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Published: 26 Sep, 2017

New article problematizes the usage of the tax gap concept

NEWS FairTax researcher Lotta Björklund Larsen recently published the article “Mind the (tax) gap: an ethnography of a number” in the Journal of Cultural Economy (Volume 10, 2017 - Issue 5, pp. 419-433)

Lotta Björklund Larsen

Estimating the gap is a way of assessing the amount of missing tax income in society. Following its development over time – is it shrinking or increasing? – is also a way of assessing the efficiency of tax collection. Furthermore, to know what constitutes the gap and how it is made makes it possible for tax collectors and policy-makers to introduce measures to increase tax compliance. In the article, “Mind the (tax) gap: an ethnography of a number”, Lotta Björklund Larsen examines the tax gap concept, and how the resulting number is used by various stakeholders in Swedish society in order to impact the discourse on tax compliance.
“The article looks carefully at the making of the tax gap as a calculative practice by the Swedish Tax Agency, points to the challenges in assessing it (of which the makers of this number are very much aware) and reveals examples of its careless usage by various stakeholders in Swedish society who aim to impact tax compliance discourse. I explore the tax gap as a cultural phenomenon; by looking at its construction, its usage and the arguments used to support or defy it in various documents.” Says Lotta Björklund Larsen.

On a more general level, the tax gap is an example of how a number that describes a complicated reality is calculated with many caveats attached to it, yet used with certainty in society. It is an example of a number that performs a dual function: on the one hand mobilizing people’s morals and subsequent commitments and on the other hand measuring such commitments.

“Yet in fact, the estimated tax gap of a country says very little. It is a number that is clearly recognized as a guesstimate by its calculators; numerous caveats in its making are noted in many explicit statements and footnotes arguing for caution while using it. Although the analysts know that there is a tax gap, they underscore the lack of ‘basic data’ and note that some of the underlying assessment studies do not properly describe sampling methods, population and calculations. Maybe it is time to seriously consider scrapping the gap number and concentrating on what the gap contains, as any verbal reasoning about a specific number gets lost in the very complexity of what it actually attempts to measure.” Says Lotta Björklund Larsen.

Read the article “Mind the (tax) gap: an ethnography of a number” at:

Editor: Elin Andersson