47 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2007 Last revised: 22 Feb 2008
Simply put, this article stands the traditional concept of tax equity on its head. Challenging the notion that tax equity is an unequivocal good, this article deconstructs the concept of tax equity to reveal the subtle, yet pernicious ways in which it shapes tax policy debates and impinges upon contributions to those debates. The article describes how tax equity, with its narrow focus on income - as the sole relevant metric for judging tax fairness, presupposes a population that is homogeneous along all other lines. Through this insidious homogenization, tax equity performs both a sanitizing and a screening function in the tax policy debate: In effect, tax equity forecloses consideration of non-economic forms of difference (e.g., of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or physical ability) when determining the appropriate allocation of tax - and, by extension, societal - burdens. Paradoxically, with its ostensible concern for fairness, tax equity is often the most logical avenue for introducing critical concerns into tax policy debates; yet, tax equity has been defined in such a way as to bar entry to precisely these types of concerns. It should come as no surprise, then, that mainstream tax scholars tend to be so resistant - and, at times, openly hostile - to critical contributions to tax policy debates.
Drawing from the critical tax literature as well as critiques of that literature, the article provides examples of these homogenizing, sanitizing, and screening effects at work. The article then considers - and refutes - several anticipated critiques of this fundamental rethinking of a core concept. The article concludes by examining why, from the perspective of the dominant group, constructing a concept of tax equity that so narrowly focuses on the economic dimension of people is such a powerful rhetorical move. This exploration is largely guided by Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony, which posits that a social group dominates others through a combination of force and control over ideas.
Keywords: tax, equity, horizontal equity, vertical equity, deconstruction, critical tax theory, critical, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, hegemony
JEL Classification: K34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation