IU Tax Policy Colloquium: Glogower, “Taxing Inequality”

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Left to right: Damage Gamage, Ari Glogower, Leandra Lederman, Tim Riffle

By: Leandra Lederman

On February 15, the Indiana University Maurer School of Law welcomed Prof. Ari Glogower from Ohio State University Moritz College of Law as the third speaker of the year in our Tax Policy Colloquium. Ari presented his paper titled “Taxing Inequality,” which argues in favor of a federal wealth tax and proposes a mechanism for integrating the base of such a tax with the base of the federal income tax. Ari’s paper sparked a really interesting discussion both in and outside the workshop on a wide range of issues, from distributive justice to the mechanics and likely impacts of his proposal.

The paper focused first on why we should have a federal tax on wealth. The draft points to rising economic inequality, and it grounds the need for a wealth tax in the theory of “relative economic power.” That theory, borrowed from political science, focuses on spending power—as opposed to actual spending—as a source of economic power. The basic idea is that the mere ownership pf wealth creates economic power without spending it. Moreover, “excessively unequal distributions of economic resources and market power can result in unequal divisions of political and social power as well.” (p.19) One of Ari’s paper’s contributions is to apply this economic-power theory as a justification for a progressive tax system.

The draft then describes the problem that tax-system designers have in imposing both a wealth tax and an income tax. Because the two types of taxes are imposed on different bases, if the taxes are not coordinated, taxpayers with very different abilities to pay based on their income or wealth may be taxed identically. The paper includes some nice examples of taxpayers with the same income but vastly different stocks of wealth and vice versa. It shows, for example, that a taxpayer with $200,000 of current income and no wealth (or negative wealth in the form of student-loan debt) has lower ability to pay than a taxpayer with $200,000 of current income and $35 million in wealth. (Ari’s talk included a great slide featuring an image of Scrooge McDuck swimming in money as the wealthy taxpayer, but for whatever reason, he resisted our suggestion to rename the paper “Taxing Scrooge McDuck”!) Continue reading “IU Tax Policy Colloquium: Glogower, “Taxing Inequality””

IU Tax Policy Colloquium: Brooks, “The Case for Incrementalism in Tax Reform”

By: Leandra Lederman

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Left to right: Jake Brooks, Leandra Lederman, Bill Popkin, David Gamage, Tim Riffle

On February 1, the Indiana University Maurer School of Law welcomed Prof. Jake Brooks from Georgetown Law School as the second speaker of the year in our Tax Policy Colloquium. Jake presented an early draft of a paper titled “The Case for Incrementalism in Tax Reform,” which led to a lively and interesting discussion about what incrementalism is, what constitutes fundamental reform, how politics may affect the making of tax policy, and whether and how tax law differs from other fields of law.

The paper, which is not yet publicly available, argues that “fundamental tax reform,” while sometimes necessary, should not generally be the goal of tax policy, and that instead, policymakers should take an incremental approach to changing tax laws. “Incrementalism” has a long history in political science, and was first described by Charles Lindblom in an influential 1959 article, “The Science of Muddling Through.” In general, Lindblom’s approach in that article was to reject the urge to use a formal method that involves clarifying the principal goals up front, identifying the means to achieve them, and then analyzing every relevant factor in the decision. Lindblom instead advocated the use of a more casual method that he termed “successive limited comparisons,” which ignored important possible outcomes or alternatives and did not involve distinguishing means and ends. (Page 81 of Lindblom.) Lindblom argued that this “muddling through” approach was not only what was actually practiced by administrators, but also a method for which they need not apologize because administrators are less likely to make serious and lasting mistakes if they proceed through small, incremental changes (pp.86-87). As Jake acknowledges, Lindblom wrote at a time with much more limited ability to model and process large quantities of empirical data. He notes that incrementalism has continued to be an important theory in the literature. Despite technological advances, we cannot see the future, and there remain limits to what empirical data can help us predict.

