Valerie Braithwaite holds a professorial appointment in the Regulatory Institutions Network, Australian National University. Her most recent project on “Regulation and Social Capital” examines how government systems of regulation shape the trust and hope of individuals and the social capital of their communities as they grapple with system failures in areas such as taxation, higher education, child protection, school and workplace bullying, work health and safety, and the democracy itself.
Plenary title: Crime that Escapes Definition: the Thorny Issue of Tax Compliance
Tax compliance ‘gift-wraps’ several issues that have concerned criminologists for decades. Tax law can be ambiguous and its “directives” for action conflicting. Tax law is complex and leaves many simply confused about what to do to obey the law. Tax law is often viewed as unfair personally, societally and politically. Tax administration too can attract public outrage. Too often enforcement action is charged with being arbitrary and ineffective: Arbitrary in that enforcement is felt disproportionately by those least able to mount a defence, ineffective in that high wealth individuals and large corporations have the resources to successfully contest and weave around tax law and tax administration. An offset to this tax quandary has been an individual’s commitment to taxpaying, a bright light that has served as an internal nudge toward tax compliance. This paper reviews the ways in which commitment to taxpaying has been undervalued and bedevilled by tax authorities, government and an ever expanding financial planning industry that has lured taxpayers into networks where avoidance seems normal and acceptable and a natural consequence of economic success. Acting against these forces has been a global network of actors and organizations using economic, political, cultural and social capital to pursue tax justice and democratic ideals. They have achieved some success with their persistent focus on reforming institutions that can close opportunities for evasion and avoidance. They have failed to connect, however, with the social and cultural capital around individuals’ commitment to taxpaying. This omission means mass voter exclusion from public deliberations on commitment to taxpaying, on why millennials have become coy about expressing such commitment and how we might collectively become beneficiaries of making commitment fashionable again.
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