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.