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!
This March 12th discussion will examine corruption broadly understood to encompass not only the most direct forms of corruption (e.g. bribes) but more indirect forms (including implicit deals with officials), on to questions of undue influence, conflict of interest and the power of lobbying. Attention will be given to not only government actors, but also structural and institutional features that impact corruption and avoidance of taxation, including the role of large corporations, wealth, and power bases. For more information on the Roundtable, see below. To join us for the discussion, please register here.
We do not yet live in a world in which taxpayer compliance can simply be assumed. Instead, we must rely on the interplay of reporting requirements, internal and external auditing, and ultimately whistleblowing, to help ensure compliance with the tax system. How do they fit together? What can we expect from reporting and auditing? When do they breakdown, and why? How does whistleblowing–both the actual cases and the “threat” of whistleblowing–shape law, taxpayer behavior, and society’s understanding of compliance. And when does this tax noncompliance intersect with government corruption and fraud? What recommendations and options might we consider for the future?
The 3rd Roundtable, on “Whistleblowing, Reporting and Auditing in the area of taxation,” will be held Friday February 26, 2021 at 5:30-7:00pm GMT (12:30-2:00pm EST). For more information on the panel, see below. To join us, visit the registration link here.
These three frames for regulating (business) behavior are regularly examined and debated in the corporate and regulatory literature, but their application to the tax system remains under explored. If you are interested in thinking more about the tax side, join us this Friday February 12, 2021 at 5:30-7pm GMT (12:30-2:00pm EST). For more information on the panel, see below. To join, visit the registration link here.
It is no surprise to those working in the tax field, whether in government, private practice, academia or the nonprofit sector, that not all taxpayer mistakes are innocent. Some taxpayers affirmatively engage in fraud, and sometimes that fraud is wrapped up with corruption. The high profile spate of tax leaks beginning in 2008 helped put a more public face on many aspects of an old problem.
As part of an effort to better respond to tax crimes and corruption, the EU has funded an interdisciplinary and comparative research legal research project — VIRTEU [Vat fraud: Interdisciplinary Research on Tax crimes in the European Union]. This project is aimed at exploring connections between tax fraud and corruption. Focused in part on VAT fraud, the relevant issues and the kinds of questions that must be asked are universal across the tax system.
VIRTEU, for which I am a special advisor, is hosting a Roundtable Discussion Series this spring that brings together experts from academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to engage in topical discussions around the general problem of tax fraud and corruption. Along with the the VIRTEU project’s Principal Investigator Dr. Costantino Grasso and Co-Investigator Dr. Lorenzo Pasculli, I will be organizing and hosting the series, which is also sponsored by Boston College Law School, Coventry University Research Centre on Financial and Corporate Integrity, and OLAF (the European Anti-Fraud Office).
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!
For the last several months, I’ve been meeting a guitarist and sometimes other musicians at a Chicago park to play outdoor socially-distanced jazz. This Sunday, driving home, my wife asked me if we knew what Trump had paid in taxes. “Of course not,” I confidently responded. “It looks like we do now,” she said.
And with that, my work goals for this week changed. I’m sure everybody reading this has seen Sunday’s New York Times story (and probably also its follow-up from yesterday). Along with a ton of other tax people, I’ve been trying to make sense of and contextualize the story, both to myself and to the public. And I’ve largely been doing my thinking in real-time on Twitter.[fn1]
I thought that I’d assemble a lot of those Twitter threads here into one place. At most I’ll lightly edit them and I’ll link to the actual threads on Twitter, too. Because over there I included GIFs on almost every tweet and I think I outdid myself. The relevant content will be here, though. Continue reading “#TrumpTaxReturns”→
My co-authors and I (Hiba Hafiz, Shu-Yi Oei, and Natalya Shnitser) have just posted an updated version of our Working Paper, Regulating in Pandemic: Evaluating Economic and Financial Policy Responses to the Coronavirus Crisis. The Working Paper is revised and updated to incorporate the provisions of H.R. 748 (the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or the “CARES” Act) enacted into law on March 27, 2020. In addition, the revised draft considers recent action by the Federal Reserve, the Department of Labor, and other agencies all through the analytical framework we offer for evaluating these initiatives.
