This paper explores the culture of tax compliance in South Africa. The conventional explanation is that people pay because they have to. This would suggest that the recent dramatic increase in collections by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) is attributable to increases in technical efficiency that have improved enforcement. But this explanation may be insufficient. Internationally, increases on the scale achieved by SARS are unusual. Moreover, the techniques employed by SARS have been used by other revenue authorities, with much less success. This suggests that compliance with paying tax is not just due to coercion. In other spheres of public life, the common assumption is that people tend to obey the rules whether or not they are forced to do so. The paper suggests that a similar view of human motivation applies in the case of tax. Efficiency of collection may matter, but only if a culture conducive to payment already exists.
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Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies, 2 pp.