Subsidizing Charity Liberally

28 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2017

Date Written: March 2017


Our Constitution enshrines two bedrock principles of Western liberal democracies: limited government and equal opportunity. 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.

Keywords: Distributive Justice, Philanthropy, Tax Policy, Charitable Giving, Libertarianism, Equality of Opportunity, Charitable Deduction, Tax Exemption

JEL Classification: D31, D63, D64, H24, H41, K34, L38

Suggested Citation

Fleischer, Miranda Perry, Subsidizing Charity Liberally (March 2017). San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 17-261, Available at SSRN: or

Miranda Perry Fleischer (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
(619) 260-2319 (Phone)

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