Citizens and taxation : Sweden in comparative perspective

Abstract: In the contemporary critique of the welfare state a common target is taxation. The consequences of the high levels of taxes collected by the modern state, the critics argue, are slowdown in economic growth, high unemployment, and declining public legitimacy for taxes and state provided welfare. This thesis explores the political support for taxation in Sweden, the epitome of high-tax-society. The thesis consists of one introductory chapter and five journal articles.The first objective of the thesis is to examine whether a trend of increasing tax discontent has occurred in Sweden since the early 1980s up to present. The second objective is to study public attitudes to the 'Tax Reform of the Century' implemented in 1991. The third objective is to analyse whether public tax preferences and patterns of social conflict observed in Sweden tend to be unique in a cross-national context. Of particular interest is to analyse how relationships between structural locations and tax preferences are affected by the institutional context within which they are embedded. This is the fourth objective of the thesis.The following conclusions are drawn. First, no long-term trend of increasing discontent with taxes can be distinguished in Sweden, but there are some indications that discontent may have increased during the most recent years. Second, attitudes towards taxation are multidimensional and patterns of conflict vary across dimensions. Preferences regarding redistributive properties of taxation are primarily structured by social class. Generalised discontent with taxes tends to be associated with trust in political institutions. Third, the social bases of political support for progressive taxation appears to be different in Sweden compared to other countries examined. While class is the single most important determinant in Sweden, the lack of class divisions is evident in the United States and Britain. It is argued that patterns of tax policy conflict are strongly influenced by institutional configurations of organised social protection and government social spending priorities.