Speakers and Abstracts

Professor Neil Buchanan, University of Florida Levin College of LawFinancing Social Security in the United States: Progressive Enhancements to an Already Stable SystemContrary to a decades-long disinformation campaign designed to convince younger people that Social Security is "going broke," the public retirement system in the US is in fact financially stable.  At worst, scheduled benefits might have to be adjusted downward by about 20 percent starting in the mid-2030's; but even if that were to happen, the system would then be self-sustaining at least through the end of the century.  We will see Social Security's demise only if the political forces behind that disinformation campaign so successfully undermine the public's confidence in the system that voters allow it to be eviscerated, notwithstanding how self-defeating that would be.  Although the system is currently stable, however, its benefit levels should be increased, especially given the growing number of retirees who depend entirely or almost entirely on Social Security checks to keep them out of poverty.  There are any number of methods by which benefits could be increased, matched by adequate revenue increases, increasing the progressivity of the benefit structure and ending the regressivity of the tax structure.
Professor David Duff, University of British ColumbiaAlternative Tax Policies to Moderate Economic Inequality:
Net Wealth, Capital Income, and/or Gifts and Inheritances
Recent years have witnessed increasing interest in net wealth taxation as a way to regulate the accumulation of substantial wealth and counteract increasing economic inequality. Although accepting that net wealth taxation may be a “second best” alternative to the effective taxation of income, this paper will argue that improvements to capital income taxation and a well-designed gift and inheritance tax are superior to net wealth taxation as a way to moderate economic inequality on multiple indices: philosophically, economically, administratively, and politically.
Professor Miranda Fleischer, University of San Diego School of LawChild Tax CreditsInterest in child tax credits has exploded in the past few years.  In addition to the federal child tax credit, over a dozen states provide state child tax credits to families with children.  Not surprisingly, the structural details -- and effectiveness -- of such programs vary widely.  Drawing on experience with federal tax credits and similar cash and cash-like transfer programs, this paper will offer specific suggestions for the design and implementation of state child tax credits.
Professor James R Hines Jr, University of Michigan Law SchoolPractical Tax ProgressivityThis paper explores the characteristics of progressive taxation that is economically and politically feasible.  Progressive taxes feature a broad array of exclusions, deductions and credits that narrow the tax base and thereby entail higher rates than do broad-based alternatives.  Base narrowing features enhance efficiency by focusing collection on revenue sources that are little affected by taxation, and they mitigate the most severe burdens by tailoring tax obligations to individual circumstances.  By making tax burdens less onerous, base-narrowing features make it possible for the government to impose a highly progressive rate structure that aligns tax obligations with ability to pay.  Exclusions, deductions, and credits largely benefit high-income taxpayers, but they are nonetheless essential components of any truly progressive tax system.  Aversion to the optics of tax breaks for the rich, and insistence on a broad tax base, leads inevitably to a flat tax without any progressive features at all.
Associate Professor Danial Halliday, University of Melbourne School of PhilosophyTax Justice and the Concept of JusticeJohn Rawls argued that the concept of justice was of the “proper distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation”. Implicitly, Rawls and political philosophers since assumed that social cooperation tends to achieve positive economic growth. The key question for distributive justice is of how to (re)distribute the benefits of such growth. It is less clear what justice requires in a slow-growth or stagnating economy, or when growth becomes disconnected from rises in wages. I will argue that such considerations bear on the moral foundations of just taxation, particularly questions around the proper design of the tax base.
Professor Liam Murphy, NYU School of Law
Emeritus Professor Thomas Nagel, NYU School of Law and Department of Philosophy
Why Tax Wealth?We discuss the importance of taxing wealth for social and economic justice. We conclude that taxing wealth--either by a direct annual wealth tax or by an improved income tax that taxes capital income on an accrual basis and includes gratuitous transfers in the tax base of donees—is warranted as a means to reduce unjust social stratification. We reply to an argument by Daniel Shaviro that a progressive life-time consumption tax would be sufficient. Economic justice, which is about giving priority to the welfare of worse-off people does not directly require the taxation of wealth, though of course wealth remains an eligible source of revenue.
Assistant Professor of Law and Philosophy Jeesoo Nam, USC Gould School of LawLuck Egalitarian Redistribution: What should we do about addiction?Suffering from substance use disorder is a material disadvantage. Drug addiction is the cause of many serious harms, often harms to the addicted person. But when it comes to the issue of redistributing benefits and burdens in our society, many think that the disadvantage of being addicted requires no corrective redistribution because addicted people brought that disadvantage on themselves by choosing to use recreational drugs. Those who hold this view might prefer that redistributive welfare benefits that we ordinarily give to the less fortunate be withheld from drug users. Is that view right? This Article investigates whether distributive justice obligates the government to help those who have been harmed by their own addiction. I will argue that many, perhaps most, addicted people suffer from unchosen disadvantage, not chosen disadvantage, and the government has an obligation to correct for unchosen disadvantages through redistribution.
Professor Daniel Shaviro, NYU School of LawTime Is, Time Was: Lifetime Versus Current-Period
Perspectives in Tax and Other Fiscal Policy
What time periods should we use in tax (and other fiscal) policy to evaluate people’s circumstances, and thus to decide (for example) what taxes they should pay, or what transfers they should receive? This question is fundamental in a  number of areas – just to name three, in (a) the longstanding debate about income versus consumption taxation, (b) assessing the equity of retirement programs such as U.S. Social Security, and (c) evaluating the progressivity of various countries’ fiscal systems. Despite the widespread recognition that annual systems may need to be used in practice for administrative reasons, standard economic reasoning can be used to make a compelling case for basing one’s thinking on lifetime (or even multigenerational) models. However, this reasoning relies on strong empirical assumptions that often are not entirely true. In addition, the philosophical case for favoring lifetime assessments, while in some respects intuitively appealing, is also subject to serious challenges and objections.
Professor Miranda Stewart, University of Melbourne Law SchoolTaxation of Work, Care and Wealth in an Era of Population AgeingTwentieth century tax states relied on economic growth, higher wages and effective tax and welfare systems to share the wealth. The tax state also relied on an unequal, gendered and often racialised care economy. Today, economic and demographic conditions are increasingly unlike conditions of the mid-twentieth century. Women are more educated and doing more paid work than ever before, but the gender unequal care economy remains. Population ageing, a consequence of longevity and declining fertility, is a renewed focus of policy, with care at the centre, but tax and transfer policy has not fully adjusted to address it. This paper considers whether, and how, justice and prosperity demands that we re-orient our tax and welfare policies for these changed conditions.
Professor Linda Sugin, Fordham University Law SchoolHow Much Wealth Do Individuals Deserve? A Political and Moral Defense of Wealth TaxCurrent legal discussions about wealth taxation have focused on two issues: 1. the constitutionality of wealth taxes, and 2. the deleterious political and social consequences of wealth concentration and increasing inequality.  At some level, these analyses accept the justice of private accumulation of wealth.  This essay takes a different perspective and asks whether individuals are entitled to that wealth in the first place, regardless of the downstream effects of that wealth. It argues that the accumulation of wealth by individuals is overwhelmingly the product of forces over which individuals cannot claim moral entitlement, so that wealth holders have minimal moral claims over the wealth they own and communities have compelling claims. Consequently, it concludes that wealth taxes are necessary in a just society.