and that tax morales (in plural) are culturally determined and historically developed. The “Sociology of Morality” provides methodological inspiration by focusing on the question how normative orders evolved.

Analyzing historical changes in tax morale is therefore a fruitful field of historical research. How did norms and values concerning the payment of taxes evolve and how did they change over time ? The project “International cultural history of tax morale” understands tax morales as social constructs, as result of societal discourses on the payment of taxes, and examines them by discourse analysis. Discourses on the payment of taxes between the 1940s and 1980s are examined in three different types of tax systems : Western Germany, Spain and the USA. The paper presents the used methodology and a case study of Western German discourses on tax paying at the beginning of the 1980s.

/ Séminaire « Capitalismes : crises, critiques, alternatives »