Articles Posted in Tax and Economics

The Supreme Court Is Still Incoherent About Taxes and Finance, But the Conservatives Seem to Know What They Want

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GW law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan comments on two of last week’s decisions from the US Supreme Court that at least nominally involved tax law issues. Buchanan explains why the decisions suggest that the justices remain confused about taxes and financial issues more generally and suggests that the lower-profile case from last week may end up having the most important and negative effects going forward.

Good News About Social Security

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GW Law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explains why Social Security is so important, and why Republicans’ claim that it is “going to go broke” is so dishonest. Buchanan briefly describes how Social Security was designed and why, because of that design, it is performing exactly as expected and intended when it was set up.

Stealth Attacks on People’s Lives via Boring Economics

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George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan debunks the supposedly simple solutions some purported economists have for complex problems. Buchanan explains that regardless of where one is on the political spectrum, complex social and economic issues—particularly the housing crisis affecting many cities across the country—require considering a number of factors and cannot be solved by “simply” assuming away real-life complications.

Wait … Was the Sheriff of Nottingham Somehow the Good Guy?

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George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan explains why regressive taxes make Republicans “reverse Robin Hoods” by focusing on the core disagreement between those Republicans and everyone else about the ethics of taxation. Buchanan points out that the Republicans’ argument boils down to the tautology that rich people deserve what they have because they have it.

The Damage in the Wake of the Non-Scandal at the IRS

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George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan describes how Republicans' unjustified war on the Internal Revenue Service and attempts to defund it have incidentally caused all charitable organizations to suffer. Buchanan recounts the non-scandal involving the IRS and highlights the inconsistencies in Republicans' rhetoric as to that incident-which led to dire consequences not just for honest taxpayers but for legitimate charitable groups and the people who would like to support them.

Whose Tax Is This?

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Guest columnists Igor De Lazari, Antonio Sepulveda, and Judge Sergio Dias describe how Brazil recently addressed an issue currently before the US Supreme Court-an issue of when (and whether) a state may collect taxes on goods that originate out of state. De Lazari, Sepulveda, and Dias suggest that perhaps the issue is better resolved, as it was in Brazil, through the legislative process rather than by court decision, so as to ease what is likely to be an abrupt transition.

If Republicans Really Wanted a Middle-Class Tax Cut, They Could Have Passed a Much Better (and Cheaper) Tax Bill

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George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan argues that Republicans could have achieved a middle-class tax cut a fraction of the cost of the Republicans' tax bill. Buchanan points out that while the middle class may see a few thousand dollars in the short-term, Republican donors and wealthy corporations will benefit from significantly reduced taxes year after year, indefinitely, causing yet another surge in economic inequality.

The New Tax Law Punishes Blue States: Is That Constitutional?

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Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf considers whether the new tax law, which disproportionally affects “blue” states as compared to “red” states due to changes to the deductions for state and local taxes (SALT), is unconstitutional. Dorf explains some of the possible arguments against the law but ultimately concludes that due to difficulties of proof, courts probably won’t end up ruling that the SALT deductibility cap violates the First Amendment or a core principle of federalism.

Bitcoins: The Evolution of Money and the Enforcement of the Law

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Boston University law professor Tamar Frankel describes the history of money and its role in societies and governments, leading up to today’s bitcoin and the issues governments face in attempting to regulate the cryptocurrency. Rather than purport to provide answer to these pressing questions, Frankel seeks instead to open the door to plain English discussions about the duality of money as asset and as money, the legal control of money transfers to prevent violations of the law, and the government’s control of money supply, which affects the economy and financial systems.

The Economists Who Support the Republicans Are as Dishonest as Their Patrons

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George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan provides political context for the latest Republican-backed tax reform package. He highlights how the authors of an “open letter” to “Senators and Representatives” that recently made the rounds, and which attempted to solicit signatures of other Republican economists, deliberately misused numbers and employed sleight-of-hand wording to declare that corporate tax cuts would stimulate economic growth, lead to more jobs, and increase American wages. Buchanan counters each of the letter’s assertions in turn, illustrates how its stated economics is ultimately faulty, and fixes a critical eye on the economists who so willingly set aside intellectual integrity to appease the well-financed Republican powerbrokers who support these tax cuts.

A Tax Deduction for Unborn Children: Should Pro-Choice Advocates Have Worried?

