Josef Hien receives prize for his paper on culture and tax avoidance
Why are Italians so reluctant to pay taxes? This is what Josef Hien explores in his paper "Culture and tax avoidance: the Italian case" - for which he has now been awarded the 2022 Herbert Gottweis Prize for Best Paper of 2021 by the Critical Policy Studies awards committee.
Some words from the committee:
What I liked about the Hien article is the way in which it highlights the co-production of policy and religion. It shows that policy (tax evasion) is very much co-produced by religion and tax evasion can in fact be understood as part of that boundary work. So we cannot understand policy without understanding religion. The article is well reasoned, it clearly goes beyond narrow empiricist approaches, it challenges mainstream thinking about policy, there is a clear interplay between policy, politics and practice and it contributes to democratic policy making by highlighting the power of the church in tax evasion (something that I have not read before).
Culture is increasingly used as an explanatory variable for tax evasion, but little is known about the mechanism linking the two. Investigating the case of Italy - a country that has one of the highest rates of tax evasion in Western Europe, Hien discovers the historical role of the Vatican and how the old church-state conflict still influences society. In his paper, he shows how Catholic socio-economic thinkers developed ideas about just taxation in response to Italian reunification that were directed against the Italian state and used by the Vatican to delegitimize it. The conclusion is that not only rational decisions about the possibility to get audited or low public service provision drive tax evasion in Italy. Instead Italian tax evasion is legitimized through a historically grown mistrust toward the state.