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Business

Without More Enforcement, Tax Evasion Will Spread Like a Virus

Few people enjoy paying taxes, but as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. reminded us, “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” On reflection, most of us therefore offer at least implicit support for penalties against tax evasion — penalties that have little meaning unless backed by significant enforcement resources.Yet prodded mainly by anti-tax Republicans, Congress has cut the Internal Revenue Service budget steadily since 2011. By 2019, the agency was auditing only one in every 222 individual returns, down from one in 90 in 2011. Similar reductions have occurred for corporate returns, and were proportionately larger for the wealthiest individuals and largest corporations.These cuts have not saved the government money. The former I.R.S. commissioner John A. Koskinen estimated, for exampl...

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Business

Behavioral Contagion Could Spread the Benefits of a Carbon Tax

According to a 2012 study by the economists Bryan Bollinger and Kenneth Gillingham, a carbon tax that induced a family to install solar panels could be expected to stimulate a neighbor’s copycat installation within four months, on average. Let another four months pass, and each of these two will have spawned additional installations of their own, for a total of four.At the end of just two years’ time, these figures suggest, the initial new installation will lead to 32 new installations. Contagion doesn’t stop there, either, since each of these families will have shared news about their projects with friends and family in other locations.Behavioral contagion also has been shown to influence dietary choices. People often eat meat because they grew up with, and continue to live among, peop...

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