How is the Opera Like a Soup Kitchen?
The Philosophical Foundations of Tax Law (Oxford University Press, 2016), Forthcoming
29 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2016
Date Written: February 8, 2016
The charitable tax subsidies are, at heart, redistributive. Some individuals (the recipients of charitable goods and services, such as students, museum-goers, and soup kitchen patrons) receive benefits. Other individuals pay for these benefits, both voluntarily (through donations) and involuntarily (in the form of higher taxes or reduced benefits). At first glance, it appears that the redistribution effectuated by the subsidies violates commonly-held notions of distributive justice. After all, the subsidies treat charities that serve the wealthy (like the opera) the same as charities that aid the poor (such as the soup kitchen). How can spending public funds on the wealthy in this manner be considered just? As this Chapter shows, so doing is just under expansive interpretations of resource egalitarianism and left-libertarianism that account for expensive tastes and talent-pooling. These understandings argue that individuals with expensive tastes deserve compensation to put them on equal footing with individuals with ordinary tastes when pursuing their visions of the good life – just as individuals who lack financial resources deserve compensation to put them on equal footing with the financially-advantaged when pursuing their life plans. Subsidizing not only the soup kitchen but also the opera thus helps a variety of individuals who are disadvantaged in their ability to pursue their visions of a good life to achieve those visions.
Keywords: Tax policy, nonprofit law, charitable giving, political philosophy, distributive justice, inequality
JEL Classification: D31, D63, H41, K34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation