Taxes as practices of mutual recognition : towards a general theory of tax law
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The thesis tries to provide an answer to the problem of tax avoidance. For this purpose a reinterpretation of taxes as practices of mutual recognition is defended. The conception of taxation and tax law defended in the thesis contrast sharply to the merely instrumental or functional conceptions of taxation and tax law that dominates today’s common understanding of taxation and tax law. The thesis lays out the basis for a new general theory of tax law, but does not develop in detail each of the elements of such a theory. The thesis first lays out the problem by analysing different definitions of tax avoidance, tax evasion, and tax planning, as well as their shortcomings. From that discussion, it emerges that the ways in which tax avoidance has been conceptualised are not only unclear but they also fail to produce any relevant insight into the problem of tax avoidance. The thesis then relates those shortcomings to what it calls the classical paradigm of tax law, which leads, in turn, to the contemporary general theory of tax law. A combination of these conceptions – of the substance (function) and form of tax law – explains that the structure of tax law is based on a conception of the obligation to pay taxes in which there is space for tax avoidance. The thesis argues that, in doing so, the purpose of tax law is defeated. Recent alternatives to the contemporary general theory are also analysed and critically evaluated. The second part of the thesis develops the positive aspect of the argument, in three connected moves. First, an argument is provided to prove that both liberal egalitarian and luck egalitarian theories of justice are not able to offer an answer to tax avoidance because they consider taxes and tax law to be mere instruments for redistribution. Second, a substantive reinterpretation of taxation as a practice with an internal good is presented, in which mutual recognition is defended as taxation’s internal good. Finally, an argument for the thesis that the best possible understanding of tax law requires us to interpret it as a teleological institution is provided. With this positive programme, the thesis aims at providing a superior alternative to the merely instrumental conception of taxation and tax law that derives from the classical paradigm presented at the outset. Its superiority is evidenced by the fact that the alternative provided can offer us the conceptual resources to understand the problem of tax avoidance and hence of what tax law is about.