William W. Oliver Professor of Tax Law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington. Find my research at http://ssrn.com/author=48125 and my full publication list at http://www.law.indiana.edu/people/lederman/publications.shtml. I teach Income Tax, Corporate Tax, Tax Procedure, and Tax Policy Colloquium. I generally write about tax compliance and tax administration, the U.S. Tax Court, and the federal income tax as it applies to individuals and corporations. I'm on Twitter at https://twitter.com/leandra2848; come for the law and policy tweets, stay for the #taxvalentines and tax in popular culture!
By now, you may have seen one or more videos on the Break Into Tax YouTube channel (www.BreakIntoTax.com) that I started earlier this year with Allison Christians (McGill). We’ve created overview videos on tax policy, tax procedure, an array of income tax topics, legal writing, and more. We’ve done “Tax Papers Unlocked” micro-workshops on current tax scholarship. We’ve also released some #WhyTakeTax videos for students featuring a lot of tax profs, plus some tax humor videos. All Break Into Tax videos are intended to be entertaining, and most also are designed to be informative!
After about 30 videos, we wrapped up what we term “season 1.” It’s now time for season 2! We released a new intro video today, which you can find here. As mentioned there, I’ll be running this season. I’ve got some fun videos coming up, including more on income tax, more tax humor, a “crossover episode,” and something for folks interested in academia. Subscribe to the channel and turn on notifications if you don’t want to miss these as they come out!
If you’re a professor, I hope you’ll assign some of the Break Into Tax videos in lieu of a reading, for review, or as an optional resource! If you’re a student, I hope you find the explanations and illustrations helpful. Join us as you break into tax!
As I blogged previously, Dr. Leopoldo Parada from the University of Leeds School of Law and I (with the support of the Indiana University Maurer School of Law) will co-host the Indiana/Leeds Summer Tax Workshop Series again this summer. It will meet online via Zoom on Fridays from 11:30am-1pm Eastern Daylight Time (4:30-6pm British Summer Time). Last summer’s series went really well. If you are interested in cutting-edge tax issues, we hope you will consider attending!
We received numerous excellent submissions in response to this year’s Call for Papers. As stated there, we prioritized tax topics that would be of interest to scholars in multiple countries. Here is the list of speakers and the papers they’ll be presenting:
Like last year, the workshop will take place on Zoom, as a regular Zoom session. We will introduce the speaker, who will have about 20 minutes for scripted remarks, and the remainder of the time will be allocated to questions and discussion. Approximately a week in advance of each talk, we expect to share the draft paper online on the following website: law.indiana.edu/summer-tax.
The Indiana/Leeds Summer Tax Workshop Series is open to attendance by interested faculty, tax experts, and students. This summer, you will need to register in order to obtain the Zoom link and the password for any password-protected papers. Please register at TinyURL.com/INLeeds2021.
Students and other attendees who would like to list on their c.v. that they “participated in the 2021 Indiana/Leeds Summer Tax Workshop Series” should do the following:
Attend at least 5 of the scheduled sessions.
Type in the “chat” window of the Zoom session of each session you attend a brief introduction containing your name, school or other institution, location, and degree candidacy or job title.
We encourage all attendees to introduce themselves in the chat window, as well.
The Call for Papers opens today and will close on May 14, 2021 at midnight British Summer Time (7pm Eastern Daylight Time). If you are interested in presenting in the Workshop, please send the following before then to both email@example.com and L.Parada@leeds.ac.uk, with “Indiana/Leeds Workshop submission” in the subject line of your email:
Your name, title, and affiliation.
The paper title and an abstract of no more than 1,000 words.
Whether or not you already have a draft of the paper. (We plan to circulate a draft of each paper—a minimum of 10 pages—a week in advance of each talk.)
Whether or not the paper has been accepted for publication, and, if so, when it is expected to be published.
A list of any Fridays between May 28 and July 16 that you would not be available to present, or a statement that any Friday in that date range would work for you.
In selecting papers, preference will be given to tax topics of broad, general interest. These can involve international or domestic tax issues, but a preference will be given to topics that would be of interest to scholars in more than one country. Like last summer, we expect an international group of attendees. Note also that speakers will be strongly encouraged to limit their scripted remarks to 20 minutes, to allow ample time for questions and discussion.
Videos of all but one of last summer’s talks are online at http://www.tinyurl.com/indianaleeds. These recordings include only the introductory remarks and the scripted portion of the speaker’s presentation. We plan to take the same approach this summer for those speakers who grant permission.
It started on Twitter with the following tweet from Prof. Musgrave:
I replied with what became my most popular tweet to date. (The bar was not high.)
As Twitter replied with funny comments, the idea quickly became fodder for Break Into Tax, the YouTube channel that Allison Christians and I launched last month. So, here it is: TAX RETURN OF THE JEDI: UNOFFICIAL PARODY TRAILER. Don’t miss the Circular 230 disclaimer at the end!
