Professor Lawrence Zelenak on Return-Based Mass Income Tax

In the sixth and final installment of the Faculty Workshop Series, sponsored by the Frances Lewis Law Center, Professor Lawrence Zelenak, the Pamela B. Gann Professor of Law at Duke University School of Law, came to speak on November 1 about his new article and book, Learning to Love the Form 1040: Two Cheers for the Return-Based Mass Income Tax.

In it, Professor Zelenak describes his viewpoint on why filing an income tax return every year is a good idea in general for American citizens. Traditionally, he points out, those who favor large government prefer an accurate withholding system, to make taxes as painless and unnoticed as possible. Conversely, those who favor small government prefer a more visible and painful system so that each penny taken by the government is realized, increasing public awareness of tax policy. Professor Zelenak first states that the combination approach we have currently, with both withholding and annual filing is a great compromise between the two camps.

But he also takes a new spin on this discussion. Professor Zelenak argues that having such a highly visible tax system is good regardless of the small or large government feud. Initially, he points out that every year, come April, the news is awash with articles and information about tax policy and tax figures. These sources help fuel a public discourse regarding tax that may not otherwise exist. Additionally, he compares the act of voting as a representation of one’s political citizenship to the act of paying taxes (or just filing a return, if the individual has no tax liability) as a representation of one’s fiscal citizenship. It helps solidify a sense of belonging and part of the greater good.

Many thanks to Professor Zelenak for coming to speak.

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