Monday, July 9, 2012
Wall Street Journal
July 9, 2012
If Greece’s government was as adept as its banks at figuring out what its citizens earn, the world might be a very different place.
That Greeks have a penchant for evading taxes isn’t exactly news – when tax collectors started comparing swimming-pool ownership with incomes, wealthy Greeks camouflaged their pools. And because hidden income is hidden, figuring the size of the tax dodge is difficult.
Armed with data from one of Greece’s ten largest banks, economists Nikolaos Artavanis, Adair Morse and Margarita Tsoutsoura recently set themselves to the task. The bank, with tens of thousands of customers across the country, provided loan and credit-card application and performance data. That not only gave the economists access to self-reported incomes, but also allowed them to infer the bank’s estimates of true incomes – which are likely closer to the mark.
The economists’ conservatively estimate that in 2009 some €28 billion in income went unreported. Taxed at 40%, that equates to €11.2 billion — nearly a third of Greece’s budget deficit.
Why hasn’t Greece done more to stop tax evasion? The economists were also able to identify the top tax-evading occupations — doctors and engineers ranked highest — and found they were heavily represented in Parliament.
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