The Global Program to Mold Children into Compliant Taxpayers

The book Building Tax Culture, Compliance and Citizenship, released by the “Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” is “a source book for developing countries” about ways to make citizens more tax compliant — “to change, through a well-designed educational programme, taxpayers’ attitudes and mindsets from ‘obligation to pay’ to ‘willingness to pay’.”

The book is a sort of evil twin of my own 99 Tactics of Successful Tax Resistance Campaigns. Such books can be useful to review because they often, in a sort of sideways-fashion, give tips on how one might erode taxpayer compliance.

The book begins by noting that “Governments in the developing world are striving more than ever to mobilise greater tax revenues,” and, under the unquestioned assumption that this “domestic resource mobilisation” is a splendid aspiration, proceeds to review some of the methods they’ve tried.

The process of “foster[ing] an overall culture of tax compliance… can begin with schoolchildren of primary and secondary level, which [sic.] are at a key moment in their socialisation and tax awareness process.”

This need not be as dull as it sounds: “With theatre, video games, television shows, and interactive play space, taxpayer education can also be a truly entertaining experience.” Here is one example: “Costa Rica has created a ‘Tribute to My Country’ space for children at the Museo de los Niños de San José, a former penitentiary.” Some of the features of this exhibit:

“The Ministry of Finance” includes a video game entitled “Tax Statements” which involves completing a tax income statement in a user-friendly format, entering basic details. The aim is for children to become familiar with tax payments and the taxation cycle. This space represents the electronic service points located at tax administrations.

“La Facturita” (The Little Invoice Shop) teaches about the general tax levied on sales. By pretending to buy and sell, children learn how this tax works: how to distinguish which payment receipts are valid and which are not. They are also encouraged to get used to requesting an invoice.

A European Union program helped Costa Rica convert its penitentiary space into a space for teaching tax compliance to children (and, along with the United States Agency for International Development, helped start a similar program in El Salvador) by bringing in advisors from Argentina, which had pioneered this approach.

Many of the projects described in this book had financial backing and other support from international agencies like these. It’s interesting to me the extent to which propagandizing the world’s children in order to imbue them with “an enhanced sense of moral obligation to pay taxes voluntarily” is a global project of the West’s superpowers.

Some other bits I found interesting:

  • “While there is no universally accepted definition or measure of the informal sector, it is the norm in low- and most middle-income countries, estimated to account for nearly two-thirds of the global working population (even more in developing countries).”
  • The report uses the phrase “bringing them into the tax net” to describe attempts to lure people out of the informal economy, which I thought was refreshingly honest in its predatory implications.
  • Many of the programs described target children at the grade-school level, and seem to both have a long-term focus on shaping the attitudes of the upcoming generation (and, as one description put it, breaking the cycle of bad attitudes about taxation passed from generation to generation), and a short-term focus on creating what one program calls “tax ‘ambassadors’” who will spread these ideas to their elders. Implied in some of the programs was the idea that the children would also become informers who would rat out tax evaders or people in the informal economy.
  • The Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia, for example, subjects a few hundred children there to its annual “educational three-day camp” that “aims to instill a sense of responsibility for paying taxes among the younger generation.” Sounds fun.
  • Some of the national tax agencies had partnered with Kidzania, a playground-style role playing area where schoolchildren pretend to take on roles in an adult employee/consumer-oriented economy. The children perform tasks in adult-styled professions to earn “Kidzos” which they can then spend at mini businesses (all with real-world names, exposed to the children as part of Kidzania’s “immersive and interactive brand experience”). With guidance from the tax agencies, Kidzania now withholds a certain amount from these Kidzo-paychecks, and tax elements of the economy are also part of this experience.