What My Noisy New Hobby is Teaching Me about Tax

Shu-Yi Oei

While Sam was out there visiting the National Parks, I went and acquired a noisy new hobby.

drums

So far, I’ve only had two drum lessons but am completely hooked. What took me so long to pick up the drums? If you love music, get a kick out of repetitive motion, and enjoy making a big noise, I highly recommend it.

Learning the drum set is a matter of first impression for me. [FN1] So the actual noise making aside, it’s given me an unexpected midsummer opportunity to revisit what it feels like to learn a new skill for the first time, which of course makes me think about the fundamentals of teaching and writing in tax.

Here are some newbie observations:

  1. Assembling the Drum Set

I went out and bought a cheap drum set so I could practice at home. What really surprised me was the amount I learnt about the drums simply by virtue of assembling the drum set. Things I know now that I didn’t know before:

  • That restaurant in New Orleans called the High Hat? Turns out it probably isn’t named after an actual hat.
  • Who knew you had to tune the drums? It’s almost as if it’s a musical instrument or something.
  • The crash cymbal and high hat sit much lower to the ground than I had ever imagined.
  • You can actually turn the snares on a snare drum on and off. Did I know that? Nope.

The experience of assembling my own drum set was so useful that it got me thinking about how one might get one’s tax students to do the equivalent of assembling a drum set. Continue reading “What My Noisy New Hobby is Teaching Me about Tax”

AALS Call for Papers by Junior Scholars

By: Leandra Lederman

The AALS has issued a call for papers for presentation at the 2018 meeting in San Diego, CA. “Those who will have been full-time law teachers at an AALS member or fee-paid school for five years or less on July 1, 2017, are invited to submit a paper on a topic related to or concerning law.” The deadline is August 4, 2017. There is more information at this link on the AALS website.

We Hear What We Want to Hear

Shu-Yi Oei

I’ve been preoccupied by country music these past few days. For this, I blame my Tulane colleague, Sally Richardson, who recently wrote this post on Property Law Profs Blog. In it, Sally makes the following observation:

Last week, my good friend, brilliant colleague, and property law scholar extraordinaire, Jim Gordley (Tulane), told me that he had been on a road trip and listened to a good deal of country music.  In the course of listening to a series of country songs, Jim decided that country music was about two things:  love and breaking the law.  Being from the south and having listened to my fair share of country music, I have to admit that Jim is right.  Just listen to Friends in Low PlacesAchy-Breaky HeartBefore He CheatsFolsom Prison Blues, and Ol’ Red and you can see for yourself.  Sure, there are some other songs about dogs and beer, but those are really in the minority.  Most country music is about love and the law.

Sally also shares some really genius lyrics coined by Jim, which include:

I assign and convey to you
That unencumbered heart
With one restrictive covenant
That we shall never part,
And this condition subsequent
That if you let it break,
Then I in my discretion
May reenter and retake.

Reminds me a bit of the Conway Twitty tax case—both the Tax Court’s Ode and the IRS AOD in response!

Of course, as a matter of substance, I think Jim and Sally are dead wrong. Love and breaking the law…pshaw! Aside from some notable lines such as the one about Ilsa the acrobat falling in love with Horatio the Human Cannonball, country music is, in fact, all about economic security, lending and financing, foreclosure, bailouts, and tax.

Let me explain:

Caveat: I have an immense soft spot for country music. Some days I have half a mind to move to Nashville and try to earn a living as a country music songwriter. (I’m only very slightly kidding about that.) However, I do not actually know anything about country music. And obviously, country music has a bazillion subgenres is about lots of other things as well (as this article describes), including the painful, painful process of creating legal scholarship.

Continue reading “We Hear What We Want to Hear”

The Surly Subgroup Turns One!

Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess. Today is the one-year blogiversary of the Surly Subgroup. What started off as a group-blogging experiment hatched at last year’s Critical Tax Conference at Tulane Law School has provided quite a bit of entertainment for Surly bloggers and our guest bloggers, and hopefully for our readers as well.

It’s obviously been a big year on tax and other fronts. Since our inception, we’ve published 206 blog posts on a variety of topics. And we’ve drawn readers from 140 different countries.

Surly regulars and guest bloggers have covered various tax-related issues surrounding politics and the 2016 election—including disclosure of presidential tax returns, the Emoluments Clause, the Trump Foundation, and the Clinton Foundation. We’ve written about churches, 501(c)(3)s and the IRS treatment of non-profits. We’ve discussed the tax reform proposals of the 2016 presidential candidates and the #DBCFT. We’ve written several administrative law posts about Treasury Regulations and rulemaking.

Politics aside we’ve also covered other important issues in tax policy—including taxation and poverty, healthcare, tax policy and disabilities, tax compliance, and tax aspects of the Puerto Rico fiscal crisis. We’ve discussed several issues in international and cross-border taxes, touching on the EU state aid debate, the CCCTB, taxation and migration, the Panama Papers, tax leaks more generally, and tax evasion in China.

We hosted our first ever online Mini-Symposium on Tax Enforcement and Administration, which featured posts by ten different authors on a variety of tax administration topics. The Mini-Symposium was spearheaded by Leandra Lederman. Leandra had organized and moderated a discussion group on “The Future of Tax Administration and Enforcement” at the 2017 AALS Annual Meeting, and many of the discussion group participants contributed to the online symposium. We hope to organize future online symposia on other topics.

We’ve blogged about various conferences, workshops, and papers, both tax related and not-so-much tax related. We’ve also had lots of fun writing about taxes in popular culture – Surly bloggers and guest bloggers have written about the tax aspects of Pokémon Go, tax fiction, music-related tax issues (Jazz Fest! Prince! “Taxman”!), soccer players, dogs, Harry Potter fan fiction, Star Trek, and John Oliver. Surly bloggers even recorded a few tax podcasts!

