Italy tries to raise tax revenue through stigmatizing tax evaders

It will be interesting to see if they get any additional revenue, but I doubt it. Unfortunately, this isn't really going to be a very useful test because the government is changing its rules to track down tax cheats. From the NY Times:

On a recent morning, Maurizio Compagnone, an employee of Italy’s internal revenue service, stood before a classroom of middle school students in a leafy neighborhood here, preaching the virtues of paying taxes.

“You may think, ‘I’m 13, why should I care about taxes?’ ” he said with earnest enthusiasm as the students looked on, slightly bored. “But you can take a step in the right direction. You can change the behavior of the people around you, your parents and friends.” . . . .

The tax authorities say Italy loses an estimated $150 billion a year in undeclared revenues, while the national statistics authority places the underground economy to be about 17.5 percent of gross domestic product — the third highest in Western Europe after Malta and Greece but before Spain. Other experts place the percentage much higher.

To tackle the issue, Prime Minister Mario Monti’s new $40 billion austerity package, which received final approval on Thursday in the Senate, includes tougher measures that will allow tax officials to peer into Italians’ bank accounts to check declared income against bank deposits — not to mention yacht, car and home ownership — under a new cross-referencing initiative.

The measures also prohibit cash transactions above $1,300 — common in Italy, where low credit-card use keeps private debt low but evasion high — and lower the threshold for which tax evasion becomes a criminal offense. The government has also set an additional 1.5 percent tax on assets repatriated under an earlier tax amnesty, raising the levy for those requesting anonymity.

Italy is filled with colorful anomalies. According to tax officials, nearly half of boats larger than 35 feet are registered to people who declare income of less than $26,000 a year, and 604 airplane owners declared annual income between $26,000 and $65,000. . . .

In spite of Mr. Monti’s approval ratings, there is widespread skepticism that the anti-evasion measures will work. Asked why Italy had had so much trouble cracking down on evasion, Bruno Tinti, a former prosecutor turned journalist specializing in the black economy, had a simple answer: “Tax evaders vote, that’s the problem.”

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