Friday, February 24, 2017
Miranda Perry Fleischer (San Diego) presents Subsidizing Charity Liberally at Columbia today as part of its Public Law Workshop Series hosted by David Pozen:
When visiting America over 150 years ago, Alexis De Tocqueville was amazed by the role of charities in American society. Since De Tocqueville’s visit, the sector’s size and influence have grown enormously. So too have the legal benefits accorded them, the most important of which are governmental subsidies in the form of exemption from the corporate income tax and the ability to receive tax-deductible contributions. Given the sector’s importance and the cost of these benefits, whether the sector’s legal treatment reflects our society’s broader ideals merits examination. More specifically, our Constitution enshrines two bedrock principles of Western liberal democracies: limited government and equal opportunity. Does the legal treatment of the charitable sector further these ideals, or undermine them?
This Chapter explores the extent to which the charitable tax subsidies reflect these principles, as expressed in the two theories of distributive justice respectively associated with them, libertarianism and resource egalitarianism. This analysis shows that the subsidies’ current structure is much broader than necessary to reflect libertarian ideals, even under the more permissive classical liberal theories. As a result, the subsidies undermine the principle of limited government by coercing taxpayers to subsidize activities that are not the legitimate purview of government. The subsidies’ relation to resource egalitarianism is more complex: They are broader than the most common interpretations of resource egalitarianism justify, and undermine basic equality of opportunity notions both by subsidizing activities that increase the head-start of the wealthy and by giving wealthy taxpayers more say over government resources than poorer taxpayers. That said, the subsidies do reflect less well-known and more controversial accounts of resource egalitarianism that address expensive tastes and talent-pooling.