The American Sociological Association (ASA) has developed a new dues structure that will be voted on during the ASA’s May 2011 elections. In addition to adding more income brackets (increasing from 7 to 10), the organization is increasing dues since the dues have only been inflation-adjusted since 1997. Here is how the ASA explains how they adjusted the dues:
For many years, ASA members have voted for a progressive, income-based dues structure for regular members while subsidizing the dues of students and emeritus members. It is, of course, as difficult to agree on how to define “fairness” in a membership organization’s dues structure as it is to agree on the more familiar problem of fairness in public taxation.
One broadly accepted principle of fairness in taxation, however, is that everyone should experience the same burden of paying for the state because most taxes are used to pay for public goods which broadly benefit everyone in the society. Because a given amount of money is more valuable to people with lower incomes, the equal burden principle underwrites the idea that the percentage of their income people pay in taxes should increase with income – that is, those with more income should pay more taxes than those with less. To be fully progressive, of course, the taxes people pay should also be a progressively higher proportion of their income as their income rises. While this second aspect of a progressive structure may not be achievable in a membership association that has a narrower range of member income than the overall population, the ASA membership has long endorsed the principle of higher dues for higher income members.
As a scholarly membership association, ASA Council and EOB see much of what dues (and other revenue sources) pay for as a general good of having a professional association that supports the profession of sociology as a whole as well as providing specific services to individual members. In a wide variety of ways, ASA provides professional public goods: It organizes key journals in the discipline; gathers and disseminates data on sociologists and academic departments; provides timely information on the job market for sociologists and brings potential employers and employees together; promotes public dissemination of sociological research through the media; facilitates the building of strong networks among sociologists in the different settings in which sociologists work; organizes the annual national meeting of the profession at which new scholarship is shared; represents the discipline of sociology in the activities of many inter-disciplinary scientific and professional organizations; advocates along with those organizations for increased federal funding for social scientific research and graduate training; and has an experienced staff that responds quickly to public issues affecting the discipline, sociology departments, and individual sociologists.
These are real public goods for the community of sociologists, and thus the equal burden principle has been relevant to the ASA for decades. This is why the membership has voted in the past for a progressive dues structure in which higher-income members pay more in dues than lower-income members, albeit not necessarily a great deal more.
I have a few questions about this:
1. So this is not a “fully” progressive system, rather a somewhat progressive system. Why not be “fully” progressive based on income?
2. Where is the extra dues money going? Is the ASA providing more “public goods” or improved “public goods” or has the quality of these “public goods” suffered since dues have only been adjusted for inflation since 1997?
3. How did the organization’s value commitments as sociologists interact with their commitments to being a professional organization which, like all professional organizations, has certain tasks and duties?