Dodging the Taxman: Firm Misreporting and Limits to Tax Enforcement
Reducing tax evasion is a key priority for many governments, particularly in developing countries. A growing literature has argued that the ability to verify taxpayer self-reports against reports from third parties is critical for modern tax enforcement and the growth of state capacity. However, there may be limits to the effectiveness of third-party information if taxpayers can make offsetting adjustments on less verifiable margins. We present a simple framework to demonstrate the conditions under which this will occur and provide strong empirical evidence for such behavior by exploiting a natural experiment in Ecuador. We find that when firms are notified by the tax authority about detected revenue discrepancies on previously filed corporate income tax returns, they increase reported revenues, matching the third-party estimate when provided. Firms also increase reported costs by 96 cents for every dollar of revenue adjustment, resulting in minor increases in total tax collection.
We thank Lorenzo Casaburi, Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Edward Glaeser, James Hines, Lawrence Katz, Asim Khwaja, Henrik Kleven, Michael Koelle, Wojciech Kopczuk, Michael Kremer, Ben Olken, Andrei Shleifer, Joel Slemrod, Johannes Spinnewijn, and participants at the conferences of the American Economic Association, BREAD, Max Planck Institute, National Tax Association, NBER, NEUDC, PACDEV, Swiss Economists Abroad, Tax Systems Conference (Oxford and Michigan OTPR), WADES and in seminars at Brandeis, Columbia, Harvard, Indiana, LSE & UCL, Lugano, Oxford, PUC Chile, Warwick, Williams and the Centro de Estudios Fiscales for helpful comments and discussions. We thank Sajjad Goli, Andrea Lopez Luzuriaga, Parag Mahajan, Marco Martinez del Angel, and Lucas Zavala for excellent research assistance. We are grateful to the staff of the Centro de Estudios Fiscales and the Departamento de Control of the Ecuadorian Tax Authority for outstanding collaboration and to the Harvard Weatherhead Center, Harvard Taubman Center, and Harvard Business School for research support. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
I, Paul Carrillo, have visited and taught short courses at SRI for nominal compensation. I do not see any conflicts of interest but am happy to disclose in accordance with NBER policy.Monica Singhal
This project was conducted in collaboration with the Ecuadorian tax authority (SRI) but they did not have the right to approve results in the paper and we had complete academic freedom. One of the authors, Paul Carrillo, has visited and taught short courses at SRI for nominal compensation.
Paul Carrillo & Dina Pomeranz & Monica Singhal, 2017. "Dodging the Taxman: Firm Misreporting and Limits to Tax Enforcement," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 144-164, April. citation courtesy of