When Leaks Drive Tax Law (a.k.a. our new paper!)

Shu-Yi Oei

Diane Ring and I just posted our new article, Leak-Driven Law, on SSRN. I had previously blogged about this paper as part of Leandra Lederman’s 2017 Mini-Symposium on Tax Enforcement and Administration, The abstract is here:

Over the past decade, a number of well-publicized data leaks have revealed the secret offshore holdings of high-net-worth individuals and multinational taxpayers, leading to a sea change in cross-border tax enforcement. Spurred by leaked data, tax authorities have prosecuted offshore tax cheats, attempted to recoup lost revenues, enacted new laws, and signed international agreements that promote “sunshine” and exchange of financial information between countries.

The conventional wisdom is that data leaks enable tax authorities to detect and punish offshore tax evasion more effectively, and that leaks are therefore socially beneficial from an economic welfare perspective. This Article argues, however, that the conventional wisdom is too simplistic. In certain circumstances, leak-driven lawmaking may in fact produce negative social welfare outcomes. Agenda-setting behaviors of leakers and media organizations, inefficiencies in data transmission, suboptimally designed legislation, and unanticipated behavioral responses by enforcement-elastic taxpayers are all factors that may reduce social welfare in the aftermath of a tax leak.

This Article examines the potential welfare outcomes of leak-driven lawmaking and identifies predictable drivers that may affect those outcomes. It provides suggestions and cautions for making tax law, after a leak, in order to best tap into the benefits of leaks while managing their pitfalls.

In this paper, we wanted to explore how leaks of taxpayer data in the offshore context have shaped international tax law and policy, both in the US and other countries. We especially were interested in the possibility that—while leaks might appear useful on the surface from a tax enforcement and informational standpoint—there are unexplored pitfalls and downsides to relying on leaks to direct lawmaking and policy priorities.

In the non-tax world, of course, leaks have suddenly become very salient, in terms of both their usefulness and their dangers. But (non-tax lurkers take note!) tax law has been dealing with leaks of taxpayer information and what they mean for tax enforcement for at least the past ten years. Of course, tax leaks have some distinctive characteristics that make them different from other types of leaks. For example, the tax leaks that are the subject of this paper are usually (though not invariably) leaks of private taxpayer data, rather than leaks about governments from government sources.

We do think that the framework we introduce in our paper for analyzing the upsides and downsides of leak-driven lawmaking can be applied to explore how non-tax leaks and reactions to them may be socially beneficial but could also lead to less than ideal results. In both tax and in other fields, the meta-issue is not just how governments and private actors can use leaked information to sanction bad behaviors, make decisions, or design laws. Rather, the issue is how the actions and responses of leakers, governments, journalists, international organizations and the public work together to create and promote certain outcomes. Once we understand the underlying dynamics, then we can consider how the outcomes they create should be evaluated, supported, or resisted.

If you’re working on leak-related scholarship in either tax or other fields, we’d love to chat.

Leak-Driven Lawmaking

Shu-Yi Oei
Hoffman F. Fuller Professor of Law, Tulane Law School

Over the past decade, a steady drip of tax leaks has begun to exert an extraordinary influence on how international tax laws and policies are made. The Panama Papers and Bahamas leaks are the most recent examples, but they are only the tip of the leaky iceberg. Other leaks include (in roughly chronological order) the UBS and LGT leaks; the Julius Baer leak; HSBC “SwissLeaks”; the British Havens leaks; and the LuxLeaks scandal.

These tax leaks have revealed the offshore financial holdings and tax evasion and avoidance practices of various taxpayers, financial institutions, and tax havens. In so doing, they have been valuable in correcting long-standing informational asymmetries between taxing authorities and taxpayers with respect to these activities. Spurred by leaked data, governments and taxing authorities around the world have gone about punishing taxpayers and their advisers, recouping revenues from offshore tax evasion, enacting new domestic laws, and signing multilateral agreements that create greater transparency and exchange of financial information between countries.

Thus, it is clear that leaked data has started to be a significant driver in how countries conduct cross-border tax enforcement and make international tax law and policy. But using leaks to direct and formulate tax policy responses comes with some potentially serious pitfalls.

