A Legislator Named Sue: Re-Imagining the Income Tax
Posted: 5 Jun 2002
This Essay provides perspective on the basic structures of the income tax laws by imagining how they would look if written by a Congress composed of women. Although this congress is obviously fictional, it is grounded in both theory and practice. Empirical evidence reveals that women legislators are more likely to be concerned with social issues, more likely to place these issues in a broader context, and more likely to want government involvement in these issues than men are. This is true regardless of their political party, age, class, race, ethnicity, or attitude towards feminism. Since this result is consistent with a broad based feminist ethic of care, the Essay assumes that a female majority congress would be motivated by such an ethic. Although labeled 'feminist', as used here it does not reduce to gender essentialism because it does not mean that only women use it, nor that they use it exclusive of any other voice or perspective.
The essay concludes that a majority female congress would influence income tax legislation in areas ranging from broad policy issues such as the rate structure and treatment of capital gains to particular issues such as child care and violence. Most of the changes it would enact are rooted in current ideas, if not current practices, that are not unique to an ethic of care. The cumulative effect of these changes, however, would be more radical than the sum of its parts. They would transform the Code in two ways. The first transformation would be a substantive one reflecting a shift in priorities. From increased support for progressivity to expanded aid for basic human needs, the tax laws would better implement a vision of the dignity and interdependence of individuals. The second change would be a structural one. A female majority Congress would help simplify the tax laws by replacing many tax expenditures with direct expenditures. It would use more direct expenditures than Congress currently does both because direct expenditures are better vehicles for executing social policies and because an ethics of care motivated Congress would have the political will to enact them. Thus, by using direct expenditures, an ethic of care Congress would not only strengthen and broaden support for social welfare programs, but it could eliminate complex tax provisions that currently deal with these issues in a less successful manner. Such a streamlined tax Code, stripped of many tax expenditures, would be a simpler and fairer tax, a goal that even the current Congress aspires to - at least in theory.
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