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.
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.
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.
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.
On February 20, 2020, the Indiana University Maurer School of Law welcomed our third Tax Policy Colloquium guest of the year: Prof. Zachary Liscow from Yale Law School. Zach presented his draft article titled “Equality, Taxation, and Law and Economics In the 21st Century.”
As its title suggests, the article takes on income inequality. The article argues that the standard approach of redistributing only through the tax system and hinging non-tax policies on efficiency is misguided. It makes the case that (1) people want more equality than we currently have; (2) people do not think of tax and transfers together and fungibly trade off between types of redistribution but instead have (conceptually) “separate public accounts” for taxation and other government activities; (3) in part, that is because people have an idea of “desert” that is linked to cash income, resulting in resistance to heavily redistributionist taxation; and thus (4) rather than striving for “optimal” taxation and efficient legal rules, the government should tilt non-tax policies (such as transportation policy) to increase their redistributive aspects. As the abstract states, this argument “turns standard economics prescriptions on their heads.”
As I explained in my previous post, the new kiddie tax is an absolute mess, with unintended and (I assume) unforeseen consequences that significantly harm, among others, poor college students and the children of service members killed in action. How is Congress going to fix this?
One of the first articles I published as an academic was on the kiddie tax. It was a sleepy corner of the tax world; most of the academic literature on the kiddie tax came from the 1980s.[fn1] And, for its first three decades, the kiddie tax stayed almost exactly the same.[fn2] Then, in a little-noticed provision of the TCJA, Congress fundamentally changed the kiddie tax. In response, I addressed the kiddie tax a second time in a piece for Tax Notes entitled Meet the New “Kiddie Tax”: Simpler and Less Effective. [Paywall] It turns out that I underestimated the ways in which is was not only less effective, but actually dangerously counterproductive.
But first, a quick primer into what the kiddie tax was and what it has become. In 1986, Congress had become worried that wealthy taxpayers were shifting income-producing assets to their children so that they could lower their tax bills. The tax game would go something like this: wealthy dentist father gives (or, I suppose, sells for a nominal amount) his x-ray machines to his 7-year-old daughter. He then leases back the x-ray machines for, let’s say, $10,000 a year. In 1985, the top marginal tax rate was 50%. Assuming our dentist was in that tax bracket, he could deduct the $10,000 he paid to lease the x-ray machines. Meanwhile, assuming that his 7-year-old daughter didn’t have any additional income, she would have been in the 16% tax bracket. According to Rev. Proc. 84-79 (and ignoring any exemptions or deductions she might have), the daughter would pay taxes of $1,054 on the $10,000 of income. Meanwhile, Dad’s $10,000 deduction saved him $5,000 in taxes. By shifting passive income to his daughter, then, Dad saved almost $4,000.[fn3] (Note that it didn’t have to be dental equipment: it could be any income-producing property). Continue reading “The New Kiddie Tax Needs a Better Fix Pt. 1”→
I have been wondering for the past few years why the business community has not put more pressure on the Senate to resolve the tax treaty roadblock created by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). In 2011, newly-elected Senator Paul announced objections to the ratification of tax treaties and protocols and sought to block Senate consideration of those tax agreements in the pipeline. Senator Paul contended that the exchange of information provisions in the treaties violated taxpayers’ 4th amendment rights to privacy in their banking and financial data and that U.S. disclosure of such data to treaty partners would violate the due process rights of taxpayers. He succeeded in blocking the agreements (none have been ratified since 2010) and the result is a backlog of negotiated but unratified U.S. tax treaties and protocols.
A single senator can delay vote on a treaty and keep debate open. Negotiation with Senator Paul has not proven fruitful because he fundamentally objects to the information exchange provisions. However, other senators do have procedural recourse to end debate on a treaty and bring it to a vote. Under a process known as “cloture” (see Senate Rule XXII), a vote of 60 senators can force the end of debate. But this procedural path also requires an additional 30 hours of debate and the Senate can conduct no other business during this time. Thus, the cloture option puts a significant price tag on efforts to end the ratification impasse.
In a 2016 article (When International Tax Agreements Fail at Home: A U.S. Example), I mapped the historical and Senate procedural factors leading to the standstill on tax treaty ratification in the U.S. and the business community’s failed efforts to lobby ratification of tax treaties. For example, in 2013 several major U.S. business trade groups (including the Technology Industry Council, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Foreign Trade Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the United States Council for International Business) sent a letter to Senator Bob Corker stressing the importance of approving pending tax treaties and protocols. Senator Paul remained unmoved by business community pleas and apparently, the problem had not been considered serious enough to warrant commencement of cloture.