February 29, 2008
Moran Presents Adam Smith and the Search for an Ideal Tax System Today at Florida
Increasing inequalities in income and wealth undermine the capitalist promise of universal prosperity and political liberty. To explore that growing tension, this article examines the key role of taxation in the original vision and extensive writings of Adam Smith -- the father of capitalism. Comparing that vision to the current United States tax system reveals many important inconsistencies, particularly the current penchant for simultaneously taxing wages and exempting (or delaying) taxes on wealth and wealth appreciation. The article proposes several ways in which the U.S. tax system could more closely align with Smith’s capitalist vision. These ways of more closely adhering to a capitalist ideal include exempting a portion of wages (equal to the earnings of almost half of the United States population) from all forms of taxation and introducing a wealth tax on amounts greater than needed for working people to enter the housing market.
Median U.S. Gross Income: $61,500
The IRS announced today (Rev. Proc. 2008-19) that the U.S. median gross income is $61,500. Go here to compute the median family income for dozens of metropolitan areas (Cincinnati's median family income is $66,212.85.) Here are charts showing the average income and tax rates from 1916-2005 (Scott Hollenbeck & Maureen Keenan Kahrhas, Ninety Years of Individual Income and Tax Statistics, 1916-2005, in Statistics of Income Bulletin (Publication 1136) (Winter 2008)):
IRS Releases Winter 2008 SOI Bulletin
The IRS has released the Winter 2008 Statistics of Income Bulletin (Publication 1136):
- A History of the Tax-Exempt Sector: An SOI Perspective, by Paul Arnsberger, Melissa Ludlum, Margaret Riley & Mark Stanton
- Individual Income Tax Rates and Shares 2005, by Kyle Mudry & Justin Bryan
- Ninety Years of Individual Income and Tax Statistics, 1916-2005, by Scott Hollenbeck & Maureen Keenan Kahr
- SOI as a World-Class Organization, by James Dalton
- SOI Split-Interest Trusts, Filing Year 2006, by Lisa Schreiber
- Unrelated Business Income Tax Returns, 2004, by Margaret Riley
Citation Rankings: The Velocity Factor
In our article, Ranking Law Schools: Using SSRN to Measure Scholarly Performance, 81 Ind. L.J. 83, 93 (2006), Bernie Black and I note that one of the problems with using citation count rankings is that they favor more senior faculty and value older work that accumulates citations over time. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a new method developed by Northwestern University researchers that measures the speed in which articles accumulate citations, thus mitigating the bias in favor of older faculty and older articles. The article is in PLoS ONE: Effectiveness of Journal Ranking Schemes as a Tool for Locating Information, by Michael J. Stringer, Marta Sales-Pardo & Luís A. Nunes Amara.
Tax Court Denies Deduction for Harvard M.B.A. Expenses
The Tax Court yesterday held that the taxpayer could not deduct the $33,000 cost of obtaining a Harvard M.B.A. as an educational expense under Reg. § 1.162-5. Foster v. Commissioner, T.C. Summ. Op. 2008-22 (2/28/08). The court concluded that her Harvard M.B.A. both (1) met the minimum education requirements of her position as Vice- President of Marketing at Reshreshment Brands (at an $117,500 annual salary) within the meaning of Reg. § 1.162-5(b)(2), and (2) qualified her for a new trade or business within the meaning of Reg. § 1.162-5(b)(3).
The court distinguished two cases in which taxpayers had been allowed to deduct M.B.A. expenses (Sherman v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1977-301; Allemeier v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2005-207) because Ms. Foster had an engineering background and the Harvard M.B.A. qualified her for marketing positions. The court also approved a § 6662(a) accuracy-related penalty.
The Tax Court suggested that Ms. Foster's decision to remain in California and not attend the trial in Boston may have contributed to her defeat on both issues:
This case was tried in Boston, Mass., pursuant to petitioner's designation. Petitioner's counsel presented the case at trial without petitioner's testimony and attempted to prove the case through various documents. The Court sustained respondent's authenticity and hearsay objections to most of the documents petitioner's counsel sought to introduce. As a result of her failure to testify, the Court is left with a limited record. It would have been most helpful if petitioner had provided an explanation of her duties before and after receiving the M.B.A. ...
[P]etitioner chose not to appear at trial. Had petitioner appeared, she might have been able to provide the specific facts she actually related to her return preparer to enable that professional to conduct a properly informed analysis.
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage of the deductibility of M.B.A. expenses:
- Tax Court Denies Attorneys' Fees in Allemeier MBA Expense Case (2/17/06)
- More on Deductibility of M.B.A. Expenses (9/9/05)
- Tax Court Allows Deduction for M.B.A. Expenses (9/1/05)
- Washington Post on Tax Court's Denial of M.B.A. Expense Deductions (8/23/04)
- Tax Court Denies Deduction for M.B.A. Expenses (8/19/04)
TaxProf Blog: 8th Most Influential Law Faculty Blog
Race to the Bottom has ranked the 50 Most Influential Law Faculty Blogs for 2007:
[T]here is no single metric for ranking the popularity and/or influence of blogs, much less law blogs. There are two principle ways of ranking blogs: traffic (which is not a term with automatic meaning) and through the number of links to a page. Links has generally been used as sign of influence. Two ranking systems, Google (Page Rank) and Technorati (www.technorati.com) rely mostly on links. Justia relies on traffic although it assesses traffic largely from the results of its own search engine. In addition, a number of blogs have a site meter or were willing to provide internal traffic data. Finally, with respect to law faculty blogs, influence can be seen from the number of court and law review citations. This system, therefore, ranks law faculty blogs based upon traffic, links, and citations. For each category, blogs were assigned a score, generally 1-10, with the lowest signifying the best performance.
I am delighted that TaxProf Blog is tied for eighth under this measure. Here are the Top 10:
1. Volokh Conspiracy 2. Sentencing Law and Policy 3. Jurist- Paper Chase 4. Instapundit.com 5. Balkanization 6. Concurring Opinions 7. Hugh Hewitt's Townhall Blog 8. Prawfs Blawg 8. TaxProf Blog 8. ProfessorBainbridge.com
I am thrilled that thirteen of the Top 50 blogs are members of our Law Professor Blogs Network:
2. Sentencing Law and Policy 8. TaxProf Blog 13. White Collar Crime Prof Blog 17. Workplace Prof Blog 21. Immigration Prof Blog 26. Brian Leiter's Law School Reports 26. Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog 31. CrimProf Blog 35. M & A Law Prof Blog 40. TortsProf Blog 40. Legal Profession Blog 43. Family Law Prof Blog 47. PropertyProf Blog
Queen's University Hosts Symposium Today on Globalization and the Impact of Tax on International Investments
Queen's University Faculty of Law hosts a symposium today on Globalization and the Impact of Tax on International Investments:
National economies are increasingly tied together on a global and regional basis. In response to this process, governments throughout the world have reduced or eliminated controls on international investments and foreign exchange regulations. Over this same period, the proportion of international activities accounted for by large multinational firms has increased. Differences in national tax systems may be one of the few remaining barriers to cross-border investment flows. Bringing together leading counsel, academics and policymakers, the symposium sessions will aim to identify the ways that tax can inhibit or promote international investments, and to assess both government and private market responses to the challenges now and in the future.
