Wednesday, August 11, 2021
Susan Morse (Texas; Google Scholar), Tax and Race (JOTWELL) (reviewing Dorothy A. Brown (Emory), The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans — And How We Can Fix It (2021)):
Almost twenty-five years ago, Professor Dorothy Brown started writing law review articles (such as here, here and here) in which she applies critical race theory to tax law. This year, she published The Whiteness of Wealth, a book that not only claimed waves of popular and media attention but also provides a definitive statement of her longstanding scholarly project. The book offers a detailed case study of structural racism in law. It merits sustained attention from teachers and researchers, tax and otherwise.
Brown’s project has a descriptive component and a normative component. The descriptive component is based in cold logic, though made more accessible with stories from original interviews and from Brown’s family history. The logical equation is this: facially neutral tax law doctrine plus empirically different experiences based on race equals disparate impact that systematically favors white taxpayers and white wealth. In 2016, the median wealth of Black households was $17,100; of Latinx households, $20,600; of white households, $171,000. (P. 18.) Brown explains that tax law–not personal choice–explains a large part of this wide and persistent divide. She further argues that as a normative matter, equity and fairness require tax policy to reject rules that disadvantage “black families’ financial and social structures.” (P. 41.) ...
The proposals Brown makes for broad-based income tax reform generally draw support for other reasons, including economic efficiency and administrability. Eliminating special deductions and exclusions and tax rates tends to reduce excess burden distortions, and also tends to reduce tax law complexity. But to the extent there is any tension between Brown’s fairness claims, on one hand; and efficiency or administrability concerns, on the other hand, Brown does not accept any caveats. She has a clear and different goal, and that goal is grounded in vertical and horizontal equity and based on race. Her point is that the tax law should reverse its history of quietly and inexorably increasing the racial wealth gap because that is the fair and right thing to do.
Brown’s book is an instant classic. This is so both because of what it reveals about tax law and because of Brown’s method of marshaling statistics to reveal disparate impact in a technical area of law. Read it!