In a new paper—coming soon to an SSRN near you[fn.1]Diane Ring and I explore the social welfare effects of leak-driven lawmaking. Our argument, very generally, is that while data leaks can be socially beneficial by virtue of the behavioral responses they trigger and the enforcement-related laws and policies generated in their wake, there are under-appreciated downside hazards and costs to relying on leaked data in deterring tax evasion and making tax policy.

Continue reading “Leak-Driven Lawmaking”

Tulane Seeks Fall 2017 Visitors

Here’s another hiring announcement from Tulane Law School, this time for Fall 2017 visitors:

Tulane Law School invites applications for a one-semester visiting position in the Fall of 2017. Our specific needs for the Fall 2017 semester include basic income tax and corporate tax, criminal law, and professional responsibility. Applicants must possess a J.D. from an ABA-accredited law school, strong academic credentials, and at least three years of relevant law-related experience; prior teaching experience is strongly preferred. Applicants should submit a letter of interest, CV, and the names and contact information of three references through Interfolio at https://apply.interfolio.com/40060. For additional information, please contact Onnig Dombalagian atodombala@tulane.edu.

Tulane University is an equal employment opportunity/affirmative action employer committed to excellence through diversity. All eligible candidates are invited to apply for position vacancies as appropriate.

Tulane Law School Seeks to Hire Forrester Fellow and VAP

I’m passing along this hiring announcement from Tulane Law School for two positions: (1) the Forrester Fellowship, and (2) a VAP position focusing on the regulation of economic activity, broadly defined. (Emerging scholars doing work in tax are welcome to apply for both positions.)

Tulane Law School invites applications for its Forrester Fellowship and visiting assistant professor positions, both of which are designed for promising scholars who plan to apply for tenure-track law school positions. Both positions are full-time faculty in the law school and are encouraged to participate in all aspects of the intellectual life of the school. The law school provides significant support, both formal and informal, including faculty mentors, a professional travel budget, and opportunities to present works-in-progress to other faculty workshop in various settings.

Tulane’s Forrester Fellows teach legal writing in the first-year curriculum to two sections of 25 to 30 first-year law students in a program coordinated by the Director of Legal Writing. Fellows are appointed to a one-year term with the possibility of a single one-year renewal. Applicants must have a J.D. from an ABA-accredited law school, outstanding academic credentials, and at least three years of law-related practice and/or clerkship experience. To apply, please visit the Tulane University “iRecruitment” website at http://tinyurl.com/phd53k7. If you have any questions, please contact Erin Donelon at edonelon@tulane.edu.

Tulane’s visiting assistant professor (VAP), a two-year position, is supported by the Murphy Institute at Tulane (http://murphy.tulane.edu/home/), an interdisciplinary unit specializing in political economy and ethics that draws faculty from the university’s departments of economics, philosophy, history, and political science. The position entails teaching a law school course or seminar in three of the four semesters of the professorship (presumably the last three semesters). It is designed for scholars focusing on regulation of economic activity very broadly construed (including, for example, research with a methodological or analytical focus relevant to scholars of regulation). In addition to participating in the intellectual life of the law school, they will be expected to participate in scholarly activities at the Murphy Institute. Candidates should apply through Interfolio, at apply.interfolio.com/, providing a CV identifying at least three references, post-graduate transcripts, electronic copies of any scholarship completed or in-progress, and a letter explaining your teaching interests and your research agenda. If you have any questions, please contact Adam Feibelman at afeibelm@tulane.edu

The law school aims to fill both positions by March 2017.  Tulane is an equal opportunity employer and encourages women and members of minority communities to apply.

ClassCrits IX: The New Corporatocracy and Election 2016

Surly bloggers Sam Brunson, David Herzig and I (and Leslie Book over at Procedurally Taxing) are attending the ClassCrits IX conference hosted by Loyola University Chicago School of Law today and tomorrow. From the call for papers back in March:

As the U.S. presidential election approaches, our 2016 conference will explore the role of corporate power in a political and economic system challenged by inequality and distrust as well as by new energy for transformative reform.