Session #1: Designing Tax Rules for International Investments
- Panel Chair: Daniel Thorton (Queen’s Business School)
- Speakers and Papers:
- Tim Edgar (University of Western Ontario), Outbound Foreign Direct Investment and the Sourcing of Interest Expense for Deductibility Purposes
- Andrew Halkyard (University of Hong Kong), Evaluating Chinese Tax Incentives for Foreign Investors: An Eassonian Perspective
- Arthur J. Cockfield (Queen's University), The Theory and Reality of Taxing Foreign Direct Investment: Contributions by Alex Easson
- Commentary: Brian Mustard (Dept. of Finance) & Mary Anne Bueschkens (Heenan Blaikie, LLP)
Session #2: The Impact of Globalization on the Taxation of International Investments
- Panel Chair: David Duff (University of Toronto)
- Speakers and Papers:
- Jinyan Li (Osgoode Hall, York University), Revisiting Inter-nation Equity
- Kathy Lahey (Queen’s University), International Taxation, Gender and Human Rights
- Richard Cullen (University of Hong Kong), Globalization and the Hong Kong Revenue Regime
- Commentary: Lori McMillan (Washburn University)
Session #3: Tax Treaties and International Investments
- Panel Chair: David Kerzner (Law Offices of David S. Kerzner)
- Speakers and Papers:
- Victor Thuronyi (International Monetary Fund), Tax Treaty Templates
- Kimberley Brooks (McGill University), Using the Tax System to Promote Investment in Low-Income Countries: An Illustration of Good Intentions, Bad Results
- Rick Krever (Monash University), Examining the Taxation Cross-border Capital Gains under the OECD Model Tax Treaty
- Commentary: Geoffrey Turner (Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP)
Session #4: Taxing Cross-border Services and Service-Providers
- Panel Chair: Martha O’Brien (University of Victoria)
- Speakers and Papers:
- Brian Arnold (Goodmans LLP, Harvard University), The New Service/Permanent Establishment Rule in the Canada-U.S. Tax Treaty
- Catherine Brown (University of Calgary), Tax Barriers to Cross-Border Services
- Walter Hellerstein (University of Georgia), Consumption Taxation of Cross-Border Trade in Services in an Age of Globalization
- Commentary: Evy Moskowitz (Evy Moskowitz, Moskowitz & Meredith, LLP)
The symposium is in honor of Alex Easson, who died on January 25, 2007. Professor Easson, a professor of law at Queen's University since 1976, was renowned internationally as a leading expert in taxation and foreign investment. Symposium papers will be published within a book as a further honour for Professor Easson's work in international tax.
TPC & ATPI Host Conference Today on Taxes and Health Insurance
Health care promises to be a central issue in the 2008 Presidential campaign. Candidates of the two parties divide sharply on whether and how to use the tax system to help reform the health system. Please join us on February 29 for a conference on “Taxes and Health Insurance: Analysis and Policy” to be held at the Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Avenue N.W. The conference is cosponsored by the American Tax Policy Institute and the Urban/Brookings Tax Policy Center. Some of the nation’s foremost experts on tax and health policy will present results of research evaluating the effectiveness of tax policy in expanding health insurance coverage and controlling health care spending. CBO director, Peter Orszag, will deliver the luncheon address.
For a list of the papers, authors, and discussants, see below the fold:
9:00 – 10:15 a.m.: Setting the Stage
- Backgound and History of the Tax Exclusion, by Robert Helms (American Enterprise Institute)
- How Current Tax Treatment Influences Health Insurance Coverage and Health Care Prices, by Leonard Burman, Bowen Garrett & Surachai Khitatrakun (Urban Institute)
- Daniel Halperin (Harvard)
- Anup Malani (Chicago)
10:30 –11:45 a.m.: Economic and Behavioral Responses to Tax Incentives
- What Behavioral Economics Has to Say About Impact of Current System and Reforms, by Richard Zeckhauser (Harvard) & Jeff Liebman (Harvard)
- How Flexible Spending Accounts Affect Health Care Use, by Arik Levinson (Georgetown), William Jack (Georgetown) & Jessica Vistnes (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality)
- Jonathan Gruber (MIT)
- Ed McCaffery (USC)
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. Luncheon Speaker: Peter Orszag (CBO)
1:15 – 2:30 p.m.: Reform Proposals
- Reform Proposal I: Tax Breaks for All Health Care Spending, by John Cogan (Hoover), Glenn Hubbard (Columbia) & Daniel Kessler (Stanford)
- Reform Proposal II: Using Federal Tax Policy to Mitigate Problems in Nongroup Market, by Jason Furman (Brookings)
- William Gale (Brookings)
- Emmett Keeler (RAND Corporation)
2:45 – 4:00 p.m.: Administrative Issues
- Administrative Issues I: Challenges of the Current System, by Mary Hevener (Baker & McKenzie) & Chip Kerby (McDermott, Will & Emery)
- Administrative Issues II: Challenges of Reform Proposals, by Janet Holtzblatt (CBO)
- Stan Dorn (Urban Institute)
- Sherry Glied (Columbia)
4:00 – 5:15 p.m.: Health Savings Accounts
- Health Savings Accounts I: Short- and Long-Term Effects of Health Savings Accounts, by Lisa Clemans-Cope (Urban Institute)
- Health Savings Accounts II: Interaction of HSAs and Retirement Saving, by Henry J. Aaron (Brookings) & Surachai Khitatrakun (Urban Institute)
- Douglas Stives (Monmouth University)
- Bob Carroll (Tax Foundation)
New Issue of Basic Income Studies
The Berkeley Electronic Press has published Vol. 2, Issue 2 of Basic Income Studies:
- Basic Income and the Republican Ideal: Rethinking Material Independence in Contemporary Societies, by David Casassas
- A Republican Right to Basic Income?, by Philip Pettit
- Property and Republican Freedom: An Institutional Approach to Basic Income, by Antoni Domènech & Daniel Raventós
- Why Republicanism?, by Carole Pateman
- The Republican Case for Basic Income: A Plea for Difficulty, by Stuart White
- Is Basic Income Viable?, by David Purdy
- A Basic Income for Housing? Simulating a Universal Housing Transfer in the Netherlands and Sweden, by Manos Matsaganis & Maria Flevotomou
- Anthroposophical Reflections on Basic Income, by Johannes Hohlenberg, Simon Birnbaum, & Erik Christensen
- Basic Income and Economic Integration, by Bill Jordan
- Reforming Tax Incentives into Uniform Refundable Tax Credits, by Lily L. Batchelder & Fred T. Goldberg Jr.
- Review of Harvey and Boyle (eds.), Basic Income Guarantees and the Right to Work, by Monika Wallmon
- Review of Guy Standing & Michael Samson, A Basic Income Grant for South Africa, by Adam Whitworth
- Review of Tony Fitzpatrick, New Theories of Welfare, by Gerard Cotterell
- Review of Erik Olin Wright (ed.), Redesigning Distribution, by Wim Van Lancker
Sullivan & Worcester Provides Free Office Space to the Boston Lawyers Group
My former firm, Sullivan & Worcester (Boston), is providing office space free of charge or the next two years to the Boston Lawyers Group (BLG), a consortium of law firms and legal organizations promoting diversity in the Boston legal market. From the National Law Journal:
The Boston-based firm is giving the BLG space for three employees without charge. The BLG moves from firm to firm, and was most recently at Boston's Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels.
See BLG's press release.
February 28, 2008
IRS Releases Documents from Al Capone Investigation
In response to a FOIA request, the IRS has released documents relating to the investigation and subsequent tax evasion conviction of Chicago mobster Al Capone. Although the IRS is required to keep taxpayer records confidential, the IRS released these documents because Capone never filed a tax return:
In 1931, the IRS’s Intelligence Unit completed an investigation of Alphonse Capone which led to his conviction for tax evasion for which he served 11 years in prison. A recent Freedom of Information Act Request for a copy of Special Agent Frank Wilson’s report to Elmer Irey about the Capone investigation led to a review of the records in light of the confidentiality provisions of Internal Revenue Code Section 6103. The review concluded that this information could be made available to the public – principally because Capone never filed a tax return.
The following are copies of reports and letters from the actual file which summarize the events and activities of the three year investigation of Al Capone:
- Letter dated July 8, 1931, from W.C. Hodgins, Jacque L. Westrich, and H.N. Clagett, all Internal Revenue Agents, to the Internal Revenue Agent in Charge, Chicago, Illinois, in re Alphonse Capone, 7244 Prairie Avenue, Chicago, Illinois.
- Summary Report dated December 21, 1933, prepared by Special Agent Frank J. Wilson at the request of the Chief, Intelligence Unit, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Washington, D.C., in re Alphonse Capone, Lexington Hotel, 2300 Michigan Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois.
- Letter dated March 27, 1931, from Special Agent Frank J. Wilson to the Chief, Intelligence Unit, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Washington, D.C, providing an update on the status of the "Capone investigation."
- Letter dated April 8, 1931, from Special Agent Frank J. Wilson to the Chief, Intelligence Unit, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Washington, D.C, providing an update on the status of the "Capone investigation."
