New Scientist: People Love to Pay Taxes? Absurd ‘Study’ Presented as Fact

June 20, 2007 | Filed Under 00Publius Contributor, Budget, Democrats/Leftists, Economy/Finances, Society/Culture, Taxes, Uncategorized, Warner Todd Huston | 1 Comment

-By Warner Todd Huston

If this isn’t junk science, then nothing meets the requirement to be called such! A new, money wasting university “study” was written about by New Scientist Magazine (on their website this month that was presented as a “surprising discovery” somehow “proving” that people secretly love to pay taxes. And people wonder why “science” can be so easily scoffed at these days… or why it’s so hard to believe what you read.

On top of the bad reporting, this story is more proof of the constant waste of money that is perpetrated by our National Universities. Instead of teaching useful information and conducting meaningful studies, this University is trying to “prove” that people really secretly LOVE paying taxes.

Gee, why do they want that little absurd concept floating out there, do you think? And why is this news outlet propagating this foolishness?

New Scientist begins their tale in wide-eyed amazement:

Paying taxes feels good, say researchers.

The surprising discovery, based on brain scans, can also predict which people are most likely to donate cash to charity.

“Surprising discovery”, indeed. So, what was the method?

Bill Harbaugh at the University of Oregon in Eugene, US, and colleagues gave 19 female university students $100, and told them some of this money would have to go towards taxes.

Each volunteer then read a series of 60 separate taxation scenarios involving $0 to $45 in taxes, knowing that one of the scenarios would be selected at random and the related amount be subtracted from their $100.

And the finding?

As the participants viewed the tax scenarios, their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Surprisingly, whenever the students read the taxation scenarios, scientists saw a spike in activity within two of the brain’s reward centres – the nucleus accumbens and caudate nucleus.

And the wild leaps in logic that are extrapolated from this so-called discovery?

Harbaugh says that people probably like paying taxes more than they admit. He believes the results of his new study help explain the widespread compliance with tax laws. “We like to complain about it, but based on what we do, we are not as opposed to it as we like to say,” Harbaugh says.

Economist Robert Frank of Cornell University comments that tax-paying might stimulate positive feelings in the brain because the process helps equalise the burden of helping others.

What unbelievable balderdash! This “study” is so obviously flawed and absurd that it boggles the mind.

The truth is this flawed study treated taxes and charitable giving as one and the same function, a fatal flaw at the heart of their attempts to “prove” anything.

The study goes on to compare the brain scans of people giving charitable donations to those who are “paying taxes” (not that their study actually has anyone really paying taxes in it). The entire concept, however, makes a fundamental mistake in definition. Taxes are NOT charity. They are forcible redistribution of income — even if for legitimate reason in some cases. Charity and taxes are in no way comparable. Further, it shows that these concepts have not been taught to these students before this idiotic study was conducted and no control group of people chosen for their proper understanding of the definitions of taxes and charity was assembled for this program.

Let’s review the method to see further mistakes in logic. They GAVE $100 to 19 female STUDENTS. Those two words in caps further disqualifies the study as presenting any legitimate finding.

Problem #1- GAVE

These girls were not spending their own hard earned money. It was money that was simply handed to them with no efforts on their part past signing up for the study. These girls had no emotional attachment to the money, no sense of having earned it, no real assumptions that it was “theirs” at all. It was merely Monopoly money used for this study in their minds. It should be no surprise, then, that these subjects had no adverse reaction to the “spending” of their $100 on taxes.

Problem #2 STUDENTS

Chances are, the bulk of these same girls don’t work for a living, either. So, their experience with earning money that they are utterly dependent upon for themselves and their family is also an emotional concern they are not accustomed to. They are probably taken care of by grants, loans and parents’ funds, so they have little understanding of the “worth” of the $100 they were handed.

Another thing that makes this study completely meaningless is the lack of context. Few sensible people are against taxes just on principle. Even die hard tax protesters understand that taxes are a necessary evil at some level. But, context is important to the question of taxes. How is it being spent? Is the government program effective? Is it free of graft? These questions change the desire of people to pay taxes and must be answered to fully study people’s true reactions to taxes.

Further, there is a difference between the personal satisfaction of giving to a charity and feeling of “pleasure” from having helped someone else and the different emotional “pleasure” of having done your duty as a citizen when paying taxes. Duty is a personal satisfaction based on a sense of accomplishment for yourself first. Charitable giving is a “pleasure” of having helped someone else. Yet, both feelings can be erased or materially harmed when the money thus given is misused. This study neither takes any time to quantify the two feelings of “pleasure” nor factors in the ultimate use of that money.

All these deficits of logic and method makes this study a farce.

But, here we are being told of the “surprising discovery” of this study which is presented as if it is all ascertained fact. This “secret pleasure” is presented as some amazing, unexpected human reaction to taxation.

And, again, why would such a study be made? Is this another effort to soften the blow of taxation? If so, this is quite against the grain of the American experience which has been built on decades of a dislike of taxation and a mistrust of government.

In the end, all we have here is propaganda for the left from New Scientist and the University of Oregon.
Warner Todd Huston’s thoughtful commentary, sometimes irreverent often historically based, is featured on many websites such as,, men’ and among many, many others. Additionally, he has been a guest on several radio programs to discuss his opinion editorials and current events. He has also written for several history magazines and appears in the new book “Americans on Politics, Policy and Pop Culture” which can be purchased on He is also the owner and operator of Feel free to contact him with any comments or questions : EMAIL Warner Todd Huston



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