The Behavioralist as Tax Collector: Using Natural Field Experiments to Enhance Tax Compliance

45 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2014

See all articles by Michael Hallsworth

Michael Hallsworth

Imperial College London

John A. List

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Robert Metcalfe

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics

Ivo Vlaev

Imperial College London

Date Written: March 2014

Abstract

Tax collection problems date back to the earliest recorded history of mankind. This paper begins with a simple theoretical construct of paying (rather than declaring) taxes, which we argue has been an overlooked aspect of tax compliance. This construct is then tested in two large natural field experiments. Using administrative data from more than 200,000 individuals in the UK, we show that including social norms and public goods messages in standard tax payment reminder letters considerably enhances tax compliance. The field experiments increased taxes collected by the Government in the sample period and were cost-free to implement, demonstrating the potential importance of such interventions in increasing tax compliance.

Suggested Citation

Hallsworth, Michael and List, John A. and Metcalfe, Robert and Vlaev, Ivo, The Behavioralist as Tax Collector: Using Natural Field Experiments to Enhance Tax Compliance (March 2014). NBER Working Paper No. w20007, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2418122

Michael Hallsworth (Contact Author)

Imperial College London ( email )

John A. List

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

1126 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Robert Metcalfe

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics ( email )

Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Ivo Vlaev

Imperial College London ( email )

South Kensington Campus
Exhibition Road
London, Greater London SW7 2AZ
United Kingdom

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