- Excerpt referencing Al Capone from "A Narrative Briefly Descriptive of the Period 1919 to 1936." This was a report prepared on the organization, functions and activities during that time period by Elmer Irey, Chief, Intelligence Unit, for the IRS Commissioner, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Guy T. Helvering.
(Hat Tip: Paul Bonner & Brad McCormack.)
Staudt Presents If Major Wars Affect (Judicial) Fiscal Policy, How & Why? Today at BC
Nancy Staudt (Northwestern) presents If Major Wars Affect (Judicial) Fiscal Policy, How & Why? today at Boston College today as part of its Tax Policy Workshop Series. Here is the abstract:
This paper seeks to identify and explain the effects of major wars on U.S. Supreme Court decision-making in the context of taxation. At first cut, it may not seem obvious why we should expect to observe a correlation between military activities and judicial fiscal policy. After all, the justices have no authority whatsoever to engage in military planning or to adopt laws that relieve the budgetary pressures that tend to emerge in times crisis. The Court, however, is able to contribute to the revenue-raising efforts indirectly by adopting a pro-government stance in the cases it decides in wartime periods. As the probability of a government win increases, for example, the expected revenue to the federal fisc also increases.
Relying on Supreme Court tax decisions issued between the years 1909-2000, this paper identifies a strong and positive correlation between major wartime activity and the probability that the government will prevail. This pro-government bias appears to operate through the judicial belief that Congress and the President are better suited to address national emergencies. This perceived imbalance of expertise, however, does not lead the Court to adopt a strategy of total deference, but rather a restricted form that involves accommodation only on issues that Congress and the President have signaled are important to the on-going war activities. These findings are robust and rule out the possibility that the Court is motivated by short-term irrational exuberance for federal policymakers associated with the so-called “rally-effect” that emerges when Americans feel threatened by forces abroad.
IRS Investigates Church Over Obama's Speech
According to this letter, the IRS has opened an investigation to determine whether the United Church of Christ has engaged in prohibited political activity in support of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama:
Our concerns are based on articles posted on several websites incuding the curch's which state that [Obama] addressed nearly 10,000 church members at the United Church of Christ's biennial General Synod at the Hartford Civic Center, on June 23, 2007. In addition, 40 Obama volunteers staffed campaign tables outside the church to promote his campaign.
Obama is a member of the Trinity United Chuch of Christ in Chicago. Press and blogosphere coverage:
- Associated Press: IRS Investigates Obama's Denomination
- Cleveland Plain Dealer: Obama's UCC Membership Could be Thorny Issue
- Hartford Courant: Obama Speech Puts Heat on UCC
- Huffington Post: IRS Probe of Obama's Church Underscores Anxieities for Nonprofits
- L.A. Times: Obama Church Speech Probed
- Nonprofit Law Prof Blog: L.A. Times Reports That Obama Church Speech Probed
- Wall Street Journal: IRS probes Church Over Obama Speech
- Washington Post:
- Listen to Lloyd Mayer's views on Chicago's WLS 890 AM.
- See the letter that sparked the IRS's inquiry here.
Shaviro Presents The Optimal Relationship Between Taxable Income and Financial Accounting Income Today at NYU
Daniel Shaviro (NYU) presents The Optimal Relationship Between Taxable Income and Financial Accounting Income at NYU today as part of its Colloquium Series on Tax Policy and Public Finance. Here is the abstract:
The persistence of the book-tax gap, or excess of companies’ reported financial accounting income over their taxable income, suggests that accounting manipulation and tax sheltering remain significant problems, even in the aftermath of the “Enron era.” Some have therefore suggested making the United States a “one-book” country, in which the same income measure would be used for both purposes. This Article offers the first systematic exploration of the optimal relationship between the two income measures, based on the distinct purposes they serve and the significance of two distinct sets of incentive problems: those pertaining to corporate managers, and to the political decision-makers who make the rules.
Absent these incentive problems, the two ideal measures would differ, reflecting that allocating tax burdens is not the same exercise as informing investors. The incentive problems cut in favor of uniformity, however, by supporting the creation of a “Madisonian” offset between managers’ and politicians’ twin quests for high accounting income and low taxable income. But this offset has more promise as a device to constrain managers than politicians, given the difficulty of binding Congress and the existing partial insulation of accounting rules from direct political influence. In light of the political incentive issues, pure one-book and two-book approaches may both be inferior to partial conformity, such as that which would result from generally requiring a 50% adjustment by large, publicly traded companies of taxable income towards financial accounting income.
McCain-Obama Tax Calculator 2.0
On Tuesday, I blogged the spreadsheet created by Ted Frank (American Enterprise Institute) to calculate your tax bill under a President McCain or a President Obama. Ted has updated the spreadsheet to "permit one to enter in different salaries, deductions, bonuses, income, and state tax data to determine your new marginal rates." For further discussion, see here.
Law School Rankings: The Play
Jeff Sovern (St. John's) has posted Rankings: A Dramatization of the Incentives Created by Ranking Law Schools on SSRN. The abstract is here. Robert Ambrogi provides a nice review:
His belief, as he writes in the play's introduction, is that "law school rankings encourage schools to shift resources away from improving the quality of the education they provide in favor of investing in improving their standings in the rankings."
The play attempts to dramatize these issues and make them more vivid. Sovern's villain is fictional law school dean "Leslie," who woos potential students with the school's secure spot high in the rankings, then confides to "Lee," a professor, that the school cannot afford to spend more on educating the students who are already there.
Let me spell it out for you. Nobody cares about what the students learn here. OK? We care about them before they get here because the rankings look at their LSATs and undergraduate grades and how we do in attracting them. We care about them after they leave because the rankings take account of how many of them get jobs and whether they pass the bar, but that's pretty much it. OK?
Tragically, the school's rankings falter after all, and both Leslie and Lee head off into the sunset -- but only one does so voluntarily.
Jeff solicits comments on his blog: "[I]f you get the impression that I want people to read it and comment, you’re right. I’m curious to learn whether writing this was useful or a waste of time."
Online Peer-Reviewed Journals
Interesting article in today's inside Higher Ed: Abandoning Print, Not Peer Review, by Scott Jaschik
There are hundreds of scholarly journals published online, plenty of them free. But what makes Museum Anthropology Review’s launch notable is that it is being led by the same editor as the traditional journal, Museum Anthropology, using the exact same peer review system. For years, the criticism of the free, online model has been that it would be impossible for it to replicate the quality control offered by traditional publishing. When online journal publishers have boasted of their quality control, print loyalists have said, in effect, “well maybe it’s good, but it can’t be as good as what we’re doing.”
To this subjective criticism, open access advocates can now point to someone who knows exactly what the standards are at both journals, as he’s leading them both. And while the professor has set up the journal with his own university library, this project isn’t focused on one university’s scholarship, but the best articles in the field — again, precisely the model that makes the best journals vital to scholars. ...
It’s certainly possible that other models may emerge, but many experts are pointing to the “university as publisher” model that Indiana’s library is now assuming (as opposed to a university press or for-profit publisher playing the role) as key. Just Wednesday, for example, the Center for Studies in Higher Education, of the University of California at Berkeley, released a report on the topic, based on conference discussions exploring how to handle the economic and quality control issues, among others.
90 Law Firms Ask IRS to Reverse its Position on § 162(m) Performance-Based Compensation
I previously blogged the IRS's recent private (PLR 200804004 (1/25/2008)) and public (Rev. Rul. 2008-13, 2008-10 I.R.B. ___ (3/10/08)) rulings on § 162(m) performance-based compensation. The National Law Journal reports that ninety prominent law firms have banded together in a letter requesting the IRS to reverse its position.
AP: Who Gets the Biggest Mortgage-Interest Tax Break?
Interesting Associated Press article: Who Gets the Biggest Mortgage-Interest Tax Break? Wealthy Homeowners:
Despite the mortgage interest deduction’s reputation as a boon to the middle class, the group that takes the deduction most often is the wealthy. A study of 2006 tax filings by the Congressionally sponsored Joint Committee on Taxation found that nearly half the households that filed tax returns itemizing a mortgage-interest deduction made $100,000 or more that year.
