Political Economy of Taxation


Taxation has a huge effect on our lives. Around 40% of the annual economic activity in the UK goes through the government. Taxation affects us directly by affecting the amount of resources we have and the cost of our purchases. It affects us indirectly by raising revenue which the government can use for expenditure, and by affecting the prices of everything we buy and sell.

Does the government tax too much? Or too little? Should the rich pay more in tax? How do taxes affect behaviour? What are the advantages of taxing income over consumption? Are tax havens a good thing or a bad thing?

This course explains the tax system and different ways to analyse, interpret and critique it. The course is not intended to teach you everything about the current tax rules and economic implications, but rather to provide a better understanding of the issues. Nevertheless, the course will be illustrated with data and examples primarily from the UK, with a few from the USA. 

Many people assume taxation is too technical for them to understand, and when it comes to some of the literature they might be right. However, this course provides an overview of the different approaches with the lay person rather than the technical expert in mind.

In this short course we will run through the perspectives that social scientists (and sometimes philosophers) take on taxation. The course will give you the tools to understand different types of tax and to appreciate their advantages and disadvantages. No prior knowledge of economics is required, and you will not need to do any equations or computer modelling.

Programme details

Courses starts: 18 Apr 2024

Week 0: Course Orientation

Week 1: Perspectives on taxation

Week 2: What are the principles and purposes of taxation? 

Week 3: Is the state an overtaxing leviathan? Rights and tax constitutionalism

Week 4: Who really pays the tax?

Week 5: The effects of taxes: behavioural changes and revenue raising

Week 6: How should we assess the tax system?

Week 7: The tax base: Income tax, consumption tax, or both?

Week 8: Taxing capital, taxing corporations? Are wealth taxes a good idea?

Week 9: What about non-compliance? Avoidance, evasion and taxpayer morale

Week 10: International taxation: Competition, havens and secrecy

Digital Certification

To complete the course and receive a certificate, you will be required to attend and participate in at least 80% of the live sessions on the course and pass your final assignment. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so.


Description Costs
Course Fee £257.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Dr Doug Bamford

Doug Bamford is author of Rethinking Taxation (Searching Finance, 2014) and several papers on tax justice (including articles in the Journal of Applied Philosophy and Moral Philosophy and Politics). He has taught at OUDCE for several years and blogs at Doug Bamford's Tax Appeal.

Course aims

  • To introduce students to social science methodologies and normative aims used to analyse and assess tax systems.
  • To give students good knowledge and understanding of the types of taxes available to the state, the extent to which they are employed and their advantages and disadvantages.
  • To give students practice in the analysis and critical assessment of possible tax reforms.

Course Objectives:

  • Gain an understanding of the political economy of taxation.
  • Understand the factors driving taxation policy change and the justification for these.
  • Present and defend their own views on these issue.

Teaching methods

Students will have access to a pre-recorded lecture each week and will be asked to read one or two relevant selections each week before the weekly live session. Live sessions will provide an opportunity to ask questions and for class discussion on the topic.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • have a knowledge and understanding of the ways of assessing the taxation system and particular taxes;
  • have learnt how to offer arguments for and against various types of taxation reform;
  • have gained confidence in expressing ideas in open debate.

Assessment methods

Coursework will consist of:


one essay of 1500 words;


two or three smaller essays totalling this amount.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


We will close for enrolments 7 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (7 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

No prior knowledge or qualifications are required to undertake this course. 

Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)