Unseating Privilege: Rawls, Equality of Opportunity, and Wealth Transfer Taxation

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This Article is the second in a series that examines the estate tax from a particular philosophical position in order to demonstrate the relevance and importance of the wealth transfer taxes to that position. In this Article, I explore Rawlsian equality of opportunity, a philosophical position that is at the heart of much American thought. Equality of opportunity requires not only ensuring that sufficient opportunities are available to the least well-off members of society but also that opportunities are not available to other members merely because of their wealth or other arbitrary advantages. Therefore, an income tax alone, even one with high rates on the wealthy, would be insufficient to achieve these goals. While revenue raised via the income tax should be used to provide additional opportunities to low-income members of society, wealth transfer taxes provide the additional safeguard of preventing the heirs of wealthy individuals from inheriting wealth that would provide them with additional, unwarranted and unjust, opportunities. Given the importance of the wealth transfer taxes, this Article also examines the question of what form of tax is most consistent with Rawls' position, ultimately determining that an inheritance or accessions tax best fits the role.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)713-741
JournalWayne Law Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2013


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