Assaf Likhovski Korinna Schönhärl (Chair of the panel)

How can citizens be made to pay their taxes honestly? Debates about causes of and remedies for tax evasion from antiquity to the 20th century


As Joseph Schumpeter expressed it in 1918, debates on taxation are extraordinarily useful material for historians to analyse the structure and power relations of a society. This is especially true for the discourse on (honest) tax payment behaviour: tax evasion withholds from the treasury the financial means on which it urgently depends to defend its national territory, to compose or maintain institutions or correct social inequality. The outage caused by tax evasion often results in an increase of the general tax burden, and thus in additional tax pressure on the honest tax payer.But how can tax payers be made to pay honestly? From antiquity to modern times this question has been the subject of excited debates. Answers depend fundamentally on the interpretation of the causes: Did citizens evade or avoid their taxes because they perceived the tax burden as being too high, the expenses as being unnecessary, or the distribution of taxes as being unfair? Or because they were displeased with their political representation and their power of co-decision? Or because penalties and controls were inadequate? Each narrative could be used to legitimize political demands. In the end they draw on competing visions of what society should look like. The transepochal session analyses conflicts about tax evasion across time and space: in Ancient Athens, the Holy Roman Empire (18th century), Israel at the middle and Spain in the second half of the 20th century. The contributions analyse how in different historical epochs different groups of actors struggled over the authority of interpretation of the term tax morale, which would have enabled them to enforce remedies in line with their own political agendas. The session aims to show how the term tax morale was meaningfully interpreted, focusing on the question of how the underlying ideals of living together in society changed over time.

Dorothea Rohde (Bielefeld)
Diskussionen über Steuerprivilegien im 4. Jh. v. Chr. in Athen

In einer finanziellen Notlage wurde Mitte des 4. Jhs. v. Chr. in der athenischen Volksversammlung beantragt, alle Steuerprivilegien aufzuheben. Dieser Gesetzesentwurf musste verfassungsrechtlich geprüft werden. Die 1501 als Richter erlosten Bürger entschieden jedoch, dass der Antrag mit den Grundprinzipien der Verfassungen unvereinbar sei. Die Abschaffung der Steuerprivilegien hätte den gesellschaftlichen Konsens gefährdet: Sie wurden denjenigen verliehen, die sich um die Gemeinschaft verdient gemacht hatten. Mit ihrer Abschaffung hätten sich die Athener also eines wichtigen Mittels beraubt, die Wohlhabenden zur Gemeinwohlorientierung zu motivieren.

Yves Huybrechts (Marburg/Paderborn)
Solidarity, coercion and rebates. Dissension during fiscal reform negotiations in the Holy Roman Empire, 1719-1732: mere excuses or fundamental conflicts?

During the 18th century, Imperial Estates seemed reluctant to pay their fixed annual tax, the Zieler, to finance the Reichskammergericht (Imperial Chamber of Justice). The paper explores the Estates’ debate on this problem as well as possible remedies at the Imperial Diet (1719–1732). Suggestions included abolishing tax privileges, taxing new territories, writing off old dues and toughening up enforcement. The thesis is that the – apparent – inability of the Empire to maintain its fiscal capacity can mainly be attributed to severely conflicting views concerning imbalances in the tax system and ways to redress them.

Assaf Likhovski (Tel Aviv)
Education, Law and Tax Compliance: The Case of Constitutional Duties in 1950s Israel

What is the role of law in inducing tax compliance? In 1950s Israel education, not law, was seen as the best method for inducing compliance. This paper examines one aspect of this approach, the appearance of constitutional duties (including the duty to pay taxes) in Israeli constitutional debates in the 1950s. Such duties reflected the view that the major role of constitutions was to serve as educational, rather than legal, texts. Beginning in the 1960s, duties gradually disappeared from Israeli constitutional debates, and law replaced education as the major method for inducing tax compliance. This process, the paper argues, was caused by the general decline of republican ideology in Israel.

Korinna Schönhärl (Frankfurt am Main)
Steuerhinterziehung als Argument für die Reform des Steuersystems in der spanischen Transición (1975-1980)

Die grundlegende Reform des Steuersystems war eine zentrale Aufgabe der spanischen Transición, hatte sich dieses doch unter Franco im Stil des 19. Jahrhunderts erhalten. Wissenschaftliche Studien seit Ende der 1960er Jahre wiesen auf die hohe Steuerhinterziehung hin. Dies ließ sich als Argument für eine grundlegende Neugestaltung verwenden, die die finanzielle Basis für einen modernen Wohlfahrtsstaat liefern sollte. Die Reformer hatten damit bis zum „Pakt von Moncloa“ 1977 Erfolg, dann aber zerbrach der Konsens zur Reform des Steuersystems. Der Betrag untersucht, wie zwischen 1975 und 1980 die mangelnde Steuermoral als Argument im Reformdiskurs verwendet wurde.

Jens Ivo Engels (Darmstadt)