Project

Anthropology of Taxation. Enquiry into the Human Foundations of Fiscal Democracy

Goal: Why do we pay taxes? What kind of reciprocities are involved in paying taxes and in redistributive policies? Is it possible to conceive taxation as a form of gift? The main purpose of the present research is to build up an anthropology of taxation – based on an interdisciplinary dialogue about the notion of reciprocity – capable of providing new answers to these old questions.

The two main steps towards such an anthropology of taxation are: 1) developing a model of good/bad societies and governments, aimed at re-modelling the social pactum as a three-dimensional social contract at the intersection between horizontal, vertical and intertemporal relationships of reciprocity; 2) developing an empirical enquiry into the “percentage philanthropy mechanism”, which is the only existing legal mechanism through which taxpayers can freely devolve part of their income tax as a gift to the third sector.

Overall, this approach aims to forge new lens through which to re-read the fiscal system as a key factor of social bond, and to conceive the possibility of a new welfare society and of a new fiscal democracy.

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Paolo Silvestri
added a research item
Mainstream economics offers a perspective on the gift which is constructed around exchange, axioms of self-interest, instrumental rationality and utility-maximisation – concepts that predominate within conventional forms of economic analysis. Recognising the gift as an example of social practice underpinned by social institutions, this book moves beyond this utilitarian approach to explore perspectives on the gift from social and institutional economics. Through contributions from an international and interdisciplinary cast of authors, the chapters explore key questions such as: what is the relationship between social institutions, on the one hand, and gift, exchange, reciprocity on the other? What are the social mechanisms that underpin gift and gift-giving actions? And finally, what is the relationship between individuals, societies, gift-giving and cooperation? The answers to these questions and others serve to highlight the importance of the analysis of gift in economics and other social sciences. The book also demonstrates the potential of the analysis of the gift to contribute to solving current problems for humanity at various levels of social aggregation. This key text makes a significant contribution to the literature on the gift which will be of interest to readers of heterodox economics, social anthropology, philosophy of economics, sociology and political philosophy.
Paolo Silvestri
added a research item
‘Percentage Philanthropy’ or ‘Percentage Tax Designation’ institutions, known in Italy as ‘Otto per mille’ and ‘Cinque per mille’ – existing in several countries of southern and central-eastern Europe – allow taxpayers to allocate a little percentage of their taxes to organizations pursuing public utility purposes. The choice of designation of a beneficiary organization is usually expressed in a specific section of the tax return. In this volume we present the results of an empirical quantitative and qualitative research on the Italian ‘5x1000’. The research was developed thanks to a new database on individual Italian taxpayers and through the administration of questionnaires to taxpayers and third sector organizations residing in the province of Cuneo. Taxpayers and third sector organizations are the main protagonists of the circulation of the ‘gift of 5x1000’. The great success of this particular fiscal subsidiarity institution is evidenced by the yearly growth of three parameters: the number of taxpayers who make the choice, the number of third sector organizations, and the total amount of resources redistributed by the state. Yet, it is still a poorly studied and understood institution. Who are the taxpayers who choose to give the 0.5% of their income tax, and what are the motivations behind their choices? Who are the organizations benefiting from 5x1000, and what services do they provide thanks to the resources deriving from it? Who, in turn, benefits from these services? The research resulted in several findings. On the taxpayers side, the propensity to express the choice and allocate the 0.5% of income tax is very high for the vast majority of Italian taxpayers, with no significant differences between Northern and Southern taxpayers; however, almost all taxpayers who do not have the duty to submit tax return do not make the choice. The analysis of taxpayers’ socio-demographic characteristics shows how the propensity to give the 0.5% of income tax seems influenced not so much by age and sex, but by the level of education, working conditions and position, religious faith, voluntary work and interest in politics. The survey confirms the main hypotheses of the research: the reasons for giving the 0.5% of income tax are attributable, in order of importance, to altruism (“gift-without-sacrifice”) and autonomy in choosing how to allocate one’s