International Cultural History of Tax Morale


The „Suisse Secrets“ show it just like the „Paradise“ and the „Panama Papers“: dishonest tax payment is increasingly perceived as a problem in the public consciousness and is scandalised. Because taxes could help to distribute the costs of the current Covid, Ukraine and climate crises fairly across society and prevent a further widening of the social gap - if everyone paid their taxes, if tax morals were not so bad. But what is tax morality?

In the project, tax morality is understood as the norms of tax paying that have the goal of preventing deviant behaviour by individuals and that have to be renegotiated again and again. Accordingly, the project examines the discourses around honest tax paying between the Second World War and the 1980s, in the three sample countries of West Germany, Spain and the USA. Who spoke out on the issue and how, and what interests did those involved pursue? How were the norms of taxpaying, i.e. tax morality, renegotiated again and again? What narratives of taxpaying developed under very different economic, political and cultural conditions? On what did it depend whether a narrative that explained tax evasion or avoidance as the citizen's self-defence against completely excessive state demands could prevail in the public discussion - or one that portrayed tax evaders as criminals who endangered the common good?

Answers to the historian's questions can be found in a wide variety of sources, from newspaper articles to television discussion panels, from the statement of a church representative to a party programme, from an economic model to a lecture by a lobbyist, from teaching material on tax education to a tax guidebook. How did the norms of taxation develop in public discourse in the early Federal Republic, in Spain under Franco and after the Transición to democracy, in the USA during the Cold War? The historical understanding of the development is indispensable for the analysis of current challenges in the field of tax morality.


Discourses about (honest) tax payment behaviour in the press (including radio and TV), in parlaments, in faith communities, in tax guidebooks, scientific publications and other sources are analysed.


This is the first historical investigation of norms of tax payment behaviour.

Interdisciplinary Aspects and Transfer

Economics, Sociology, Law

Key Facts

Inequality, Tax Honesty, Tax Justice, Tax Morale, Discourse Analysis, History of the FRG, Spanish History, US-American History, Contemporary History
Sustainability, Research, Transformation and Education, Economy & Business, International
Project type:
Project duration:
03/2018 - 02/2024
Contribution to sustainability:
Reduced Inequality, Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Funded by:

More Information

Principal Investigators

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Prof. Dr. Korinna Schönhärl

Modern and Contemporary History

About the person


If you have any questions about this project, contact us!

Annette Zaloudek

Contemporary History

Mitarbeiterin - Sekretärin

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Prof. Dr. Korinna Schönhärl

Modern and Contemporary History

Professorin - Sprecherin - Professorin für Neuere/Neueste Geschichte

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Selected Publications

Histories of Tax Evasion, Avoidance and Resistance
K. Schönhärl, G. Hürlimann, D. Rohde, Histories of Tax Evasion, Avoidance and Resistance, 1st ed., Routledge, London, 2023.
How to Create a Taxpaying Spirit. A Transnational Examination of an US American and a Western German Tax Education Film in and after World War II
K. Schönhärl, in: K. Schönhärl, G. Hürlimann, D. Rohde (Eds.), Histories of Tax Evasion, Avoidance and Resistance, 1st ed., Routledge, London, 2023, pp. 154–167.
Tax Education After WWII: How Spain, the USA, and West Germany Tried to Make Their Citizens Pay Honestly
K. Schönhärl, N. Düll, N.M. Ramírez Lugo , in: G. Sébastien, B. Hadrien (Eds.), Tax Evasion and Tax Havens since the Nineteenth Century , Springer, 2023, pp. 355–376.
"Ein Steuerzahler!" Tax education in der frühen Bundesrepublik
K. Schönhärl, in: J. Finger, B. Möckel (Eds.), Ökonomie und Moral im langen 20. Jahrhundert. Eine Anthologie, Wallstein-Verlag, 2022, pp. 228–237.
Steuerzahlverhalten quantifizieren
K. Schönhärl, Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte / Economic History Yearbook 62 (2021) 473–503.
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