Fair taxation. Controllability vs. communicability at the Swedish tax agency
Lotta Björklund Larsen (Linköping University)
Paper short abstract:
'Our vision is a society where everybody wants to do their fair share' states the Swedish Tax Agency. Fairness in practice is difficult. This presentation addresses the fickle negotiation at the Agency between the type of taxable activities that can be controlled and those that can be communicated.
Paper long abstract:
Swedes have confidence in its revenue collecting authority-the Swedish Tax Agency. It has built up confidence among the Swedish citizens over many years applying insights from international research on tax compliance while carefully interpreting the tax law. This results in its very moral motto: 'Our vision is a society where everybody wants to do their fair share'. Yet words alone do not make taxpayers comply; manifold control systems enforces such strategy in practice. To the background of strategies to make all citizens provide their fair share, Tax Agency managers negotiate between the type of taxable activities that can be controlled and those that can be communicated. Based on ethnographic fieldwork following a risk assessment project about cost deductions from start to finish, I provide insights into the broader workings of the Tax Agency; consideration how it interprets the law, how it understands society, how it performs taxation and the relationships it aims to create with taxpayers. One input to the risk assessment project was a random audit control where certain cost deductions were audited in detail. The audit result was unexpected. Not only were certain deductions more prevalent than originally thought among certain taxpayers; the random audit control also raised questions about the interpretation of law in practice. Could such cost deductions even be controlled? Ever? Such insights are difficult to communicate, as they contradict not only the message that all taxpayers provide their fair share, but also that the Tax Agency can apply the law equitably and fairly
Renegotiating the social contract: ethnographic explorations of the contemporary welfare state [Anthropology of economy]