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Tax policy can be underpinned by philosophical principles just as much as any other area of policy.

The imposition of tax involves the expropriation of assets which belong to the individual for use by the State on pain of imprisonment or ultimately some other form of violence. It has variously been considered theft or the necessary tool to right the wrongs of an unequal world.

Whichever you consider it to be, it is vitally important that taxation is applied in a consistent and transparent way to allow people to understand it.

The principles of modern taxation would not look too alien to Marx and Engels who called in 1848 for a "progressive or graduated income tax" which is now an almost universal feature of national taxation, he called for an inheritance tax and taxation of "unearned" income (to use the parlance of his day), both of which are also common parts of national taxation systems.

But just as with every policy area, Marx saw tax policy as a tool to modify the social means of production (and hence he rejected Georgeism and its tax on "rent"). As we begin to tackle the fallout of Covid-19, global policy makers would do well to consider the philosophical underpinnings and aims of their tax and spending policies. Do they wish to protect the status quo or mount societal change? Tax can contribute to both if harnessed correctly.

Marx and Engels had plenty to say about tax. Their tax theorizing is no anachronistic curiosity but perfectly applicable to the income and wealth inequalities of our own era.

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