"There’s no dispute about that. It inordinately favors high-income folks in high cost-of-living areas," said Paul L. Caron, dean of faculty at the University of Cincinnati law school. ...
Moderate-income home owners in the 10 or 15% tax bracket don’t benefit much from a deduction, even if they do qualify, said Len Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank. But wealthier people at a higher tax rate do. "A millionaire with a million-dollar mortgage, they get to write off their interest at a 35 percent rate — 40 percent or more if you include state taxes," he said.
Caron points out that interest paid on the mortgage of a vacation home is also tax deductible. Taxpayers who have convinced the IRS that they spend part of their year living on their yacht have even been able to deduct interest on their yacht payments, he said. "That’s far removed from the perception of what this is all about," he said.
Kofler & Mason on Double Taxation: A European Switch in Time?
This article considers whether the fundamental freedoms of the EC Treaty encompass an absolute requirement on the Member States to mitigate double taxation, and it concludes that such a requirement could reasonably be inferred from the goals of the fundamental freedoms and the European Court of Justice's "double burden" jurisprudence. Notwithstanding the reasonableness of that interpretation, in the recent Kerckhaert & Morres case, the Court of Justice found that the EC Treaty permits double juridical taxation, even though double taxation distorts the Internal Market. We review the history of the Court's relevant jurisprudence, consider alternative theories under which the Court could rule that double juridical taxation violates the EC Treaty, and compare the treatment of double state taxation in the United States by the Supreme Court under the dormant Commerce Clause.
Law Prof Dresses Up As a Chicken in Class
Ethan Leib dressed up as chicken to teach his UC-Hastings contracts class Frigaliment Importing Co. v. B.N.S. Int’l Sales Corp, 190 F. Supp. 116 (1960). Details (and photos) here.
Morriss & Henderson on Legal Education in North Carolina
Andrew P. Morriss (Illinois) & William D. Henderson (Indiana) have posted Legal Education in North Carolina: A Report for Potential Students, Lawmakers, and the Public on the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy web site:
A new report from the Pope Center recommends ways to increase the availability of low-cost legal education in North Carolina. It discusses the state’s law schools in detail, using available data about student outcomes such as student debt load and salaries upon graduation.
[The report] ... reveals that North Carolina has a “substantial unmet demand for legal education.” Signs of this unmet demand are the fact that its law schools are more selective than most law schools in other states and the state has fewer private-sector lawyers per capita than any other state (758/1). The authors urge the state of North Carolina to remove barriers to entry that make it difficult for law schools to be started. Specifically, they urge the state to announce its own criteria for accrediting law schools and permitting graduates of such schools to take the bar exam. (Currently, only graduates of ABA-accredited law schools are allowed to take the bar exam.)
February 27, 2008
Hillary Clinton Continues to Stonewall on Releasing Her Tax Returns
On Sunday, I blogged the controversy over Hillary Clinton's refusal to follow Barack Obama's lead and release her tax returns prior to the nomination. Here is the exchange between NBC's Tim Russert and Senator Clinton on the issue at last night's presidential debate:
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, an issue of accountability and credibility. You have loaned your campaign $5 million. You and your husband file a joint return. You refuse to release that joint return, even though former President Clinton has had significant overseas business dealings. Your chief supporter here in Ohio, Governor Strickland, made releasing his opponent's tax return one of the primary issues of the campaign, saying repeatedly, "Accountability, transparency." If he's not releasing, his campaign said, his tax return, what is he hiding? We should question what's going on. Why won't you release your tax return, so the voters of Ohio, Texas, Vermont, Rhode Island know exactly where you and your husband got your money, who might be in part bankrolling your campaign?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, the American people who support me are bankrolling my campaign. That's -- that's obvious. You can look and see the hundreds of thousands of contributions that I've gotten. And ever since I lent my campaign money, people have responded just so generously. I'm thrilled at so many people getting involved. And we're raising, on average, about a million dollars a day on the Internet. And if anybody's out there, wants to contribute, to be part of this campaign, just go to HillaryClinton.com, because that's who's funding my campaign. And I will release my tax returns. I have consistently said that. And I will.
MR. RUSSERT: Why not now?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, I will do it as others have done it: upon becoming the nominee, or even earlier, Tim, because I have been as open as I can be. You have -- the public has 20 years of records for me, and I have very extensive filings with the Senate where
MR. RUSSERT: So, before next Tuesday's primary?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, I can't get it together by then, but I will certainly work to get it together. I'm a little busy right now; I hardly have time to sleep. But I will certainly work toward releasing, and we will get that done and in the public domain.
She replied that would [release her tax returns] if she became the nominee, and might make the return public even sooner. Before next Tuesday's primaries, asked Russert. Well, no. I'm just a little busy, said Mrs. Clinton. Couldn't possibly get it done by then. Really? Too busy to call her tax accountant and request that a photocopy of her return be released to a staffer, to duplicate the whole thing and distribute it to the press?
Tax Angle in National Treasure: Book of Secrets
There is a tax angle to the current hit movie, National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Supporting character Riley Poole (played by Justin Bartha) did not pay taxes on his share of the Declaration of Indepence he helped find in the first National Treasure movie. At a book signing, the IRS seizes his red Ferrari and Riley explains to the main character, Ben Gates (played by Nicolas Cage, who has his own tax problems right now):
"Do you know what the taxes are on five million dollars? Six million dollars."
At the end of the movie, the President of the United States returns the car to Riley with a note that says "tax-free." (Hat Tip: Leandra Lederman.) See also IRS Mind: Tax Debt: -- Have You Seen National Treasure: Book of Secrets?
Polito on Trade or Business Within the United States as an Interpretive Problem
Anthony P. Polito (Suffolk) has posted Trade or Business Within the United States as an Interpretive Problem Under the Internal Revenue Code: Five Propositions, 4 Hastings Bus. L.J. ___ (2008), on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Whether a particular set of activities constitute the conduct of a trade or business within the United States is an ongoing interpretive question affecting many foreign taxpayers. It controls what form of U.S. taxation, if any, applies to them. In the domestic context a trade or business entails profit-oriented non-investment activity that is regular, continuous and considerable. It is tempting, in the transition to the international context, to conclude that the conduct of a trade or business within the U.S. requires that the taxpayer's U.S. activities must be regular continuous, and considerable, and the standard is often articulated in this quantitative manner.
This Article, however, concludes that, as an interpretive matter, this approach is mistaken. Instead the Article disentangles the original inquiry into two distinct inquiries:
- Is the foreign taxpayer engaged in a trade or business?
- Is the conduct of the trade or business within the United States?
The answer to the former question is quantitative. Once the existence of a trade or business is established, however, no minimum quantum of U.S. activity is necessary to bring a foreign trade or business into the United States. Instead, the necessary condition for an affirmative answer to the second question is qualitative, focusing on the types of U.S. connections not their regularity, continuity, or considerableness. In answering these questions, the Article advances a series of five distinct propositions that creates an interpretive reconciliation of the various authorities addressing this question.
Cotet on The Impact of Income Taxation on Health
Anca Maria Cotet (Ball State Uiversity) has posted Death and Taxes: The Impact of Income Taxation on Health on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
More progressive taxes, holding tax liability constant, generate disincentives for health investment by decreasing benefits for additional working time and, thus, decreasing returns to health. On the other hand, progressive taxation may induce individuals to invest more in health for the purpose of extending their working life, because lifetime maximization could imply less work per period but more working years. I identify the effect of progressively through differences in labor income tax rates among states. I find that the former effect dominates, more progressive taxes are negatively correlated with health, and argue that neither selection effects nor reverse causality can explain this result.
