Neil H. Buchanan

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 numerous economics courses. His research addresses the long-term tax and spending patterns of the federal government, focusing on budget deficits, the national debt, health care costs, and Social Security. He also is engaged in a long-term research project that asks how current policy choices should be shaped by concerns for the interests of future generations.

Professor Buchanan has held permanent or visiting positions at Rutgers-Newark School of Law, NYU School of Law, and Cornell Law School. Prior to attending law school, Professor Buchanan was an economics professor, specializing in macroeconomics, the history of economic thought, and economic methodology. He has held full-time faculty positions in economics at the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Barnard College, Goucher College, and Wellesley College.

Professor Buchanan has published articles in the Columbia Law Review, the George Washington Law Review, NYU’s Tax Law Review, Cornell Law Review, Virginia Tax Review, and the Cornell Journal of Law & Public Policy, as well as other law reviews and refereed social science periodicals. He has also testified before Congress about issues related to tax reform. He publishes twice weekly on the legal blog “Dorf on Law,” and he is a featured columnist on Newsweek's Opinion page.

Columns by Neil H. Buchanan

Will Extreme Conservatives Ever Break With Ultra-Extreme Conservatives?

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on possible fault lines within the Republican party, specifically affecting extreme and ultra-extreme conservatives. Buchanan also asks an interesting question: What would it take for supposedly “reasonable” conservatives finally to give up on the extreme modern Republican Party? And, on a personal note, Buchanan describes the changes in political leanings in his own family as they related to changes in the Republican Party.

To Prevent Future Debt Ceiling Crises, President Obama Needs a Plan C

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on a remedy for future debt-ceiling crises: The President, Buchanan argues, can—and should—now forestall any future hostage-taking by making it clear that, rather than failing to pay our bills in full when due, he would be willing to order that we borrow enough money to prevent our defaulting on our obligations. Moreover, Buchanan notes that the President can make the case that doing so honors the notion of individual choice, as he explains.

If the Debt Ceiling Is Reached, the President Will Be Forced to Go It Alone, But the Fed Could Save the Day

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan clarifies how many people’s—including many journalists’—failure to truly understand the context of the impending debt ceiling disaster causes them to misunderstand both the President’s choice between defaulting and not defaulting, and his possible strategies if he chooses to avoid default. Buchanan also explains how the Federal Reserve could play the ultimate savior’s role in the crisis. He also offers a driving metaphor to explain the situation that President Obama faces, and why he may legitimately need to break the rules to solve it.

Germany’s Election Results Are Bad News for the U.S.

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan expresses very strong disagreement with the economic policies of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently claimed electoral victory. Buchanan contends that Merkel’s policies are bad for Europe, the United States, and the world, and carefully details the reasons behind his conclusions. Though Merkel is little known by Americans, as Buchanan notes, she will surely exert influence on the U.S., so, Buchanan warns, Americans ought to take more notice of her policies and influence.

How to Succeed in Sounding Impressive When Talking about Budgets and Deficits Without Really Trying: Understanding the Degraded Media Environment When It Comes To Reporting and Discussing U.S. Budgetary Matters

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan sharply questions the competence and knowledge of mainstream media figures who cover economic issues. He illustrates his point with examples in which media figures’ uninformed opinions clash with the much better informed stances of economists regarding, for example, key issues such as budgeting, entitlements, deficits, health-care inflation, and the debt ceiling.

The Next Debt Ceiling Debacle: The Republicans Are Setting an Impeachment Trap, and the Democrats Continue to Misunderstand What Is Happening

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan offers a primer on the debt ceiling; describes the trilemma that Washington faces; and explains how the Republicans are setting an impeachment trap, and the Democrats are playing along. Buchanan also comments on how far the Republicans will take this, and spells out some of the possibilities.

The IRS “Scandal” Turned Out to Be a Non-Scandal, But It Might Not Matter: Why It Is Not Just the Right-Wing Echo Chamber That Will Perpetuate the Myth of Political Manipulation of the IRS

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on a number of “scandals” that, more closely examined, did not prove to be genuine scandals at all. Buchanan focuses in particular on what we know now about the alleged IRS scandal, which he deems a non-scandal in the end that is only being perpetuated to gain partisan advantage—given the fact that the IRS, it turns out, used not just right-wing labels, but left-wing labels, too in its searches. Yet Buchanan notes that false claims tend to have a life of their own, and cites several reasons why that is the case.

Has Behavioral Law and Economics Jumped the Shark? Understanding When a Promising Research Agenda Has Run Its Course—And Why It Matters in the Real World

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the school of thought known as Behavioral Law & Economics (BL&E) and questions its current and future relevance. Is the writing on the wall for this discipline, which treats people not like rational maximizers, as Economics does, but as fallible humans? Some think so, for, as Buchanan points out, many concepts in BL&E are so broad and open-ended that they can lead in almost any direction. Buchanan's piece contains, among other interesting examples, a notable analysis of the tax/penalty debate that was important to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and the related Supreme Court decision.

Republicans Choose the Dark Ages Over the Enlightenment: The Right’s Agenda Is Even More Reactionary Than It Had Seemed

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that Republicans’ current positions are so extreme and cruel that they shock the conscience, and that one must go deep into history—indeed, earlier than the Enlightenment—to find an appropriate comparison. To support his thesis, Buchanan cites the recent vote to eliminate Food Stamps, on which many children depend; the move to support cuts to financing for student loans for poorer students, the decision to slash spending on community block grants to cities for housing and social programs; and the choice to take a broad anti-regulation stance even when regulation is plainly sorely needed. Modern Republicans, like pre-Enlightenment thinkers, Buchanan argues, are perfectly happy with the idea that the powerful cannot be stopped from imposing their will on workers, customers, the environment, and more.

