If you can’t make it easy, make it fun

Beat the tax avoiders with Behavioural Design

According to a recent report by Oxfam Novib, multinationals use The Netherlands as a tax haven, dodging some 4,000 billion EUR in taxes every year. However, the bizarre reality is that nobody seems to bother. Our tax burden is a bad thing anyway and everyone has an almost moral obligation to pay as little tax as possible. We even sympathize with the wealthy Dutch who move across the border to Belgium, and with the Googles of this world who practically pay zero taxes thanks to their state-of-the-art financial technology.

And yet, there’s one detail we forget: the common Dutch working people are actually paying for the government spending that these wealthy individuals and companies are so cleverly avoiding.

Almost all tax increases apply to the middle classes and almost all proposals to tax those with higher incomes, fail for fear of capital flight. If companies and the very wealthy would finally start paying, people like you and I would not only have to pay far less tax; we would, more importantly, have more than enough money to make sure nobody would ever fall through the social security net.

Every behavioural designer knows that the only solution to such a problem is to frame it in a different way. Just call it by a different name. If we could only make sure that wealthy tax avoiders become the new hooligans, and tax money is invested in a better future for us all. How about calling taxes the membership fee for the club called Holland? And how about finding a better way to communicate about the perks of membership? And how about making our government aware – and stop – their ongoing double standards: They actively organize seminars to explain to multinationals how they can avoid taxes, while punishing ordinary people severely for not paying enough taxes, or parking in the wrong space?

Taxes are stuck with their image and framing problem. As long as we keep talking about tax burdens only, all parties will continue to club together and point their finger at the bad guy called Government. Dodging a burden always sounds good. Now that I think of it: the Dutch government actually makes things worse with their slogan suggesting they can make things easy, but they can’t make it fun. Why can’t you make it fun? It would solve so many problems in this world.

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