The Domain of Desert Principles for Taxation


  • Steven M. Sheffrin Tulane University. United States



desert, taxation, fairness, meritocracy, justice, Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts of 2017


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.

Author Biography

Steven M. Sheffrin, Tulane University. United States

Steven M. Sheffrin is Professor of Economics, Affiliated Professor of Law, and Executive Director of the Murphy Institute, Tulane University. He has published 11 books and over 100 articles in the areas of macroeconomics and taxation. His current research interests focus on the interplay of economics and psychology in understanding the features of tax systems.




How to Cite

Sheffrin, S. M. (2018). The Domain of Desert Principles for Taxation. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 11(2), 220–244.