- Critical Tax Theory: An Introduction
Critical perspectives on the law—in which the law is not presented as neutral or objective and where the purpose of the inquiry is to confront injustices in society and to advocate, in particular, the end of all forms of subordination—are now common. A deep and rich scholarship in which critical methods are applied in advancing understanding in constitutional law, torts, contracts, criminal law, and related areas can be found in leading law journals. Excerpts from these articles routinely find their way into anthologies on the law prepared by feminists and the insights of critical scholars are found in feminist scholarship and used in teaching a broad range of courses in law and other disciplines. These materials explore social and legal changes that might be explained in part by the operation of institutionalized discrimination and efforts at its eradication as well as scrutinize the impact of class, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability, gender, and sex on our understanding, interpretation, and application of law. However, in spite of the fact that tax legislation serves as one of the most pervasive policy instruments governments use to promote their economic, social, and political agendas, feminists (who are not tax scholars themselves) have tended not to draw on critical tax scholarship.
Feminists no longer have an excuse for ignoring tax law in applying and advancing the insights of critical theory. Critical Tax Theory: An Introduction is essential reading for anyone committed to understanding the complexities of the determinants of law, the effect of law in oppressing subordinated groups, or the transformative potential of law, but who thinks tax legislation is inaccessible or considers the subject to be too esoteric and technical to be worthy of study.1 In gathering the fifty-one excerpts that comprise the collection, Anthony Infanti and Bridget Crawford, the editors, have covered the terrain of critical tax theory. The excerpts are grouped into twelve chapters that map broadly the outsider perspectives that have emerged in critical tax scholarship over the past forty years. A chapter is devoted to race, gender, sexual orientation, class, and disability. Chapters also focus on global perspectives, the family, historical perspectives, and the goals of tax policy.
In setting out the unifying features of the excerpts in the book, namely, what makes a piece of scholarship a contribution to critical tax theory, the editors suggest that each excerpt has at its heart one or more of the following goals: [End Page 281] "(1) to uncover bias in the tax laws; (2) to explore and expose how the tax laws both reflect and construct social meaning; and (3) to educate nontax scholars and lawyers about the interconnectedness of taxation, social justice, and progressive political movements."2 Each chapter follows a similar format. It commences with a short but helpful and insightful introduction. A relatively small number of carefully chosen and tightly edited excerpts from a number of leading articles by critical tax theory scholars follow. Each excerpt is only six to eight pages in length. Since the editing is meticulous, and because the editors have dispensed with the usual practice of marking where the text has been edited and have cut all but the most essential footnotes, each chapter is succinct and easy to read.
Chapter 1, "Foundations of Critical Tax Theory," has only one excerpt: Grace Blumberg's now classic "Sexism in the Code: A Comparative Study of Income Taxation of Working Wives and Mothers," which was published in 1971. The introduction to the chapter makes a bold claim—namely, that Blumberg "is the original critical tax theorist" (see later in this review for an earlier Canadian study).3 Blumberg's piece is focused on the US tax system's disincentive for married women to work and its inequitable treatment of two-earner families. Ultimately, Blumberg makes three recommendations: that instead of basing tax liability on the joint income of families, the United States should move to a system of individual tax filing (basically, the Canadian system); that the limit on childcare deductions should be removed; and...