Opting out of the social contract: Tax morale and evasion in Latin America

This paper discusses the relationship between individual attitudes towards the social contract and tax morale in low-capacity states. Using data from an original survey experiment fielded in Mexico, we argue that, in contexts of weak state capacity and low norms of tax compliance, many individuals opt-out of the social contract. That is, they prefer to substitute state-provided goods for private providers, rather than pay for public goods through taxes or free-ride to receive those goods. Using a list experiment to elicit willingness to pay or evade taxes, (a technique that has not yet been applied to the study of tax morale), we demonstrate that tax morale is lower when individuals have stepped outside of the welfare state and have access to private insurance mechanisms. We bolster our experimental results with observational data from seventeen Latin American cities; those with access to employer-sponsored insurance are more willing to evade tax.