Tuesday, February 2, 2021
Kim Brooks (Dalhousie University, Schulich School of Law), Portrait of a Transplant Artist:
This article explores the process of norm migration through the study of one tax expert, Victor Thuronyi. It situates the literature on the role of experts in tax norm migration and identifies core themes and gaps in the tax transplant literature; explores five themes, connected to the literature on the role of tax experts and tax transplants, that arise from a study of Victor Thuronyi’s contributions to tax transplantation; and concludes with some reflections on the benefits and challenges of having highly specialized, non-insider tax experts engaged in the exercise of drafting tax laws. ...
Overstating only slightly, the literature on tax experts tends to characterize the role of tax experts as heroic or villainous, and the act of transplanting as a normative good (or at least, an unquestioned good) or as a problematic incursion on the self-determination of low- and middle-income states. Thuronyi’s contributions suggest that the picture may be blurrier.
It seems likely that many of the contributors to the transfer of tax law ideas (and law) come from a rarified elite: like Thuronyi, one expects that they are highly-educated at exclusive institutions, that they have had the privilege of access to talented and high-level experts in their own development, and that they have an atypical confidence in their own ability to be helpful. These characteristics most certainly will mean that most high-influence tax transplanters are men, educated in high-income countries. They will have ideas about tax that are broadly acceptable to conventional institutions. Nevertheless, Thuronyi’s path also suggests an open-mindedness and relative unobtrusiveness of intervention. He might have held views about tax policy (whether developed on his own or held by the IMF), but he did not feel that those needed to be adopted by countries where he worked; he accepted varying levels of country engagement in tax reform and felt that once a threshold of drafting competence was achieved, additional intervention was not a priority; and he approached drafting projects with creativity and a willingness to work within the framework of the host country. The standard narrative about the role of tax experts has overstylized their influence and perhaps underestimated the consequences of their work.