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”→
As is apparent to the entire nation, the United States is currently trying to manage a fast-moving public health crisis due to the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19). The economic and financial ramifications of the outbreak are serious. Yet the policy responses being developed have limited time for assessment and evaluation—despite their likely dramatic impacts. Three of my colleagues (Hiba Hafiz, Shu-Yi Oei, and Natalya Shnister) and I are currently working on a project that analyzes and tracks these emerging responses. Having spent the past several years working together as part of Boston College Law School’s Regulation and Markets Workshop, it made sense to combine our efforts and expertise to try and contribute to effective policy guidance at this critical time.
Our new Working Paper (“Regulating in Pandemic: Evaluating Economic and Financial Policy Responses to the Coronavirus Crisis”) discusses the ramifications of proposed and legislated policy and other actions and identifies three interrelated but potentially conflicting policy priorities at stake in managing the economic and financial fallout of the COVID-19 crisis: (1) providing social insurance to individuals and families in need; (2) managing systemic economic and financial risk; and (3) encouraging critical spatial behaviors to help contain COVID-19 transmission. The confluence of these three policy considerations and the potential conflicts among them make the outbreak a significant and unique regulatory challenge for policymakers, and one for which the consequences of getting it wrong are dire.
This Working Paper—which will be continually updated to reflect current developments—will analyze the major legislative and other policy initiatives that are being proposed and enacted to manage the economic and financial aspects of the COVID-19 crisis by examining these initiatives through the lens of these three policy priorities. It starts by analyzing the provisions of H.R. 6201 (the “Families First Coronavirus Responses Act”) passed by the house on March 14, 2020. By doing so, this Working Paper provides an analytical framework for evaluating these initiatives.
The Indiana University (IU) Maurer Law School’s Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equality, in collaboration with IU’s Kelley School of Business and IU’s Ostrom Workshop, is hosting a symposium on the “gig” or “sharing” economy on February 13 and 14, 2020 at the Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, Indiana. The call for participation can be found here. The deadline for full consideration is November 27, 2019 at 5pm.
The Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equality serves as an academic forum for scholars, practitioners, policymakers, and students to improve race and gender relations, foster new research in and across the disciplines, and provide an intellectual foundation for the pursuit of social justice.
The Kelley School of Business is consistently named among the top business schools in the world and is home to the Department of Business Law and Ethics, one of the largest and most well-respected departments of its kind. The Department continues Kelley’s strong business law tradition and advances research in a variety of business law fields, especially privacy, big data, and cybersecurity.
The Ostrom Workshop was founded at Indiana University in 1973 by Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom and her husband, Vincent. Today, it carries forward their legacy by seeking and sharing solutions to the world’s most pressing problems involving communal and contested resources—from clean water to secure cyberspace.
Yesterday, the IRS released new federal tax gap estimates, including a new Tax Gap Map. My first substantive post on this blog, back in May 2016 (linked here), was on the IRS’s tax gap study for the 2008-2010 tax years. The new report covers averages from tax years 2011-2013, i.e., picking up where the 2016 report left off.
The new estimates show an average estimated gross tax gap of $441 billion (compared to $458 billion on average for 2008-2010) and an estimated overall “voluntary compliance rate” of 83.6% of tax liability. The new Tax Gap Map shows that, according to the IRS’s estimates, the single largest contributor to the federal tax gap, in dollars, remains underreporting by individuals of business income, at an average of $110 billion per year.
The new report is not only careful to state that methodology changes from the previous tax gap study influence the gross and net tax gap figures, it redoes the 2008-2010 voluntary compliance rate calculation with its revised methodology, to provide an apples-to-apples comparison. The IRS reports that, under the current methodology, the voluntary compliance rate for those years would be 83.8% instead of the 81.7% reported—very similar to the 83.6% voluntary compliance rate the IRS estimates for 2011-2013.
One thing that’s obvious in reviewing the new report is that the format of the new Tax Gap Map is different. (Compare the 2019 version with the 2016 version.) One difference from the previous Tax Gap Map is that the new release does not color code or label “Actual Amounts,” “Updated Estimates,” and “No Estimates Available.” The new version instead adds a visual illustration of the relative sizes of estimated total tax liabilities, tax collections and tax gap amounts. The color coding in the “map” reflects those categories. Another difference is that the new version does not include excise taxes in the map. The previous Tax Gap Map included them, although the dollar amount of the underpayment gap for excise taxes was small and the IRS did not have estimates for nonfiling or underreporting of those taxes. Continue reading “The IRS’s new Tax Gap Map”→