Jake’s argument is driven in part by arguments in favor of tearing the Internal Revenue Code out by its roots and starting over. I agree with Jake that such an approach seems extremely risky. Policy driven by rhetoric and “horror stories” risks being ill-conceived, hasty, driven by political rent-seeking, and even destructive, as I have written about in the context of IRS reform. But does that necessarily mean that legislative tax changes should take a Lindblom-style incremental approach? Continue reading “IU Tax Policy Colloquium: Brooks, “The Case for Incrementalism in Tax Reform””

IU Tax Policy Colloquium: Brennan & McDonald, “Debt and Equity Taxation: A Combined Economic and Legal Perspective”

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Left to right: Tim Riffle, Tom Brennan, Leandra Lederman, David Gamage, Karen Ward

By: Leandra Lederman

 

On January 18, the Indiana University Maurer School of Law welcomed Prof. Tom Brennan from Harvard Law School as the first speaker of the year in our Tax Policy Colloquium. Tom presented an early draft of a paper co-authored with Robert L. McDonald, Debt and Equity Taxation: A Combined Economic and Legal Perspective. We had a lively and interesting discussion about it in the workshop, as well as over dinner.

The paper, which I do not believe is publicly available yet, deals with the taxation of hybrid securities. It describes current law on how those securities are categorized as debt or equity, as well as the history of how the law developed. The paper criticizes the binary categorization of hybrid instruments as either debt or equity. It thus argues for a bifurcated approach.

The core of the current draft is a proposed new approach to debt and equity that considers the capitalization of a corporation as a whole and taxes the components in line with the underlying economics. The paper disaggregates the risk-free return, the risky return, and abnormal returns (rents). The paper proposes two possible systems of taxation: the “unlevered equity system” and the “levered equity system.” In the unlevered equity system, debt consists of risk-free obligations (like short-term Treasury bills) and equity is unlevered ownership of assets. In the levered equity system, the definition of debt is the same but equity is fully leveraged ownership of assets (fully financed by risk-free obligations). Under the unlevered approach, although particular investors may own a mix of debt and equity, the corporation itself effectively issues no net debt because it issues no risk-free obligations.

A key insight of the paper applies the Domar-Musgrave economic result that, under certain assumptions, risky returns on assets do not bear tax. Brennan and McDonald point out that the Domar-Musgrave insight also applies to corporations, although the securities are liabilities for them instead of assets. (Many years ago, I applied Domar-Musgave analysis in an article of mine on the tax favoritism for entrepreneurship, but I had not thought about its possible application to corporate income, which is a fascinating idea.) The implication of that insight, as Brennan & McDonald note, is that the risk-premium portion of return on investment effectively does not bear tax. As a result, under the unlevered system, all corporate income would bear corporate tax because the unlevered system does not have any net debt obligations. By contrast, adopting the levered system would make the corporate tax burden only rents, given a tax deduction for debt. The paper explains that this reaches the same result as the Mirrlees Review’s exemption for “normal returns” on corporate capital, as well as the allowance for corporate equity (ACE), if the ACE deduction is defined in a particular way. Continue reading “IU Tax Policy Colloquium: Brennan & McDonald, “Debt and Equity Taxation: A Combined Economic and Legal Perspective””

The 2018 Tax Policy Colloquium at the IU Maurer Law School

ColloquiumPosterBy Leandra Lederman

The 2018 Tax Policy Colloquium at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law will kick off next Thursday, January 18, with the presentation by Harvard Law School professor Tom Brennan of a fascinating and timely paper he is co-authoring with Robert L. McDonald, Debt and Equity Taxation: A Combined Economic and Legal Perspective. Tom is a terrific speaker, and I expect the workshop to be really interesting.

Last year, I did a closing post noting that some themes had emerged in the semester’s colloquium. This year, I plan to blog each workshop afterwards, with permission of the speakers. The full workshop schedule follows after the jump. If you will be in Bloomington and are interested in attending one or more workshops, just let me know and I can send you the paper once I receive it. (Most of the paper drafts will not be publicly available.)

