Do poachers make harsh gamekeepers? Attitudes to tax evasion and to benefit fraud

John Cullis, Philip Jones, Alan Lewis, Cinzia Castiglioni, Edoardo Lozza

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In neoclassical economics the decision to evade tax is analysed in the same way as the decision to commit benefit fraud. Both decisions depend on the net expected utility that a 'representative individual' will derive from the gamble. If the financial loss a community experiences when there is tax evasion is equal to the financial loss experienced when there is benefit fraud, there is no reason to expect any difference in individuals' attitudes towards these crimes. However, in practice, individuals are far more condemnatory of benefit fraud than of tax evasion. Prospect theory is applied to explain this difference of attitude as well as why individuals are more likely to commit tax evasion than benefit fraud. Moreover, when comparing attitudes and behaviour towards public finance crimes in different countries, the salience of the public finances in individuals' lives, together with the perceived prevalence of illegal behaviours, is important. A comparison of attitudes in Italy and in the UK indicates that Italians are more likely to more heavily punish these crimes and to commit these crimes. The present study sheds insight when explaining why 'gamekeepers' who call for the harshest punishments are the individuals who are more likely to act as 'poachers' themselves. There is a distinction between what individuals wish for themselves in a 'private-person' role and what they wish for others in a 'public-citizen' role - would-be poachers are harsh gamekeepers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number145
Pages (from-to)124-131
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics
Early online date14 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015


  • 2340
  • 3040
  • Benefit fraud
  • Fiscal morale
  • Tax evasion
  • Value function


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