Regressive tax rates and the unethical taxation of salaried income

Journal of Business Ethics 91 (4):553 - 566 (2010)
Abstract
In a regressive tax system, lower-income taxpayers pay larger percentages of their incomes in taxes compared to higher-income taxpayers. Although most policymakers and citizens view regressive taxation as generally unfair and unethical, the U.S. tax system taxes wage, salary, and self-employment income in a manner that deliberately subjects lower-income taxpayers to marginal tax rates that are greater than those imposed on higher-income taxpayers. As a result, some lower-income taxpayers pay a larger percentage of their income in taxes than higher-income taxpayers. In this essay, we argue that this regressiveness in the taxation of salaried income is unfair and unethical. We then evaluate President Obama’s social security plan, which would retain most of the current tax system’s regressive structure. Finally, we offer two simple alternative proposals that are non-regressive, and thus more fair and ethical approaches to the taxation of salaried income.
Keywords marginal tax rate  progressive tax  regressive tax  social security tax  tax policy
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