Friday, September 25, 2020
This week, David Elkins (Netanya) reviews a recently posted work by David G. Duff (British Columbia), General Anti-Avoidance Rules Revisited, 68 Can. Tax. J. 579 (2020):
It is no secret that tax legislation is extraordinary complex. Part of the reason is the subject matter itself. Economic reality and legal doctrines do not necessarily coincide, and when they do not then taxpayers frequently can exploit the mismatch to achieve beneficial tax results. One of the swords that administrators wield to combat this phenomenon is the general anti-avoidance rule (GAAR). The question of the limits to which taxpayers may go to lower their tax liability was originally – at least in common law countries – a product of judicial doctrine. Today many countries have codified the rule or at least certain key elements of it (the closest the United States has to a statutory GAAR is IRC §7701(o), which clarifies the judicial economic substance doctrine). However, whether codified or not, GAARs by their nature are problematic. They call upon the courts to ignore the express words of the statute to prevent tax avoidance. However, one would have to be extraordinarily naïve to believe that taxpayers do not routinely structure their affairs in response to tax rules. Thus the question of when it is legitimate to invoke a GAAR is not a simple one.
September 25, 2020 in David Elkins, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship, Weekly SSRN Roundup, Weekly Tax Roundup | Permalink
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Friday, August 7, 2020
This week, David Elkins (Netanya) reviews a recently posted work by Edward J. McCaffery (USC), The Property-Tax Bundle of Rights:
In a highly ambitious and extremely well-written article, Prof. McCaffery takes us on a fascinating journey through the concept of property in law and legal thought from Ancient Rome to the present day. He argues that the modern conception of property rights as embodying complete dominion over a thing, including the right to destroy it, is a nineteenth century aberration that stands in stark contradiction to the seventeenth and eighteenth century liberal tradition. He focuses particular attention on John Locke, the titular godfather of private property. Many have noted that Lockean property rights are considerably more limited than is often claimed, as Locke expressly conditioned an individual’s exclusive rights in what had originally been the common property of all humankind on one leaving for others “enough, and as good” as one takes for oneself. McCaffery takes a more unusual approach. He points out that according to Locke, once one has acquired exclusive rights in a thing, one is obligated to preserve that thing for the good of the community as a whole. Allowing one’s “own” fruit to rot is impermissible and punishable.
August 7, 2020 in David Elkins, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship, Weekly SSRN Roundup, Weekly Tax Roundup | Permalink
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Friday, June 12, 2020
This week, David Elkins (Netanya) reviews a recently posted work by Tsilly Dagan (Oxford, Bar-Ilan), Re-imagining Tax Justice in a Globalized World (2020):
In recent years, international taxation has moved to front and center stage. Once considered one of the more esoteric aspects of taxation, of interest to a few specialists and their clients, the field of international tax has drawn the attention of academics, politicians, the popular press, and international organizations. However, more often than not, those engaged in the discourse rely upon unexamined postulates and rehashed mantras that do little either to identify or to solve the serious challenges of taxation in a globalized world.
Tsilly Dagan is one of the rare breed of scholars who refuses to accept the conventional wisdom of international taxation and prefers to subject some of the field’s most well-entrenched principles to undogmatic scrutiny. In her current paper, she considers some of the challenges faced by countries in designing their tax policy, given the fact that taxpayers are no longer a captive audience over whom the sovereign state has virtually unlimited powers of coercion, but can freely choose where to reside and thus to which country’s tax regime to subject themselves.
June 12, 2020 in David Elkins, Tax, Tax Scholarship, Weekly SSRN Roundup, Weekly Tax Roundup | Permalink
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Friday, April 17, 2020
This week, David Elkins (Netanya, visiting Cornell spring 2020) reviews a recently posted work by Emily Cauble (DePaul), Time for a Tax Return Filing Fee, 57 Harv. J. on Legis. ___ (2020):
Not all tax returns are created equal. They vary with regard to their complexity and, consequently, with regard to the amount of time that the IRS needs to devote to them on audit. In this week’s article, Professor Emily Cauble proposes imposing upon filers a fee that would reflect the complexity of the transactions reported. She argues that such a fee would make the system fairer, would raise revenue to cover the cost of auditing the return, and would improve efficiency by encouraging taxpayers to take into account the cost imposed on the tax administration by their complex transactions. Her proposal includes a carve-out for difficult-to-audit items, such as the EITC, that are disproportionately claimed by lower-income individual.
The proposal is intriguing and I freely admit that despite having gone over it several times, I am little closer to forming a definitive position. In this review, I will take the liberty of expressing some of my reservations. I will state at the outset that they are nothing other than starting points for a discussion about it.