A Liechtenstein Tax Scandal Reader
The IRS announced yesterday (IR 2008-26) that it is initiating enforcement action with respect to more than 100 U.S. taxpayers in connection with growing scandal involving off-shore accounts in Liechtenstein used to hide assets and avoid tax. Press and blogosphere coverage of the scandal:
- International Herald Tribune:
- L.A. Times:
- New York Times:
- A Taxing Matter:
- Wall Street Journal:
- German Tax Probe Helps To Recoup $41.2 Million
- Heavenly Tax Havens (op-ed)
- Liechtenstein Criticizes Germany Over Tax Probe
- Liechtenstein Hid Americans' Assets
- Tax Blitzkrieg
- Theft of Tax Data Hits Bank Clients Around Globe
- U.S., Others Join Tax Probe; Eight Nations Examine Citizens' Assets Held in Liechtenstein Bank
IRS Further Endorses Cornell's Online Tax Code
Since its inception, TaxProf Blog has always included in its left column permanent resources a link to the wonderful online Internal Revenue Code provided to the public free of charge by Cornell's Legal Information Institute. The IRS itself has linked to the LII Tax Code for over ten years. It is up to date, and its search functions make it incredibly easy to use. I use the LII Tax Code in class to project sections we are discussing onto a screen. The IRS this year has included the LII Tax Code in its Tax Products CD/DVD package (Publication 1796). The LII notes:
The IRS produces 26,000 of its Tax Product CD/DVD package, which is sent, free of charge, to thousands of tax preparers and other interested parties. They go to each member of Congress; to free tax clinics (such as those run by the AARP); to members of the IRS Corporate Partnership (companies who make tax information freely available on company intranets); to libraries; and to IRS employees and IRS walk-in offices.
Kudos to the fine folks at LII!
Chronicle: Anti-Plagiarism Software Vexes Some Faculty
Interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education: Anti-Cheating Crusader Vexes Some Professors; Software Kingpin Says Using His Product Would Cure Plagiarism Blight, by Brock Read:
John Barrie probably doesn't have many fans at Princeton University. It's easy to understand why.
About two years ago, Princeton officials announced that they had no intention of using Turnitin, the popular antiplagiarism software sold by Mr. Barrie's company, iParadigms LLC. When an enterprising reporter at the student newspaper called the company's founder to ask for a comment, Mr. Barrie obliged: He called the university soft on cheating. "The disturbing thing," he told the newspaper, "is that Princeton is producing our society's future leaders, and the last thing anyone wants is a society full of Enron executives."
The parallel between plagiarism and corporate crime raised eyebrows — and ire — on the campus. But for Mr. Barrie, the comparison was a perfectly natural one. In the 10 years since he founded iParadigms, he has argued — forcefully, and at times combatively — that academic plagiarism is growing, and that it is a societal blight that only his software can cure.
Mr. Barrie's vehemence may have made him a persona non grata at Princeton, but it has helped him persuade instructors at more than 8,000 high schools and colleges — including two of Princeton's Ivy League rivals, Harvard and Columbia, the University of California system, and the University of Oxford, in England — to use his service.
Last year professors and teachers submitted a whopping 30 million papers from their students to Turnitin. The software then compared those writings with texts in a giant database of books, journals, Web sites, and essays, and checked for evidence of plagiarized material.
When Mr. Barrie founded Turnitin, just over a decade ago, few professors had even thought about, let alone clamored for, plagiarism-detection software. In essence, iParadigms has built a fast-growing business out of almost nothing. "It's safe to say that Turnitin is now a part of how education works," Mr. Barrie says.
But critics say that's a fact to be lamented, not a cause for celebration. Not only does Turnitin grab student papers for use in its database without compensating the students, they argue, but it also encourages professors to spend time policing their students instead of teaching them. "Turnitin does sound wonderful on the surface," says Charles Lowe, an assistant professor of writing at Grand Valley State University, "but a lot of faculty members aren't even aware of why they might not want to use it." He helped write a statement, sent to the university's Academic Senate on behalf of his department, urging colleagues at the Michigan institution to be wary of Turnitin.
Before he released Turnitin to the public, Mr. Barrie says, he knew that the tool would work only if it were built on "a database so massive that it creates a deterrent." Turnitin keeps tabs on billions of Web pages and crawls through about 60 million of them every day, checking for new or updated material.
But Internet scans alone won't necessarily catch papers that students sell to one another or buy from term-paper mills; those papers never make it onto Web sites. So Turnitin has built much of its database with the help of clients. The service archives every paper that is submitted to it.
That policy has led some students and professors to argue that Turnitin is routinely violating students' intellectual-property lefts. Because federal law automatically bestows copylefts to the authors of written works, even unpublished papers are protected. Students and instructors who are critical of the company say it ought to compensate people for the papers that it absorbs.
Even if Turnitin is legally vindicated, the company must still convince colleges that antiplagiarism software is a modern necessity. Mr. Barrie has, at the very least, some statistical support: In a 2005 study conducted by Duke University's Center for Academic Integrity (which has since moved to Clemson University), 70 percent of college students admitted to having cheated in some form.
Faculty members who are critical of Turnitin, however, say the software comes with a cost beyond the effective fee of about $1 per student for unlimited submissions of work. Professors' classroom relationships are damaged, they say, by the suggestion that students must be constantly policed. "Turnitin depends on a culture of fear about plagiarism," says Mr. Lowe, of Grand Valley State. "Faculty might want to ask themselves how they would feel if their departments asked them to submit everything they wrote to a plagiarism-detection service."
ABA Tax Section Offers Teleconference and Webcast Today on Report of National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson
The Tax Section is pleased to present a special 90-minute teleconference featuring Nina Olson, IRS National Taxpayer Advocate, who will discuss the major findings and recommendations from the National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2007 Annual Report to Congress. Ample time will be provided for Q & A.
Becker & Posner Debate Desirability of Forcing Colleges to Spend 5% of Their Endowments Annually to Curb Rising Tuition
I do not deny that colleges invite criticism when they increase tuition while their endowments are increasing by a lot. Although it seems much more natural and appropriate for colleges to lower tuition when their endowments grow, there is a powerful reason why endowment growth is often accompanied by a growth in tuition. A rapid increase in endowments, even by schools that spend a small fraction of their endowments, enable schools to spend more resources on increasing the quality of the college education they offer. They would tend to attract better teachers and researchers, provide smaller classes, enlarge their libraries and other information storage and dissemination facilities, and provide better athletic facilities and other amenities. These improvements in what a college offers in turn helps attract students who are willing to pay higher tuitions. Since American colleges are in a highly competitive environment, they tend to raise tuition when they can attract good students who are willing to pay more.
Although I disagree with Senator Grassley and other Congressmen about whether we should be concerned by the sharp increases in tuition, I do agree with him and other critics that colleges should spend a larger fraction of their endowments. However, my reasons are very different from theirs, and I certainly do not believe that schools should be required by law to spend a larger fraction of endowments. The problem I believe with the governance of many schools is that their boards of directors believe they are managing financial assets that should be maintained, and preferably increased, in perpetuity. In my judgment the major goal of presidents and boards should be to improve teaching and research, and that may well mean spending much more than the income from endowments.
Of course, the persons in charge of a college's governance should be concerned about the effects of spending down endowment on the college's future financial strength. However, colleges that compete well against their peer schools generally attract more generous private and public contributions. As a result, schools that spend wisely higher percentages of their endowments may well increase, not decrease, future endowments. Likewise, schools that refuse to spend more than a rigidly fixed percent of their endowments may experience a decline in their competitive position that will tend to reduce their ability to attract contributions in the future. Therefore, boards of directors that do not allow greater spending because they want to maintain, or increase, their schools' endowments could be responsible for reductions in future endowments.
In arguing this I am partly influenced by the experience of the Olin Foundation. This was a large foundation that explicitly decided to spend down its endowment in order to better accomplish its goals. The Olin Foundation did spend all its endowment on law and economics and other programs, and has essentially now closed its doors. During the relatively short time of its existence the Olin Foundation accomplished far more than most other large foundations do over many more years. I am not suggesting that all colleges follow Olin's example and plan to go out of business- some of them should, however. Rather, I suggest that they should copy Olin's example of trying to be successful now, even if that means spending more than their incomes on attracting and teaching good students, and in producing path-breaking research.
The 5 percent rule makes less sense for universities than for foundations. Foundations normally derive all or most of their income from investing their original endowment, and so they are not in competition with each other. Nor have they the spur of profit maximization. They are governed by self-perpetuating boards of trustees; so there is no democratic check either. The idea behind the 5 percent rule is to prevent the hoarding of endowment income, perhaps to provide high salaries and generous perks to staff and to prod the trustees to seek additional grants and thus compete with other foundations. But the prod is slight so long as the average return on investing the endowment is at least 5 percent a year. With inflation currently running at 4 percent, a 5 percent return is easily achieved.
