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Fordham Law Review


Butler, Judith, 1956-; Neoliberalism; Taxation--Law and legislation; Performative (Philosophy); Tax incentives; Canada; Middle Class


Politicians across Canada’s political spectrum strive to position themselves as defenders of the middle class, and tax policy is a prime vehicle for making this pitch. Any tax reform proposal can be examined critically to evaluate its likely distributional impacts and how well these map onto specific definitions of the middle class. This article attempts, however, a different project. Drawing on the ideas of Judith Butler, it analyzes instead how tax policy produces middle-class identity through the very process of claiming to advance middle-class interests. The case study for this purpose is the rise of tax incentives for saving as a prominent feature of Canadian personal tax policy over the two decades from 1995 to 2015, culminating in the debate over the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) in the 2015 federal election campaign. I suggest that the presentation, design, and language of these registered savings plans have shaped the content of middle-class identity, including the behaviors, expectations, and aspirations that condition membership in this identity group. Looking at this performative quality of tax policy helps to explain the remarkable surge and continued salience of savings tax incentives as a governmental response to economic insecurity and precarity, even in the face of mounting evidence that they are ineffective or inadequate solutions to these problems.


Also published in the Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper No. 47/2016. View the research paper on SSRN.

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