Law reform advocates should be strategic in deploying tax tropes. Through an examination of five common tax phrases—the “nanny tax,” “death tax,” “soda tax,” “Black tax,” and “pink tax”—this Article demonstrates that tax rhetoric is more likely to influence law when used to describe specific economic injustices resulting from actual government duties, as opposed to figurative inequalities. In comparison, slogans describing figurative taxes are less likely to influence law and human behavior, even if they have descriptive force in both popular and academic literature as a short-hand for group-based disparities. This Article catalogues and evaluates what makes for effective tax talk, in terms of impact on both the law and day-to-day actions on the ground. With this roadmap, lawyers, policy makers and others will be able make more forceful and precise tax-based arguments aimed at reforming the law and changing human behavior.
This Article makes three principal claims—one descriptive, one empirical, and one normative. The Article first develops a taxonomy of tax phrases, based on the object of critique. The classification distinguishes between criticisms of compulsory formal levies, on the one hand, and burdens or oppressions that are akin to taxes, on the other. The taxonomy also notes some differences among tax tropes based on their linguistic form. Some phrases deploy a single word modifier for “tax” (like “nanny,” “death,” or “soda”) to signify a larger relationship, event, or transaction that is subject to taxation. Other phrases use a single-word modifier for “tax” (like “Black” or “pink”) that is strongly associated with the persons subject to taxation.
The Article next engages in a content analysis of multiple data sets of printed popular and scholarly literature to compare the relative “success” of the phrases “nanny tax,” “death tax,” “soda tax,” “Black tax,” and “pink tax” in terms of frequency of use, links to legal reform, and impacts on taxpayer behavior. The resulting preliminary hypothesis is that tax tropes that deploy suggestive modifiers to describe literal taxes are more effective than those that allude to identity axes associated with figurative taxes.
Given the particular variability of the “pink tax” trope, the Article turns to normative recommendations for how gender equality advocates might rethink use of that phrase in particular. The “pink tax” is useful as an overarching description of related manifestations of gender inequality: the gender wage gap, gender-based pricing differences in consumer goods or services, disproportionate expenses incurred by a large portion of the population for safe travel or to maintain stereotypically “feminine” appearances, and unequal time burdens experienced by those responsible for households or caregiving. But only one manifestation of the “pink tax,” as a description for the state sales tax on menstrual products, has been well served by a tax shorthand phrase. “Tampon tax” talk has fueled litigation and advocacy efforts; it has led to sales tax reform in least ten jurisdictions, with more states expected to follow. Indeed, “pink tax” rhetoric describing figurative taxes might not, on its own, lead directly to legal change. For that reason, at least when arguing for law reform, gender equality advocates should not over-rely on “pink tax” talk and figurative tax tropes.
Bridget J. Crawford, Pink Tax and Other Tropes, 34 Yale J. L. & Feminism 88 (2023), https://digitalcommons.pace.edu/lawfaculty/1239/.