Higher education, in contrast to the foundation sector, is a highly competitive industry, even though most universities are nonprofit. They compete vigorously for students, faculty, and grants, which include alumni donations, foundation and other third-party donations, and government grants; state universities also receive money appropriated by the state legislature, but this is a diminishing source of the revenue of major state universities such as Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan, and Virginia. The different sources of income are complementary: good students attract good faculty and vice versa, and a university's academic standing attracts donations and grants. The universities' principal income consists of tuition plus donations and grants plus endowment income, but some universities have income from television contracts for their athletic teams, and others have income from patents developed by members of their faculty. The major universities not only have large endowments but also receive large annual gifts from alumni and others. Generally, wealthier universities are better, or at least more prestigious, than poorer ones, and so they can and do charge very high tuition even though they could "afford" to charge lower, or even zero, tuition; but that would not make economic sense for them.
Given the competitive structure of higher education, it is hard to see why government should step in and try to limit tuition. The universities have a competitive incentive to provide financial aid to highly promising applicants who cannot afford full tuition; why those who can afford to pay for it should not be asked to pay for it escapes me. Forcing abolition of tuition would be a subsidy for rich kids. If universities were somehow prevented from charging tuition, moreover, applicants and their families would not have to think carefully about educational options. A free university education would be attractive to many people for whom it would be a poor investment if they had to pay stiff tuition, though it would not be completely free in an economic sense because they would have to forgo income from working. And a 5-percent-fits-all solution would make no sense for universities that had very small endowments and good reasons for wanting them to be larger.
The difficult question involves the federal income tax exemption for donations to universities. It is a legitimate question why the federal taxpayer should be subsidizing Harvard, with its $35 billion endowment. The only justification would be if the type of research and teaching that goes on at Harvard or the other major universities generates external benefits that, were it not for the subsidy, would be smaller by more than the subsidy. This seems unlikely. The cost of the scientific research and graduate scientific training conducted in these universities is already heavily subsidized by federal and corporate grants and contracts; and increasingly the scientific research done by universities is applied rather than basic and so is eligible for patent protection. The contribution of nonscientific fields to welfare is not negligible, but one does have a sense that in many of them the marginal product is slight or even negative--is there really social value in having 400 English-language philosophy journals (the approximate number today) rather than 50? Because universities, though competitive, are not profit maximizers, because of age-old uncertainty concerning the effectiveness of various methods of teaching and the value of various forms of scholarship, and because of a tradition of faculty autonomy reinforced by the tenure system, universities have much the character of workers' cooperatives, which are not notably efficient enterprises.
February 26, 2008
Calculate Your Tax Bill Under a President McCain or a President Obama
Ted Frank (American Enterprise Institute) has created this spreadhseet you can modify to calculate your tax bill under a President McCain or a President Obama. Ted blogs that an average mid-level BigLaw associate would pay $15.048 of additional tax each year under a President Obama than under a President McCain:
Now, money isn’t everything. A BigLaw associate, who is already handsomely paid, might find it worthwhile to take the equivalent of a $34,000/year paycut to have Barack Obama as president instead of John McCain
Mayer Presents Public Benefits, Private Benefits, and Charities Today at Notre Dame
Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer (Notre Dame) presents Public Benefits, Private Benefits, and Charities at Notre Dame today as part of its Faculty Workshop Series. Here is the abstract:
This presentation explores the role of charities in society as compared to the roles of other organizations, including businesses, governments, families, and other types of nonprofits. Building on the familiar market and government failure theories and further developing related theories applicable to kinship groups and mutual benefit nonprofits, the presentation determines that the role of charities is to provide certain goods and services that none of these other types of organizations are capable of providing as efficiently. It then examines how the law can serve two functions, first by limiting charities to that role and second by not unduly inhibiting them from fulfilling that role the fullest. It concludes that while the traditional public benefit / no private benefit requirement serves the first function and the many legal advantages that charities enjoy serve the second function, the public benefit requirement will hinder the second function unless public benefit is defined broadly. At the same time, the private benefit prohibition will only be a sufficient check on charities if it is also defined broadly and strictly enforced. The presentation also explores whether other restrictions on charities, including the commerciality doctrine, the lobbying limitation, and the political campaign intervention prohibition are consistent with these functions for the law.
Hoffer on Adopting the Family Taxable Unit
In recent years, scholars have suggested that population stability plays an important role in countries' economic health. In light of that assertion, and with an eye toward declining birthrates abroad, this Article asks how the United States, through tax policy, might aid maintenance of a stable population level. Specifically, the Article recommends use of the family taxable unit as a means of reducing the effects of time and wage pressure on larger families. Use of the family taxable unit would, unlike some other tax provisions, bring conceptual coherence to the tax treatment of families while remaining neutral with regard to the labor market participation of secondary earners.
Wallace Reviews Fiscal Reform in Columbia
Sally Wallace (Georgia State University, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies) has published Book Review: Fiscal Reform in Columbia: Problems and Prospects, 60 Nat'l Tax J. 843 (2007). Here is the abstract:
Fiscal Reform in Columbia: Problems and Prospects. Edited by Richard M. Bird, James M. Poterba, and Joel Slemrod. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006, pp. 329. In a series of nine chapters in this edited volume, the authors provide background analysis, and evaluate reform options with respect to a number of key policy areas, including public debt, tax administration, taxation of capital and labor, and fiscal decentralization. The result is a wonderful compilation of reviews of the state of the practice in international public finance, and detailed analyses of the current situation and reform prospects for Colombia, based on up–to–date data, theory, and analytical techniques. The editors and authors include many of the leading authorities on taxation in the world. This book is an important addition to the literature on "doing tax reform" in developing countries.
Green Bag Launches New Law School Rankings to Measure Faculty "Deadwood"
The Green Bag has announced a forthcoming annual ranking of law schools -- the "Deadwood Rankings": Fair Warning to Law Schools ... And an invitation to 1Ls, 2Ls & 3Ls, 11 Green Bag 2d 139 (Spring 2008). Here is the abstract:
Aspiring law students and professors should have more and better information about the relative quality of law schools. Unfortunately, the people in the best positions to provide that information - the AALS and ABA - have powerful reasons to avoid doing so. The void has been filled in part by the U.S. News rankings. We could go on about their defects and limitations, but we have done that before. U.S. News could improve its product, but why bother? Doing more and better work would be costly, and in the absence of a genuine competitive threat there is no reason to make the investment. Enter the Deadwood Report, in which the Green Bag will provide rough and admittedly partial but transparent measures of law school faculty quality by measuring teaching, scholarship, and (eventually) service. Law schools generally hold themselves out as institutions led by faculties whose members are committed to working in all three areas. Why? Because - according to the law schools and many leaders of the profession - the best teachers tend to be active scholars, and the best scholars tend to be active teachers, and all the best lawyers of every stripe engage in service for the public good. Evidence of the law schools' commitment to this view is reflected in the practically universal requirement of high achievement in all three areas for tenure. And so we should be able to say with some confidence that a good law school will have a faculty consisting of hard-working teacher-scholar-humanitarians. The Deadwood Report will simply test the accuracy of that picture. Our focus will be on the most dully objective of measures: whether the work is being done - whether each law school faculty member is teaching courses, publishing scholarly works, and performing pro bono service.
From today's Inside Higher Ed: Joining the Law School Rankings Game, by Doug Lederman:
What exactly will the Deadwood Report measure? Law schools, the editors write, “generally hold themselves out as institutions led by faculties whose members are committed to teaching, scholarship, and service.” They argue that the best teachers tend to be active scholars and vice versa, “and all the best lawyers of every stripe engage in service for the public good.... Evidence of the law schools’ commitment to this view is reflected in the practically universal requirement of high achievement in all three areas for tenure. And so we should be able to say with some confidence that a good law school will have a faculty consisting of hard-working teacher-scholar-humanitarians,” the Green Bag editorial says.
“The Deadwood Report will simply test the accuracy of that picture,” the journal’s editors write. “Our focus will be on the most dully objective of measures: whether the work is being done — whether each law school faculty member is teaching courses, publishing scholarly works, and performing pro bono service.” (The journal plans to start with teaching and research, turning only eventually to service, and notes that it does not plan — “at least not yet” — to answer what it calls the “trickier and more entertaining subjective questions: whether the teaching is effective, whether the scholarship is sound, whether the service is in the public interest.")
