The Rhetoric of the Anti-Progressive Income Tax Movement: A Typical Male Reaction

Michigan Law Review, Vol. 86, p. 465, 1987

59 Pages Posted: 22 May 2009

Date Written: 1987


This Article examines the arguments against progressivity and the supporting individualistic philosophic premises behind the mask of rhetoric. First, accepting the underlying premises, the article shows that the arguments against progressivity are not nearly as strong as supposed. Second, by exposing the limitations of the arguments’ underlying premises, the article shows that theses arguments depend not on objective “scientific facts”, but on a particular vision of people and society. This vision is certainly a legitimate one, but it is just as certainly not the only one.

Part I briefly summarizes the major arguments against progressivity. Part II examines the economic argument, its underlying assumption, and its limitations. Part III discusses philosophic premises and progressive taxation. First, accepting for argumentation the neoclassical contractarian premise that only a benefits tax is a just tax, it examines whether a progressive tax can be justified on this basis. Second, it reexamines the individualistic premises underlying the neoclassical economic view of efficiency and exposes weaknesses in the arguments favoring a flat tax. Third, it suggests that less individualistic philosophies or visions of society (and human nature) lend support to a progressive tax and uses a feminist view as an example of how one such alternative view could support progressive taxation.

Part IV concludes that there is a strong case for progressive taxation based not only on the feminist view of humanity but also on the neoconservative view. The conflict between these philosophies, which seems to require making a choice between a flat and a progressive tax is more illusory than we believe. To the extent that it is real, the choice of either one will be unsatisfactory to some people. We should choose progressivity, which better comports with modern society, and does relatively little violence to the Neo View because it places minimal restrictions on the individual’s actions and property.

Keywords: benefits taxation, feminism, flat tax, income tax, progressive tax, redistributive justice, rhetoric, tax policy

Suggested Citation

Kornhauser, Marjorie E., The Rhetoric of the Anti-Progressive Income Tax Movement: A Typical Male Reaction (1987). Michigan Law Review, Vol. 86, p. 465, 1987, Available at SSRN:

Marjorie E. Kornhauser (Contact Author)

Tulane University School of Law ( email )

6329 Freret Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States

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