Imagining an ethical tax system for South Africa

Barrett, Jonathan
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The Constitution provides ethical and teleological information for the democratic South African political community, in addition to prescribing structures and behavior expected of government. Identifying the objective of the Constitution as the realization of full lives for all community members experienced in a just society, I argue that an experience of community existence can only be realized if the foundational, ethical values of the Constitution - respect for human dignity, freedom, and equality - pervade community structures and rules. Applying this proposition to taxation in the constitutional community, I critically examine traditional tax criteria and current tax arrangements by focusing on: fundamental values; constitutional characteristics, including rationalism and efficiency; and certain technical prescriptions. I conclude that, while the current scheme of taxation shares many characteristics with an imagined constitutional scheme, it is inadequate in crucial regards. Although tax administration and legislation have been modernized in the constitutional era, constitutional values have not infused the South African fiscal system. Tax models of the advanced economies are adhered to, but without proper consideration of their appropriateness to the context of the constitutional community. I argue that respect for human dignity may be upheld by the introduction of a state-guaranteed minimum income as an element of income tax, and by the abolition of value-added tax. Freedom, appropriate for the constitutional community, will be reflected in tax laws that guarantee corporeal dignity or 'bio-liberty'. Equality may be pursued by tax schemes that include all members of the community, rather than focusing on the circumstances of a relatively narrow range of income taxpayers. Technically, equality requires the broadest practicable tax base; the elimination of privileges; and progression in tax rates. I conclude by sketching a scheme of taxation that is practicable and true to the Constitution
Dissertation submitted to the School of Law, University of the Witwatersrand in fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Income tax -- South Africa