The journal’s editors offer some advice to law school deans, which offers additional evidence about their motives in joining the rankings game. Keep your Web sites up to date, since that is where all of the rankings’ information will come from. “This seems reasonable to us because your Web site is surely where most applicants and other inquisitive people go for information about your law school. If a school cannot be bothered to provide accurate information about the teaching, scholarship and service of its own faculty on its own Web site, it deserves to be haunted by any inaccuracies.”
“Puffery is double-edged,” the Green Bag warns. If a law school’s “faculty” page offers a long list of names, the journal’s editors will include and assess them all in the school’s “deadwood” numbers. “Inflated denominators will not be helpful to you,” the journal’s editorial says. “If you have employees who are employed to teach but not to write, or to write but not to teach,” or who once did one or both but no longer do, or who are on leave, “you might be well-served — and people visiting your Web site would certainly be better-informed — if you moved those folks off your list of “Faculty” and onto lists labeled, perhaps, “Instructors” and “Researchers” and “Emeriti” and “Administrators” and “On Leave.” (Visiting instructors will be treated differently.)
Robert Morse, who runs U.S. News’s law school and other college rankings operations, said the magazine “welcomes other people into the field to do law school rankings or assessments of any kind.” He questioned the Green Bag’s focus on measuring law schools by the productivity of their faculty, since “it’s not clear that that correlates to being good for law school students.” He added: “We obviously use much broader criteria. We think an institution is more than the sum of its faculty.”
Brian Leiter, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin whose own rankings of law school quality began as an alternative to U.S. News, said he generally agreed with the Green Bag’s criticism of the current sources of information about law school performance and “the value of alternative sources of comparative assessments.” He said he believed the journal’s definition of “service” — doing work in the community or that serves society — is “out of whack” with the type of service typically rewarded by law schools, and suggested that the Green Bag bag service altogether as a criterion.
“I also think the editors are setting themselves up for a world of grief from the faculties deemed to have lots of ‘deadwood’ and the individual faculty so classified,” Leiter added via e-mail. “I would have recommended a more delicate name for the undertaking! On the other hand, assuming the editors are prepared for the backlash — most people do hate to be evaluated, especially in public — the report may perform a real service for deans trying to change institutional cultures.”
Law school now will have an even more powerful incetnive to keep their web sites up-to-date:
An up-to-date web site is a wonderful thing. That is where we will gather all of our information. This seems reasonable to us because your web site is surely where most applicants and other inquisitive people go for information about your law school. If a school cannot be bothered to provide accurate information about the teaching, scholarship, and service of its own faculty on its own web site, it deserves to be haunted by any inaccuracies.
Clinton, Obama, & McCain: The Good, Bad, & Ugly Tax Views
Roni Deutch outlines the good, the bad, and the ugly of the tax views of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain.
Law School as Lake Wobegon: The Gentleman's C Becomes the Gentleman's B
Interesting article in The Recorder: Hastings Law Students Look to Stay Ahead of the Grading Curve; But Some Say a Revamped Grading System Would Do More for Morale at Hastings Than for Law Students' Job Prospects, by Petra Pasternak:
The number of C grades that Hastings College of the Law doles out has much of the student body in a tizzy. In a recent survey of the school's 1,250 students, slightly more than 80% of the 543 respondents reported unhappiness with the school's grading system. About 78% said it would be worthwhile to make changes -- and a faculty leader said the school is likely to accommodate them.
The Hastings curve, which applies during all three years of study, allows for students to earn 20% A's, 60% B's, and 20% C's. That, students say, puts them at a disadvantage on the job market against graduates from UCLA School of Law, where a different curve applies, or from Boalt Hall School of Law, which employs a non-grade system that bestows various levels of honors for a passing performance, and "no credit" for failing....
Although a curve with a smaller slice of C's may bring Hastings' grading system closer in line with other schools, some say that a relaxation would likely do more for morale than for employment prospects. "The curve should be relaxed because it's the right thing to do and because the students become stressed about grades," [Academic Dean Shauna] Marshall said. But, she added, "If you were in the bottom half with a C and now you're in the bottom half with a B, the employer will still see that you're in the bottom half. And changing our curve is not going to change that fact."
UC-Davis School of Law and UCLA School of Law, for example, have over the years loosened their curves or lifted mandatory grading guidelines from second- and third-year classes. UCLA School of Law's assistant dean for students, Elizabeth Cheadle, said her school has relaxed its curve twice in the last 20 years. In the mid-1990s, the school shrank the C curve from 40% to 20% of the class, Cheadle said. About three years ago, the school dropped the C quota for upper-level students altogether. Professors are still told (.pdf) to hand out 5% 8% C-plusses or below for first-year courses, though. Cheadle said that changes were prompted by visiting faculty and UCLA professors who had taught at other schools, and observed that the law school's curve was outside the norm. "Our sense was that the real top-tier schools in the country were no longer having huge C ranges," Cheadle said. "Faculty felt they were having to arbitrarily push people down to a grade they didn't deserve."
UC-Davis School of Law moved to relax its first-year curve about five years ago, to bring it more in line with Hastings and UCLA, according to Kevin Johnson, associate dean for academic affairs. (There was no curve for upper-level courses.) Though Johnson doesn't believe employment prospects have changed much since then, he said the shift has improved the mood on campus. "We used to have 10% A's, now we have 20% A's in first-year classes," he said. The recommended grading distribution for first-years is rounded out with roughly 60% B's and 20% C's.
Cf. "And to the C students, I say, you, too can be president of the United States." George W, Bush address at Yale University (June 2001), quoted in Slate: Shining C: Land of Opportunity, Bush-Style, by Michael Kinsley. See also Scripps Howard: Bush, Kerry Grades Give High Hopes to C Students.
Ainsworth on Zappers: Tax Fraud, Technology and Terrorist Funding
Richard T. Ainsworth (Boston University) has posted Zappers: Tax Fraud, Technology and Terrorist Funding, 2008 St. & Local Tax Law. ___, on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
"Zappers," or automated sales suppression devices, have brought unheard of efficiencies and economies of scale to a very simple tax fraud - skimming cash sales at point of sale (POS) terminals (electronic cash registers). Until recently the largest tax fraud case in Connecticut, also the "largest computer driven tax-evasion case in the nation," was a zapper case. Stew Leonard's Dairy in Norwalk Connecticut skimmed $17 million in receipts and hid the cash in St. Martin (a Caribbean island). Talal Chahine and his wife, Elfat El Aouar, owners of the La Shish restaurant chain in Detroit Michigan have the dubious honor of replacing Stew Leonard as the leading U.S. zapper fraud case. They zapped $20 million in cash sales and sent the funds to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Zapper frauds (like electronic cash registers) are not confined to the U.S. Zappers are also a significant problem in Canada, Brazil, Australia, and many countries in the EU. When the U.S. and foreign experiences are considered comparatively, it is not the similarity in the fraud-mechanism (the zapper) that is the most striking - it is the difference in the enforcement mechanism that catches one's attention. In both Canada and Brazil zappers were identified through consumption (not income) tax investigations, and this difference should suggest to U.S. policy-makers that important enforcement opportunities lay within a strengthened State-Federal audit exchange at the retail sales tax level.
This paper makes this income tax/retail sales tax connection, and extends it by opening up for consideration the enforcement opportunities that are available through certified tax software solutions under the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA). An extension of the SSUTA is proposed through the adoption of German Working Group on Cash Register's proposal to use encryption and smart cards in ECRs and POS systems. A certified service provider (CSP) under the SSUTA (as extended) with current levels of technology, could easily be employed not only to assure the States that the correct retail sales tax was being collected and remitted, but also assure the federal government that cash sales were not being skimmed by zappers.
For Young Fathers (and the Mothers Who Love Them)
Welcome to the Blogosphere: LII Announce and Tom Bruce
A hearty welcome to the blogosphere to LII Announce, from Cornell's acclaimed Legal Information Institute, which provides "announcements, featured content, and the occasional bizarre legal information factoid." Thomas R. Bruce (Research Associate, Cornell Law School, and Director, Legal Information Institute) also has launched a blog: Nameless for Now (Tom is soliciting suggestions for naming the blog here.)
