No Progressive Taxation without Discrimination? On the Generality of the Law in the Classical Liberal Tradition


Abstract: Any liberal theory that would take seriously the question of equality before the law is bound to engage with discrimination-related matters, and so long as one is a liberal one should oppose all discrimination coming from the state. This, however, may be a double-edged sword since many classical liberals have quite readily opposed progressive taxation by invoking its discriminatory nature. Some liberals will therefore conclude that one cannot establish different tax brackets, lest taxation be illiberal. This paper endeavours to refute this assumption. Progression may be compatible with the classical liberal concern for the rule of law, provided legislative discretion on tax-related matters is duly limited by the principle of generality, as well as by a certain standard of reasonable lawmaking. Through a careful distinction between four concepts of differential treatment, this paper demonstrates that progressive tax arrangements do not necessarily discriminate against the well-off, and that it can efficiently fulfill some legitimate classical liberals objectives.