April 17, 2020 in David Elkins, Tax, Tax Scholarship, Weekly SSRN Roundup, Weekly Tax Roundup | Permalink
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Friday, February 21, 2020
This week, David Elkins (Netanya, visiting Cornell Spring 2020) ) reviews a recently posted work by Joel S. Newman (Wake Forest), Sales and Donations of Self-Created Art, Literature, and Music, 12 Pitt. Tax. Rev. 57 (2015):
I have always enjoyed the writings of Professor Joel Newman. He combines insightful analysis with a touch of humor that is distinctive in the tax discourse. In the article reviewed here, Professor Newman discussed the tax treatment of sales and donations of self-created art, literature and music.
The first part of the article concerns sales. In 1948, General Dwight D. Eisenhower sold his memoirs. As he was a general and not a professional writer, the sale of those memoirs received capital gains treatment. In response, Congress enacted what is now §1221(a)(3), which provides that the term capital asset does not include “a copyright, a literary, musical, or artistic composition, a letter or memorandum, or similar property, held by a taxpayer whose personal efforts created such property.” Thus, the sale of memoirs by a future general would produce ordinary income. In 2005 Congress made an exception to the general rule (pun intended) and granted songwriters capital gains treatment on the sale of copyright to their works.
February 21, 2020 in David Elkins, Scott Fruehwald, Tax, Tax Scholarship, Weekly SSRN Roundup, Weekly Tax Roundup | Permalink
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Friday, November 8, 2019
This week, David Elkins (Netanya) reviews a new work by Yair Listokin (Yale), Posner on Tax: The Independent Investor Test, 86 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1159 (2019):
Richard Posner is one of the most influential legal scholars of recent generations. He is perhaps best known as a leading figure in the school of Law and Economics. Complimenting his academic work, he served as a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for 36 years before retiring in 2017. In the field of taxation, one of his more memorable decisions was Exacto Springs Corp. v. Commissioner, 196 F3d 833 (7th Cir. 1999), which concerns the characterization of payments from closely held corporations to individuals who are both shareholders and employees: is the payment properly classified as a salary or as a distribution?
The question of how to characterize payments to shareholders arises whenever shareholders provide services or sell property to the corporation that they control. If a shareholder leases property to a corporation, is the payment that the parties describe as rent truly rent or is it only partly rent and partly a distribution? The issue of classification is particularly significant in the field of international taxation. For example, if a corporation operating in Country A pays what it describes as a royalty to a parent (or otherwise related) corporation in Country B, is the payment actually a deductible royalty or is it a nondeductible distribution? The answer to that question may determine whether Country A can collect tax from the economic activity in its territory.
November 8, 2019 in David Elkins, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship, Weekly SSRN Roundup, Weekly Tax Roundup | Permalink
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Friday, September 27, 2019
This week, David Elkins (Netanya) reviews Jeffrey A. Cooper (Quinnipiac), Red States, Blue States: Lessons from the State Death Tax Credit and the “SALT” Deduction, 73 Tax Law. __ (2020) (forthcoming).
One of the more politically contentious provisions of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is the capping of the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) at $10,000 per married couple. Opponents of the change have argued that it was designed to punish those states that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential elections. In an attempt to reverse the legislation, the leaders of four of these states have sued the federal government. Proponents claim that the cap is necessary to prevent high-tax states from imposing the costs of their expensive programs on the federal government and, indirectly, on residents of low-tax states.
In a timely article, Professor Cooper places the issue in historical context by comparing the SALT deduction to the federal estate tax state death tax credit that was established in 1924 and repealed in 2001. He posits that viewing the 2017 legislation within the broader historical context reveals trends and patterns, providing greater insight than would a study of the SALT deduction in isolation. He considers not only the rhetoric surrounding the various legislative changes but also how states responded to the adoption and then to the repeat of the state death tax credit and examines whether such behavior might be a harbinger of state reaction to the SALT deduction cap.
September 27, 2019 in David Elkins, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship, Weekly SSRN Roundup, Weekly Tax Roundup | Permalink
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Friday, August 2, 2019
This week, David Elkins (Netanya) reviews Rebecca M. Kysar (Fordham), Unraveling the Tax Treaty, 103 Minn. L. Rev. __ (2019).
Tax treaties are a ubiquitous feature in the landscape of international taxation, with several thousand bilateral instruments operating to regulate the taxing power of their signatories. However, in recent years, scholars have begun to challenge the century-old principles underlying the tax treaty. Some of these challenges concern the capacity of an institution formed in the aftermath of the First World War to handle our digital and much more globalized economy. Other challenges concern the role of the tax treaty in protecting the interests of wealthier countries.
The bulk of Professor Rebecca Kysar’s essay is dedicated to a critical examination of the tax treaty, as currently constituted. Tax treaties have been justified as tools for preventing double taxation, combatting tax evasion, inhibiting double non-taxation, encouraging foreign direct investment, respecting comity, providing certainty and predictability, institutionalizing non-discrimination, and binding governments to follow good tax policy even when confronted with the demands of political expediency. Professor Kysar addresses each of these issues in turn.
