Feed on

I am usually a fan of randomized experiments. But not this one:

This paper analyzes a randomized tax enforcement experiment in Denmark.  In the base year, a stratified and representative sample of over 40,000 individual income tax filers was selected for the experiment.  Half of the tax filers were randomly selected to be thoroughly audited, while the rest were deliberately not audited.

Even if 100% if Danish filers were honest – the sending of a nasty letter by the government is not exactly a pleasurable experience. I have filled my taxes out for 14 years now, and even with a PhD in Economics I worry that I did not fill them out correctly. I dread the nasty letter even though I have been truthful about my tax situation. 20,000 souls in Denmark get to be played with for a fun tax enforcement experiment? That is sickening.

I have an idea for a better experiment. Take 40,000 government “servants” (random stratified samples of them of course). Send 20,000 of them nasty letters warning of violence done to their families and homes if they do not reduce the size of government, and send no notice at all of dissatisfaction to the other 20,000. Let’s sit back and analyze those results? That experimental design would be no less objectionable than the threat of violence implied by these guys, and of course the experiment I propose would be working toward something that would be socially useful, not learning how to enforce more socially destructive behavior.

Seriously, how did these guys ever get approval to do such a thing?

One Response to “Is it Me, or Does This Seem to Violate Some Vague Notion of Justice?”

  1. SusanC says:

    As I am going through detailed IRB approval right now for a harmless survey, I can tell you that I can’t imagine this passing any research approval committee.

    I’d say the analog you make could be strengthened: first do actual violence to those luckly 20K officials in group A, and then send out a letter later at random stating that people might get re-visited by the big man with the spiked baseball bat if they didn’t find any governmental waste to cut.

Leave a Reply