Taxation and the Attack on the Affirmative State


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Chapter 18 Taxation and the attack on the Affirmative State Draft 1 0 April 2009 What makes a society democratic is not simply that political officials are elected in a properly democratic manner although that is obviously important A democratic society is also one in which people have the power through their political institutions to make collective decisions over matters of public concern Democracy is thus a question of the scope of public authority not simply of the way that authority is exercised A society is less democratic when the public domain is severely narrowed and decisions with large collective ramifications are made privately This implies as we argued in chapter 16 that we can make a meaningful distinction between matters of public concern and private matters This is certainly a difficult and hotly contested task but whatever else public might mean it includes the provision of a wide range of public goods and the regulation of the market in ways that minimize its negative externalities To do these things the state needs resources In a capitalist society in which most of the economy is organized through privately owned enterprises and most income is earned through market activity the way this is accomplished is through taxation This chapter explores the problem of taxation and the uses to which taxes are put by the democratic state Taxation might seem to be a dry technical topic of concern mainly to specialists This would be a mistake Taxation is at the very core of how a democratic capitalist society like the United States works It raises fundamental questions about the prospects for democracy and the conditions for fairness in societies in which so much power is vested in private property and the market We will begin by exploring different ways of theoretically understanding the idea of taxation and the problem of what it means for a tax system to be fair We will then look at taxation in the United States examining a number of myths about the tax

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