The Domain of Desert Principles for Taxation
Joseph Heath (2018) makes a strong case that the principles of fairness or desert that arise in social interactions have at best a loose connection to economic outcomes in decentralized markets. However, there is evidence that when people are given the opportunity—say, in collective bargaining situations—they will try to alter these market outcomes in favor of their own perceptions of justice, fairness, or desert. Taxation is an important domain in which the public can alter market outcomes. This paper explores to what extent desert can be used as a principle of tax policy. It analyzes tax policies that can be used to implement both individualized and categorical assessments of desert. I argue that there might be some room for tax policy at the broad, categorical level. Finally, using the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 as a case study, I explore whether merit or other bases for desert were embedded in the recent legislation. While there was evidence of attempts to implement ideas based on principles of deservingness in the legislation, they were not of the type necessary to sustain a merit-based society.