On the one hand, it would seem to be basic decency that a president, even if viewed as merely the chief executive of the federal government, as well as a major candidate for the job, disclose his tax returns, as is done since 1976. After all, he will have much power to influence the amount and uses of the taxes of his voters as well as of those who vote against him. Some humility is warranted.

On recent revelations concerning the former president’s taxes, see Richard Rubin, “Donald Trump Reported Little or No Income-Tax Liability for Several Years, Records Show,” Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2022; James Politi and Sujeet Indap, “Donald Trump’s Tax Records Show $53mn in Net Losses over Six-Year Span,” Financial Times, December 21, 2022; and Joint Committee on Taxation, “Report to the House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal”, December 15, 2022.

On the other hand, a president or presidential candidate would have credible reasons to object. Take the case of Mr. Trump. We can imagine him declaring during the 2016 electoral campaign:

The IRS, just as the government in general, already has too much power, as many ordinary Americans have experienced over the years. I intend to vigorously attack this problem. In this context, I believe it is very dangerous to grant the state apparatus the further power to disclose, or threaten to disclose, the tax return of any American—to “weaponize” tax returns, as so many state powers seem to be weaponized. Pressuring a candidate to the presidency to make his tax returns public would fuel the idea that individual privacy is secondary to state interests. As a consequence, I do not intend to make my tax returns public and I will resist any future attempts to force me to do so.

Many problems plague the current tax system. I leave it to my readers to determine if Trump could conceivably have added:

As Chief John Marshall once noted, “the power to tax is the power to destroy.” Economic theorists, notably from the Public Choice school, have pointed out and analyzed this danger. My honorable (and scholarly-minded) electors may want to read Geoffrey Brennan and James Buchanan’s The Power to Tax: Analytical Foundations of a Fiscal Constitution (Cambridge University Press, 1980; Liberty Fund, 2000).

Of course, Trump never said anything like that. And his “deplorable” supporters may be interested to know that their populist leader and adulated business genius declared $53 million in net losses over the 2015-2020 tax years and no taxable income tax during four of these six years.

Notwithstanding all that, authoritarian vindictiveness must be avoided. Anybody cognizant with Nobel economist Friedrich Hayek’s theory of law in a free society must be acutely aware that it would be a serious violation of the rule of law, which is based on equal and general laws targeting no particular individual, to adopt any special “law” against Mr. Trump.