This chapter examines how public attitudes and judgments about tax fairness reflect distributive justice rules about proportionality/contributions, needs, and equality; fairness issues that influence voluntary tax compliance (Hofmann, Hoelzl, & Kirchler, 2008; Spicer & Lundstedt, 1976). Most public polls and some prior research indicate the general public considers progressive income tax rates as fairer than flat tax rates, a reflection of the Needs rule of distributive justice theory; our 1,138 participants respond similarly. However, two-thirds of our politically representative sample of the American public actually assign “fair shares” of income taxes consistently with fairness-as-proportionality above an exempt amount of income, consistent with the Contributions rule of Equity Theory. We argue experimental assignments of fair shares of income taxes can best be understood as a combination of the Needs rule, applied by exempting incomes below the poverty line from income taxation (via current standard deductions) and taxing incomes above this exempt amount at a single tax rate (i.e., a flat-rate tax) consistent with the Proportionality/Contributions rule. Viewed in combination, these two distributive justice rules explain the tax fairness judgments of 89% of our sample and indicate surprising general agreement about what constitutes a fair share of income taxes that should be paid by US citizens from the 5th percentile to the 95th percentile of the income distribution. The joint application of these fairness rules indicates how seemingly competing, partisan distributive justice concerns can inform our understanding of social attitudes about tax fairness across income classes.
Thanks to the University of Colorado Denver Business School for providing funds to conduct this research.
Roberts, M.L. and Roberts, T.L. (2020), "Distributive Justice and the Tax Fairness Partisan Divide", Hasseldine, J. (Ed.) Advances in Taxation (Advances in Taxation, Vol. 28), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 73-99. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1058-749720200000028003Download as .RIS
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