Thursday, January 27, 2011
Americans cherish the notion of equality of opportunity, believing that it protects a commitment to liberty and neutrality. Despite the importance of equal opportunity principles in our society, most legal scholarship invoking the concept often fails to address complexities raised by the political philosophy literature, such as the “equality of what” debate. Moreover, current scholarship on the charitable tax subsidies overemphasizes the benefits of efficiency and pluralism to the detriment of distributive justice, resulting in substantial normative gaps. For example, which organizations should be subsidized? Should charities be required to assist the poor? Is a deduction or a credit preferable?
This Article carefully mines the equal opportunity philosophy literature for insights into those questions. Often, these nuances lend rigorous philosophical support for commonly held intuitions. The basic version of ex ante equality of material resources, for example, confirms the intuition that the charitable sector does not do enough to help the financially poor participate fully in our society. Other insights seem counter-intuitive: A broader version of resource equality that addresses talent-pooling and expensive tastes suggests that we continue to subsidize elite cultural institutions such as the opera without requiring them to offer free or discounted services to the poor.