Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Wage Enslavement: How The Tax System Holds Back Historically Disadvantaged Groups Of Americans

Goldburn Maynard Jr. (Indiana University, Kelley School of Business; Google Scholar) & David Gamage (Indiana University, Maurer School of Law; Google Scholar), Wage Enslavement: How the Tax System Holds Back Historically Disadvantaged Groups of Americans, 110 Ky. L.J. __ (2022):

Despite the importance placed on equality of opportunity within United States political culture, the existing tax system inhibits historically disadvantaged groups from building wealth or catching up with historically more privileged groups. This effectively then traps many members of historically disadvantaged groups into a continued cycle of dependence on tax-disfavored wage and salary income, a phenomenon that we metaphorically label as “wage enslavement.” This Article explains this phenomenon and then calls for reform.

In this Article, we have explained the phenomenon that we call “wage enslavement” and have argued that it is a central injustice of our tax system. We thus intend this Article as a call for reform. However, there are many possible options for reform, and space constraints prevent us from evaluating reform options here. We thus plan to take up the task of evaluating reform options in future scholarship. 

Space constraints also prevent us from addressing many other important aspects of “wage enslavement” in this Article. For instance, how do the class-based and race-based elements of the wage enslavement problem interact, and can further insight be gained by disentangling these elements? Looking beyond the Black American descendants of slaves who are our primary focus in this Article, how does the wage enslavement problem affect other historically disadvantaged groups or individuals who have experienced other forms of disadvantage? To what extent is the wage enslavement problem best addressed through tax reforms or through spending policy reforms or through other public policies?

Ultimately, we mean for this Article to raise more questions than it attempts to answer. We hope to address at least some of those questions in future scholarship, but we also hope that this Article will help motivate further work related to the wage-enslavement problem by other scholars. As Robinson and Das argue, “[t]he pendulum is swinging toward tax justice, but it faces formidable inertia. . . . Tax justice is deeply connected to the movements for equality and racial justice. Progressive tax policy can ensure more of us share in the prosperous economy that our collective tax dollars make possible. It can mitigate economic disparities by class and race. And it can make sure the government has the resources it needs to function for all of us.”

We believe that addressing the problem of wage-enslavement should be central both to the broader pursuit of tax justice and to the deeply connected pursuit of racial justice. Only through addressing the wage-enslavement problem can we effectively promote a more just future of shared prosperity for all Americans.

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