March 12, 2012
Knoll & Mason, Graetz & Warren: Income Tax Discrimination
Prohibitions of tax discrimination have long appeared in constitutions, tax treaties, trade treaties, and other sources, but despite their ubiquity, little agreement exists as to how such provisions should be interpreted. Some commentators have concluded that tax discrimination is an incoherent concept. In this Article, we argue that in common markets, like the EU and the United States, the best interpretation of the nondiscrimination principle is that it requires what we call “competitive neutrality,” which prevents states from putting residents at a tax-induced competitive advantage or disadvantage relative to nonresidents in securing jobs. We show that, contrary to the prevailing view, maintaining a level playing field between resident and nonresident taxpayers requires neither tax rate harmonization nor equal taxation of residents and nonresidents. Our approach produces simple rules of thumb that provide states and courts with clear direction in writing tax laws and evaluating challenges to those laws.
Michael J. Graetz (Columbia) & Alvin C. Warren Jr. (Harvard), Income Tax Discrimination: Still Stuck in the Labyrinth of Impossibility, 121 Yale L.J. 1118 (2012):
In previous articles, we have argued that the European Court of Justice’s reliance on nondiscrimination as the basis for its decisions did not (and could not) satisfy commonly accepted tax policy norms, such as fairness, administrability, economic efficiency, production of desired levels of revenues, avoidance of double taxation, fiscal policy goals, inter-nation equity, and so on. In addition, we argued that the court cannot achieve consistent and coherent results by requiring nondiscrimination in both origin and destination countries for transactions involving the tax systems of more than one member state. We demonstrated that—in the absence of harmonized income tax bases and rates—the court had entered a “labyrinth of impossibility.” Ruth Mason and Michael Knoll claim to have discovered a single normative criterion that not only resolves this dilemma, but also explains the existing nondiscrimination tax jurisprudence of both the European Court of Justice and the United States Supreme Court. Although they endorse economic efficiency as the lodestar for judicial decisions regarding tax discrimination, Mason and Knoll fail to provide any evidence that their proposed norm would reduce tax-induced distortions more than competing efficiency norms, even in the limited situations to which their analysis applies. In fact, their crucial, but unrealistic, assumption that taxpayers can never change their residences from one state to another confines the actual scope of their analysis to a very small set of cases involving cross-border workers. That analysis is further limited by an unrealistic assumption of flat-rate taxation for individual income. Nor do they make a convincing case that they have found the key to understanding the confusing and inconsistent U.S. and EU judicial decisions, which are not confined to cross-border workers. Finally, implementation of their proposed norm by legislation or litigation is not practical, given the particular tax systems that they say would be required. In short, their proposed norm does not provide a way out of the “labyrinth of impossibility” created by a nondiscrimination approach to taxation of international transactions.
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