Paul L. Caron

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Avi-Yonah: Why Study Tax History?

Reuven S. Avi-Yonah (Michigan), Why Study Tax History? (reviewing Studies in the History of Tax Law, Vol. 9 (Peter Harris (Cambridge) &  Dominic de Cogan (Cambridge) eds. 2019)):

RAYSince the beginning of this century, John Tiley organized an annual tax history conference at Cambridge, a tradition that was continued after his death under the leadership of Peter Harris. These are the papers from the ninth Cambridge Tax Law History Conference, held in July 2018. In the usual manner, the papers have been selected from an oversupply of proposals for their interest and relevance, and scrutinized and edited to the highest standard for inclusion in this prestigious series. The result is an outstanding book, with many high quality contributions to historical tax research.

The papers fall within five basic themes. Four papers focus on tax theory: Bentham; social contract and tax governance; Schumpeter's 'thunder of history'; and the resurgence of the benefits theory. Three involve the history of UK specific interpretational issues: management expenses; anti-avoidance jurisprudence; and identification of professionals. A further three concern specific forms of UK tax on road travel, land and capital gains. One paper considers the formation of HMRC and another explains aspects of nineteenth-century taxation by reference to Jane Austen characters. Four consider aspects of international taxation: development of EU corporate tax policy; history of Dutch tax planning; the important 1942 Canada–US tax treaty; and the 1928 League of Nations model tax treaties on tax evasion. Also included are papers on the effects of WWI on the New Zealand income tax and development of anti-tax avoidance rules in China.

The papers are of obvious importance to tax historians. But the majority of readers of this journal are not tax historians, but rather tax academics and practitioners. Why should they be interested in tax history?

One obvious answer is that it is frequently impossible to understand the present state of tax law without knowing what led to it. ...

But there is another, deeper reason why we should care about tax history: Solutions in tax tend to repeat themselves in cyclical fashion, and therefore studying the past can suggest remedies for current ills.

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