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Welfare State and Taxation. The Critical Point of Freedom Between Gift and Corruption

Silvestri Paolo, Marie S. Curie Fellow, Freiburg Institute For Advanced Studies, University of Freiburg, Germany

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 re-examine 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.


Keywords: Welfare State, Taxation, Freedom, Gift, Corruption, Crowing-out effect, Titmuss, Godbout, Einaudi

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