Two Accounts of International Tax Justice
33:2 Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence (2020), pp. 317-339
23 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2020 Last revised: 21 Dec 2020
Date Written: June 8, 2020
Criticisms over the current international tax regime often reflect two sets of accounts in how justice is perceived and discussed in the political philosophy literature. One account centres around distributive justice, which relates to how burdens and benefits should be distributed throughout society. The other account focuses primarily on political justice and examines the conditions for the democratically legitimate exercise of political power, on the grounds that justice is to be pursued by altering the processes and institutions that produce tax rules and systems. The two accounts are related since democratic legitimacy should comprise, to some extent, the set of conditions for any institution to pursue a just distribution of burdens and benefits. However, each account builds on distinct normative foundations and entails different requirements.
Relatively modest attention is given to the relationship between these accounts in the political philosophy literature, and this gap carries over to scholarship on international tax policy, resulting in what may be described as the Legitimacy-Justice Fallacy, that is, the tendency of policy prescriptions to seek either to solve legitimacy problems by addressing distributive justice concerns or, conversely, to solve distributive justice problems by addressing legitimacy concerns. International institutions such as the OECD and the EU seem to have historically resorted to this fallacy, first, by imposing allegedly just standards on non-member countries without legitimate decision-making procedures and, more recently, following criticism of that approach, by arguing that an inclusive institutional structure should be seen as delivering just outcomes.
This paper examines the impact of this fallacy on international tax discourse and argues that global tax reform discussions should give greater consideration to distributive justice concerns. It ultimately argues that contemporary rhetoric around justice in the international tax community demonstrates an outsize focus on political legitimacy to the exclusion of a genuine concern for distributive justice, to the ultimate detriment of the pursuit of international tax justice.
Keywords: tax justice, global justice, legitimacy, international taxation, legitimacy vs justice
JEL Classification: F53, F54, F55, F63, H25, H77, H87
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation