Almost seven years ago(!), Leandra wrote about the Beatles’s “Taxman” to celebrate its 50th anniversary. At around the same time, I tried to figure out and record the song.
At the time, unfortunately, neither my playing nor my recording chops were up to the challenge. Over the pandemic, though, I spent some time and money on instruments and recording equipment and have gotten a lot better at it.
So about a week ago, I decided to record a version of “Taxman.” I listened around to various versions and ended up modeling my version largely on the recording by Bill Wyman’s Rythm Kings (and, to a lesser extent, Soulive).
The Roundtable includes three sessions: (1) Democracy and Disinformation – the Political Level; (2) Disinformation and Public Administration; and (3) Special Issues and Final Recommendations. The international panel includes experts from law, media, government, and civil society, along with whistleblowers. To join this exciting Roundtable session, register here!
Information lies at the heart of a sound democracy, good governance, and well-grounded decision making, whether at the individual, community, business, or government level. Yet every day we see how misinformation and disinformation undermines all of these goals.
As part of its project, Whistling at the Fake is hosting Roundtables on zoom– the first of which is this Friday, January 28, 2022 at 10:00am EST. The Roundtable, “Disinformation and the Private Sector” includes three sessions: (1) Exploring the Phenomenon, (2) Disinformation and Corporate Power and Wealth, and (3) Special Issues and Recommendations. The international panel includes experts from law, media, business, research, along with whistleblowers. To join what should be an amazing zoom Roundtable, register here!
A dominant theme of international taxation over the past 15 years has been that of cooperation and consensus—from the BEPS Project to the new Multilateral Instrument to the new BEPS Inclusive Framework. Regardless of one’s assessment of nations’ true commitments to such cooperation and consensus, it is clear that notable changes in the framework of international tax engagement are afoot.
Yet, countries themselves remain very different in terms of the wealth, GDP, natural resources, tax revenues, commercial base, infrastructure, technological capacity, and financial systems. It is not obvious that cooperation and consensus are uniformly in countries’ interests, particularly in light of who is drafting the agenda. Most pointedly, it is reasonable to ask why non-OECD, non-G20 countries would be willing to commit to global tax cooperation.
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!
Just as summer is in full swing, the VIRTEU Project is back with a close look at a less than sunny side of economic life — the role that professionals (read lawyers, accountants and auditors) can play in enabling economic crime. This coming Wednesday July 21, 2021 (starting at 10:15am ET) join us in a three-panel zoom symposium that investigates how and why professionals may play this enabling role, and what responses and solutions we might consider. We will look carefully at real life case studies and talk with experts from various sectors as we explore this ongoing issue.
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.
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.)
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.
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:
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!