Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Simkovic: Did New Deal Liberalism Steer Too Far To The Right?

Michael Simkovic (USC; Google Scholar), Did New Deal Liberalism Steer Too Far to the Right?, 174 Tax Notes Fed. 681 (Jan. 31, 2022) (reviewing A Half-Century With the Internal Revenue Code: The Memoirs of Stanley S. Surrey (Ajay K. Mehrotra (Northwestern; Google Scholar) & Lawrence Zelenak (Duke), eds. 2022):

Tax Notes Federal (2020)Ajay K. Mehrotra, professor of law at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and Lawrence Zelenak, the Pamela B. Gann Professor of Law at Duke Law School, have prepared a sparkling introduction to the recently discovered memoirs of Stanley S. Surrey, which they have also edited for publication.

Surrey was a tour de force in the legal academy and government. His career spanned the rise, peak, and fall of New Deal liberalism and the triumph of Reagan-Thatcherism that followed. Mehrotra and Zelenak deftly portray Surrey’s life against the backdrop of broader social forces and trends. Their sympathy for their subject shines through the essay, but it never veers into hagiography.

Surrey briefly taught at Berkeley, then spent most of his career at Harvard. He served at a high level in both the Roosevelt administration and, especially in, the Kennedy administration. He expounded and advocated a particular vision of the income tax that would go on to influence tax scholars for generations, for some as a lodestar, for others as a foil.

In particular, Surrey campaigned against tax expenditures, which he described as special interest legislation embedded in the tax code. These deductions, credits, or tax deferrals were used to achieve policy objectives that could have — and to Surrey, should have — instead either been accomplished through explicit public spending programs or not done at all. In separate work, Zelenak has argued that Surrey’s objection to tax expenditures was in part driven by the fact that these expenditures often took the form of deductions, which are regressive in effect. Surrey viewed refundable credits, which are more progressive, as less objectionable. ...

Surrey’s memoirs, carefully prepared for publication by Mehrotra and Zelenak, offer an intriguing window into the life and times of one of the 20th century’s most influential scholar-activists.

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