Article Title

Foucault and Tax Jurisprudence: On the Creation of a “Delinquent” Class of Taxpayer

Publication Title

Washington University Jurisprudence Review


In Discipline and Punish, Foucault described the role of the “disciplinary institution” in the formation of modern society. An example of such a modern Foucauldian disciplinary institution is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS currently devotes a substantial portion of its enforcement efforts against small businesses and low-income individual taxpayers. The IRS collection activity, as directed against low-income taxpayers, often manifests in Foucault´s “Philadelphia”-style prison, but without walls. The delinquent taxpayer becomes the delinquent social class with a diminished earning capacity, thereby directly undermining the reformatory goal of punishment. This audit process is a very different enforcement process than applied to large corporate taxpayers where the IRS continues to follow a “policy of restraint” with regard to the auditing of aggressive corporate tax positions.