International Cultural History of Tax Morale

Research Activities

Screenshot 2020 02 27 not paying taxes programme final2 pdf

Workshop & Panel discussion 26th-27th March 2020

Not paying taxes: Tax evasion, tax avoidance and tax resistance in historical perspective

We want to examine the different practices and forms of withholding and avoiding personal and financial duties, fees and taxes over time and among different social, professional and other groups. This includes, on the one hand, open and organized tax resistance on moral, economic and political grounds, challenging the existing legal or political order and claiming more or a different form of tax justice and redistribution, or a modification of how taxes are collected. In these cases, personal or financial duties were often seen as a form of humiliation and a marker of subordinated status. On the other hand, taxes and duties were often not resisted publically but rather avoided or evaded in secret. These terms refer to notions that distinguish between legal practices of lowering the intended burden and thus saving taxes or fees, and maneuvers that were classified as illegal or criminal. Such categorizations, though, depend on changing moral and legal perceptions and/or on class-related negotiating power. Our workshop is interested in all forms of and motives for not paying public fees and taxes. Proposals also from ancient, medieval, early modern, modern and non-European history are highly welcome, as are contributions from the history of law, of science and philosophy and of political and economic thought, from historical sociology and political economy.

Programme Workshop Not Paying Taxes

Programme Panel discussion - Tax Compliance

More Information

Call for Papers for World Economic History Congress 2021 (Paris)

Session: Fiscal contracts around the world: the changing relations between state and citizens

We welcome paper proposals for our session on “Fiscal contracts around the world: the changing relations between state and citizens”, which has been accepted for the World Economic History Congress 2021 (Paris). We aim to discuss about the evolution of fiscal structures in developed and developing countries, with a focus on the emergence of different kinds of “fiscal contracts”. The session abstract, participants, and current paper titles can be found here.

Please send your proposal as an abstract of 150 words max, together with a short cv (1 page), to The deadline for submitting proposals is the 31st of March 2020. Acceptance or rejection will be notified by the 30th of April 2020. We particularly encourage submissions that complement the session by covering other aspects than the current contributions.


Sara Torregrosa-Hetland (Lund University)

Korinna Schönhärl (Goethe University Frankfurt)

Gunnar Lantz (Umeå University)

The Project

International cultural history of tax morale

Scandals like the ones about Apple´s tax avoidance in Ireland, about the “Paradise” or the “Panama” papers regularly evoke public indignation. Why exactly do those who can avoid doing so not pay their taxes honestly?

Is it really the case that they do not? Real tax payment behaviour is difficult to measure. Since the beginning of the 20th century scientists have developed methodologies to measure tax evasion. Even today the results are far from being satisfactory: there is always a high dark figure, and the results are seldom comparable. All that is clear is that tax payers have avoided and evaded taxes since the beginning of measurements, and that this has not changed.

Avoiding these methodological difficulties, empirical social sciences follow a different approach: they examine taxpayers´ attitudes towards their tax duties, which can be measured in public surveys: “Can it be justified to cheat on taxes if you have a chance?” (World Values Survey). Answers differ considerably, depending on age, gender, education, the weight of tax burdens experienced, perceptions of tax justice and many other factors. However, one aspect is not taken into consideration: do all interviewees in different regions worldwide understand the question in the same manner? Results differ strongly between countries, suggesting that this is not the case and that norms and values concerning tax payment behaviour are culturally determined and historically developed.

Analysing historical changes in tax morale is therefore a fruitful field of historical research: How did norms and values concerning the payment of taxes evolve and how did they change over time? The “Sociology of Morality”, engaged in the examination of the evolution and change of moral systems (e.g. Gabriel Abend: The Moral Background) provides methodological inspiration. On this basis, approaches from conceptual history and discourse analysis can be combined. The project “International cultural history of tax morale” thus examines the evolution of norms and values concerning the payment of taxes between the 1940s and 1980s in three different types of tax systems: the West German, the Spanish and the US American.


Publication List

  • Tax Morale in West Germany after World War II. A discourse analytical reconstruction, in: Leviathan, May 2019, p. 169-191 (in German).
  • Tax morales. A series of articles in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in the 1960s, in: Hesse, J.O. et al. (eds.): Modern Capitalism. Institutions, Practices, Semantics, Tuebingen 2019, 475-492 (in German).
  • “The imperative of scrounging, cheating and working the system”: Discourses on tax morale in Western Germany at the beginning of the 1980s, in: History in Science and Teaching, in: GWU 70/11/12 (2019), 678–694 (in German).


Nasrin Düll (student help)

  • Procurement of literature
  • Maintenance of the literature database
  • Research and compilation of materials
  • Preparation of research reports
  • Public relations

Korinna Schönhaerl (project leader)


Nadya Melina Ramírez Lugo (student help)

  • Archival research in Spain
  • Evaluation of Spanish sources
  • Maintenance of the literature database
  • Research of Spanish literature