Paul L. Caron

Friday, July 23, 2021

Martinez Reviews Infanti's Our Selfish Tax Laws

Leo P. Martinez (UC-Hastings), Book Review, 47 Hastings Const. L.Q. 467 (2020) (reviewing Anthony C. Infanti (Pittsburgh; Google Scholar), Our Selfish Tax Laws: Toward Tax Reform That Mirrors Our Better Selves (MIT Press 2018)) (reviewed by Bridget J. Crawford (Pace; Google Scholar) & Ashley Unangst (J.D. 2020, Pace), A Picture of Society with Critical Tax Theory As Its Interpreter, 41 J. Am. Tax'n Ass'n 128 (2019); and Clint Wallace (South Carolina), Tax Policy and Our Democracy, 118 Mich. L. Rev. 1233 (2020)):

Our Selfish Tax LawProfessor Infanti does everyone a service by using comparative law principles to inform the tax policy debate. The lack of discipline overlap—tax law and constitutional law come easily to mind—only worsens the scarcity of scholarship that examines the Code in nuanced and constructive ways.

In his book, Tony Infanti uses comparative law principles to show how effective it can be to look at tax law in a different light Professor Infanti has chosen two separate areas as his vehicles for comparative illustration and examination of the selfishness of tax law: (1) U.S. housing policy and (2) the concept of the tax unit. With this part of the book, he delves into each area and points out how they fail to serve those who are already underserved. These areas are worthy of his insights because both are fundamental to the way the tax system affects taxpayers.

My friend Professor Emerita Margaret Montoya, has observed “budgets are moral documents; budgets, including tax expenditures, expose and reveal our lawmakers’ values and commitments.” While she is undoubtedly correct and unquestionably eloquent in her observation, Professor Infanti’s book reveals that she was too narrow in her formulation. The Code exposes not only lawmakers’ values and commitments but our own. As Professor Infanti would agree, we can do better.

The exhortation that we can do better is the starting point of Professor Infanti’s message. It recognizes that if we do nothing or if what we do is ineffectual, improvement will never arrive. The second part of his message, although more subtle, is unmistakable. It recognizes that our duty as citizens to is understand the intricacies of our constitutional democracy even if they are arcane, like our system of taxation. Understanding the disparate effects of a seemingly neutral system is an indispensable ingredient to reform.

In his penultimate chapter, Professor Infanti urges us to recognize that the Code may very well actually reflect the values of a small, privileged group and he prods us to understand that we should not be fooled by the “economic veneer of ‘neutrality’ and ‘objectivity.’” He concludes that we should all shed our blinders and engage in the robust debate that results in a tax system that reflects our better selves. This alone makes Professor Infanti’s timely book required reading.

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