Recently, my resident D.C. comics fan, Nickolas Cole, asked me to watch with him Episode 3 of the animated Harley Quinn TV series, “So, You Need A Crew?”. (Warning: this show is not safe for work.) He thought I would enjoy the premise of the episode, which is that female supervillains face a glass ceiling. (You can’t make this stuff up. Well, actually, I suppose you can and someone did!)
I’m not much of a fan of cartoons but I thought the quirky humor was pretty well done. So, there I am watching Harley Quinn struggle to recruit a crew to work for her when all of a sudden, there’s the U.S. Master Tax Guide! And it has the voice of Wanda Sykes. The writers didn’t miss a trick. The intro to the tax stuff features the tax-preparation boutique “TAXES 4 FREE**NOT 4 FREE,” seemingly ripped from the headlines. (That appears at 1:17 here, but if you don’t mind cursing cartoon characters, you may enjoy the whole three-minute segment, which captures a lot of the premise of the episode.)
The Tax Valentines poems on Twitter are always a highlight of the winter for me. Tax folks can be very creative weaving together romance and tax concepts! This year, there seemed to be fewer overall, but there still are plenty to be found if you search #TaxValentines on Twitter. Prof. Kathleen DeLaney Thomas even shared Tax Valentines her students wrote as a fundraiser for public interest grants for UNC Law students!
Here are a couple of new ones I didn’t get a chance to post on Twitter:
We’ve started a new YouTube series we wanted to share with our readers! It’s called “Break Into Tax” (BiT) and can be found at tinyurl.com/BreakIntoTax.
The idea behind BiT is that we’ll discuss and break down tax-related concepts, broadly defined. This includes issues that may be of interest to law students and others newer to tax or to particular issues. The topics we plan to cover include substantive tax law concepts, tax policy concerns, the study of taxation, and the pursuit of tax as a career. We also welcome suggestions for topics in the comments on our videos!
We come at the issues from the perspective of tax law professors in the U.S. and Canada with cross-border interests. The BiT series is not at all designed to be of interest only to people from these two countries. We expect to focus on concepts that are foundational enough or general enough to be of broad interest.
Our introduction video, located here, is a good place to start. It shares more about us and the BiT channel. Our first playlist covers Tax Policy Colloquia: what are they, how to ask a good question in a tax workshop, and tips for students writing reaction papers.
Nick, who’s been a Superman fan since childhood, got me the Oct. 1961 issue of the Superman comic for Christmas. It’s got a story in it billed as “Superman Owes a Billion Dollars” in taxes! Here’s the splash panel:
The basic premise is that a new Revenue Agent “at the Internal Revenue Bureau in Metropolis,” Rupert Brand,* discovers “no record that Superman has ever paid taxes!” (In case you’re wondering, nope, the IRS was not called the “Internal Revenue Bureau” back then. In 1953, it changed its name from the “Bureau of Internal Revenue” to the “Internal Revenue Service.” Perhaps a clue that not to rely on any of the tax statements in the story!)
Brand figures out the quickest way to reach Superman about this apparent delinquency, and explains that even the President of the United States pays taxes (cf.these blog posts), and so must Superman!
Why does Superman owe tax? Well, the story explains that “each year, Superman captures countless criminals, collecting a fortune in reward money!” And not just that, “whenever he digs up buried treasure” [treasure trove, anyone?] “or squeezes coal into diamonds, he earns more untold millions! All that wealth is income!”
Tax losses pose a special problem for the federal fisc. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first some set-up as to how tax noncompliance differs on the income side versus the deduction and credit side. The overall purposes of this post are to address some questions I’ve gotten and pull together some tax enforcement themes that are implicated by the recent NY Times reporting on Pres. Trump’s returns.
The Importance of Third-Party Reporting
A lot of tax noncompliance occurs with respect to income. Not for folks with mainly wage and salary income who maybe earn a little bit of interest from a bank account. All of that is reported by third parties (the payors) to the IRS, on information returns like Form W-2 or Form 1099. The taxpayer/payee receives a copy the information return and that both simplifies reporting and communicates what information the IRS has about the transaction. As Joe Dugan and I argue in a forthcoming article, third-party reporting is very effective. With the IRS able to do simple return matching to catch any incorrect reporting (intentional or otherwise), IRS figures like this bar graph show that there’s not a lot of noncompliance where there’s substantial third-party information reporting.
Where much tax noncompliance occurs is with respect to income earned by the self-employed and small businesses, where there’s much less third-party reporting and also more use of untraceable cash. (I added the red circle to the IRS image below.)
I was inspired last night while watching the debate to write some limericks about President Trump’s tax returns. I’m sharing them here to collecting them in one place. It would be great to see others add to the collection, too–there may not be as much love as on #TaxValentines Day–but #TaxLimericks could be a broader genre!
