Paul L. Caron

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Osofsky Reviews Book's Tax Administration And Racial Justice

Leigh Osofsky (North Carolina; Google Scholar), Racialized Frictions in Tax Administration (JOTWELL) (reviewing Leslie Book (Villanova; Google Scholar), Tax Administration and Racial Justice: The Illegal Denial of Tax Based Pandemic Relief to the Nation’s Incarcerated Population, 72 S.C. L. Rev. ___ (2021)):

JOTWELL Tax (2021)Leslie Book tells the remarkable story of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act emergency relief payments and the incarcerated population. In addition to having numerous plot twists and turns, the story underscores an important, underexamined issue: when the government administers the law, it imposes burdens (or frictions) on the public. These burdens may be borne disproportionately by different groups, including along racial dimensions. Anyone interested in agencies, tax administration, or race and the law would benefit from reading Book’s paper. ...

In perhaps the most powerful part of his paper, Book describes, at a theoretical level, how the administration of the law in general can create racialized burdens. Book draws on the work of sociology and public administration scholars to explain that, as a general matter, individuals experience frictions, or burdens, when attempting to collect benefits from or otherwise interact with the government. This insight may be particularly interesting to tax scholars, who have long paid attention to frictions in the substantive tax law, but have paid less attention to how they also operate in tax administration. ...

Aanother lesson we can take away from Book’s story is a more optimistic one. By recognizing the role of agencies in creating burdens in the administration of the law, we also can see a path to decreasing them. Book offers a number of good suggestions for the IRS at the end of his article, including that the IRS should use transparent and accountable guidance, the IRS should be mindful of the burdens that its administration of the law creates, and that the IRS should be particularly careful in considering how any such burdens disproportionately impact communities of color. Book’s suggestions merit serious consideration by the IRS. Carefully considering frictions in tax administration, and being alert for racialized burdens, will make the agency better. Beyond tax administration, Book’s article offers a useful, detailed story of why the details of the administration of the law matter, and how careful attention to the details of such administration can be critical to a more just society.

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