TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Tax Prof Quotations

There are 63 quotations by Tax Profs in As Certain as Death -- Quotations About Taxes (2008 Edition), an annual collection of 1,371 quotations published in Tax Notes by Jeffery L. Yablon (Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, Washington, D.C.).  Below the fold are the quotations from these Tax Profs:

  • Alice G. Abreu (Temple)
  • Joseph Bankman (Stanford)
  • Boris I. Bittker (Yale)
  • Walter Blum (Chicago)
  • Evelyn Brody (Chicago-Kent)
  • James Bryce (Alabama)
  • Paul L. Caron (Cincinnati)
  • Charles Davenport (Rutgers-Newark)
  • Jonathan Barry Forman (Oklahoma)
  • Martin D. Ginsburg (Georgetown)
  • Michael J. Graetz (Yale)
  • Erwin N. Griswold (Harvard)
  • James Hines (Michigan)
  • Calvin H. Johnson (Texas)
  • Marjorie E. Kornhauser (Arizona State)
  • Edward J. McCaffery (USC)
  • Paul R. McDaniel (Florida)
  • Martin J. McMahon Jr. (Florida)
  • Joel S. Newman (Wake Forest)
  • Sheldon D. Pollack (Delaware)
  • Joshua Rosenberg (San Francisco)
  • Deborah H. Schenk (NYU)
  • Joel Slemrod (Michigan)
  • Dennis J. Ventry Jr. (American)
  • David A. Weisbach (Chicago)
  • Bernard Wolfman (Harvard)
  • George K. Yin (Virginia)
  • Alice G. Abreu (Temple): "The design of a tax system, including the extent to which it confers avoidance power, reflects the values of its designers. Tax systems, after all, do not follow the laws of nature. The design of a tax system is not ordained by anything even remotely analogous to the law of gravity. Unlike the falling of a pebble released from a hand, a particular tax system is not the inevitable result of forces which humans can understand, perhaps control and sometimes escape from, but cannot alter. Rather, tax systems are products of human creation. They exist because they serve human objectives, reflecting the values of their designers. A tax system's design can reveal much about those values."
  • Joseph Bankman (Stanford):
    • "A basic and common-sense rule of tax policy is that we ought to have the same rate of tax apply across different occupations or investments. The relative profitability of different professions, or investments, ought to be dictated by the market, not the tax law."
    • "A number of business owners told us that they or others limited evasion to cash received out of the presence of employees. One business owner told us that when employees were present, he made it a point to immediately enter the payment on the books. Ironically, the anecdotal evidence we received suggests that the biggest fear was not that employees would report them to the government -- it was that when employees saw their employer cheat the government they would cheat their employer. Evasion was bad . . . because it set a poor moral tone for employees."
    • "Faced with a requirement to select a tax structure, an individual might choose a proportionate rate structure simply because no other rate structure comes immediately to mind. It is as if, in choosing a tax structure, the polity were a lost traveller faced with a selection of equally well-trodden paths. Lacking any convincing rationale to turn right or left, the traveler continues on the path that leads straight ahead. Perhaps we can do no better than the lost traveler and are condemned to raise and redistribute a substantial portion of the world's wealth on a formula selected through intuition. But before resigning ourselves to that fate, it would be worthwhile to examine theories of distributive justice that might shape the tax structure." (with Thomas Griffith (USC))
    • "Familiar bromides such as "taxpayers who cheat raise the burden on the rest of us" or "cheating on taxes is no different than any other form of theft" are either incorrect or don't match our considered moral intuition."
    • "Nontaxation doesn't help the poor residents of the cash economy. The low tax rate causes employees to migrate to the cash sector; that causes before-tax wages in the sector to fall, and before tax-wages in the noncash sector to rise. At equilibrium, the after-tax return to the employee is the same in either sector."
  • Boris I. Bittker (Yale):
    • "[T]he [tax] lawyer's passion for technical analysis of the statutory language should always be diluted by distrust of a result that is too good to be true." (with James S. Eustice (NYU))
    • "[T]o a fee-maximizing tax professional, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, is merely a platform waiting for energetic entrepreneurs to construct a superstructure of previously unimaginable complexity."
    • "[Under the tax laws] a corporation is like a lobster pot: it is easy to enter, difficult to live in, and painful to get out of." (with James S. Eustice (NYU))
  • Walter Blum (Chicago):  "Tax lawyers spend about a third of their time converting ordinary income into capital gain."
  • Evelyn Brody (Chicago-Kent):
    • "Like a photo-negative, the tax treatment of charities presents a reverse image of normal incentives. Nominally peripheral to the tax system, charities actually benefit from a tax structure that imposes high rates on their for-profit competitors and their donors. The greater the regular corporate tax burden, the greater the relative value of the charity's tax exemption. The higher the individual income-tax rates, the lower the price of giving to charity."
