Why Taxing Consumption?

Justifications, Objections and Social Cooperation
Part of the Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice book series (IUSGENT, volume 40)


Robert Frank is famous for proposing an incremental tax on consumption. His proposition is motivated by the control of positional externalities, i.e. the costs that individuals impose on each other when they consume goods for securing or acquiring social status. A close analysis of Frank’s proposition identifies three justifications for a tax on consumption: efficiency, paternalism and equality. This chapter has two purposes. Firstly, it reviews these justifications, highlighting some objections and possible replies. As such, it suggests that reasons based on equality or paternalism are controversial while the invocation of efficiency is actually grounded in an underlying view of social cooperation. Secondly, this chapter advances the idea that an ultimate justification for the choice of specific tax base (consumption, income and wealth) expresses such an underlying view. In other words, the choice of a specific tax base is not totally instrumental, it has some intrinsic moral value too. In this respect, the chapter ends with a comparison between taxing income and taxing consumption. It is shown that a tax on consumption raises questions that should be answered by political philosophers.


Common Pool Social Cooperation Public Intervention Conspicuous Consumption Cooperative Mechanism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Media, Cognition and CommunicationUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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