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Ian Shapiro Notes on the Political Psychology of Redistribution CONSIDER THIS: A PERSON TOWARD WHOM YOU ARE NOT ILL DISPOSED asks you to do something for him that you do not have to do. Responding to the request requires effort, but it is not massively burdensome. You do it willingly. This is followed by another modest request from the same person. Again you comply. A third request follows. You do it again, but now you start to become grumpy. After several more requests, with which you comply with diminishing good cheer, you conclude that no matter how many times you do what is asked, the requests will not stop. At that point you tune the person out. You stop returning phone calls and avoid him. Now consider this: in his first presidential debate with A1 Gore in October 2000, George W. Bush said: “Look, this is a man who has great numbers. I’m beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator. It’s fuzzy math. It’s a scaring—he’s trying to scare people in the voting booth. Under my tax plan that he continues to criticize, I set one-third. The federal government should take no more than a third of anybody’s check.”1 These anecdotes can usefully inform our thinking about two types of constraint on the demands people are willing to regard as legitimate: frequency and size. Part of what becomes irksome in the first example is the realization that no matter what you do, the demands will not stop—even though each individual demand is concededly modest. In social research Vol 73 : No 2 : Summer 200 6 607 the second example, Bush never supplied any reason for picking a third other than simplicity. Presumably, his position reflected his own judg­ ment, or more likely Frank Luntz’s, that “no more than a third” would resonate with people’s sense of unfairness. By advertising clear limits on the demands they plan to make of taxpayers, politicians recognize that finitude is important to people. Without limits on their obliga­ tions, voters will likely balk. My first story is most relevant to thinking about the relations between the sense of unfairness and injustice in low-enforcement tax regimes. In high-enforcement regimes other factors, such as fear of prosecution, may increase compliance with demands for payment. As people become increasingly convinced that what they are being asked for is unfair or unreasonable—or if it otherwise antagonizes them—they may be more inclined to risk defiance. Governments have compliance tables reflecting this: as marginal tax rates increase, so does tax avoidance (the search for legal shelters) and evasion (illegal noncompliance). But in low-enforcement regimes, such as the interna­ tional system, little more than the perceived legitimacy of the demand motivates compliance. The operation of low-enforcement regimes is therefore most likely to illuminate peoples’ underlying conceptions of fairness and unfairness. One source ofillumination about low-enforcement regimes comes from the history of tithing. There have been periods of forcible collec­ tions of tithes, but these were haphazard and intermittent, usually by institutions of limited coercive capacity.2 For the most part tithes were voluntary, gathered by the use of moral suasion or at most the threat of ostracism from the Church.3There have been instances in which tithes resembled conventional taxation, usually when the Church assumed quasi-govemmental functions,4 but for the most part tithes were justi­ fied as what is owed to God, not to Caesar. Numerous biblical references make it clear that the obligation to tithe is the obligation to give God his due—usually in recognition of the bounty he has bestowed on us.5 Tithing has thus typically been constrained by what people will accept as right, as distinct from what they can be coerced to pay or 608 social research can be persuaded that they should agree to pay as part of the social contract to provide for the collective good or their future security. As this formulation suggests, tithing is not done in anticipation of a tangi­ ble benefit—at least not in this life. People might tithe partly to gamer...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 607-618
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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