The Tax Resistance

Tax resistance is the opposition of the taxpayer or responsible to pay their taxes. It is the reaction that has been observed over time and from different peoples and circumstances. Such resistance can be:

  • to the tax “per se,” or
  • to a certain tax system and/or to the level of tax pressure.

Resistance to the tax “per se”

Günter Schmölders (1965) (School of Fiscal Psychology at the University of Cologne) argued that the antipathy to paying taxes in all its forms was rooted in the vital sphere, in natural impulses and tendencies, which are diametrically opposed to fulfilling the tax obligation[1].

For the German fiscal psychology, such individual resistance is based so much on the loss of freedom that it is verified in the loss of consumption that implies the payment of taxes, since consumption is considered as a manifestation of freedom. On the other hand, it was also held that such payment, by implying the loss of part of the taxpayer’s economic capacity, entails a loss of his self-esteem or power.

On the other hand, for Economic Psychology[2] this rejection is eminently rational and is based on the theory of utility, whereby the attitude of the taxpayer is based on the cost-benefit ratio. Where the cost is:

  • probability of being discovered,
  • amount of tax to be paid and
  • the penalties that would be applied.

The benefit is the tax savings you get illegally.

It would be appropriate to distinguish between the opposition of individuals and that of corporations. For the latter, when seeking profit maximization, taxes are an obstacle to their ends and therefore, through the decision of their administrative bodies, many of them opt for evasion or aggressive tax planning to avoid them.

The application of the theory of “social responsibility”[3] the business model that was imposed a few decades ago did not have the expected achievements with respect to fiscal responsibility, and the landscape in this aspect has not changed (it is enough to observe the intensity of the use of tax havens by corporations).

Resistance to the tax system and/or the level of tax pressure

There are two predominant approaches in tax sociology[4]:

  • the individualist of “self-interest” and
  • the ideological one based on the principle of solidarity.

The first position (Meltzer and Richard -1981-) argues that the higher income sectors oppose the tax system because its application diminishes their wealth and, on the other hand, the lower income sectors support it, since they are beneficiaries of the redistribution of income produced through public spending.

For its part, the ideological approach (Arts and Gelissen -2001-) maintains that social approval of the tax system is based on the principle of solidarity, that is, on those subjects who seek the common good in society and in helping the less fortunate economic sectors to achieve social cohesion.

A strong tax pressure receives the approval of the social Democratic parties for the purposes of redistributing income through social spending and the rejection of the liberal parties that emphasize the damage to investment and fiscal balance. The conservative sectors are in the middle of both positions.

Tax rebellion

This individual rejection, when done in a collective and concerted way, is usually called “tax rebellion”. And it always has a trigger, which causes that generalized reaction, which can be passive or active (violent). That trigger exceeds the tolerance that that society has at a given moment, to assimilate the tax burden (whether due to its high rate, or the type of tax).

Social contagion

Being social human beings, they are influenced by the framework and the social and situational context, in which they must make their tax decisions[5]. The attitude of the taxpayer’s environment, in which he is identified, is an essential element when analyzing tax behavior. This factor is becoming increasingly important in sociologists and behavioral sciences and has begun to be considered in the action plans of tax administrations.

Resistance and non-compliance

It is necessary to distinguish between resistance and non-compliance. Although resistance is a generalized characteristic, a rational analysis of the taxpayer “a posteriori” analyzing the costs and benefits, what is “fair” or “right”; the social environment and the perception of risk can make his tax responsibility prevail, and therefore induce him to comply with his tax obligations. Therefore, not all resistance necessarily leads to non-compliance, as is commonly believed.


As stated by Hans Van de Braak (1983)[6], people are perfectly willing to benefit from public services, but they are becoming increasingly restless about paying for them. This constitutes a crucial problem for all democratic governments, to be able to face this rejection in order to sustain a tax system that ensures the necessary income to provide a level of public service provision or assistance that contributes to social cohesion.

Faced with this problem, the tax administrations[7], within the topics of their competence, they have generated various strategies according to the causes that lead, in their viewpoint, to tax non-compliance[8].

Those who are convinced that the problem is the lack of tax awareness have put their efforts in tax education programs; those who think that it is in the poor image of their own organization have generated actions to improve it; those who think that it is in the lack of risk perception have increased it;  of the rules and procedures have tried to simplify them; those who consider that it is a problem of human behavior have applied behavioral science (“Behavior insights”)[9], etc.

In this order of ideas, we can conclude that since the causes of non-compliance are multiple and varied, the administrations must also give multiple but timely responses, which must necessarily be integrated.

[1] Günter Schmölders, Duberge Jean (1965)” Problemas de Psicología Financiera “, Editorial de Derecho Financiero, Madrid and Günter Schmölders (2006) Selection” The Psychology of Money and Public Finance”, Great Britain.
[2] Pablo Grande Serrano (2021)”International experience in the application of behavioral economics to encourage voluntary compliance with tax obligations”, Tax Administration Review CIAT/AEAT/ IEF No. 47
[3] Edgardo Héctor Ferreira (2015)” Taxes, Social Responsibility and Tax Administrations”. Helena Ancos (2015““Fiscal Responsibility vs Corporate Social Responsibility”.
[4] Eloísa del Pino, Ariane Aumaitre, Inés Calzada, Antonio M. Jaime-Castillo, Jorge Hernández-Moreno and F. Javier Moreno-Fuentes (2021), WORKING PAPERS 6/2021, “Propuestas para consolidar el Barómetro Fiscal del IEF. Proyecto (MACF)”, Madrid.
[5] Stefanos A. Tsikas (2021)” Bringing tax avoiders to light: moral framing and shaming in a public goods experiment”, Cambridge University Press.
[6] Hans Van de Braak (1983)” Taxation and Tax Resistance”, Journal of Economic Psychology.
[7] Anders Stridh (2011) “The Strategic Plans and Tax Morale”, 45th CIAT General Assembly 2011, Quito.
[8] Darío GONZÁLEZ (2020) “Morality, conscience, and tax discipline: their role in tax compliance.
[9] OECD (2017“: “Behavioral Insights and Public Policy. Lessons from Around the World”, Paris.


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