    • "The public appears uneasy about, if not hostile to, the increasing nonprofit commercialism. So far, charities have enjoyed a "halo effect" in our political economy. The rationalized myth of charities as selfless, donative, and volunteer-run deliverers of services to the poor has never entirely been true, but it underlies society's grant of tax exemption and tax deductibility for contributions. To the extent, however, that this quid depends on the idealized quo, should charity's core myth change -- in a way that becomes visible to the public -- society's willingness to alter the subsidies could also change."
  • James Bryce (Alabama):  "Tyranny consists in the wanton and improper use of strength by the stronger, in the use of it to do things which one equal would not attempt against another. A majority is tyrannical when it forces men to contribute money to objects which they disapprove, and which the common interest does not demand."
  • Paul L. Caron (Cincinnati):  "The tax bar is commonly referred to as a 'special priesthood,' and it is only slightly more tolerant than the Catholic Church in ordaining women tax priests."
  • Charles Davenport (Rutgers-Newark):  "Sometimes we hear an argument that the children of the wealthy are more worthy than the other possible beneficiary of wealth -- the government. Rarely is there any explanation of that rationale."
  • Jonathan Barry Forman (Oklahoma):  "Let's raise taxes on trust fund kids and lower taxes on workers."
  • Martin D. Ginsburg (Georgetown):
    • "Basic tax, as everyone knows, is the only genuinely funny subject in law school."
    • "[E]very stick crafted to beat on the head of a taxpayer will metamorphose sooner or later into a large green snake and bite the [IRS] commissioner on the hind part."
    • "The tax bar is the repository of the greatest ingenuity in America, and given the chance, those people will do you in."
    • "There is an ancient belief that the gods love the obscure and hate the obvious. Without benefit of divinity, modern men of similar persuasion draft provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. Section 341 is their triumph."
  • Michael J. Graetz (Yale):
    • "By the late 1970s, the vast majority of the public had come to believe that everybody else was engaging in tax avoidance or outright tax evasion."
    • "[Definition of a corporate tax shelter:] A deal done by very smart people that, absent tax considerations, would be very stupid."
    • "One information-reporting requirement added in 1986 required people to include on their tax returns Social Security numbers of all dependents over age two. This caused seven million dependents to disappear from the tax rolls."
    • "[R]elying on the legal and accounting professionals to prescribe appropriate standards of practitioner conduct . . . is an idea whose time has surely passed."
    • "[T]he federal government has [at one time or another] imposed more than 50 kinds of taxes. These include, for example, taxes on incomes, estates, gifts, capital stock, excess profits, admissions, club dues, documents, playing cards, safe deposit boxes, circulation of bank notes, cotton futures, tobacco, snuff and cigarettes, oleomargarine, filled cheese, firearms, and liquor, as well as taxes on the manufacture of many articles, including tires, tubes, toilet preparations, automobiles, radios, refrigerators, matches, electrical energy, gasoline, and lubricating oil, on the transportation of oil by pipeline, and on telegraph, telephone, radio, and cable messages."
    • "The tax law . . . is the primary link between the nation's citizens and their government. Many more people file tax returns than vote in presidential elections."
    • "To think that the IRS can become a modern financial services institution while administering the current income tax is to believe that you can turn a Winnebago around without taking it out of the garage."
    • "When Congress talks about simplification, taxpayers may well be reminded of Emerson's comments regarding an acquaintance, '[t]he louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.'"
    • "When two-thirds of married couples are required to pay higher income taxes solely because they have married, the American public rightly loses respect for the law."
  • Erwin N. Griswold (Harvard):  "We have long had death and taxes as the two standards of inevitability. But there are those who believe that death is the preferable of the two. 'At least,' as one man said, 'there's one advantage about death; it doesn't get worse every time Congress meets.'"
  • James Hines (Michigan):  "There is a sizable and statistically robust association between being a tax haven and the presence of high-quality government institutions."
  • Calvin H. Johnson (Texas):
    • "A healthy tax base allows the government to collect the same tax at lower rates. A loophole-ridden tax base is the worst of all worlds because it realizes no revenue, but causes economic damage as taxpayers plan around the tax."
    • "Every day well-trained, well-paid and highly motivated tax professionals have been launching vicious attacks on the tax base and they have had considerable success."
    • "The best definition of a 'tax shelter' is a transaction that has higher rate of return after tax than before tax."
  • Marjorie E. Kornhauser (Arizona State):
    • "Many of the people who favor repealing the estate tax undoubtedly do so because they mistakenly believe that they are subject to it."
    • "[M]any tax officials and scholars believe that the biggest noncompliance issues exist at lower income levels, especially in sole proprietorships and in the cash economy generally."
  • Edward J. McCaffery (USC):
    • "Americans like 'sin' taxes, such as those on cigarettes and alcohol. But the estate tax is the opposite case: it is an anti-sin, or a virtue, tax. It is a tax on intergenerational altruism, on thrift."
    • "But why should the frugal and thrifty among the rich be taxed heavily on their deathbeds, while the spendthrifts who live luxuriously are not?"
    • "A fair tax system should consistently tax spending, not work or savings, and should use progressive rates to meet whatever liberal or redistributive objectives it has."
