Choosing a Tax Rate Structure in the Face of Disagreement


In this Article Professor Kornhauser proposes an Integrity Principle that Congress should use when legislating in the face of inevitable disagreement and conflict among principles. This Principle, loosely based on Ronald Dworkin's principle of integrity, requires Congress to promote coherence from both a practical and theoretical perspective. The practical aspect insists that Congress enact laws that best comport with reality; the theoretical aspect demands that Congress first interpret conflicting principles in a manner that best reconciles them and then enact laws that maximize this harmonization.

Professor Kornhauser then applies the Integrity Principle to the question of a tax rate structure, a situation in which fundamental American principles of equality and liberty collide. The practical prong of the Integrity Principle undercuts the assumption that a progressive rate structure is redistributive. This is a crucial assumption because the strongest objections to progressivity are based not on economics but on claims of justice. Thus, to the extent that progressivity is not redistributive, conflicts between equality and liberty disappear. The theoretical prong of the Integrity Principle demonstrates that even if a progressive tax rate were redistributive, progressivity best reconciles two fundamental, but often conflicting, sets of principles: fairness and justice, and equality and liberty.

The Integrity Principle, and its concomitant choice of progressivity, will increase the agreement between state action and individual belief and thereby enhance the legitimacy of the state. Since progressivity is a "better fit" with American principles, it boosts legal, moral, and popular support of the state; helps restrain concentrations of wealth and power - an historic threat to the legitimacy in America, and encourages national (or even international) unity.

About the Author

W.R. Irby Professor of Law, Tulane University Law School.

By uclalaw