Rawls, Justice, and the Income Tax
Charles R.T. O'Kelley
Adolf A. Berle, Jr. Center on Corporations, Law and Society, Seattle University School of Law
Georgia Law Review, Vol. 16, No. 1, Fall 1981
To the extent the primacy of justice is acknowledged in tax policy debate, such acknowledgment is coupled with the assertion that, of course, questions of justice cannot be meaningfully debated. The discussants then attempt to resolve the issue in question by use of ad hoc arguments of fairness and efficiency. The major purpose of this article is to show that not only is justice the primary issue, but that questions of justice can be meaningfully addressed. First, I will examine some of the ad hoc arguments of fairness and efficiency which have been made by proponents of a consumption base and will point out the unpersuasiveness of such arguments when the primacy question of justice has not been addressed. Next, I will show that while true utilitarians would acknowledge the primacy of justice, utilitarianism is no more persuasive than ad hoc maxims with respect to questions of justice. Next, I will explain how the relative merits of competing principles of social justice can be meaningfully debated by non-philosophers within the framework for comparative philosophical analysis developed by John Rawls. I will then examine the principles of social justice described by John Rawls and explain both the purpose that an income tax plays in a society structured in accordance with these principles and the definition of income that should be adopted by a society so structured. I will then consider the purpose of the income tax and the indicated definition of income under a libertarian theory of justice. Finally, I will illustrate the use of the Rawlsian framework for comparative philosophical analysis by examining how libertarian principles of justice might be derived and justified.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 33
Keywords: Rawls, progressive, income tax, Distributive Justice, veil of ignorance, social justice, tax policy
Date posted: February 5, 2010 ; Last revised: February 15, 2010