Tax Glasnost for Millionaires: Peeking behind the Veil of Ignorance along the Publicity-Privacy Continuum


Congressional debate over a surtax on millionaires, spurred in part by popular reaction to the unparalleled surge of millionaires and their income during the 1980s, has revived public discussion of the economic and moral underpinnings of progressive income tax, which was submerged in the self-congratulatory atmosphere surrounding the compression of marginal tax rates during the Reagan administration. This Article seeks to contribute to that discussion by examining whether current law frustrates formulation of public policy by blocking access to information needed to explore the ability of the rich to pay higher taxes without rendering society’s poorest members even poorer.

First, this Article presents the available aggregate data concerning the recent proliferation of income-millionaires. Next, it sets forth the remarkable, yet little-known, history of the alternating openness and secrecy of individual income tax returns. The Article then scrutinizes the reasons commonly advanced to vindicate privacy interests. And, finally, the Article offers a concrete proposal favoring publicity of millionaires’ tax returns combined with an explanation of how the specific information disclosed will inform a comprehensive debate about income distribution and redistribution.

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