… is from page 10 of the typescript of University of Ghent doctoral candidate Charles Delmotte’s paper “The Conception of Taxation: The Romantic versus the Realistic Point of View”*:
The origin of the idea of equal treatment lies not in its utility-enhancing role per se, but in it being a constitutional remedy agains misuse of power, whereby majorities benefit their own position, and impose costly externalities on those outside the membership.
DBx: In the paper from which the above quotation is drawn, Charles uses insights from both the public-choice and Austrian schools of economics to expose the flaws in the theory of optimal taxation. Optimal-taxation theory supplies an approach to tax policy in which economics is attempted to be used to maximize utility. This approach is one of pure social engineering. Its proponents are naive in the assumptions they make both about how much knowledge government officials can have about the system-wide consequences of different tax rates and tax bases, and about the motivations of those individuals who actually set and carry out tax policies.
* Charles’s paper is one among many excellent papers presented, all by graduate students, this past weekend during an Adam Smith Fellows colloquium held in Fairfax under the joint auspices of Liberty Fund and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Revised versions of these papers will be collected next year into a published volume edited by my colleagues Chris Coyne and Bobbi Herzberg, and myself.