The Hidden Costs of the Progressivity Debate
74 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2010
Date Written: May 1, 1997
In this Article, I argue that.by reaching the agreement that the poor should have no tax liability, the contest over progressivity has centered improperly on the rights and responsibilities of relatively wealthy citizens. The wealthy are widely perceived to have valuable property that, if shared with society, will enable the smooth operation of the democratic state. At the same time, the wealthy are perceived to have liberty interests, which if violated, could lead to the ruin of the domestic economy.
Although the debate over progressivity has lasted for more than a century, traditional tax theorists have limited their discussion to the negative rights of the poor and have never explored fully any positive rights the poor might have. Moreover, theorists have ignored completely any responsibilities the poor might have with regard to the state. Traditional tax theorists, for example, have never investigated in any detail the question of whether poor individuals have a right to basic needs and economic security simply because of their status as citizens. Theorists also have failed to explore the idea that the poor might have a social duty to contribute their talents and energies to the greater social good despite their lack of income. Indeed, the poor are viewed as having nothing of value to contribute to society. Many political, moral, and economic theorists have argued, however, that access to rights as well as fulfillment of duties are necessary components of one's full membership in a community. Accordingly, I argue that by drawing lines and divisions between taxpayers and non-taxpayers, traditional tax theorists have enabled relatively wealthy individuals to participate in society as full citizens. At the same time, the lines have virtually bound the poor to a subordinate status.
Keywords: taxation, tax policy, rights and duties, progressive taxation, progressivity
JEL Classification: K34, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation