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Publication Detail
Beggar Your Neighbour Or Why You Do Want to Pay your Taxes
  • Publication Type:
  • Authors:
    Munoz-Darde V, Martin MGF
  • Publisher:
    Oxford University Press
  • Publication date:
  • Place of publication:
  • Pagination:
    124, 143
  • Chapter number:
  • Editors:
    O'Neill M,Orr S
  • Status:
  • Book title:
    Taxation and Political Philosophy
  • Keywords:
    Taxation, Justice, Contractualism
In this chapter, we consider whether it is preferable for societies to favour charitable activity over central taxation. A common suggestion by those who favour a minimal state with extremely low levels of taxation is that the claims of need of the poor and destitute could as well be met by charities as by the state. That is to suggest, even in a society with a population which accepts the moral imperative to distribute resources so as to meet claims of need, we should not prefer that such distribution derive from state compulsion over the voluntary activity of free associations. Equally common is the riposte in political debate that organising distribution of resources in this way would be unacceptable because it would be demeaning to the poor, ignoring the fact that they have a right to having their needs met, and hence should not have to rely on the charity of others. On the other hand, Thomas Nagel has launched a challenge focussed on the burdens imposed on those who would have to give, and argued that taxation is preferable to charity since it avoids the costs of voluntary contribution to individuals. In this paper we argue that it is false that one should be indifferent (or prefer) distribution through charities over central taxation; we also reject the common objection to this; we offer an alternative response which avoids the objections to Nagel. Through highlighting the analogy between begging and charity we underline the costs involved in charity for those from whom charities’ resources are drawn. A society which does not use compulsory taxation to raise funds for distribution to meet needs would require its charitable organisations to raise a very high level of resource to meet those needs instead. Charities raise funds through a form of deferred begging, appealing to the benevolence of potential donors. In order to raise a sufficient level of resource from the population as a whole, such deferred begging would have to be widespread and invasive beyond the level it currently is. Nagel’s complaint that we find voluntary contribution a burden is doubly problematic. First, it is not clear why organising a direct debit should be so hard for someone. More significantly, Nagel seems to recommend that we adopt a coercive principle, non-voluntary payment of taxes, in order that some individuals can avoid the failings of their own weakness of will. And it is unclear that we think it reasonable for someone to insist that they prefer to impose a duty on others to submit to taxation only because they themselves would fail to carry out a duty through weakness of will. In contrast, if we reflect on the impact that fund raising for charities would have on all (whether contributors or not) we can see how a significant burden would fall on us whether weak-willed or not. That is, it would be unreasonable of someone to insist that all should be begged at to this degree just in order to preserve their option of not contributing through compulsory taxation.
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