High rates of tax evasion are not necessarily a consequence of high tax rates. In an NBER working paper, Annette Alstadsæter, Niels Johannesen, and Gabriel Zucman provide estimates of countries’ wealth holdings in “tax havens.” Based on BIS statistics the authors find that:
- Wealth on the order of 10% of global GDP is held offshore.
- In Scandinavia, the number is much smaller.
- In continental Europe, it equals roughly 15%.
- In some Gulf and Latin American countries, almost 60%.
- In Russia, the richest citizens hold the majority of their wealth abroad.
The Economist reports about a study by Annette Alstadsæter, Niels Johannesen and Gabriel Zucman who matched leaked information from Swiss banks and Panamanian shell companies with Scandinavian wealth records. Their findings:
- Tax evasion is progressive. The average / top 1% / top 0.01% Scandinavian household paid 3% / 10% / 30% fewer taxes than it should.
- Accordingly, estimates of wealth inequality (based on tax data) likely underestimate the degree of inequality.
In an NBER working paper entitled “The Scandinavian Fantasy: The Sources of Intergenerational Mobility in Denmark and the U.S.,” Rasmus Landersø and James J. Heckman argue that
[m]easured by income mobility, Denmark is a more mobile society, but not when measured by educational mobility. … Greater Danish income mobility is largely a consequence of redistribution … policies. While Danish social policies for children produce more favorable cognitive test scores for disadvantaged children, these do not translate into more favorable educational outcomes, partly because of disincentives to acquire education arising from the redistributional policies that increase income mobility.
In an online book published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, Nima Sanandaji argues not only that the Scandinavian success story predates the welfare state but also that the welfare state actually undermined the success story. From the book’s summary:
Many analyses of Scandinavian countries conflate correlation with causality. It is very clear that many of the desirable features of Scandinavian societies, such as low income inequality, low levels of poverty and high levels of economic growth, predated the development of the welfare state. It is equally clear that high levels of trust also predated the era of
high government spending and taxation. All these indicators began to deteriorate after the expansion of the Scandinavian welfare states and the increase in taxes necessary to fund it.