There are some notable tax-related panels happening at the conference, along with other interesting panels relating to corporations and democracy:

Taxation, Social Justice and Development (Friday 10/21/16)

Doron Narotzki, University of Akron Business Administration
Corporate Social Responsibility and Taxation: The Next Step of the Evolution

Rohan Grey, Binzagr Institute for Sustainable Prosperity & Nathan Tankus, Modern Money Network
Corporate Taxation in a Modern Monetary Economy: Legal History, Theory, Prospects

Karl Botchway, CUNY Technology & Jamee Moudud, Sarah Lawrence Economics
Capacity Building, Taxation and Corporate power in Africa

Martha T. McCluskey, SUNY Buffalo Law, Corporatocracy and Class in State and Local “Job-Creation” Subsidies

Distributing Wealth, Law and Power (Friday 10/21/16)

Goldburn P. Maynard, Jr., University of Louisville Law
A Plea for Courts to Abolish the Judicially Created Right of the Wealthy to Avoid Estate Taxes

Victoria J. Haneman, Concordia University Law
The Collision of Holographic Wills and the 120-Hour Rule

Doron Narotzki, University of Akron Business Administration
Dark Pools, High-Frequency Trading and the Financial Transaction Tax: A Solution or Complication?

Robert Ashford, Syracuse University Law
Why Working But Poor?

Critical Perspectives on Tax Law (Saturday 10/22/16)

Shu-Yi Oei, Tulane University Law
The Troubling Case of Offshore Tax Enforcement

Les Book, Villanova University Law
Bureaucratic Oppression and the Tax System

Samuel Brunson, Loyola University Chicago Law
Avoiding Progressivity: RICs, Pease, and the AMT

David Herzig, Valparaiso University Law
Let Prophets Be (Non) Profits

Make Way for Ducklings?

Shu-Yi Oei 

Professor Charlotte Crane (Northwestern) presented Integrating a Fragmented Corporate Income Tax at BC Law School’s Tax Policy Workshop yesterday. Briefly, the paper is focused on recent proposals to integrate the corporate income tax, in particular, the yet-to-be-released Orrin Hatch proposal from the Senate Finance Committee. I’m no corporate tax expert, but the workshop afforded me the excuse to wade like a duckling through the recent literature…a nice break from other projects.

The corporate integration debate refers to the question of whether to eliminate the corporate double tax (i.e., the tax on both the corporation and its shareholders on the same underlying income) and replace it with a single layer of tax. Many have argued that this would reduce tax burdens, minimize economic distortions, and bring us closer to tax neutrality in investment decisions. Others have argued that corporate integration achieved through shifting the corporate tax to the shareholder level will enhance progressivity and fairness.

The integration debate has raged for decades, with important Treasury and ALI studies in 1992 and 1993, and a surge of recent academic and policy interest. There are various design possibilities, including: integration via a shareholder credit (a.k.a. imputation), integration via a dividend deduction paired with a shareholder withholding tax, integration via a shareholder dividend exclusion, flow-through taxation, and others. A couple of recent proposals: Toder and Viard have suggested eliminating the corporate tax and replacing it with taxation of shareholder dividends and gains at ordinary rates, with gains taxed on a mark-to-market (accrual) basis. And Gruber and Altshuler even more recently proposed pairing a lowered (15%) corporate tax rate with ordinary income taxation of shareholder dividends and capital gains (including an interest charge on deferred shareholder liabilities designed to minimize behavioral distortions).

Continue reading “Make Way for Ducklings?”

Does Enforcement Reduce Compliance?

Shu-Yi Oei 

Boston College Law School held its first Tax Policy Workshop of the semester last Thursday and the speaker was Surly Blogger Leandra Lederman. Leandra presented a draft paper entitled “To What Extent Does Enforcement Crowd Out Voluntary Tax Compliance?” The draft isn’t publicly available yet, but you can email Leandra for a copy.