In short, it’s been a busy year, and we’ve had a lot of fun with the Surly platform. We hope you have as well. Going forward, we’re going to keep the blog posts coming. We also hope to draw more regular and guest bloggers and to organize other online symposia.

Thanks for reading!

Panama Papers: The One-Year Anniversary

By: Diane Ring

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the Panama Papers leak. In April 2016, the ICIJ announced the leak and a few weeks later (May 9, 2016) released a database that included a subset of the leaked data. The leak itself comprised over 11 million records spanning 40 years from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. At its core, the leak revealed the true ownership of over 200,000 offshore entities, thereby raising a host of tax and political questions regarding many of the entities’ owners.

So what has happened over the past year as a result of the leak? Continue reading “Panama Papers: The One-Year Anniversary”

Taxation and Migration

By: Diane Ring
IMG_0592Today St. Louis University School of Law hosted the Sanford E. Sarasohn Conference on Critical Issues in Comparative International Taxation II: Taxation and Migration. This event offered a much needed forum to explore the intersection between international tax law and questions of migration and refugees. Topics addressed included using the tax system to remedy migration challenges (see, for example, Matthew Lister, “A Tax-Credit Approach to Addressing Brain-Drain” suggesting a tax transfer from jurisdictions on the receiving end of a brain drain to the countries losing skilled labor; and see Cristina Trenta, “Migrants and Refugees: An EU Perspective on Upholding Human Rights Through Taxation and Public Finance” advocating an EU-wide tax to finance members’ commitments to refugee human rights). Other papers considered the burdens that tax-induced migration creates for the society the migrant leaves and for some members of the jurisdiction the migrant joins (see, for example, Allison Christians, “Buying In: Citizenship and Residence by Investment”). The full set of 15 conference papers will be published in the St. Louis University Law Journal and will provide a valuable resource on the breadth of taxation and migration questions.

Call for Papers: 18th Global Conference on Environmental Taxation (Tucson, AZ, Sept. 27-29, 2017)

Here’s another call for papers:

Please plan ahead for the 18th Global Conference on Environmental Taxation! The deadline for submitting abstracts in response to the Call for Papers is May 1, 2017 and early submissions are welcome. For information about the conference and the Call for Papers, click here.

This year the conference’s focus is: Innovation Addressing Climate Change Challenges: Local and Global Perspectives

We are in a pivotal and defining time for global discourse on public/private sector response at all levels of government (national, state, indigenous, provincial, municipal, city, and local), to the impacts of climate change. And, GCET18 is well-positioned in its role as the leading global forum for innovative exchanges on principles, practices, and policies with respect to environmental taxation and market-based instruments.

The conference will explore various topics :

  • Climate change policy, biodiversity protection, environmental stewardship, pollution control, water conservation, land degradation, renewable energy, mining and rehabilitation
  • Market instruments such as carbon pricing, emissions trading schemes, other environmental taxes, subsidies, direct action or spending programs and tax concessions both positive and perverse.

Selected papers from the Global Conferences are published in Critical Issues in Environmental Taxation.

The conference this year will be hosted by the University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law, and the Conference Chair is Mona Hymel. If you have questions, please contact her at law-gcet18@list.arizona.edu.

We hope to see you in Tucson!

Prof. Janet E. Milne
Director, Environmental Tax Policy Institute
Co-editor, Handbook of Research on Environmental Taxation
Vermont Law School, USA

 

PROMESAs, PROMESAs?

Shu-Yi Oei

After swearing up and down that I would blog more about Puerto Rico’s 70 billion dollar debt crisis, I of course was remiss and did not. But a new paper by Mitu Gulati and Robert Rasmussen, “Puerto Rico and the Netherworld of Sovereign Debt Restructuring” has provided me the impetus to dive into this topic again.

Recall that unlike U.S. municipalities (such as Detroit), Puerto Rico bodies and utilities aren’t considered debtors for purposes of Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and therefore don’t have access to the municipal bankruptcy process. See 11 U.S.C. § 101(52). Puerto Rico attempted to address its fiscal woes by enacting the 2014 Puerto Rico Public Corporation Debt Enforcement and Recovery Act, which created a debt restructuring mechanism analogous to Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 13, 2016 that the Act was preempted by Section 903(1) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust, 136 S. Ct. 1938 (2016). [Fn. 1]

After the Franklin Trust decision, Congress stepped in and passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) legislation on June 30, 2016, to allow Puerto Rico to restructure without filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Briefly, PROMESA establishes an independent oversight board, provides for a bankruptcy-like debt restructuring process, and requires submission of a Fiscal Plan by Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s required Fiscal Plan was approved by the Oversight Board on March 13, 2017; however, that plan has come under criticism from bondholders.

This all begs the question, however, of what would have happened had Congress NOT passed the PROMESA legislation. Puerto Rico would have been left in a bind in which it had no access to the U.S. municipal bankruptcy process but was preempted from enacting any analogous debt restructuring mechanism by Section 903(1) of that same Bankruptcy Code, per Franklin California Tax-Free Trust. [Fn. 2]

Gulati and Rasmussen’s paper focuses on this question, arguing that, as a constitutional matter, the United States may not prohibit Puerto Rico from enacting its own bankruptcy-like restructuring process while offering no alternative mechanism. This leaves Puerto Rico in an untenable “netherworld,” in which it has the power to issue debt without the mechanisms for dealing with financial distress on the back end.

Continue reading “PROMESAs, PROMESAs?”

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”