A failure to take seriously the conventionality of corporations has led to an unimaginative view of corporate taxation as being structurally analogous to the taxation of individuals. There are, in fact, many disanalogies between the two: corporate profit should not be treated as analogous to individual income; low-profit corporations should not be treated advantageously by a tax system in the same way as it should treat low-income individuals; and, most significantly, corporations are not owed the same level of care and determinacy as individuals with regard to the tax rules that they face. Breaking the perceived link between individual taxation and corporate taxation makes room for a reassessment of the structure and purpose of corporate taxation.
Taking a step back from issues focussed narrowly on taxation, as such, there is a general need to integrate normative issues regarding corporations into our understanding of the proper configuration of the basic structure of a democratic society. In our current non-ideal circumstances, the corporations we actually have are corrosive of the possibility of social justice. In part, this is because we’ve been blinded by a certain picture of corporations as ‘natural’ economic entities, and have been too timid and unimaginative in the ways in which we subject corporations to political regulation and constraint. A robust conventionalism would allow us to reverse the usual order of justification: from seeing corporations as placing constraints on government policy, to seeing corporations as conventional economic units that should be embedded in an institutional and regulatory structure that delivers social justice.
This gestalt switch opens up wide vistas for public policy innovation. Thus, this is an area in which applied political philosophy has an important home. First, conceptually, it opens up policy spaces which are easy to ignore when one is in the grip of an earlier picture. Secondly, in order to make sense of theories of liberal egalitarian justice, we need a better idea of their institutional setting, and this means moving beyond (or at least supplementing) overly schematic debates about the relative significance of government agencies and individual behaviour. We also need to think about how the basic structure of society should be organized so as to marshal its most significant economic institutions in directions which are conducive to the pursuit of social justice within a democratic society.The presentation will again take place in the Seminar Room of the Institute for Health and Social Policy, Charles Meredith House, 1130 Pine Ave., Montreal, beginning at 2:35 pm. As always, the colloquium is open to all: students, faculty and the general public are welcome.