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4. Binary Intervention: Taxation > 7. Canons of "Justice" in... > C. Distribution of the Tax Burden

(7) The Neutral Tax: A Summary

We have thus analyzed all the alleged canons of tax justice. Our conclusions are twofold: (1) that economics cannot assume any principle of just taxation, and that no one has successfully established any such principles; and (2) that the neutral tax, which seems to many a valid ideal, turns out to be conceptually impossible to achieve. Economists must therefore abandon their futile quest for the just, or the neutral, tax.

Some may ask: Why does anyone search for a neutral tax? Why consider neutrality an ideal? The answer is that all services, all activities, can be provided in two ways only: by freedom or by coercion. The former is the way of the market; the latter, of the State. If all services were organized on the market, the result would be a purely free-market system; if all were organized by the State, the result would be socialism (see below). Therefore, all who are not full socialists must concede some area to market activity, and, once they do so, they must justify their departures from freedom on the basis of some principle or other. In a society where most activities are organized on the market, advocates of State activity must justify departures from what they themselves concede to the market sphere. Hence, the use of neutrality is a benchmark to answer the question: Why do you want the State to step in and alter market conditions in this case? If market prices are uniform, why should tax payments be otherwise?

But if neutral taxation is, at bottom, impossible, there are two logical courses left for advocates of the neutral tax: either abandon the goal of neutrality, or abandon taxation itself.