Where's the Sex in Fiscal Sociology? Taxation and Gender in Comparative Perspective
48 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2007 Last revised: 16 Nov 2013
Date Written: July 18, 2008
Tax and other fiscal policy systems inevitably affect patterns of work, marriage, household formation, child-bearing, and more. These 'micro-level' concerns are important subjects for 'fiscal sociology' to consider from a multidisciplinary perspective. This essay looks at some gendered aspects of taxation in a world-wide and historical perspective. It reveals surprising differences among countries, and a perhaps even more surprising open acceptance of fiscal mechanisms to shape household formation, meet natalist concerns, and affect the sexual division of labor. Amidst the diversity, three themes emerge: One, causes and effects are often hard to see in the dizzying complexity of tax and fiscal policy: there is a 'fog of tax,' akin to the 'fog of war,' making it hard even to understand what is going on. Two, in the complexity and haze, there is much room for rhetorical manipulation and even cognitive error. Three, when change does come, it more often than not favors the elite, and/or is predicated on macroeconomic concerns, such as the need for more or less female labor-force participation, or more or fewer children. Absent from the domain of fiscal politics, by and large, is a thicker substantive conception of rights or fundamental fairness, especially one looking to the dynamic effects of micro-level decisions about work and family on systemic patterns of discrimination and entrenchment. These various themes lead to a strong conclusion that more detailed work, on a country-by-country basis, is needed, simply to ascertain what is going on and why, and to a more tentative conclusion that the game may no longer be worth the candle: that there is good reason to be skeptical of complex tax and fiscal systems consciously or unconsciously aimed at 'social engineering,' even if we accept the inevitability of some non-neutral effects from any set of rules.
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