Saturday, May 2, 2020
Palma Joy Strand (Creighton) & Nicholas A. Mirkay (Hawaii), Racialized Tax Inequity: Wealth, Racism, and The U.S. System of Taxation, 15 Nw. J. L. & Soc. Pol'y. 265 (2020):
This Article describes the connection between wealth inequality and the increasing structural racism in the U.S. tax system since the 1980s. A long-term sociological view (the why) reveals the historical racialization of wealth and a shift in the tax system overall beginning around 1980 to protect and exacerbate wealth inequality, which has been fueled by racial animus and anxiety. A critical tax view (the how) highlights a shift over the same time period at both federal and state levels from taxes on wealth, to taxes on income, and then to taxes on consumption—from greater to less progressivity. Both of these shifts disproportionately benefit Whites while disproportionately burdening Blacks and other people of color.
Racism in the United States has shifted over time from the direct to the indirect, from the overt to the implicit, from the intentional to the reflexive, from the personal to the institutional. Tax policy and law—which are often so complicated as to be opaque to nonexperts—operate in the aggregate and often masquerade as apolitical. Tax thus provides “cover” for racism as it has gone increasingly to an offstage rather than onstage role. Our goal in this Article has been to illuminate the racialized inequities perpetuated by the tax system as a whole and to document the continuing discriminatory effects of government action—here the federal, state, and local tax law and policy. We must name and describe inequity in order to move toward equity.
Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison in 1786, “whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right.” In our view, the tax laws of the nation— a component of the laws of property—have been inequitably extended for far too long.