February 25, 2008
Kau Presents The Winding Path from Tax Law to Hedge Fund Land Today at Yale
Randall K.C. Kau (XE Capital Management) presents The Winding Path from Tax Law to Hedge Fund Land at Yale today as part of the Center for the Study of Corporate Law Colloquium Series
Seven Tax Questions for Clinton, Obama, and McCain
MSN Money's Tax Center has a number of tax lists:
- 5 Easy Ways You Can Avoid an IRS Audit: Whether you're facing an audit or simply want to avoid one, here are steps to take to deflect attention or get you prepared.
- 10 Tax Goofs Many Of Us Keep Making: Year after year, the IRS sees Americans committing the same sorts of mistakes on their returns. Many of these errors are easy to avoid; some are more complicated.
- 10 Big Deductions Too Many People Miss: If you don't know about a potential tax break, you won't take it, says MSN Money tax expert Jeff Schnepper. Here are the deductions that a lot of taxpayers seem to forget.
- 15-Point Tax-Return Checklist: Face it: The tax fairies aren't going to file your tax return for you. Here's a step-by-step guide to finding and filing those tax-return forms you've been avoiding.
(Hat Tip: Ann Murphy.)
Testa & Mattoon on Is There a Role for Gross Receipts Taxation?
States are showing renewed interest in using Gross Receipts Taxes (GRTs) as a method for taxing business. This paper discusses the advantages and disadvantages of GRTs along three dimensions—as a stand alone tax against standard tax principles, as a replacement for an existing business tax structure, and finally as a "fill–in" or corrective tax to rebalance a state’s tax system. In addition, the paper offers estimates of current state and local tax levies on business relative to estimates of the benefits that business receives through public services. The paper concludes that the GRT is not a first best option, and that an origin–based value added tax would be a preferred business tax structure.
Huckabee on Saturday Night Live
Non-tax, but funny: Mike Huckabee's appearance on Saturday Night Live:
John McCain: Straight Talk on Taxes?
Now that the Arizona senator is the presumptive Republican nominee, it's worth asking what sorts of tax policies he would push for as President. Our honest answer: We have no idea. He has held several views and his recent explanations don't quite explain his various policy permutations. As our Congressional report card covering the years 2001 through 2006 shows, CTJ has given McCain an "A" in some years and an "F" in other years. But one might think that the "real" John McCain could be found by digging deeper, farther back into his history.
So it's worth looking at McCain's record before he ran for president in 2000. As explained in a report issued by CTJ on the senator's record back then, McCain often voted against bills that would reduce the deficit by closing tax loopholes (apparently "pork" is OK in his eyes if it's done through the tax code) or raising tax rates. He did vote in favor of the sweeping revenue-neutral tax reform bill in 1986 (along with an almost unanimous senate), but after the Republicans took over Congress in the 1990s, he sided with his party on bills to provide unaffordable and unnecessary tax cuts.
During his campaign for president in 2000 and for quite a while thereafter, something strange happened to John McCain. He strongly opposed the most central planks in the GOP platform and the driving force behind the conservative movement: tax cuts. Specifically, McCain was the only Republican senator to vote against the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. It is hard to exaggerate how amazing these votes are, since tax cuts have been the main policy proposal offered by Republican presidential candidates in almost every election since 1980. ...
Then, as he contemplated another run for the presidency, McCain had another change of heart. ... McCain has fully channeled his party’s orthodoxy against taxes on the wealthy. He says he wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. He wants to slash the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25% ...
Now, it would be one thing if John McCain actually offered some "straight talk" to explain all this. If he simply said he was wrong, or he was temporarily blinded by his rage at the GOP, that would be at least understandable. But instead, he has offered an explanation so convoluted that it defies belief.
Why Do Students Go to Law School? Money, Politics
A Kaplan survey of 1,949 students taking the LSAT lists the reasons they want to go to law school:
- 73%: Enable them to have a high income
- 42% (52% of men, 34% of women): Prepare them for a political career
- Alabama Student Newspaper (The Crimson White): Kaplan Survey Reveals New Information, by Paul Thompson
- Boston College Student Newspaper (The Heights): Gender Roles Still Evident in Politics, by Molly Whiteman
- Maryland Student Newspaper (The Retriever): Kaplan Survey Divulges Gender Gap Among Aspiring Politicians, by Ariane Szu-Tu
- Penn State Student Newspaper (The Daily Collegian): Gender Gap Remains for Aspiring Politicians, by Julie Reis
- UNLV Student Newspaper (The Rebel Yell): Gaining Access to the Boys Club, by Gregan Wingert
- USC Student Newspaper (The Daily Trojan): Study: Gender Gap in Law Students' Goals, by Kyla Segalia
- ABA Journal: Youths Cite Making Money, Interest in Politics as Reasons to Attend Law School, by Martha Neil
ABA Tax Section Publishes Winter 2008 Issue of News Quarterly
- From the Chair (Stanley L. Blend) (pp. 3, 18)
- Interview with Karen Gilbreath-Sowell (Deputy Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy) (pp. 4-7)
- News Briefs (pp. 7, 23)
- Points to Remember:
- Are Type III Supporting Organizations the New Private Foundations?, by Jocelyne C. Miller (Grant Thornton, McLean, VA) (pp. 1, 8-9)
- Facade Easements Get a Facelift, by Monica D. Armstrong (Mercer Law School) (pp. 9-10)
- Proposed Regulations Regarding Property Distributions Following Assets-Over Partnership Mergers, by Joseph Vetting, Matthew Belcher & Glenn E. Mincey (all of Deloitte Tax National Office, Washington, D.C.) (pp. 11-13)
- The Selective Enforcement Defense in Civil and Criminal Tax Cases, by Steve R. Johnson (UNLV Law School) (pp. 14-15)
- Notice 2007-69 Grants Temporary Relief for Plans Needing to Amend Definition of Normal Retirement Age, by Barbara E. Ruiz-Gonzalez (Aballi, Milne, Kalil & Escagedo (Miami, FL) (pp. 16-18)
- Join a Tax Section Committee (p. 19)
- Government Submissions Boxscore (p. 20)
- CLE Calendar (p. 21)
- Section Meeting Calendar (p. 21)
- Tax Bites: An "Ernest" Approach to Federal Income Taxation, by Anthony E. Rebollo (Richardson Plowden & Robinson, Columbia, SC) (p. 22)
- 2008-2009 Nominees (p. 23)
Measuring Scholarly Impact of Faculty
Interesting article in Inside Higher Ed: Measuring "Impact" of B-School Research, by Andy Guess:
[B]usiness schools expect their faculty to produce peer-reviewed research. The relevance, purpose and merit of that research has been debated almost since the institutions started appearing, and now a new report promises to add to the discussion — and possibly stir more debate. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business on Thursday released the final report of its Impact of Research Task Force, the result of feedback from almost 1,000 deans, directors and professors to a preliminary draft circulated in August.
The consensus report, which was approved by the group’s international board of directors, asserts that it is vital when accrediting institutions to assess the “impact” of faculty members’ research on actual practices in the business world. But it does not settle on concrete metrics for impact, leaving that discussion to a future implementation task force, and emphasizes that a “one size fits all” approach will not work in measuring the value of scholars’ work. ...
“In the past, there was a tendency I think to look at the [traditional academic] model as kind of the desired situation for all business schools, and what we’re saying here in this report is that there is not a one-size-fits-all model in this business; you should have impact and expectations dependent on the mission of the business school and the university,” said Richard Cosier, the dean of the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University and vice chair and chair-elect of AACSB’s board. ... That position worried some respondents to the initial draft, who feared an undue emphasis on immediate, visible impact of research on business practices — essentially, clear utilitarian value — over basic research. The final report takes pains to alleviate those concerns, reassuring deans and scholars that it wasn’t minimizing the contributions of theoretical work or requiring that all professors at a particular school demonstrate “impact” for the institution to be accredited. ...
But some critics have worried that the report could encourage a focus on the immediate impact of research at the expense of theoretical work that could potentially have an unexpected payoff in the future.