The Currency of Taxation
39 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2016 Last revised: 16 Jun 2019
Date Written: February 17, 2016
This paper focuses on a systemic phenomenon through which the powerful social instrument of income taxation contributes to the construction of our identities as well as our interactions with one another. Tax inevitably compares people and their behavior, assesses individual attributes, interpersonal interactions, and social institutions, and then converts them into “the currency of taxation.”
The process of comparing, measuring, and classifying attributes and interactions challenges and, at times, even reconstruct the reality it is intended to measure. It thereby shapes our identities in a number of ways. It translates reality into a continuous linear (lexical) function, with a distinctive starting point (zero liability) along a steady monetary scale. The elements of this mechanism — its starting point, units, and monistic, lexical order — are not simply components of the technical apparatus of the income tax system but normative choices. Like any baseline, the currency of taxation sets, reflects, and reinforces norms. Like any scale, it highlights certain aspects of our lives and overrides others. Like any conversion mechanism, it purports to represent the true worth of items on the scale, but something often gets lost in the translation. And like any lexical order, it treats items as commensurable and their “values” on the scale as comparable.
This paper illustrates these identity-related aspects of the currency of taxation through four test cases that represent different aspects of a person's identity: the deduction of commuting expenses; the distinction made between gifts and barters; the Israeli kibbutz communities; and personal-based international taxation.
Keywords: Income Taxation, Identity, Commodification
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