Anne L. Alstott

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The Uneasy Liberal Case Against Income and Wealth Transfer Taxation: A Response to Professor McCaffery, 51 Tax Law Review 363 (1996)


In two recent articles, Professor Edward McCaffery argues that the United States should repeal its federal income and estate taxes and replace them with a progressive tax on consumption. The basic proposal is familiar: The progressive consumption tax has a long and distinguished academic lineage, and consumption taxation in a variety of forms currently is enjoying renewed political popularity.4 Professor McCaffery's novel claim is that his proposal is grounded in liberal egalitarian political theory, particularly that of John Rawls. In this Article, I argue that Professor McCaffery's argument, although provocative and interesting, is not persuasive. Professor McCaffery's articles make an important contribution because they seek to apply liberal egalitarian political theory to taxation. Professor McCaffery's particular recommendations, however, rest on normative claims that are in tension with basic liberal principles and on empirical predictions that rely on a strained reading of the available economic evidence.

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