Corporate Tax Avoidance and High Powered Incentives

45 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2004

See all articles by Mihir A. Desai

Mihir A. Desai

Harvard Business School - Finance Unit; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Dhammika Dharmapala

UC Berkeley School of Law; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: December 2004


This paper analyzes the links between corporate tax avoidance and the growth of high-powered incentives for managers. We develop a simple model that highlights the role of feedback effects between tax sheltering and managerial diversion in determining how high-powered incentives influence tax sheltering decisions. Then, we construct an empirical measure of corporate tax avoidance - the component of the book-tax gap not attributable to accounting accruals - and investigate the link between this measure of tax avoidance and incentive compensation. We find that increases in incentive compensation tend to reduce the level of tax sheltering, in a manner consistent with a complementary relationship between diversion and sheltering. In addition, consistent with a prediction of our model, we find evidence suggesting that this negative effect is driven primarily by firms with relatively weak governance arrangements. Our results may help explain the growing cross-sectional variation among firms in their levels of tax avoidance, the "undersheltering puzzle," and why large book-tax gaps are associated with subsequent negative abnormal returns.

Keywords: Incentive Compensation, Tax Avoidance, Tax Evasion, Diversion, Tax Shelters, Stock Options

JEL Classification: G34, H25, H26, J33, J40, M41, M43, G14

Suggested Citation

Desai, Mihir A. and Dharmapala, Dhammika, Corporate Tax Avoidance and High Powered Incentives (December 2004). Available at SSRN: or

Mihir A. Desai (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Finance Unit ( email )

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Dhammika Dharmapala

UC Berkeley School of Law ( email )

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