The 2020 Indiana/Leeds Summer Tax Workshop Series ended on Thursday, after 13 weeks of talks. It was terrific getting to spend the summer with so many tax enthusiasts–professors, practitioners, and students–from all over the world! Dr. Leopoldo Parada and I really enjoyed co-hosting this series, and we expect to continue it next summer!
We received speaker permission to share videos of most of the talks. The speaker’s scripted remarks and our introductions are included. Those videos can be found at this link.
The complete speaker list and papers presented were as follows:
Ruth Mason, University of Virginia
The Transformation of International Tax
Stephen Daly, King’s College London
Trust, Tax Administration and State Aid
Susan Morse, University of Texas
Modern Custom in Tax
James Repetti, Boston College
The Appropriate Roles for Equity and Efficiency in a Progressive Income Tax
Diane Ring & Shuyi Oei, Boston College
Regulating in Pandemic: Evaluating Economic and Financial Policy Responses to the Coronavirus Crisis
Umut Turksen, Coventry University
The Role of Human Factors in Tax Compliance and Countering Tax Crimes
Allison Christians, McGill University
Accurately Counting Value in the International Tax System
Joshua Blank, University of California, Irvine
Automated Legal Guidance
Michael Devereux, University of Oxford
The OECD GloBE Proposal
Ana Paula Dourado, University of Lisbon
The Concept of Digital Economy for Tax Purposes: a Reassessment
Ricardo García Antón, Tilburg University
Enhancing the Group Interest in Transfer Pricing Analysis
Steven Dean, New York University
A Constitutional Moment in Cross-Border Taxation
Monica Victor, University of Florida
The Taxman’s Guide to the Galaxy: Allocating Taxing Rights in the Space-based Economy
Thank you again to all those who joined us, and we hope to see you next year! #IndianaLeedsSummerTax
Susan Morse and Stephen Shay have blogged on Procedurally Taxing on both May 22 and June 11 on Altera’s efforts to have the U.S. Supreme Court grant certiorari in Altera v. Commissioner. Altera is a closely followed case involving an administrative law challenge to the validity of a Treasury regulation, so I wanted to flag those blog posts for Surly Subgroup readers.
Recall that in Altera, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a cost-sharing regulation under IRC § 482, reversing the Tax Court’s unanimous decision invalidating the regulation as arbitrary and capricious. The Ninth Circuit ruled 2-1 for the government in both its original opinion, which was withdrawn due to the death of one of the judges on the panel, and again in a revised opinion. The Ninth Circuit also denied rehearing en banc, a victory for the IRS’s rulemaking process. (Full disclosure: in addition to joining in two earlier amicus briefs in favor of the Commissioner, which Susie and Steve spearheaded, I co-authored with them and Clint Wallace a 2019 amicus Brief in Opposition to the Petition for Rehearing En Banc.)
The Call for Papers opens today and will close on May 10, 2020 at midnight British Summer Time (7pm Eastern Daylight Time). If you are interested in presenting in the Workshop, please send the following before then to firstname.lastname@example.org and L.Parada@leeds.ac.uk:
Your name, title, and affiliation.
The paper title and an Abstract of no more than 1,000 words.
Whether or not you already have a draft of the paper. (We expect to circulate a draft of each paper—at least 10 pages—a week in advance of each talk.)
Whether or not the paper has been accepted for publication.
A list of any Thursdays between May 28 and August 6 that you would not be available to present, or a statement that any Thursday in that date range would work for you.
The Tax Policy Colloquium at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, which I’ve been blogging about, ran in person in Bloomington until our Spring Break. The fourth talk of the semester was given by Prof. Orly Mazur of SMU Dedman School of Law on March 5, 2020. She presented her interesting law-and-technology paper titled “Can Blockchain Revolutionize Tax Compliance?” (In general, she argued that it can’t: blockchain is unlikely to dramatically change tax enforcement by, for example, replacing third-party information reporting.)
The subsequent IU Tax Policy Colloquium talk, by Prof. Rita de la Feria of the University of Leeds School of Law, was on March 27. She presented a paper, coauthored with Michael Walpole of UNSW, titled “The Impact of Public Perceptions on VAT Rates Policy,” which is part of a larger project proposing a progressive VAT. The paper argues that, although having a single consumption tax rate that is broadly applied is most equitable, there typically are numerous exemptions and/or lower rates, for political economy reasons.
With the move to online classes due to the pandemic, this talk occurred via Zoom. It was unfortunate that, due to the pandemic, we were not able to host Rita in Bloomington. However, the silver lining was that I was able to invite tax experts and other faculty from all over the world to attend. Rita and I also both publicized the talk on social media. As a result, several academics and other tax experts either asked to attend, or, if they saw the notice too late, asked if there is a video they could watch, which there is. In addition to me, Rita, and the students in the class, there were 22 attendees, which produced a terrific discussion. The students later told me how wonderful it was to have so many international tax experts asking questions and making comments. Continue reading “Virtual Tax Policy Colloquia”→