Wednesday, January 18, 2023
Mirit Eyal-Cohen (Alabama; Google Scholar), The (Tax) Policy Entrepreneur, 86 Law & Contemp. Probs. __ (2023):
The construct of entrepreneurship represents a mindset and strategy for utilizing uncertainties to create change in the marketplace. This essay, however, considers entrepreneurship in the context of government policy apparatus. Termed “policy entrepreneurship,” the phenomenon is not concerned with recruiting lawmakers to pass legislation or develop a political economic strategy, but is practiced by advocating for optimal policy outcomes via the legislative process. It entails crafting rules and shaping public programs while maintaining flexibility and harnessing political, administrative, and legal forces to advance public-benefit agendas.
Taking tax law as a case in point, this essay offers the actions of Stanley S. Surrey (1910-1984) as an apt illustration of policy entrepreneurship. Surrey is remembered as a leading authority on federal tax law who left a mark on the tax world through his scholarship as a Berkeley and Harvard law professor and his public service as Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy at the Treasury Department. However, few would characterize Surrey as a pioneer or entrepreneur. Although he produced important ideas that advanced the practice of tax law, some of his schemes were criticized as being obsolete or having a marginal effect.
This essay suggests a different view by examining Surrey’s writing, practice and policy from a holistic perspective. It explores his central philosophies in their historical context, stressing their proactive and pioneering natures. It suggests that Surrey’s creative thinking, methodological approach, and administrative rationale were ahead of their time and critical at their historic juncture in shaping the tax system of the future. Stanley Surrey was not only a talented scholar, avid policy maker, and vigilant practitioner. He was also a policy entrepreneur who influenced generations of scholars and policymakers. His legacy in tax policy remains timeless.