Endowment and Inequality

40 Pages Posted: 8 Oct 1999 Last revised: 30 Sep 2009

See all articles by Daniel Shaviro

Daniel Shaviro

New York University School of Law

Date Written: September 1, 1999


Neither income, consumption, nor wealth is an "ideal" tax base, or one that plausibly identifies what one really should want to tax. Rather, they are best justified as imperfect stand-ins for some underlying (but unobservable) metric of inequality that may be relevant to distributive justice under a variety of normative views.

This paper examines a more fundamental inequality measure that we might call "endowment," "ability," or "wage rate," and explores its relevance to distribution policy under welfarist and liberal egalitarian approaches to distributive justice. It argues that, while endowment taxation is not practically feasible, conventional rejections of it as an orienting idea, sometimes explained on the ground that it would require enslaving a beachcomber who could have been a Wall Street lawyer, are in key respects confused.

JEL Classification: D63, H0, H2, H20, H23, H21, K34

Suggested Citation

Shaviro, Daniel, Endowment and Inequality (September 1, 1999). NYU Law School, Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper No. 4. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=180577 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.180577

Daniel Shaviro (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
Room 314-B
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
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212-995-4341 (Fax)

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