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Property, Taxation, and the Budgetary Commons

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Wagner, Richard E.
Date: 2000
Agency:
Series:
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/5384
Sector: New Commons
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Subject(s): budget
public finance
property rights
taxation
common pool resources
fiscal federalism
governance and politics
public--private
Abstract: Subsequently published as -- "Property, Taxation, and the Budgetary Commons, in Property, Taxation, and the Rule of Law", ed. by Donald P. Racheter and Richard E. Wagner (Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002), pp. 33-47.-- "For the most part, the theory of public finance treats public budgeting as simply a different type of market transaction. Taxing and spending are treated as if they were merely different uses of property and alternative forms of contract. Public budgeting reflects simply different particular uses to which people put their property. People might buy shoes from a retail store, and at the same time they might buy parks from a city. Where they would pay market prices for their shoes, they might pay taxes for their parks. Taxation changes the identity of the vendor from whom purchases are made and to whom orders for production are placed, and nothing more. It is simply one particular use that people make of their private property. Different rates of tax correspond to different collective choices regarding the uses to which people put what is still their private property. This paper challenges directly this common institutional presumption about property and governance. It does so by treating budgetary operations as vehicles for transforming private property into common property, thereby changing the governance relationships that operate within a society. At its most fundamental level, taxation converts private property to common property, with the state serving as the arena where rules for governing the commons are made. The tax side of the budget is where obligations to stock the common stores are apportioned among the citizenry. The appropriations side is where citizens compete for access to those common stores. As a result of this competition, individual citizens differ in the amount of access they secure, just as they differ in the obligations to stock the commons that they are forced to bear. Where standard fiscal analysis treats taxation as one component of a private property order, here taxation is treated as a means of transforming property, as well as the associated patterns of governance, from private to common."

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