There has been a recent surge in research that seeks to understand the sources of variation in tax avoidance (e.g., Shevlin and Shackelford, 2001; Shevlin, 2007; Hanlon and Heitzman, 2010). The benefits of tax avoidance can be economically large (e.g., Scholes et al., 2009) and tax avoidance can be a relatively inexpensive source of financing (e.g., Armstrong et al., 2012). However, aggressive tax avoidance may be accompanied by substantial observable (e.g., fines and legal fees) and unobservable (e.g., excess risk and loss of corporate reputation) costs. Although understanding the factors that influence managers’ tax avoidance decisions is an important research question that has broad public policy implications, relatively little is known about why some firms appear to be more tax aggressive than others.
In our paper, Corporate Governance, Incentives, and Tax Avoidance, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether variation in firms’ corporate governance mechanisms explains differences in their level of tax avoidance. We view tax avoidance as one of many investment opportunities that is available to managers. Similar to other investment decisions, managers have personal incentives to engage in a certain amount of tax avoidance that may not be in the best interest of shareholders, thereby giving rise to an agency problem. From the perspective of the firm’s shareholders, unresolved agency problems with respect to tax avoidance can manifest as either “too little” or “too much” tax avoidance. As with other agency problems, certain corporate governance mechanisms can mitigate agency problems with respect to tax avoidance.