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TAXING WOMEN by Edward J. McCaffery


by Edward J. McCaffery

Pub Date: April 15th, 1997
ISBN: 0-226-55557-7
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

An unconventional argument that occasionally overreaches but nevertheless provides a significant challenge to orthodox discussions of taxation. For most people taxes are not only as inevitable as death, they are about as much fun to ponder. As a result, the social implications of tax policy are even less well understood than the forms provided by the IRS. McCaffery (Law/Univ. of Southern California) builds his effort to remedy this public ignorance on a basic truth: Taxes embody normative values because they cannot be levied without rewarding some people and punishing others. In the US these values have included traditional attitudes about women and the family, and have produced a tax system that punishes women. McCaffery's primary evidence for this claim (buttressed by real- life cases) is the ``secondary-earner penalty'' faced by working wives. When couples file jointly, they qualify for the maximum amount of relief through exemptions and deductions, even if only one has an income. A second income, almost always considered to be the wife's, is therefore taxed in full, effectively bearing a heavier tax burden. Moreover, her net income is even further reduced if she must pay for child care. In recent years the taxation of families has been a prominent component of many political agendas, of course, but the most common proposal—a credit per child payable whether or not both parents work—actually adds to this secondary-earner penalty rather than alleviating it. For McCaffery the ulterior motive here is clear: Those who favor keeping mothers out of the workforce and in single-earner homes are again looking to tax policy as a vehicle for pursuing their goals. And if history is any indication, unless those with alternative values wise up about the social implications of tax policy, the champions of the patriarchal family will again prevail. This is intended to be a provocative volume, and it is. (15 line drawings)