taxes (“taxpayer’s sovereignty”). The research shows how the 5x1000 institution marks the difference between voluntarily ‘con-tributing’ to the common good and simply ‘paying a tribute’. On the side of the Third sector organizations, the already known phenomenon of concentration and dispersion-pulverization of the 5x1000 resources, both at the regional level and between ‘large’ and ‘small’ beneficiaries, is also confirmed at the provincial level, affecting, in various ways, the impact that such resources have on Third sector organizations, the services they provide, as well as those who benefit from them: families, minors, the disabled, young and old. The overall number of citizens who use such services appears to be significant in any case. Starting from the analysis of some gray areas and critical issues and from the estimate of the so-called ‘Unexpressed potential’ of 5x1000, we conclude with some policy recommendations. Overall, the research sheds new light on the use of taxes as a form of gift, its circulation and the ‘generative’ capacity of civil society through the great circle of the 5x1000. Keywords: Percentage Philanthropy; Percentage Tax Designation; Cinque per mille; Fiscal Subsdiarity; Gift; Taxpayer’s sovereignty; Third sector.
Paolo Silvestri
added a research item
Can taxation and the redistribution of wealth through the welfare state be conceived as a modern system of circulation of the gift? But once such a gift is institutionalized, regulated and sanctioned through legal mechanisms, does it not risk being perverted or corrupted, and/or not leaving room for genuinely altruistic motives? In this paper I will develop two interrelated arguments. 1) The way these problems are posed as well as the standard answers to them are: a) subject to fallacies: the dichotomy fallacy and the fallacy of composition; b) too reductive and simplistic: we should at least try to clarify what kind of 'gift' or 'corruption' we are thinking about, and who or what the 'giver', the 'corrupter', the 'receiver' and/or the 'corrupted' party are. 2) The answers to these problems cannot be found by merely following a theoretical approach, nor can they be merely based on empirical evidence; instead, they need to take into account the forever troublesome, ambiguous and unpredictable matter of human freedom. To explain the standard answers to the abovementioned questions as well as their implications I will first reexamine two opposing positions assumed here as paradigmatic examples of other similar positions: on the one hand, Titmuss' work and the never-ending debate about it; on the other, Godbout's position, in-so-far as it shows how Titmuss' arguments can easily be turned upside down. I will then introduce and reinterpret Einaudi's "critical point" theory as a more complex and richer anthropological explanation of the problems and answers considered herein.
Paolo Silvestri
added 2 research items
With this paper I try to sketch a research agenda on the basis of which humanities and social sciences might interact with each other, searching for a human common ground in tax issues. To this purpose I shall proceed as follows: (§2) I will sketch two working hypotheses showing how and why tax system raises anthropological issues at the intersection of Philosophy of law, Politics and Economics; to restrict the field of enquiry, I will then analyse, firstly (§2.1), the most common theories of taxation – benefit-cost principle and ability-to-pay principle – usually meant as attempts to answer the demand for tax justice; and, secondly (§2.2), the issue of freedom in taxation as a problem of legal-political and economic obligation. I will then show how the research might gain some insight from both (§3.1) the literature on homo reciprocans, and (§3.2) the literature on gift-giving, which might allow us to better articulate the demands for justice and freedom, as well as to glimpse the human foundations of a new fiscal democracy.
Paolo Silvestri
added a project goal
Why do we pay taxes? What kind of reciprocities are involved in paying taxes and in redistributive policies? Is it possible to conceive taxation as a form of gift? The main purpose of the present research is to build up an anthropology of taxation – based on an interdisciplinary dialogue about the notion of reciprocity – capable of providing new answers to these old questions.
The two main steps towards such an anthropology of taxation are: 1) developing a model of good/bad societies and governments, aimed at re-modelling the social pactum as a three-dimensional social contract at the intersection between horizontal, vertical and intertemporal relationships of reciprocity; 2) developing an empirical enquiry into the “percentage philanthropy mechanism”, which is the only existing legal mechanism through which taxpayers can freely devolve part of their income tax as a gift to the third sector.
Overall, this approach aims to forge new lens through which to re-read the fiscal system as a key factor of social bond, and to conceive the possibility of a new welfare society and of a new fiscal democracy.