Sep 23, 2020, 12:00 pm1:30 pm
  • School for Public and International Affairs
  • Center for the Study of Religion
Event Description

Ruth Braunstein argues that Americans’ association of taxpaying with both patriotism and resistance rests on public efforts to imbue certain uses of tax dollars with (positive or negative) moral significance. Drawing on the case of debates about war taxes and the insights of the new fiscal sociology and relational economic sociology – specifically Zelizer’s concept of “earmarking” – she argues that “fiscal earmarking” is central to such efforts. Braunstein makes this case, first, by developing the concept of fiscal earmarking, and distinguishing structural from symbolic fiscal earmarking. It then discusses three features of fiscal policy that reduce the public’s ability to evaluate the moral stakes of public spending – unmarking, obfuscation, and invisibility – and how earmarking enhances this ability. Finally, it uses the history of contentious debates over war taxes in the United States in order to show how groups both celebrating and resisting the use of tax dollars to fund war have symbolically earmarked war taxes in order to galvanize public support for their cause. The paper concludes by demonstrating how attention to fiscal earmarking illuminates other moral debates about the proper use of tax dollars, and advances our general understanding of tax politics and the moral meaning of money.

Ruth Braunstein is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. A cultural sociologist interested in the role of religion in American political life, her research explores the practices, discourses, narratives and ideals of activists across the political spectrum. Her first book, Prophets and Patriots: Faith in Democracy Across the Political Divide, a comparative ethnographic study of progressive faith-based community organizing and Tea Party activism, was recently published by the University of California Press. She is also the co-editor of a volume exploring the role of religion in progressive politics, entitled Religion and Progressive Activism: New Stories About Faith and Politics, published by NYU PressHer current research explores ongoing contests between defenders of Christian nationalism and religious pluralism; the ways in which accusations of incivility structure American politics and protest; and the roles of taxpaying and tax resisting in constructions of good citizenship and morality in the United States. She holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from New York University and a B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, where she studied international culture and politics.

The Crossroads of Religion and Politics Series is co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Religion and the School for Public and International Affairs.