So, what’s the paper about? The standard economic model tells us that a taxpayer will weigh the magnitude of the penalty and the likelihood of audit to reach an “expected” cost of punishment for tax evasion. Allingham & Sandmo (1972). So, if the audit rate is low (which it is), the expected cost of evasion also remains low, absent draconian penalties. Yet, we see relatively high voluntary compliance rates in the U.S. Some scholars claim that this is a “puzzle” and theorize that there is some sort of “intrinsic motivation” to comply with tax obligations, regardless of the low expected costs of punishment. Leandra has pointed out in several articles that this simple comparison presents a false puzzle because it ignores information reporting (and withholding), which IRS voluntary compliance statistics show is highly effective. She argues that information reporting is akin to an invisible audit. Nonetheless, some scholars suggest that enforcement and deterrence action are “extrinsic motivators” that might actually reduce compliance by displacing (i.e., “crowding out”) preexisting internal motivations to comply.

Leandra’s paper synthesizes the empirical literature on the effects of audit threats and fines as well as the growing tax and non-tax literature on contexts in which enforcement can lead to reduced compliance. In brief, the paper finds:

Continue reading “Does Enforcement Reduce Compliance?”

Tax Evasion and Risk Perceptions among Lawyers in China

Shu-Yi Oei

I recently read an interesting article by Prof. Benjamin van Rooij (UC Irvine), Weak Enforcement, Strong Deterrence: Dialogues with Chinese Lawyers about Tax Evasion and Compliance, 41 Law & Social Inquiry 288 (2016), available here.

The article studies a particular form of tax evasion practiced by some lawyers in China: The lawyer, although affiliated with a law firm, retains clients privately, accepts cash payments from such clients without giving the client a tax receipt, and does not report the case to the law firm. This behavior actually contains both a tax evasion and a business-driven purpose: it enables the lawyer to underreport income for tax purposes while also avoiding payment of a significant cut to the law firm. Unsurprisingly, the law prohibits these practices. The paper employs qualitative “semistructured” interviews with lawyers at large and medium-sized law firms using open-ended questions, in order to generate a nuanced picture of how enforcement, deterrence, and risk are perceived by these lawyers.

The findings are fascinating, and provide a unique perspective on legal ethics, tax compliance, and perceptions of enforcement and deterrence among lawyers in China. Continue reading “Tax Evasion and Risk Perceptions among Lawyers in China”

Faculty Hiring: University of Richmond School of Law

I’m passing along a hiring announcement from Jessica Erickson, who is chairing Faculty Appointments at the University of Richmond School of Law:

The University of Richmond School of Law seeks to fill two entry-level tenure-track positions for the 2017-2018 academic year, including one in tax law.  Candidates should have outstanding academic credentials and show superb promise for top-notch scholarship and teaching.  The University of Richmond, an equal opportunity employer, is committed to developing a diverse workforce and student body and to supporting an inclusive campus community.  Applications from candidates who will contribute to these goals are strongly encouraged. 

Inquiries and requests for additional information may be directed to Professor Jessica Erickson, Chair of Faculty Appointments, at lawfacultyapp@richmond.edu

It’s Complicated.

By: Shu-Yi Oei

I’ve been thinking a lot about movies lately, partly because this pesky sign appeared outside my house a couple of days ago, and partly because of the Louisiana film tax credit, which has been all over the local news.

film sign 2

A couple of days ago, an Associated Press article reported that Louisiana’s motion picture industry was down by 90% this year as filmmakers moved production to states with more generous tax incentives. (I guess that puts the filming outside my house in the 10%?). It was also reported that Governor John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Economic Development agency are going to commence an examination of the film tax credit and its economic impact in Louisiana. As the news reports indicate, the decline in movie production activity is undoubtedly due to the fact that, facing a state budget deficit, legislators placed caps and limitations on the credit in legislation passed last year. The most material change was an aggregate $180 million cap on the credit for tax years 2015-18, which will then sunset. RS: 47:6007(C)(1)(d)(ii). As a result, movie production has reportedly moved to states with more generous film tax incentives.

The Louisiana film tax credit is a complex beast, and I can’t cover all its intricacies here. But some broad policy points are worth mentioning. Continue reading “It’s Complicated.”