The Tax Policy Colloquium is a course for students; I expect about 14 this semester, including a visiting scholar from another school on campus who has asked to audit. I conduct a background session with the students to help them get up to speed on the concepts presented in the paper draft. Typically, the actual workshops are attended not only by the students but also by my colleague David Gamage, senior tax attorney/Maurer alumnus Tim Riffle, and a few other faculty–law school colleagues and/or tax or economics faculty from other schools on campus. Sometimes other members of the community attend, such as a tax professor from another law school; another attorney practicing in Bloomington or Indianapolis; a student not enrolled in the class (Shuyi Oei‘s and Ben Leff‘s talks in 2016 were particularly popular with other students!); and/or a local judicial clerk. Eric Rasmusen from the IU Kelley School of Business and Margaret Ryznar from IU’s McKinney Law School in Indianapolis have each attended several of the talks.

Continue reading “The 2018 Tax Policy Colloquium at the IU Maurer Law School”

(Un)Happy New Year

Today is the first day of calendar/tax year 2018. Today is also the first day that taxpaying American families with children who do not have a Social Security number will no longer qualify for any amount of Child Tax Credit (CTC). IRC Section 24(h)(7). Certain members of Congress have for years been trying to target these working families and increase their already high effective income tax rate. Many of these families already pay federal income taxes at a higher effective tax rate than their U.S. citizen counterparts. I have blogged about this issue here and published scholarly articles about the oppressive “Illegal Tax” here, here, and here. Moreover many of them pay into Social Security and Medicare although they cannot qualify for any otherwise earned benefits. Fortunately, frontline advocates who support families, immigrants, and children have been successful pushing back against this oppressive goal until TODAY.

Continue reading “(Un)Happy New Year”

Sharing syllabi and course updates in the wake of the recent tax law changes

By Leandra Lederman

Tax professors are of course among the many people affected by the recent, significant changes to federal tax law. I have heard from several people wondering how best to adapt their courses starting in January to these changes. I think that exchanging ideas and sharing syllabi, etc., may be very helpful.

Accordingly, several of us have each agreed to serve as the point person for a particular course. The point person can set up an email list for those who express interest by email, and then use that list to exchange questions, ideas, syllabi, URLs, handouts, etc. with others teaching the same course. Of course, casebook authors may also be working on updates, and other listservs may be helpful, but these distribution lists will allow those interested to participate in topic-focused groups to exchange materials and ideas in advance of and throughout the semester.

The point people thus far are the following Surly bloggers, for the following courses:

Individual Income Tax: Jennifer Bird-Pollan (email jbirdpollan@uky.edu)

Corporate Tax: Leandra Lederman (email llederma@indiana.edu)

Partnership Tax: Phil Hackney (email phackney@lsu.edu)

 
To get on an email list, please email the applicable point person. And folks interested in serving as a point person for another course (i.e., in setting up the email list and getting it started), please post in the comments below, with the course name and your email address.

Happy new year, everyone!

Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Tax Opinions

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Tax-gift giving this holiday season just got so much easier!! Look what arrived just in time to celebrate the end of 2017! The FIRST in a series of subject-matter volumes of US Feminist Judgments is the Feminist Judgements: Rewritten Tax Opinions.

Featuring fantastic contributions by Surly Subgroup colleague Professor of Law Jennifer Bird-Pollan and dream team editors: James D. Hopkins Professor of Law Bridget J. Crawford and Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney Faculty Scholar, Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies Faculty (affiliate) and Professor of Law Anthony C. Infanti,

Commentary and rewritten tax opinions by Tax Professors and Scholars Extraordinaire Appleberry, Beale, Bird-PollanBrennen, Cain, Christensen, Cords, Cruz, Drumbl, Fellows, Gerzog, Heen, Knauer, Lahey, Lipman, Maynard, Murphy, Pratt, RobinsonRobson, Tait, Thompson, and Waterhouse Wilson.

