Shaming Tax Delinquents
63 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2015 Last revised: 7 Feb 2021
Date Written: June 2015
Many federal and local governments rely on shaming penalties to achieve policy goals, but little is known about how shaming works. Such penalties may be ineffective, or even backfire by crowding out intrinsic motivation. In this paper, we study shaming in the context of the collection of tax delinquencies. We sent letters to 34,334 tax delinquents who owed a total of half a billion dollars in three U.S. states. We randomized some of the information contained in the letter to vary the salience of financial penalties, shaming penalties, and peer comparisons. We then measured the effects of this information on subsequent payment rates, and found that increasing the visibility of delinquency status increases compliance by individuals who have debts below $2,500, but has no significant effect on individuals with larger debt amounts. Financial reminders have a positive effect on payment rates independent of the size of the debt, while information about the delinquency of neighbors has no effect on payment rates.
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