- Paperback: 324 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1999th edition (November 15, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226555585
- ISBN-13: 978-0226555584
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,086,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Taxing Women 1999th Edition
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About the Author
Edward J. McCaffery is professor of law at the University of Southern California and the California Institute of Technology.
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Imagine that you are playing a game of "Civilization." In your imaginary civilization, you are asked to create a tax code, and in your utopian society you decide that you prefer one that will privilege the single-earner home. This is your bias. You don't think two working parents is a good idea. Kids deserve at least one parent at home.
First, in your tax code, you decide that the second earner's paycheck will be aggregated with and then taxed on top of the first earner's, meaning that the spouse's salary owes a higher, sometimes much higher, marginal rate on each dollar he or she earns than did the first earner.
Then to meet your objective of luring the second earner out of the labor market, you ensure that this person will pay her (or his) full social security payroll tax (in 2013 up to $113,700; meanwhile stay-at-home spouses get to piggy back on half of their partner's social security contribution). When you add these income and payroll taxes onto the expenses that the second earner may incur by joining the work force, your imaginary second earner will face a marginal tax rate of over 50% on every dollar earned, not to mention childcare and other expenses required by employment. As one of my own friends put it, she (and indeed most of these second earners are women) decided to stop working as a lawyer when she realized that she was paying someone else to "live [her] life." But this was your goal, right, to slow down the migration of second earners out of the family and into the work force and thus to protect families.
But, over time, what else do you suppose that you would get in your hypothetical "Civilization"? Predictably, your civilization would have not only fewer spouses working but fewer spouses period. At the lower income levels, as the Earned Income Credit phases out, the financial incentives not to marry become strong. A married worker nets less than a single worker as her entitlements phase out. At the higher income levels, especially as economic pressure increases on families during hard times, you might see the primary earner in a household works longer hours to try to keep his (and yes, this is usually a "his") family afloat. In addition, wage rates for second earners stay low because employers rationally fear these spousal workers will not persist as employees in the labor market.
This imaginary tax code was the code that Edward McCaffery described in 1997, when he published "Taxing Women," and it is still the American tax code in 2013 (even with enhancements due to the Affordable Health Care Act). Is it any surprise that the conditions desired in this utopian experiment are exactly the conditions we face today: a troubling decline in marriage rates for lower income couples on the margin; a persistent wage gap for second earners across the income spectrum; a persistent lack of options for working families hoping for more flexible options for both fathers and mothers; a glass ceiling for highly trained second earner (mostly women) workers? Can we doubt that we have exactly the society we have purchased through our tax code?
Is this the society we want? Apparently it is. As long as we have this tax structure--one that penalizes marriage for working families, one that crushes second earners (usually women) with numbingly high marginal tax rates, and one that encourages primary earners (usually men) to put in punishingly long hours, it is the family we will continue to have.
Read MacCaffery's book and become radicalized to change this situation. It is the women's issue (the men's issue, the family issue really) that both Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on.
McCaffery is right--we need change, and this book explains why.
The author does a great job looking at income tax, Social Security tax, and other aspects of the tax code in how they create subsidies to sole breadwinners, who are most often male by simply dint of the biology of pregnancy and breast-feeding, which is actually a relatively tiny period of time compared to the full investment it takes to develop a child into an adult (22 or 23 years, actually, until full brain and physical growth in both boys and girls).
While here in 2012 there has been modest change in the system for families that make less than about $120,000 but who don't qualify for the EITC (from the aspects of the Bush Tax Cuts which both Obama and Romney plan to keep), broader problems for those families and families outside that limit persist. I can't help but believe that Obama would have had a more successful first term if he had focused on fixing these issues; the first Tea Party rally was created by a 30 year old female math teacher. While the Tea Party morphed into something else (including preserving sole breadwinner overentitlement), I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Obama, Geithner, Summers, Romer, had focused on the issues Cafferty raises in the economic recovery. Maybe we will see action on this in the next term, particularly if more people educate themselves on this.
A few suggestions:
1. While at the end of the book he changes his pitch on this a bit, the author seems to have a bias in favor of the mother remaining the primary parent and the father doing more to "help out" rather than both parents having equal responsibility for the child. He also repeatedly refers to the two-earner families having higher expenses of child care and other costs and so needing some relief. This presumption of the female dominated parenting world, which is either delegated by her to the father or outsourced to others, is fundamental to gender bias. Psychologists like Dorothy Dinnerstein in "The Mermaid and the Minotaur" have illustrated how this female-dependent and female-dominated (if subject to the father stepping in if he wishes) childhood actually creates, though boys' childhood experience, the very need for power and domination that men exhibit. The author mentions Nancy Chodorow's "The Reproduction of Mothering" which makes this point a bit the same way. At the end of the book he notes that "we need more dynamism, more choice, more room for creative work-family balances." I wish he would have said "we need more recognition that children see themselves as having two parents, and they need each parent to take responsibility for at least half the personal attention and care of them."
2. To really eliminate gender bias, we need the tax code to go further than just giving deductions or credits for child care. It should divide child tax credits and child care tax credits between parents. For example, in an individual filing system, each parent gets half a child tax credit for each child s/he takes at least half responsibility for personal care of. If, but only if, a parent (Parent No.1) does not meet state law abuse/neglect standards for the child and is deemed to have abandoned the child, or if the other parent (Parent No.2) has contractually assumed the first parents' responsibility for half the care (in a way that a child - or someone standing in for the child - could enforce), Parent No.2 gets a double child tax credit. The same thing for child care expense credits; these are capped at the same amount for each parent, and only apply if that parent is actually paying a child care bill him or herself. If a parent (Parent No.1) does not meet state law abuse/neglect standards for the child and is deemed to have abandoned the child, orr if the other parent (Parent No.2) has contractually assumed all of the first parents' responsibility for half the care (in a way that a child - or someone standing in for the child - could enforce), Parent No.2 the other parent gets a double child care tax credit. The same process could be used for the EITC. The state could provide basic guidelines for what constitutes the basic standard of care (which it already does through abuse/neglect standards); this would then facilitate the process of deeming a parent to have abandoned the child.
3. The book is called "Taxing Women" and it is focused on the tax burdens of women. This is gratefully received by this female reviewer but I would like to suggest that the real purpose is to help children. An overtaxed woman (or a woman who is otherwise oppressed by the tax system) is not an effective or helpful parent. One needs only look at the children of Betty Draper on "Mad Men" or of Mrs. Bridge in "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge" to see what happens to children when mothers are marginalized and oppressed from basic economic power in the outer world.
4. Tax lawyers are good at tax. Emotional development of children tends to be beyond the purview of tax lawyers, however (although any tax lawyer who is a parent needs to learn about it). Going into detail about it would be beyond the scope of the book, but I think an illustration of how children are hurt by fathers not doing the unpaid work of caring for them in the same measure as mothers would strengthen the book. The toxicity of this neglect by fathers to children's emotional development is a very serious issue. It can impair their development and create lifelong problems with cognitive functioning, relational skills, and the ability to create the next generation if they wish. The impairment caused by this is so difficult to process and repair in a world where nearly everyone is dependent on the permission of men to function that it may be one reason it is so difficult for people to look at the dysfunction of our gendered tax system - including in how it cripples our political economy. It's a bit like Stockholm Syndrome.