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Knock, Knock: The Taxman’s at Your Door! Practice Sense, Empathy Games, and Dilemmas in Tax Enforcement

Carlene Beth Wynter () and Lynne Oats ()
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Carlene Beth Wynter: Aston University
Lynne Oats: University of Exeter

Journal of Business Ethics, 2021, vol. 169, issue 2, No 6, 279-292

Abstract: Abstract Tax administrators are empowered by the state to secure compliance with tax obligations. Enforcing compliance on the ground is complex, and street-level administrators often engage in the “art of the possible,” leading to dilemmas in the field. This paper examines tax administrators’ practices with regard to Jamaican property tax defaulters with outstanding tax liabilities in excess of 3 years. Drawing on interviews with tax administrators and other key agents, we find that tax administrators reposition themselves from objective enforcers to empathizing officials engaging in schemes of action, doing what they can do rather than what they should do. This is a practical-sense approach to securing compliance. We identify two forms of empathy, assimilated and cynical, and conclude that administrators’ empathetic identification with defaulters does not necessarily arise solely from concern for social cohesion, or inter-subjective compassion, but also sometimes from self-interest.

Keywords: Dilemmas; Empathy games; Practical sense; Tax administration practices (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1007/s10551-019-04300-x

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