New study: This is why Italians are so unwilling to pay taxes

In Western Europe, Italy is at the top when it comes to tax evasion. In 2013, an estimated 27 percent of the entire tax revenue in Italy was evaded. What are the reasons for this? Political scientist Josef Hien, researcher at the Institute for Futures Studies examines why Italians are so unwilling to pay taxes in his new study "Culture and tax avoidance: the Italian case". 

Culture is often used as the variable that primarily explains the propensity for tax evasion, but there are more factors for the development of people's attitude to taxes. These are less explored. In his article, Josef Hien describes the history of Italy and the central role of religion as a moralizing force in the development of culture, which subsequently affects citizens’ view towards and trust in the state. In Italy there is a strong conflict between state and church with deep historical roots. 


- During the reunification, the Vatican was threatened both spiritually and politically by the integration of the Italian state. Catholic thinkers developed ideas around reasonable taxation that sought to justify certain tax evasion by questioning the legitimacy of the state, says Josef Hien. 


The study also shows that Italians' view of themselves and other Italian citizens as untrustworthy cynics impacts their propensity to evade taxes. A large percentage do not trust each other when it comes to tax fraud. Another result is that Italians prefer to cheat with smaller amounts of money than, for example, tax evaders in Sweden.  


Hien concludes that several perspectives influence people's inclination towards cheating on their taxes. Partly it is due to dissatisfaction with what you get for your tax money and rational thinking about the risk of being audited, and also what you believe others do. But in the Italian case, tax evasion is also motivated by a historically built-up lack of trust in the state.  


- In this case, religion has been a driving force in this distrust. This shows that an understanding of religion is needed to fully understand politics, says Josef Hien.  


The article challenges mainstream ideas and presents new ways of looking at democratic policy by demonstrating how the church influences tax morals. The journal Critical Policy Studies therefore awarded Hien's article the Herbert Gottweis Prize for Best Article 2022. 


Read more about the prize

Read the whole research article