Continue reading “Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Tax Opinions”

A Mother’s Holiday Letter to Uncle Sam

Dear Mr. Tax Man, Uncle Sam, Sir:

I am writing this letter in December on my ten-minute break at work.  I apologize for my rushed handwriting and the tardiness of this letter. I don’t have access to a computer, except for short periods (only 15 minutes per session) at the library.  And the lines have gotten too long for me to wait while my three wiggly kids struggle to sit still (only to be hushed by the library staff and patrons every few minutes). I have been really busy balancing my new jobs with the kids’ schedules, especially with the holidays and all the stress and craziness that they add. Continue reading “A Mother’s Holiday Letter to Uncle Sam”

Analysis of the ABA Tax Section’s Reduced Travel Support for Academics

CaptureAusBy: Leandra Lederman

A hot topic among professors at the recent ABA Tax Section meeting in Austin was the reduction in travel support for academics scheduled to take effect with the upcoming meeting in San Diego. As Prof. Bryan Camp wrote on TaxProf blog, The background is that, for years, and through the most recent meeting, full-time professors who have a leadership role in the section (Chair or Vice-Chair of a committee, or higher positions) have received a travel subsidy. The subsidy consists of $100/night toward actual hotel expenses, reimbursement of coach airfare (up to a mileage-based cap*), and $10 towards local transportation. Full-time professors speaking on panels who are not in leadership have also long received a travel subsidy, which I believe is the same as for professors in leadership, except without the $100/night towards hotel room cost. The Tax Section recently decided to eliminate the subsidy for academics, except for those who meet the Section’s definition of “young lawyer,” which has been reported as under age 40 or less than 5 years in practice. (I’m not sure how the “less than 5 years in practice” works, but I imagine it refers to something like bar membership, so that someone like me, who practiced for less than 5 years before entering academia in 1994, would not qualify.)

What’s so sad about this decision is that Tax Section meeting attendance by academics is likely to drop off markedly, although academics add a lot to the Section, as discussed further below. The Teaching Taxation Committee will suffer significantly, and so will other committees with many professors in leadership. It will also be harder to get faculty to speak on panels. There are several factors that will drive this effect:

  1. Law school budgets, and notably travel budgets, have been cut significantly in the wake of student application declines nationally that began in about 2011. My school continues to be generous, but I have heard from so many professors I have lost count about reduced, often dramatically reduced, annual travel budgets for faculty–budgets that may not support more than one or two conferences a year, for example. Continue reading “Analysis of the ABA Tax Section’s Reduced Travel Support for Academics”

Something Old, Something New: Two Workshop Series @ Boston College Law School this Fall

Shu Yi Oei

I’m happy to announce that we have a couple of workshop series happening at BC Law School this academic year. I’m really quite excited about these. Because what’s life without a workshop?

Tax Policy Workshops & Roundtable…

Boston College Law School has run a Tax Policy Workshop Series since 2007. This fall, we continue in that tradition, with speakers Daniel Hemel (Chicago), Ruth Mason (UVA), Zachary Liscow (Yale), and Lily Batchelder (NYU) presenting papers.

BC Law and Tulane Law are also hosting a joint BC-Tulane Tax Roundtable on March 23, 2018. More info about that coming soon.

…and a New Regulation and Markets Workshop Series!

In addition, here’s something a bit fun: Some BC Law colleagues and I have started a new workshop series, focusing on Regulation, Markets, and Business. This multidisciplinary workshop series focuses on the study of regulatory approaches to markets and business. It investigates how such economic regulation should be designed in order to balance the interests of various constituencies. It also explores how traditional approaches to regulation compare, contrast, and intersect with emerging methodologies.

We’ll feature presentations by invited legal scholars of their works-in-progress. The hope is to create opportunities for scholars working on issues of economic regulation to discuss and present their research in a forum of academics working in related intellectual spaces. The workshop is offered to Boston College JD and LLM students as a 1-credit seminar.

Here’s the 2017-18 slate:

FALL 2017

September 12, 2017 – Saule Omarova (Cornell): “Private Wealth and Public Goods: A Case for a National Investment Authority”

September 26, 2017 – Rory Van Loo (Boston University): “Consumer Law as Tax Alternative”

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 – William Birdthistle (Chicago-Kent):  “Free Funds: Retirement Saving as Public Infrastructure”

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 – Cary Martin Shelby (DePaul): “The Role of Competition in the Regulation of Investment Funds”

Tuesday, November 28, 2017, 12:15 pm – Lily Batchelder (NYU), co-sponsored with Tax Policy Workshop: “The Shaky Case for a Business Cash-Flow Tax”

Continue reading “Something Old, Something New: Two Workshop Series @ Boston College Law School this Fall”