Paul L. Caron

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mehrotra Presents A History of the National Tax Association Today at Cincinnati

Ajay Mehrotra (Indiana-Bloomington) presents From Programmatic Reform to Social Science Research:  A Brief History of the National Tax Association at Cincinnati today as part of its Faculty Workshop Series.  Here are excerpts from the Conclusion:

The history of the NTA is marked by important elements of continuity. Since 1907, it has tried to serve as an important institution gathering and disbursing expert knowledge on taxation. Then, as now, it has sought to strike the symbiotic balance that its founding members described as creating a place where “the thinker learns the actual facts from the practical administrator” and vice versa. And the organization still retains some of the interdisciplinary character that helped shape its early history, bringing together experts from disparate fields – including even the occasional historian – to discuss key issues of taxation and public finance. In fact, despite the dramatic changes in the overall composition of the NTA over the last few decades, the association continues to bring together its two main constituencies: the economic theorist and the practical administrator.

But the story of the NTA also rveeals important elements of discontinuity. The organization largely abandoned the advocacy that marked its early years, changing its bylaws in 1930 to make such efforts difficult if not impossible. And instead, the NTA has increasingly focused on scholarly discussions and publishing, first through the NTA Bulletin and later through the NTJ. In doing so, the NTA came to resemble numerous other social science organizations, which seek to foster intellectual debate among a community of scholars and provide outlets for academic publishing.

These are worthy goals, to be sure. But they have also changed the organization and its public role. Membership has grown somewhat less diverse, with public finance economists – always the dominant group in leadership, if not numbers – taking an ever larger role in defining the organization. At the same time, the organization’s publications have become more esoteric. ...

Moreover, the NTA has fallen prey to the inexorable dynamics of specialization and professionalization. Its work has become more complex and less accessible over time.

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