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Virginia Tax Review

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taxes, justice, ownership, inequality


Law | Taxation-Federal | Taxation-State and Local | Tax Law


Indisputably, the lives of all individuals, now and throughout history, have not been commensurate in every respect. No individual has the most of everything at all times - net worth, love, happiness, security, companionship, fame, food, land, grandchildren, or whatever else he or she values.1 Nevertheless, a utopian strain in intellectual thought, emanating as the Enlightenment afterglow,2 continues to place its faith in the public construction of an ersatz equality that has never existed naturally.3 The Myth of Ownership, a recent book by two New York University law/philosophy professors, Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel, is a striking exemplar of this dogged faith in the government's ability to eradicate inequality ... As Murphy and Nagel powerfully demonstrate, many of the dominant concerns of taxation, such as vertical and horizontal equity and the debate over income versus consumption tax, diminish in importance or even vanish when the focus turns to first principles. The proposed policy solutions, which are the result of so much intellectual effort and discourse, are in a sense beside the point. Thus, a high level of awareness that tax policy cannot and does not advance in a vacuum would serve tax scholars well. To the extent that The Myth of Ownership stimulates discussion of the underlying values taxation serves, it will prove a positive contribution, notwithstanding the authors' unfortunate failure to make the case for their own first principles.



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