ARTICLE: BEYOND PUBLIC CHOICE AND PUBLIC INTEREST: A STUDY OF THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS AS ILLUSTRATED BY TAX LEGISLATION IN THE 1980s. Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 1990 The Trustees of The University of Pennsylvania 
University of Pennsylvania Law Review

ARTICLE: BEYOND PUBLIC CHOICE AND PUBLIC INTEREST: A STUDY OF THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS AS ILLUSTRATED BY TAX LEGISLATION IN THE 1980s.

NOVEMBER, 1990

139 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1

Author

DANIEL SHAVIRO +

Excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Just as China in the 1960s had perpetual revolution, so the United States in the 1980s had perpetual income tax legislation. Congress passed historic watershed tax bills in 1981 1 and 1986. 2 Important, though not historic, packages of tax legislation were enacted in 1982, 3 1984, 4 and 1987. 5 In 1983 and 1985, Congress began considering the bills that passed the following years; 1988 saw the election of a President who promised significant tax legislation; and 1989 was devoted to wrangling about his proposals (which may pass in 1990). 6

Even more peculiar than the rapid pace of 1980s tax legislation was the wildly erratic and cyclical 7 nature of tax policy. In this country, tax policy tends to take either of two forms. First, under what I call an "instrumentalist" approach, tax law ostensibly serves social and economic policy goals (for example, increasing productivity, home ownership, or competitiveness) by providing preferential treatment for selected types of income. This approach is characterized not so much by a fixed agenda as by a willingness to use the tax system to pursue a broad array of goals. Second, the approach that in the last forty years has captured the label "tax reform" aims to tax different types of economic income more equally and to prevent high-income taxpayers from entirely avoiding significant tax liability. 8

Although tax legislation has shown cyclical tendencies since the early days of the federal income tax, 9 the problem reached ...
 
 
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