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Taxing for the Common Good


Admission requirements

Prospective students are recommended to have completed at least one year of university education (not necessarily in law or economics). Proficiency in English, both verbal and written, is expected.


The course explains how tax systems can contribute to fair and prosperous societies.
While revenue generation is often stressed as the primary role of taxation, taxes can also be tailored to contribute to social goals directly, including to addressing such social challenges as income and wealth inequality and climate change. We study these contributions from the perspective of welfare economics. Rather than focusing on the details of a specific tax laws, the course introduces key concepts that help understand the functions and effects of tax systems as a whole. Students can use these concepts to analyse the extent to which the tax system contributes to social objectives and whether the tax system satisfies the fundamental principles of law.

Place within the minor 'Tax and Society'
The minor ‘Tax and Society’ focusses on how national and international tax policy can help build fair and prosperous societies in the face of major societal challenges. This course introduces students to the economic analysis of tax systems to facilitate the study and assessment of the way in which taxes can contribute to social objectives beyond the generation of revenue.

Design of the course
The course starts with an introduction of the key economic principles of tax incidence and the welfare loss of taxation. The course then applies these insights to a number of social challenges.
This includes the topic of income redistribution with the tax system, for example using earned income tax credits, and how tax systems can be used to achieve a reduction in environmental damage, for example by discussing carbon taxes versus cap-and-trade systems. The relevant economic theory is presented in weekly weblectures and subsequently discussed and applied to a number of specific cases in interactive weekly seminars.

Course objectives

Upon succesfull completion of the course, students know that tax systems are an important determinant of social objectives and are able to apply this knowledge to a number of recent policy debates.

At the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • explain the basic principles of the economic analysis of tax systems;

  • describe how the perspective of welfare economics compares to the legal perspective;

  • explain how tax systems may contribute to achieving a more equal income distribution;

  • explain how tax systems may contribute to a reduction in environmental damage;

  • interpret recent policy debates using the economic concepts discussed.


See MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: Not applicable. The course is supported by weblectures.

  • Names of lecturers: dr. H. Vrijburg

  • Required preparation by students: Not applicable


  • Number of (2 hour) seminars: 7

  • Names of lecturers: dr. H. Vrijburg

  • Required preparation by students: watch the weblecture, read required literature, prepare the weekly assignment.

Other methods of instruction

  • Description: 6 or 7 weblectures of approximately 1 hour.

  • Names of instructors: dr. H. Vrijburg

  • Required preparation by students: None.

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • Written exam (100%).

A written exam with open questions is the standard. However, depending on the number of students, we may opt for an oral instead of a written exam.

Areas to be tested within the exam
The exam covers on the required reading (literature) for the course, and the subjects and exercises discussed in the weblectures and the seminars. The most recent information can be found on Brightspace.

Regulation retake passed exams
In this course it is possible to retake an exam that has been passed (cf. art. 4.1.8 and further of the Course and Examination Regulations) on the condition that this course is not part of the minor. Students who have passed the exam may retake the final written assessment (test) of the course if they meet certain requirements. For more information, go to the website > ‘Law’ tab > ‘Retake a passed exam’.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

  • The free online textbook CoreEcon

Course information guide:
Reader: TBA. The objective is to provide most articles free of charge via a link on Brightspace.


Registration for courses and exams takes place via MyStudymap. If you do not have access to MyStudymap (guest students), look here (under the Law-tab) for more information on the registration procedure in your situation.


  • Coordinator: dr. H. Vrijburg

  • Work address: KOG, Steenschuur 25, 2311 ES Leiden. Room A. 257.

  • Contact information: via the institute below.

  • Telephone number: via the institute below.

  • Email:


  • Institute: Institute of Tax Law and Economics

  • Department: Economics

  • Room number secretary: B2.07

  • Opening hours: 9:00-17:00

  • Telephone number secretary: + 31 (0)71-527 7756/1571.

  • Email: