66 Tax L. Rev. 179 (2012-2013)
I Like to Pay Taxes: Taxpayer Support for Government Spending and the Efficiency of the Tax System

handle is hein.journals/taxlr66 and id is 191 raw text is: 





        I Like To Pay Taxes: Taxpayer

 Support for Government Spending and

       the Efficiency of the Tax System


           YAIR LISTOKIN* & DAVID M. SCHIZER**


     I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.'
                                        -Oliver Wendell Holmes


                          I. INTRODUCTION
   Why do people pay taxes? The simplest answer is that they have a
legal obligation to do so. But it has long been recognized that this
legal obligation alone provides an inadequate explanation for taxpay-
ing behavior,2 just as legal obligations generally offer an inadequate
explanation for most law-abiding activity.3 Another answer, then, is
that some people pay taxes because-like Oliver Wendell Holmes-
they like to do so. In other words, they appreciate that the govern-
ment provides a vast array of public goods, such as rule of law, roads,
schools, and aid to the poor, and find satisfaction in contributing to
the public welfare.
  This Article is based on a simple proposition, which we believe but
cannot prove: that our tax system will be more effective if taxpayers

  * Professor of Law, Yale Law School.
  ** Dean and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law and the Harvey R. Miller Professor of
Law and Economics.
  We are grateful for comments received from Yishai Baer, Kimberly Clausing, Mihir
Desai, Michael Doran, Elizabeth Emens, Lee Anne Fennell, Bert Huang, Alex
Raskolnikov, Elizabeth Scott, Ethan Yale, and at workshops at Columbia Law School,
NYU Law School, Hebrew University, and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herziliya.
  1 Felix Frankfurter, Mr. Justice Holmes and the Supreme Court 42-43 (1938) ([Holmes]
did not have a curmudgeon's feelings about his own taxes. A secretary who exclaimed,
'Don't you hate to pay taxes!' was rebuked with the hot response, 'No, young feller. I like
to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.').
  2 See James Alm & Benno Torgler, Estimating the Determinants of Tax Morale, in Pro-
ceedings of the 97th Ann. Conf. on Tax'n 269, 269 (Nat'l Tax Ass'n, 2005) [hereinafter
Estimating]; see also Dan M. Kahan, The Logic of Reciprocity: Trust, Collective Action,
and Law, 102 Mich. L. Rev. 71, 80-85 (2003).
  3 See generally Tom R. Tyler, Why People Obey The Law (1990) (discussing normative
explanations for law-abiding behavior); Edgar Allen Lind & Tom Tyler, The Social Psy-
chology of Procedural Justice (1988) (explaining why procedural justice leads to law-abid-
ing behavior).
                                  179


Imaged with the permission of Tax Law Review of New York University School of Law

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