Tax, Justice and Society

  • Summer schools
  • Department of Law
  • Application code SS-LL110
  • Starting 2022
  • Short course: Open
  • Location: Houghton Street, London

The course provides an introduction to tax policy that links real-world debates about the tax system with ideas from a range of academic disciplines, including political theory, economics and sociology, as well as law.

Tax is a fundamental part of every society. Everyone has views on the justice or injustice of the taxes they pay. The rich pay too much (or too little) tax. It’s grossly unfair (or absolutely right) to tax inheritances. Taxes can distort behaviour and create inefficiencies, but they can also correct market failures and help to limit inequality. Why should people pay taxes for services they don’t use, or give away their earnings to people who don’t work? But, what would it be like to live in a society with no taxes? How can we ensure that everyone pays the taxes they owe? And so on.

The course helps to make sense of these competing views about the tax system. The aim is to address real-world debates about tax policy as they appear in the media and in politics, but to do so in an academically rigorous way. The course adopts an interdisciplinary approach that draws on ideas from across the social sciences to address two main questions: why do we have the tax policies we have, and how can our current tax system be improved? The main examples will be taken from the UK and US contexts, but the insights generated are truly global.

The course is divided into four main parts. Part I addresses issues of justice. It examines the relationship between the state’s power to tax and the individual’s right to private property, and the role of the tax system in creating a fairer society. Part II addresses economic approaches to tax policy, introducing key economic concepts and the importance of behavioural responses in evaluating the tax system. Part III addresses social, political and legal perspectives on tax policy, focusing on the policymaking process and issues of tax planning, avoidance and evasion.

The final part of the course enables students to apply what they have learned to two topical case studies. The first case study considers the UK’s current ‘housing crisis’, examining the role of the tax system and options for reform. The second case study addresses the major changes to the US tax system signed by President Trump in the 2017 ‘Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’, prompting students to explain and evaluate these developments using the tools that they have acquired during the course.


Session: Three
Dates: 1 August - 19 August 2022
Lecturer: Dr Andrew Summers and Dr Michael Blackwell


Programme details

Key facts

Level: 100 level. Read more information on levels in our FAQs

Fees:  Please see Fees and payments

Lectures: 36 hours 

Classes: 18 hours

Assessment*: Written work and one written examination

Typical credit**: 3-4 credits (US) 7.5 ECTS points (EU)

*Assessment is optional

**You will need to check with your home institution

For more information on exams and credit, read Teaching and assessment


Students are actively encouraged to apply from a wide range of academic backgrounds within the Social Sciences, including Politics, Economics and Sociology as well as Law.

There are no subject-specific prerequisites for this course: no prior study of Law or any other subject is required or assumed. The course is suitable for any student with an interest in tax policy.

No prior knowledge of the UK or US tax systems is required or assumed; students are introduced to both of these systems as part of the course.

Programme structure

  • Approaches to tax policy
  • Taxation as theft?
  • Tax and justice
  • Tax, public provision, and market failure
  • Economic approaches to tax policy
  • Key economic concepts
  • Behavioural responses to tax
  • Tax in society
  • Tax and the political process
  • Tax planning, avoidance and evasion
  • Case study (1): the UK’s housing crisis
  • Case study (2): the Trump tax reforms

Course outcomes

(1)    Engage with real-world debates about tax policy

(2)    Understand the role of the tax system in society and the economy

(3)    Develop tools for explaining and evaluating tax policies

(4)    Apply principles of tax design to topical case studies


LSE’s Law Department is one of the world’s best. In the UK, it was ranked first for research outputs in the most recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) and in the top 5 law departments overall by The Complete University Guide in 2018. In the 2017 QS World University rankings, the Department was ranked seventh (out of 200 departments worldwide).

Many important subjects were first taught and examined systematically from an academic perspective in LSE’s Department of Law. We pioneered the study of banking law, taxation law, civil litigation, company law, labour law, family law, aspects of welfare law, and studies of the legal system and the legal profession, and continue to be the leading thinkers in our field.

On this three-week intensive programme, you will engage with and learn from full-time lecturers from the LSE’s law faculty.

Reading materials

The following are indicative readings (not core texts):

  • Murphy & Nagel, The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice (OUP 2002), esp ch2 & ch4
  • Young, ‘Millionaire Migration and Taxation of the Elite: Evidence from Administrative Data’ (2016) American Sociological Review 421-446
  • Rowlingson, ‘Is the Death of Inheritance Tax Inevitable? Lessons from America’ (2008) The Political Quarterly 153-161
  • Johnson, ‘Tax Without Design: Recent Developments in UK Tax Policy’ (2014) 35 Fiscal Studies 243-273

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