When Politicians Rig Their Taxes

by Zoë Pollock

While at the IMF, Tim Geithner failed to pay Medicare, Social Security, and payroll taxes for several years, to the sum of $40,000. Dan Ariely ran an experiment to show how Geithner's behavior might affect the rest of us:

To see how witnessing an act of dishonesty would affect participants, we had one student—a confederate named David—stand up after only a minute and claim he’d solved all 20 matrices. The experimenter merely responded that in that case he could take his earnings and go. So how did the participants respond to this display when asked to self-report the number of matrices they solved? By cheating a whole lot: they claimed an average of 15 correct answers, more than twice the average score when cheating was not allowed.  … [T]he more we see politicians—the people who make our laws—fudge their taxes (which seems to happen continually), the more likely the rest of us are to adjust our understanding of what is right and wrong about paying our taxes, and do the same.