    • "If breaking up large concentrations of wealth is the intention of the death tax, then it is a miserable failure."
    • "Killing the corporate income tax would improve the efficiency and competitiveness of U.S. business; eliminate incentives to relocate overseas or to engage in mind-boggling shelter transactions; cut down a major source of accountants' compensation and a temptation to look the other way; eliminate disincentives to pay dividends and foster more efficient corporations, sensibly valued. Who can argue with that?"
    • "Taxes send messages, and in several ways. They affect the costs and returns to different kinds of activity, thereby influencing patterns of use of capital and labor. They also make statements about the relative desirability of different types of activity and patterns of conduct. Conduct that carries a low tax induces people to emulate that conduct. Conduct that carries a high tax discourages such conduct." (with Richard E. Wagner)
    • "We understandably hesitate to talk about law in explicitly moral terms. But tax has unavoidable moral and political dimensions."
  • Paul R. McDaniel (Florida):  "The tax expenditure concept posits that an income tax is composed of two distinct elements. The first element consists of structural provisions necessary to implement a normal income tax. . . . The second element consists of the special preferences found in every income tax. These provisions, often called tax incentives or tax subsidies, are departures from the normal tax structure and are designed to favor a particular industry, activity, or class of persons." (with Stanley S. Surrey)
  • Martin J. McMahon Jr. (Florida):
    • "Tax-motivated behavior ought to be discouraged. . . . This is because tax planning produces nothing of value to society. It may benefit the taxpayer whose taxes are reduced, but the social product is not increased."
    • "The primary motive behind demands for certainty [in tax laws] is not to assure proper reporting of transactions in the ordinary course of business. The primary motive behind demands for certainty is to know with precision the extent to which the taxpayer can engage in tax-motivating planning -- in the vernacular, 'How close to the line can I get?'"
    • "The purpose of the estate tax is not primarily to raise revenue. . . . The purpose of the estate tax is to reduce wealth inequality."
  • Joel S. Newman (Wake Forest):
    • "Law students who plan to practice in the tax field often take as few advocacy courses as they can get away with. In fact, the persuasive abilities of tax lawyers and tax accountants are probably about the same. Neither group is known for its advocacy skills." (with Michael B. Lang (Chapman))
    • "Peter Ueberroth, while serving as commissioner of baseball, hired a former IRS agent to give talks to the players on the taxability of autograph income. Apparently, it didn't help enough. Some players walked out on shows if they saw receipts and tax forms. Many others signed only for cash."
    • "The Emperor Caesar Augustus taxed bachelors as part of his population policy. . . . Bachelor taxes also existed in some of the U.S. Northwest Territories in the 19th century, and in many of the former satellite countries, all in view of declining populations. The Third Reich attempted to achieve a similar result in a kinder, gentler fashion."
  • Sheldon D. Pollack (Delaware):  "The rise in complexity of the tax laws cannot be attributed solely to an increasingly complex economy and business world. Rather, the tax laws themselves contributed to the complexity in the business world."
  • Joshua Rosenberg (San Francisco):  "[F]or most Americans, any tax is a bad tax."
  • Deborah H. Schenk (NYU):  "[T]axpayers appear to tolerate significant complexity in order to eliminate marginal horizontal inequity. More importantly, taxpayers generally are unwilling to sacrifice tax benefits to achieve simplicity."
  • Joel Slemrod (Michigan):  "[P]eople who profess to have high levels of trust in government to do the right thing are significantly less likely to engage in tax noncompliance".
  • Dennis J. Ventry Jr. (American):
    • "If lawyers were restrained in preparing and filing tax returns on behalf of clients, clients would shop around for lawyers who ignored the restraints."
    • "Rendering tax advice often involves moral considerations."
  • David A. Weisbach (Chicago):
    • "Antiabuse doctrines are needed . . . because it is impossible for drafters of the tax law to anticipate each and every interaction of the various tax rules. Inevitably, there will be some unforeseen interaction of the tax rules so that, if one arranges one's affairs in just the right manner, magic happens."  (with Daniel N. Shaviro (NYU))
    • " Most tax planning adds little or nothing of worth to our society. . . . Tax lawyers perform a legitimate role of interpreting the law, instructing clients in the sometimes bizarre requirements the law imposes to get a given tax treatment, and planning transactions to avoid the occasional warts in the system. It is an honorable profession, and I am a proud member of it. But let's not kid ourselves that most tax planning is productive."
  • Bernard Wolfman (Harvard):  "Tax law is a funny thing. I think it fair to say that most CPAs know something about the federal income tax; many if not most lawyers do not."
  • George K. Yin (Virginia):
    • "Complex laws spawn many inadvertent errors as well as opportunities for intentional noncompliance. Complex laws also contribute to taxpayer confusion and real or perceived unfairness in the tax system. Studies have shown that taxpayers are less likely to be compliant if they perceive the tax system to be inequitable."
    • "[T]ax shelters [involve] uncommon combinations of steps, the claimed tax consequence of which might be correct as a technical matter, but in totality producing a tax outcome which is absurd and unintended."

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