April 27, 2012
Kant and the Graduated Federal Income Tax
Alexandra Pryor (J.D. 2012, Georgetown), Note, Ought There to Be a Graduated Federal Income Tax?: Is Robin Hood Justice, Justice At All?, 9 Geo. J.L. & Pub. Pol'y 543 (2011):
In the sections that follow, I will evaluate the justice of progressive taxation by adopting a Kantian framework, applying Kant's Categorical Imperative to a progressive income tax, arguing that our system of progressive taxation is violative of Kant's ethical framework, and suggesting that a Kantian perspective ought to be seriously considered by our nation's lawmakers. In Section I, I will discuss ethical theory's role in the debate for and against a progressive income tax and argue that those who oppose the progressive income tax fail to make compelling ethical arguments. I then suggest that Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative, extolled by many philosophers but ignored by policymakers and politicians, offers those who disfavor a progressive income tax a compelling ethical argument to support their case. In Section II, I introduce Kant's Categorical Imperative in its three primary formulations, and then in Section III, I evaluate the progressive income tax through the lenses of each of the formulations. Finally, in Section IV, I argue that a flat income tax is a good alternative to a progressive income tax not only for its economic benefits, but also because it does not violate the categorical imperative the way a progressive income tax does.
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