Revealing Choices: Using Taxpayer Choice to Target Tax Enforcement

66 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2008 Last revised: 19 Jun 2009

Date Written: February 11, 2009


People pay their taxes for many different reasons. Some choose to game the system, paying only when the cost of noncompliance outweighs its benefits. Others comply out of habit, a sense of duty or reciprocity, a desire to avoid feelings of guilt or shame, and for many other reasons. Our tax enforcement system has ignored this variety of taxpaying motivations for decades. It continues to rely primarily on audits and penalties, at least where information reporting and withholding are impossible. Fines and audits work well for those rationally playing the tax compliance game, but are wasteful or even counterproductive when applied to others. The shortcomings of the current one-size-fits-all approach to tax enforcement are well understood. They also appear to be insurmountable. This Article argues that it is possible to design a more tailored regime. The idea is to separate all taxpayers based on their taxpaying motivations by creating two different enforcement regimes and inducing taxpayers to choose one when they file their annual returns. Once the separation is accomplished, the government can target enforcement by matching enforcement policies to taxpayer types. Those who choose to game the system would be deterred by higher penalties in one regime. All others would be induced to comply by cooperative enforcement measures in the other. If successful, separation and targeted enforcement would improve tax compliance without raising its social cost, or keep the level of compliance unchanged while making tax administration more efficient

Keywords: tax enforcement, tax compliance, tax shelters, deterrence, social norms, penalty default

JEL Classification: K19, K34, K42, H26

Suggested Citation

Raskolnikov, Alex, Revealing Choices: Using Taxpayer Choice to Target Tax Enforcement (February 11, 2009). Columbia Law Review, May 2009, Columbia Law and Economics Working Paper No. 337, Available at SSRN:

Alex Raskolnikov (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics