Converging Welfare States: Symposium Keynote

Susannah Camic Tahk, Converging Welfare States, 25 WASH. & LEE J. CIV. RTS. & SOC. JUST. 465, 2019

33 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2020

Date Written: February 14, 2019


To what extent do the particular advantages of the tax antipoverty programs persist as the tax antipoverty programs take center stage? Can tax programs, once distinguished from their direct-spending counterparts on the grounds of relative popularity and legal and administrative ease of access maintain those hallmarks as the tax-based welfare state grows in size and scope? The first of the tax antipoverty programs was the EITC, a small, nimble program easily administered on a tax return, often meant to encourage people who might otherwise be receiving welfare to go to work.Now, the EITC at the foundation of our federal antipoverty apparatus.What are the consequences? How much have the EITC and its now-lengthy list of companion tax antipoverty programs,retained the advantages of the supplemental welfare state it once was? Or, instead, are the tax antipoverty programs starting to resemble the behemoth direct-spending programs they’ve replaced in the center of the U.S.’s social policy landscape? To what extent can we expect tax programs become more like direct-spending programs, or “welfare” over time? My goal here to take seriously potential threats that emerge from relying on the tax code as the primary federal means to accomplish antipoverty goals? To talk about this question, I want to focus on three ways that tax antipoverty programs have differed from their direct-spending counterparts and consider how each might change as the tax programs grow in scale and salience. First, I will discuss public opinion, second, legal frameworks, namely the fact that the tax programs are in the Internal Revenue Code and the non-tax ones are not, and third, administration. I will then offer a few concluding reflections on the normative implications of these differences and their possible persistence.

Keywords: Tax, Tax Policy, Poverty Law, Welfare, Public Benefits

Suggested Citation

Camic Tahk, Susannah, Converging Welfare States: Symposium Keynote (February 14, 2019). Susannah Camic Tahk, Converging Welfare States, 25 WASH. & LEE J. CIV. RTS. & SOC. JUST. 465, 2019, Available at SSRN:

Susannah Camic Tahk (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States


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