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The Vision Project

Deploying Taxes for Justice

Step one is reaching a collective understanding of what justice means.


Editor’s Note: In this BC Law Magazine “Vision Project” series, we are engaged in a lengthy discussion with Boston College Law School faculty about where the Covid-19 pandemic and its attendant medical, economic, racial, and political consequences may lead us. As New York Times op-ed columnist Timothy Egan so eloquently put it recently, “Every crisis opens a course to the unknown. In an eye-blink, the impossible becomes possible. History in a sprint can mean a dark, lasting turn for the worse, or a new day of enlightened public policy.” There are warnings and worries in these professors’ views, but there are also farsighted ideas and strategies for crafting a better future, a more just society, and a world in which each and every human being is equal under the law.


Diane M. Ring currently serves as the Associate Dean of Faculty, Professor of Law and the Dr. Thomas F. Carney Distinguished Scholar at BC Law. She researches and writes primarily in the field of international taxation, corporate taxation, and ethical issues in tax practice. Her recent work addresses issues including information exchange, tax leaks, international tax relations, sharing economy and human equity transactions, and ethics in international tax. She is also co-author of three case books in taxation.


What role can we see for the tax system, post-pandemic?The pandemic and recent racial uprisings have spotlighted many fracture points throughout our economic, educational, employment, financial, health care, social safety net, and race-related systems. Most of these were not unknown, but their salience was more limited or they were more easily ignored. Now, as we move forward, a critical question facing our legal institutions is what will be different. The entire country is considering answers across a full spectrum of issues.

One thread that will likely run through these conversations will be the role of the tax system in change. How might we use the tax system to raise needed revenue, allocate tax burdens, incentivize business behaviors, and support those facing hardship? The tax system has historically been called upon to play each of these roles, and it can do so in the future.

Already in this crisis, major federal legislative responses to the pandemic have been grounded in the tax system—from tax incentives and credits for businesses to keep paying workers to stimulus checks for individuals delivered through the income tax system.

But the bigger and more challenging question is whether we can reach collective understandings on the deep questions regarding our relationships to each other, to society, and to the world. That challenge must precede the work of the tax system. If and when we rise to meet it, we will have the tools of the tax system at hand to help us.

Read all faculty Vision Project interviews here.