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Dissertation Defense: An Account of Contributive Justice

Kimberly Chuang
Friday, August 31, 2018
1:00-3:00 PM
1164 Angell Hall Map
Liz Anderson (Co-chair)
Peter Railton (Co-chair)
Allan Gibbard
Ishani Maitra
Daniel Little (External member, UM-Dearborn)

In The Myth of Ownership, Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel argue that achieving fairness in taxation is principally a matter of distributive justice. (1) Distributive justice is understood to be concerned with what is owed to people as a matter of justice. For Nagel and Murphy, fairness in tax schemes is subsumed to the question of distributive justice: fairly allocated tax liabilities are just those that are compatible with the preferred theory of distributive justice. Subsuming assessments of tax fairness to distributive justice, however, overlooks the following possibility: that the question of how we ought to divvy up tax liabilities, and the burdens associated with running a society more generally, requires different, non-distributive considerations of justice. These are considerations of justice that aren’t essentially about distributive justice at all. I argue here that the division of burdens in a society is specifically a matter of contributive justice. Contributive justice is concerned with what people owe as a matter of justice, rather than what is owed to them. Even a comprehensive specification of distributive justice leaves indeterminate how the burdens of running a society should be divided up.

Each of the chapters in this dissertation develops one part of an account of contributive justice. In the first dissertation chapter, I make conceptual space for an account of contributive justice. I show that contributive justice is genuinely distinct from both efficiency and distributive justice. I also identify one respect in which principles of contributive justice ought to apply: that of determining the financing and delivery and civic cultural public goods. In the second dissertation chapter, I argue that a principle of contribution in accordance with ability (a principle of “ability-to-pay”, or “ability-to-contribute”, for short) stands out as a candidate principle of contributive justice. The version of ability-to-pay that I defend is, in particular, a deontic principle of ability-to-pay. I show that a deontic principle of ability-to-pay is more closely allied with a view of society as a cooperative enterprise. In the third dissertation chapter, contributive justice is used in service of developing an account of contributive legitimacy. Contributive legitimacy gives us a set of conditions under which the state’s use of coercive force to extract tax contributions is legitimate, and hence justified. Drawing on empirical evidence from the development and fiscal sociology literature, I show that contributive legitimacy in a state’s tax extraction practices is essential to rule of law, and the avoidance of kleptocratic authoritarianism. Contributive legitimacy supplements our understanding of conventional notions of political legitimacy and helps us identify possible failures of political legitimacy. These are failures that might be overlooked were we to focus solely on distribution.

(1) They’re arguably not alone in this conviction. A number of other legal and political theorists—Richard Epstein and Gerald Gaus among them—also believe that the fair allocation of individual tax liabilities is principally a matter of distributive justice. They, too, start from a distributive justice framework in order to figure out what a fair allocation of tax liabilities ought to look like.
Building: Angell Hall
Event Type: Other
Tags: Philosophy
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Department of Philosophy