Let the Beachcomber Drown: Why Taxing Endowment is Unjust
47 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2007
Date Written: February 29, 2008
Many legal scholars who care about fairness in taxation are increasingly drawn to the idea of endowment taxation - a tax based on a person's ability to earn income, rather than on her actual income. For these scholars, endowment taxation is an appealing model for designing an actual tax system because, unlike income and consumption taxes, an endowment tax cannot be avoided by choosing leisure rather than work and is thus consistent with the intuition that tax should be based on one's ability to pay. This article evaluates equity-driven claims that endowment is the ideal tax base; to the contrary, it argues that the protection of liberty and equality, as understood in liberal egalitarian political theories, prohibits a tax on endowment. The article explains why the economist's attraction to endowment taxation is not compelling to those concerned about fairness. It suggests reframing the debate about tax equity away from so-called beachcombers - people who simply opt out of the social project - to take account of productivity that is undervalued or occurs outside the market. It explains why different deontological theories lead to different conclusions about fair taxes and compares the libertarian approach to endowment taxation with the liberal egalitarian approach. Last, it focuses on the apparent affinity of the equal opportunity norm for endowment taxation, comparing the work of John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin, and concludes that neither philosopher would embrace endowment tax as an ideal.
Keywords: endowment tax, liberal egalitarian, tax justice
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