July 7, 2021Print | PDF
Wealth inequality. Inheritance taxes. They’re ideas that have become more prominent in social and political discourse over the last few years, as pay gaps have widened, and the social safety net seems to decrease.
Laurier music student Evan Morin (BMus ’21), a Voice major with a minor in Economics, sought to tackle these issues in his term paper for the undergraduate Public Economics: Taxation course. The paper went on to tie for first place in this year’s Progressive Economics Forum’s competition for undergraduate research papers. Morin accepted the prize at the Forum’s AGM, held in conjunction with the Canadian Economics Association’s annual conference.
“Originally I wanted to do something around wealth inequality. So in our tax course, I looked at what tax could best deal with wealth inequality and that sort of thing. And then I kind of went down the rabbit hole of researching things,” Morin says.
That rabbit hole included the work of social and political philosopher Elizabeth Anderson, of the University of Michigan.
“I came across democratic equality, which is a political justice theory. It's an egalitarian theory similar to libertarianism or Marxism,” says Morin. “And I thought it was interesting.”
Morin realized there was a gap between the philosophy of democratic equality, and how to get there in real-world terms. And since he was taking an economics of taxation course, he started to think about tax possibilities.
“And so I kind of filled in that gap a little bit by saying ‘hey, maybe this is a way that you could get to this ideal society, this utopia, maybe inheritance taxes are a way for us to get on that right track to improve society,’” says Morin. “There's a lot of recent literature in economics about some of the positive effects of inheritance taxes that just haven't been recognized or a lot of negative things that have been overblown. And recent empirical research shows that some of these negative effects aren't actually as bad as we thought they would be.
“The paper had two parts. I first described Anderson's theory, and then what democratic equality is. Why is this a thing we should be striving for? Then, the bulk of the paper was more economics related: what's an inheritance tax, how would an inheritance tax work and how it should be structured, and then what would the economic effects be?”
In writing the paper, he was able to count on strong support from his Department of Economics professor, Christine Neill. Neill encouraged Morin through regular meetings, as well as bringing in other Laurier faculty, like Loren King from the Department of Political Science. This allowed him to round out his paper.
Neill was very impressed with his work, saying: “Evan’s paper pulls together recent research in the economics of inequality from economics and integrates it with philosophical and legal approaches, all while carefully thinking through the practical tax policy implications. A lot of the time, papers like this stick to one approach or discipline, reflecting the course the student is writing for, or their current knowledge. To be able to combine approaches, as Evan did here, required a great deal of reading in and engagement with research that he was unfamiliar and uncomfortable with.”
Morin will continue his studies at the University of Toronto Law School starting in the fall of 2021.