Friday, August 30, 2019
Recent Publications, 132 Harv. L. Rev. 2108 (2019):
Figuring Out the Tax: Congress, Treasury, and the Design of the Early Modern Income Tax. By Lawrence Zelenak. New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press. 2018. Pp. ix, 306. $110.00. [Reviewed by Charlotte Crane (Northwestern) here]
How did the American income tax turn out the way it has, in its oft-criticized, much-maligned form? In this meticulously researched book, Professor Lawrence Zelenak examines the early development of the U.S. income tax system. He dives into the history behind several of the most consequential — and in some cases, most controversial — features (or, arguably, errors) of our income tax system: the step-up in basis at death, the charitable deduction for unrealized appreciation, the marriage penalty and bonus, and more. The fascinating narrative recounts the inception of each of these errors as well as efforts to fix them, showing that efforts to reform loopholes (or, some might say, features) of the tax system tend to fail “if the federal government can afford to leave the error in the Internal Revenue Code” (p. 6).
Though the topic of this book might at first seem obscure, anyone interested in thinking about tax policy or tracing the development of a complicated legislative scheme — or anyone who has ever looked at a tax casebook and wondered, “Why did they do that?!” — will have a solid basis for appreciating this timely and thoughtful work.