August 2, 2019 in David Elkins, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship, Weekly SSRN Roundup, Weekly Tax Roundup | Permalink
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Friday, June 14, 2019
This week, David Elkins (Netanya) reviews a book chapter by Reuven S. Avi-Yonah (Michigan), Does Customary International Tax Law Exist.
Customary international law provides that when countries habitually adhere to certain norms because of a belief that customary international law requires them to do so, then those norms constitute binding international law. Note that the fact that countries adhere to certain norms is not sufficient to establish the existence of an international obligation. For a usage to become a custom, it must be shown not only that countries habitually act (or refrain from acting) in a certain manner, but that they do so because of their belief that they are so obliged under international customary law. Once a custom has been established, it is binding upon all countries, including countries that did not take part in creating it and countries that did not even exist when the customary norm was established.
The other source of international obligations is conventional international law, which provides that countries are bound by the term of treaties to which they are signatories. On occasion, customary and conventional international law overlap.
June 14, 2019 in David Elkins, Scholarship, Tax, Weekly SSRN Roundup, Weekly Tax Roundup | Permalink
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Friday, April 26, 2019
This week, David Elkins (Netanya) reviews a two-part work by Michael S. Knoll (Pennsylvania), The TCJA and the Questionable Incentive to Incorporate, 162 Tax Notes 977 (Mar. 4, 2019), and The TCJA and the Questionable Incentive to Incorporate, Part 2, 162 Tax Notes 1447 (Mar. 25, 2019).
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) is the most far-reaching tax reform in a generation. The political, and often the academic, discourse regarding the TCJA has tended to focus on the distributional effect of the reform – who gains and who loses from the changes instituted by the act. However, one particular aspect of the TCJA that been largely ignored by the popular press – indeed by most except those who are responsible for advising clients how to arrange their tax affairs – is the seismic shift in the corporation tax regime.
Until the turn of the twenty-first century, U.S. corporate taxation was based upon what is commonly referred to as either the “classic model” or the “double taxation model,” under which corporations pay tax at full rates on their income as it accrues and shareholders pay tax at full rates on dividends when they receive them. The problem with the classic model is that economically the same income is taxed twice. For that reason, during the course of the twentieth century, most other countries moved to integrate their corporation tax structure.
April 26, 2019 in David Elkins, Scholarship, Tax, Weekly SSRN Roundup | Permalink
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Friday, March 15, 2019
This week, David Elkins (Netanya) reviews new works by Miranda Perry Fleischer (San Diego) & Daniel Hemel (Chicago), The Architecture of Basic Income, 86 U. Chi. L. Rev. ___ (2019) and Benjamin M. Leff (American), EITC for All: A Universal Basic Income Compromise Proposal, 25 Wash. & Lee J. Rts. & Soc. Just. __ (2019):
This week saw the posting of two articles discussing the concept of universal basic income (“UBI”). It is interesting to compare and contrast two proposals for what is likely to be a focus of academic and political attention in the near future.
At the most fundamental level, the two articles take different tacks by their choice of how conceptually to integrate UBI into the current tax framework. Fleischer and Hemel compare UBI to a negative income tax. They demonstrate it that the difference between them is merely one of framing: a UBI financed by a progressive income is functionally equivalent to a negative income tax. One significant difference is that the negative income tax – like the positive income tax – is calculated on the family level, whereas UBI is calculated on the individual level. Fleischer and Hemel argue that a cash grant to each citizen and lawful permanent resident, regardless of age, would better serve the goals of reducing poverty that would a payment to families.
March 15, 2019 in David Elkins, Scholarship, Tax, Weekly SSRN Roundup | Permalink
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Friday, November 23, 2018
This week, David Elkins (Netanya) reviews a new paper by Joseph Bankman (Stanford), Mitchell Kane (NYU) & Alan Sykes (Stanford), Collecting the Rent: The Global Battle to Capture MNE Profits, 72 Tax L. Rev. __ (2019):
This article focuses on the concept of economic rent within the context of the taxation and regulation of multinational enterprises (MNEs). Rent is the income above and beyond what is necessary in order to induce an individual or firm to engage in any particular economic activity. For marginal producers, the rent will be zero. Infra-marginal producers will recognize varying degrees of rent. One consequence of the concept of economic rent is that a tax or regulatory scheme that extracts some or even all of that rent will not likely affect a firm’s behavior. In contrast, a tax or regulatory scheme that extracts more than rent will likely induce a change in behavior.
In describing rent, the authors distinguish between true economic rent and quasi-rent. Assume that there is a firm that has already incurred a large economic outlay in order to establish a production line, develop intellectual property and so forth. The difference between its income and its current costs is quasi-rent. However, to determine its true economic rent, we would also need to factor in its initial economic outlay. The difference is significant because a tax or regulatory scheme that extracts quasi-rents may not change the firm’s immediate behavior, but will affect future investment. Therefore, taxing quasi-rents is not sustainable on a long-time basis.
November 23, 2018 in David Elkins, Scholarship, Tax, Weekly SSRN Roundup | Permalink
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