Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Brown Reviews Bearer-Friend's The Challenge Of Colorblind Tax Data

Jotwell (Tax) (2016)Dorothy Brown (Emory), Colorblind No More (JOTWELL) (reviewing Jeremy Bearer-Friend (George Washington), Should the IRS Know Your Race? The Challenge of Colorblind Tax Data, 79 Tax L. Rev. 1 (2019)):

The summer of 2020 opened the eyes of many to the concept of systemic racism, and some even started looking in unlikely places – like tax law. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) acknowledged in a June 2020 hearing that “Congress writes the tax laws. If there are ways that our current tax code exacerbates racial inequity, then it’s our job to fix it.”

Senator Brown’s articulated vision will be difficult to achieve because the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) does not collect or publish statistics by race. I confirmed this fact in a telephone interview with an IRS employee when I was writing one of my first pieces about systemic racism and tax policy over two decades ago. I was most interested in the distribution question – whether or not taxpayers were treated differently by race. (The answer is yes — they are treated differently. I write about this in a forthcoming book, The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans—And How We Can Fix It.) But equally important questions were asked and answered by George Washington University Associate Professor of Law Jeremy Bearer-Friend, in his article: Should the IRS Know Your Race? The Challenge of Colorblind Tax Data. ...

It is a brilliant work of legal scholarship documenting the long history of the federal government’s fairly consistent failure to provide tax statistics by race. His painstaking research included not only combing through a myriad of forms and reports looking for race and ethnic data, but also using freedom of information act requests. (P. 16.) But the article’s most important contribution lies in the even-handed approach he takes as he provides potential explanations for the colorblind policy and that policy’s equally “troublesome consequences.” (P. 66.) ...

Making race and tax data publicly available is a choice whose time has come. In January President Biden signed an executive order requiring that racial equity become a focus of all government agencies. Professor Bearer-Friend’s path-breaking article can serve as a guide in the area of tax administration.

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