Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Rosenzweig: International Tax Scholarship During An Existential Crisis

Adam Rosenzweig (Washington Univ.), Carving a Path for Legal Scholarship During an Existential Crisis (JOTWELL) (reviewing Wei Cui (British Columbia; Google Scholar), New Puzzles in International Tax Agreements, 73 Tax L. Rev. ___ (2022)):

JOTWELL Tax (2021)The G-7 and G-20 recently announced a “breakthrough” agreement by over 130 countries to adopt and implement a “global minimum tax” proposal. The agreement is reportedly expected to raise over $150 billion in new revenue by closing some of the most notorious tax loopholes in the world; ultimately the deal could reshape global commerce and shore-up beleaguered national finances following the global pandemic. Officials involved in the deal have been quoted as making sweeping statements that the deal was historic, and that it would reshape the global economy, make worldwide taxation fairer, eliminate incentives for corporations to avoid tax, and serve as a clear signal for global justice.

A consistent theme can be seen to emerge from this process — that the cause for most of the problems plaguing the international tax regime ultimately stem from a lack of political will, with global corporate interests exploiting the vacuum of an uncoordinated tax system. Regardless if it is true, such a theme carries with it two collateral implications: (1) there is no disagreement as to the substance of the deal from a legal or policy standpoint and (2) any questioning of (1) must be motivated by the same political forces preventing reform in the past. Wei Cui’s article New Puzzles in International Tax Agreements analyzes and criticizes this theme.

This theme creates a form of existential moment for international tax law scholars – precisely because a once-in-a-generation global overhaul of the regime appears within reach. Yet, as intellectual debates transition into real-world policy-making, even facially neutral contributions risk getting lost in the noise of the moment, or maybe even worse stuck in a form of intellectual purgatory.

This is where Cui’s article intervenes, and does so with refreshing clarity and candor.

Cui brings academic rigor and precision to identify what he refers to as intellectual “puzzles” in the debate. His points could be thought of as a tax law form of observing that the emperor has no new clothes. ...

The ultimate lodestar of the scholarly enterprise is the collective development of knowledge generated over time and incorporating myriad perspectives into perhaps one day a coherent whole. Correspondingly, any pressure (implicit or otherwise) towards conformity, no matter how well intended, ultimately undermines that scholarly endeavor. As a result, at this moment in international tax law perhaps Cui’s article is precisely what the field needs more of. Even if Cui’s article were to accomplish nothing else, challenging readers to confront many of the unspoken and uncomfortable tensions within the field may well serve the highest and best use for academic scholarship during an existential moment.

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