Tax Policy and the Virtuous Sovereign: Dworkinian Equality and Redistributive Taxation
Philosophical Foundations of Tax Law, Monica Bhandari, ed.,(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 167-89.
33 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2016 Last revised: 15 Jul 2017
Date Written: 2017
Among the purposes of a tax system, it is generally accepted that one role is to implement a society’s conception of distributive justice. Indeed, if justice is, as John Rawls famously declared, “the first virtue of social institutions,” distributive justice may properly be regarded as the first or sovereign virtue of a society’s tax system – to which a virtuous sovereign should properly attend.
This article reviews Ronald Dworkin’s theory of distributive justice as equality of resources and its implications for redistributive taxation. Part II examines the theory itself in contrast to other prominent theories of distributive justice, arguing that Dworkin’s approach provides a more compelling conception of distributive justice than welfare-based theories that do not take rights and responsibilities seriously, Rawlsian theory which is insufficiently attentive to individual rights and responsibilities, and classical libertarianism which fails to take equality seriously. Part III considers the implications of Dworkin’s theory for redistributive taxation, addressing both the kinds of taxes that a virtuous sovereign should collect for this purpose and key features in the design of these taxes. Building on Dworkin’s theory, the article argues that progressive income and inheritance taxes are essential elements of a just tax system.
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