Monday, November 29, 2004
Tax thinking boils a transaction down not to labels but to who gets what why, and it forces you to examine where and how it says that. The clarity of former tax lawyers like Robert H. Jackson, Harry Blackmun, and Sumner Redstone shows that -- far from being a bunch of crazies speaking in tongues -- tax law represents just the opposite. Much of tax practice consists of trying to find logical definitions of ordinary English words (such as "sale" and "ownership"); and tax tries to root those definitions in the concerns of actual transactions.
Making definitions by connecting elements lies at the heart of tax thinking, and a delight in recognizing connections often indicates a burgeoning tax lawyer. [o test this theory, I used to give summer associates a bogus tax aptitude test The idea of the test was that if they liked seeing the test's connections -- whether or not they got the answer -- they might like tax law. Let me try two:
1. What do Baa Baa Black Sheep, the alphabet, and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star have in common? Well, hum one of them. When you hum one, you hum all three; because they all have the same tune.
2. Sarah Barney Belcher of Taunton, Massachusetts, was the ancestor of which of the following?
Douglas MacArthur Franklin Roosevelt Winston Churchill
The answer is, all three.