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Cornell University law professor Sherry F. Colb considers a provision of the proposed statute in the House version of the latest tax reform bill that would have allowed expectant parents to take a tax deduction on college fund investments for their offspring. Colb notes the negative response to this provision among pro-choice advocates as a result of how the provision’s language equates a fetus with a child. While acknowledging the worry among abortion rights proponents that such wording might provide a legal foundation for future attempts to restrict women’s rights to terminate their pregnancies, Colb counters this concern by explaining why it is unlikely that the language in the tax bill would have any effect on the legal status of abortion.

Right Thing, Wrong Reason: Killing the Republican Tax Plan with Anti-Deficit Arguments Is a Bad Idea

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George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan discusses politicians' current fixation on the budget deficit and argues that Democrats who take an anti-deficit stance to attack the Republican tax bill are playing right into Republicans’ hands. Buchanan explains why blanket declarations about decreasing the budget deficit as a tax reform fix-all are problematic and cautions Democrats (along with journalists who report on tax reform issues) to be mindful of the arguments they choose when countering Republicans.

Trouble in Paradise? The Paradise Papers and the Ethics of Lawful Tax Avoidance

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University of Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the recent release of records known as the Paradise Papers, which reveal the identities of thousands of individuals and corporations using offshore jurisdictions as a tax avoidance strategy. Ramasastry argues that while such actions may in many cases be legal, they are also unethical. She points out that if we focus on the harm of tax avoidance to society, rather than how it is legally defined, then we can see that it contributes to growing inequality and increases tax burdens on resident taxpayers who cannot change their citizenship or move their money.

Yes, the Political and Economic Issue of Our Time Really Is Inequality

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George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan argues that economic inequality is the political and economic issue of our time, and now is the perfect opportunity for Democrats to push toward a solution. Buchanan decries the claim that the correct path is to triangulate between the policies of the left and the right and explains why now, more than ever, progressive policies are the best response.

Who Pays for Sex Abuse?

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Marci A. Hamilton, a professor and resident senior fellow in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, describes the enormous costs associated with child sex abuse that fall on the victims’ families, government welfare programs, and society. Hamilton points out that there is no comprehensive metric that considers all of the costs, but the ones that have been measured are staggering.

An Accidental Argument for Progressive Taxation from One of the Marie Antoinettes of the Trump Administration

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George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan comments on the response of Louise Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, to criticism regarding her bragging about wearing expensive clothes in a government jet. Buchanan points out that Linton’s path to fortune is based not on her hard work but largely on circumstances beyond her control, and he argues that simply being a billionaire does not necessarily mean one has positively contributed to society to get there.

There Actually Are Some Good Tax Reform Ideas Out There

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George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan continues his discussion of tax reform, suggesting that a starting place for meaningful reform would be to tax wealth more effectively, tax unrealized gains, and eliminate the preferential tax rates for investment income. Buchanan points out that even modest changes in these areas would significantly address the problem of growing economic inequality in our country.

Distractions and Non-Issues in the Tax Reform Debate

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In this first of a series of columns on tax reform, George Washington law professor and economist Neil H. Buchanan describes a few items that should not be seriously considered in attempting to improve the status quo. Buchanan argues that the notion of a complete overhaul of the tax code, and the proposal that the tax code should be “simpler,” ignore important considerations and distract from real issues.

Doing Nothing About Taxes Is Better Than What Republicans Want to Do

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Neil H. Buchanan, a George Washington law professor and economist, argues that the tax code status quo (imperfect as it is) is better than the changes Republicans are proposing to make. Buchanan explains the difference between the marginal tax rate and the effective tax rate and how Republicans focus only on marginal tax rates in order to mislead the public.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law on the Urbana-Champaign campus. Immediately prior to taking the position at Illinois i... more

Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington University. He teaches tax law and tax policy, and he has taught contract law, law and economics, and... more

Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in constitutional criminal procedure, evidence, and animal rights. She has published a... more

John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Before becoming White House counsel at age thirty-one, he was the chief minority counsel to the Judiciar... more

Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has written hundreds of popular essays, dozens of scholarly articles, and six books on constitutional law... more

Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of Law.  She is an expert in sex discrimination law. Her most recent book,  more

Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavilion Resident Senior Fellow in the Program for Research on Religion at the University of Pennsylvani... more

Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record in Rasul v. Bush (2004), involving detentions at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Station, and in more

Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, where she also directs the graduate program on Sustainable International Developmen... more

Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior to taking the position at Illinois, Wexler was a Professor of Law at Florida State University, whose... more