Tuesday, March 7, 2023
Ariel Jurow Kleiman (Loyola-L.A.; Google Scholar) presents Subjective Costs of Tax Compliance (with Jonathan Choi (Minnesota; Google Scholar)) at Columbia today as part of its Davis Polk & Wardwell Tax Policy Colloquium hosted by David Schizer:
This Article introduces and estimates “subjective costs” of tax compliance, which are costs of tax compliance that people experience directly and individually. To measure these costs, we conducted a survey experiment assessing how much taxpayers would pay to reduce the unpleasantness associated with filing a tax return. The experiment revealed that taxpayers are more concerned about inadvertent mistakes in their tax filings than by the time spent on compliance. Respondents also only ascribed meaningful value to eliminating all tax compliance work; they ascribed essentially no value to marginal time savings. Additionally, eliminating tax compliance time for high-income taxpayers and taxpayers with complex returns is not worth much more than eliminating tax compliance time for low-income taxpayers with simple returns. These findings have important implications for theory and policy. From a theoretical perspective, these survey results call into question the nearly universal practice of using market wages to monetize the time that people spend on tax compliance work. Indeed, our results suggest that people value their tax compliance time at a rate much lower than their hourly wage.
Regarding policy, these findings counsel policymakers to think big when it comes to reducing tax compliance costs, focus on simplifications that reduce mistakes rather than merely saving time, and prioritize reforms that affect low-income taxpayers.