Defiance in Taxation and Governance

Defiance in Taxation and Governance

Resisting and Dismissing Authority in a Democracy

Valerie Braithwaite

This innovative book presents a theory of tax defiance, integrating five years of research on people’s hopes, fears and expectations of the tax system and the authority that administers it.

Chapter 6: Approaching Defiance through Integrity and Trust

Valerie Braithwaite

Subjects: economics and finance, public finance, politics and public policy, public policy, regulation and governance, social policy and sociology, economics of social policy


When an institution is charged with lack of integrity, the charge always contains an implicit conception of what the institution is or should be. Philip Selznick 1992: 324 Authority engages in domination. Yet social constraints curb an authority’s activities in a democracy, with the community consenting to the principle of domination in certain domains but not in others (Selznick 1992). Such authorities, therefore, use their regulatory power mindful of the limits of their legitimacy, and tax authorities are no exception. When tax authorities overstep their bounds and use powers that the public finds excessive or overly intrusive, government enquiries commonly follow (see, e.g., Joint Committee of Public Accounts 1993 in Australia and National Commission on Restructuring the Internal Revenue Service 1997 in the USA). Enquiries of this kind target weakness. The resolve that accompanies them, however, draws strength from the belief that something important is absent in the manner in which the authority has conducted itself. We expect that when we place ourselves in the hands of authority, that authority will know how to respond with soundness of purpose and process. Views on what constitutes soundness in the sense of what is best for the community are likely to vary across the democracy. We see more convergence in public opinion, however, around worst practice. In this chapter it will be argued that the common element unifying communities is the perception of disrespect. The soundness of an authority’s purpose and process, its integrity, is therefore seen to hinge on how well...

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