Avoiding The Tax Man Could Cost Italians Dearly
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.
Today, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy sat down to talk about the European economic crisis歐債危機. At the table was Italy's new prime minister新任總理, Mario Monti蒙蒂. Monti's government is struggling to convince the financial markets that Italy has a plan to pay its debts. Among other things, Monti has pledged誓言 to crack down on取締 a time-honored tradition歷史悠久的傳統 in Italy: tax evasion逃漏稅.
NPR's Jim Zarroli explains.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Tax evasion, it's often said, is a national sport全民運動 in Italy. Carlo Fiorio is an expert in public finance公共財務 at the University of Milan.
CARLO FIORIO: Of course, people are not proud of evading taxes, but they don't feel as morally obliged在道德(或義務上)應該要(繳稅) to pay taxes as probably other citizens in other countries.
ZARROLI: Though exact statistics are hard to come by難以取得, Fiorio says the evidence is pretty clear that Italy has one of the highest tax evasion rates in the developed world已開發國家. One think tank智庫 estimated that tax evasion costs the government 100 billion euros a year一年一千億歐元an astonishing number in an economy the size of Italy's. Part of the problem is Italy's huge underground economy地下經濟, which is usually estimated at anywhere from 17 to 22 percent of gross domestic product國內生產總值(GDP). Take Ermano, a truck driver who's the only one in his family with a permanent job.
ERMANO: (Through translator) My wife is a kindergarten teacher, but she hasn't worked in years. She picks up work here and there, cleaning and sweeping the steps.
ZARROLI: There are a lot of people in Italy like Ermano's wife who work off the books打零工(沒有正式工作不繳稅) and few pay taxes. Among small-business owners, too, tax avoidance is considered common. Shopkeepers, plumbers, even dentists sometimes offer to reduce your bill if you agree to pay in cash.
Economist Francesco Giavazzi of Bocconi University says, for many businesses tax evasion is a matter of survival逃稅是為了生存.
FRANCESCO GIAVAZZI: If you understand tax evasion for the small company in Naples那不勒斯(義大利南部港都) that has the option, either I don't pay taxes or I close down, you don't justify, but you understand why they do it. They employ maybe 10 people, and they want to keep the thing going. It is harder to understand why the lawyer in Milan would be asked to pay cash, and it does happen.
ZARROLI: And it's not just lawyers. The government has prosecuted fashion designers, racecar drivers and even former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi前任總理貝盧斯科尼 himself for tax evasion. Often the government ends upy最後/結果是 settling for a fraction of what's owed只能追討回極少數的稅金. Carlo Fiorio says wealthy Italians are adept at熟練 shielding income from taxes逃漏稅, and a lot of rich people look poor on paper讓有錢人在帳面上看起來沒賺多少錢.
FIORIO: Less than 1 percent of the people earn, say, more than $120,000. At the same time in the last years, you had an increase in luxury cars bought. You had increase in yachts bought. And so clearly, this is hiding something.
ZARROLI: This kind of thing happens in every country. It's just more common in Italy. And it's not just individuals. Italian companies routinely transfer income out of the country to avoid corporate taxes企業稅金.
FIORIO: The number of corporations that declare zero, negative income is huge, is well above 50 percent.
ZARROLI: The government has sometimes tried to crack down on tax evasion, but those efforts flagged鬆懈 under Berlusconi, who notoriously argued that tax evasion takes place because taxes are too high. With pension contributions國民年金(養老金), individuals can pay well above 40 percent of their income to the government. Gianfranco Librandi owns an electronics company outside Milan.
GIANFRANCO LIBRANDI: The problem is we have to change the fiscal system改變財政系統. Don't go over 30 percent. It's more reasonable, like they do in many other countries in Europe.
ZARROLI: But with its huge debt levels, Italy can't think about cutting taxes right now. Instead, Prime Minister Monti has promised to crack down on tax evaders. The move is already generating opposition. But the new government is hoping that in this current emergency當今的經濟危機, Italian attitudes toward tax evasion are changing.
Jim Zarroli, NPR News.