A Voluntary Tax? Revisited

25 Pages Posted: 10 May 2001

See all articles by Edward J. McCaffery

Edward J. McCaffery

University of Southern California Gould School of Law


This Article explains, updates and generalizes Cooper (1979), which had labeled the estate tax a voluntary tax. The tax has remained "voluntary" in the sense of being easily avoidable, even by those engaging in activities within the tax's ostensible normative target (i.e., significant intergenerational wealth transfers). Further, all taxes on the yield to capital are voluntary in this sense. The federal tax system, writ large, is increasingly a wage-based tax. Citizens who own large stores of capital can live - and die - tax-free using common tax planning techniques. These facts ought to call the normative justification for the status quo, including the estate tax, into question. A consistent progressive cash flow tax - without a separate estate tax - is a far better, more consistent tax on both the yield to capital and inheritance than is the present, highly flawed, income plus estate tax.

Suggested Citation

McCaffery, Edward J., A Voluntary Tax? Revisited. Forthcoming in National Tax Association Proceedings, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=269352 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.269352

Edward J. McCaffery (Contact Author)

University of Southern California Gould School of Law ( email )

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