By Taxation or Donation: How Should Justice Be Funded?

29 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 3 Jan 2013

See all articles by Kieran Oberman

Kieran Oberman

University of Edinburgh - School of Social and Political Science

Date Written: 2011


If justice requires that certain goods, such as education, health and emergency services, be provided, how should the resources needed to provide these goods be collected: by taxation or donation? This is a crucial question. In many countries, including the US and the UK, donation plays an important role in funding basic services. We need to know whether this practice is to be welcomed and extended or whether governments should replace donor funding with taxation. This article seeks to answer this question on the basis of two values. The first, ‘justice amongst contributors’, is the value of justly distributing the costs of providing a good amongst those obligated to contribute to its provision. The second, ‘non-domination for recipients’, is the value of ensuring that recipients are secured against arbitrary interference in the receipt of the goods they are owed. It may seem that donation ensures justice amongst contributors since it allows each contributor to contribute exactly the amount that they wish to contribute. Any contributor who feels that they contribute too much is free to contribute less. However, this article demonstrates that voluntariness is insufficient to ensure justice amongst contributors. A contributor who contributes more than their fair share, out of concern that recipients receive the goods they are owed, suffers distributive injustice. The article goes on to argue that taxation does a better job than donation in realising both justice amongst contributors and non-domination for recipients.

Keywords: Donation, taxation, domination, voluntary, social capital, volenti non fit injuria

Suggested Citation

Oberman, Kieran, By Taxation or Donation: How Should Justice Be Funded? (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Kieran Oberman (Contact Author)

University of Edinburgh - School of Social and Political Science ( email )

United Kingdom

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics