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Fordham Law Review



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John Rawls, Flat Consumption Tax


This Essay attempts to map out how such an inquiry would be conducted in light of Rawls. Rather than searching in theories of justice for required precepts of taxation, we might more fruitfully ask what constraints, if any, a particular theory of justice imposes on the tax system. Application of such an approach to Rawls's theory of justice may explain his apparent preference for a flat consumptionbased tax. This preference is otherwise quite puzzling in light of much of what Rawls wrote about economic justice, and might lead us to expect him to endorse a progressive income tax. If Rawls's discussion of economic justice is treated as offering limitations rather than mandates for taxation, then a variety of tax systems may be part of a just Rawlsian society, including a flat consumption-based tax. Extension of this approach to other political theories might produce a shorter list of acceptable taxes, depending on the extent to which the chosen theory is likely to constrain government action.

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