What Should We Think Now About the IRS? We Are All Paying the Price for Republicans’ Underfunding and Vilifying of the Tax Agency

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that the recent IRS flap should really be considered a non-scandal, for reasons he explains, although he notes that the agency did make a significant mistake regarding conservative political groups. Ultimately, Buchanan urges that we must now give the IRS the tools it needs to once again do its job as well as it has historically. He contends, too, that we will all be better off if Congress puts aside its habitual political grandstanding, and actually allows the IRS to serve the public.

Economic Stagnation, Social Security, and the Future: Young People Should Blame the Rich and Powerful, Not the Baby Boomers

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that young people's ire at the Baby Boomers and the state of Social Security is misplaced. He contends that, despite baleful commentary on the state of the Social Security, it will be there for today's young people, unless they choose to dismantle it. Much more worrisome, Buchanan explains, is economic inequality in America, which is affecting both today's young people, and many of the Baby Boomers alike. He also notes that Social Security, while stable, could be further fortified by taxing the non-labor income of especially high earners.

Why Are Republicans Determined to Waste Money on Government? The Upside-Down Logic of Taking Responsibilities (and Funding) Away From the IRS

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the recent IRS scandal, which he contends is better labeled a “non-scandal” limited to low-level mistakes and mid-level crisis mismanagement. He also covers the current state of the IRS, its role in American life, and the reasons its reach has expanded. Buchanan also warns that if we move the IRS out of its current role, we do so at our peril.

How Did Gay Bashing Become Part of the Debate Over Government Spending and Deficits? Why We Need to Focus on Making Wise Investments in Future Prosperity

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the recent contention by Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson that famed economist John Maynard Keynes was gay and, for that reason, did not care about the well-being of future generations. Buchanan rebuts this ugly claim on a number of levels; notes similar arguments that cropped up before the Supreme Court in the Prop 8 oral argument; and makes the case that far from ignoring future generations, Keynes had their interests always at heart, and sought to build for them a more prosperous future.

Obama’s Conservative Budget: The White House’s Budget Proposal Should Remove All Remaining Hope That the President is Secretly an Economic Liberal

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that those who believe that President Obama is at heart an economic liberal are dead wrong. Unlike with gun control, which Obama is aggressively pursuing, the President is not, Buchanan contends, actively pursuing the progressive budget that many of those who voted for him might have expected. Buchanan also notes that it seems that the lack of such a budget cannot be laid at the Republicans' door, as indications suggest that Obama himself may not want a truly progressive budget, rather than a centrist conservative one.

Pay the Rich and the Foreigners First: Republicans Reveal Their True Priorities, as They Plan to Hold Everyone Else Hostage to the Debt Ceiling, Yet Again

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan points out that congressional Republicans are now admitting indirectly that the laws that they have passed would require President Obama to make impossible choices as to who will be paid, and who will not. Through this gambit, Buchanan argues, Republicans are now admitting who truly matters most to them: wealthy investors, foreign banks and governments; everyone else, the Republicans say, can wait.

Simplistic Slogans and Real Consequences: Republicans’ Calls to Run Balanced Budgets Are Based on Meaningless Bromides, Not Sound Economics

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan takes aim at the popular belief that governments’ budgets should be balanced. Noting that corporations do not have balanced budgets and typically thrive as they take on debt, Buchanan asks why governments should be any different. Borrowing, in both good times and bad, Buchanan contends, is the right thing to do—contrary to Republicans like Paul Ryan’s recent claims. Indeed, Republicans’ arguments in favor of budgetary austerity amount to nothing more than excuses to redistribute income upward, Buchanan contends. He also notes that misunderstandings about the role and significance of government debt are often fostered by the press.

Taking From Everyone to Give to the Rich: Why There Is Nothing “Principled” About Republicans’ Refusal to “Betray Our Principles” in Budget Negotiations

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on a number of striking post-election policy changes from Republicans, on issues ranging from gay rights, to immigration, to reproductive choice. Buchanan argues that the key issue that Republicans won’t bend on now is, unfortunately, the crucial issue of helping people in need—a category of persons that does not just encompass the needy, but other groups like today and tomorrow’s children and retirees as well.

Passing Bad Laws on Purpose: How to Understand the Legal Difference Between the Sequester and the Debt Ceiling

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan explains the difference between the sequester and the debt ceiling. He faults Republicans for manufacturing three artificial political crises: shutdowns, defaults and artificial spending cuts. He also makes clear the differences between unilateral Presidential action and Congressionally mandated arbitrariness when it comes to cuts. Moreover, he raises the following questions: When Congress inflicts pain on Americans on purpose, what, if anything, can the President do? Must he still follow Congress’ laws even then?

Protecting Social Security From an Onslaught of Misinformation: Young People Need to Make Sure That This Essential Program Will Be There to Help Them

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan cautions young people that there is much misinformation in the media, and from some in Congress, now about Social Security, which he urges them to resist. Buchanan counters the misinformation by, first, explaining the basic financial workings of the Social Security program, and then explaining why the aging of the Baby Boom generation will not inexorably harm younger citizens when it comes to Social Security, as some claim. Buchanan also argues that Democrats should not give ground on Social Security, as President Obama has tried to do, because, in the long run, keeping Social Security strong will benefit both the young and the old alike.