Book Review: Tax Policy and Our Democracy
35 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2019 Last revised: 8 Aug 2019
Date Written: July 26, 2019
Two new books explore the many ways in which U.S. tax policies and tax systems have promoted social injustices and continue to do so. In RACIAL TAXATION, Camille Walsh provides a vivid depiction of the under-scrutinized fiscal history of elementary through secondary education in the United States, from the post-Reconstruction era until San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez. In OUR SELFISH TAX LAWS, Anthony Infanti details how existing U.S. Federal tax policies manifest problematic power structures that exclude and disadvantage many if not most taxpayers. Together, these books dissect a variety of flawed tax structures and reveal that tax discrimination grounded in race, gender, heteronormativity, differences in physical ability, and, pervasively, power dynamics, are not a malignant tumor on an otherwise healthy body, but rather are a systemic, pathological affliction on the entire U.S. fiscal state. This essay reviews Walsh’s and Infanti’s work, and builds on the authors’ rich historical and analytical contributions to ask: how can tax policy be reformed so that, rather than betraying and undermining the foundations of American democracy, it works to strengthen democratic institutions and their connection with members of a democratic society? I sketch some ways that democratic values could be injected into tax policymaking, starting with a broader conception of democratic accountability in the tax policymaking process, to move us towards the sort of inclusive tax policy that Walsh and Infanti show we have as yet failed to achieve.
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