Lotta Björklund Larsen, Research Fellow, Department of Thematic Studies - Technology and Social Change, Linköping University

WHAT tax morale? A moral anthropological stance on a Swedish Cooperative Compliance project

The Swedish Tax Agency aims to make taxpayers pay ‘the right tax’, not necessarily the maximum tax, in order to increase trust in its taxation practices. One way to work towards this goal is to work pro-actively with taxpayers introducing so-called cooperative compliance initiative. These ‘modern, efficient and successful’ ways of working are in fashion among OECD members’ revenue authorities and the idea is also being ‘exported’ to developing countries. However, the Swedish version of this initiative was met with strong resistance offering various rationales and very few taxpayers participate. How can we understand this resistance given the good standing the Agency has among the taxpayers it serves?

In order to illuminate on the contradiction between a ‘successful’ Agency and the ‘failure’ of this initiative, this paper explores what a moral anthropological stance on what the ‘right tax’ means in a cooperative compliance project in Sweden. I borrow from Didier Fassin’s moral anthropological approach. It is not a moralizing account but an examination of moral reasoning among all stakeholders on the Swedish tax arena deciding on how these taxpayers’ ‘right tax’ should be decided.

Lotta Björklund Larsen holds a PhD degree in Social Anthropology from Stockholm University in 2010. Her thesis, “Illegal yet Licit”, addressed how a group of people create meaning with their purchases of undeclared work and thereby define their relationship with the Swedish society. The thesis raised questions about the taxation of services, at the intersection between the private and the public. She continues to explore this border, now by looking at the factors that make certain transactions subject to taxation and others not.

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