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

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.

Finally, Prominent Economists Are Admitting That the Policy Debate Should Not Focus on the Debt and Deficit: The Folly of Thinking Too Far Ahead

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that today’s policy debates should not focus too far on the future, contrary to Paul Ryan's and others’ arguments. Buchanan notes that leading economists are now increasingly acknowledging that our longtime focus on debt and deficits is no longer appropriate. Thus, Buchanan contends that we need to focus, for instance, on preventing cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid that will definitely harm people, not on long-term forecasts about debt that may or may not prove accurate.

President Obama’s Least Bad Options: Understanding Two Independent Constitutional Justifications for Exceeding the Debt Ceiling, and Exploring Two Ways to Do So

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan continues his ongoing commentary (which has, at times, been co-written with fellow Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf) on how President Obama should handle the debt-ceiling situation. More specifically, Buchanan focuses on what he calls the President’s two least bad options, should he decide to issue debt in excess of the debt ceiling. They are (1) issue new debt as usual, and (2) issue IOUs to the public. Buchanan acknowledges that neither option is without risk, but he points out that those risks exist only because the Republicans in the House have insisted on creating this crisis, and thus the responsibility for any such risk should be laid at their door, not that of the President.

What Can The President Do When Congress Gives Him a “Trilemma” of Unconstitutional Choices? Understanding Why the President Must Exceed the Debt Ceiling

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf and Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argue that, faced with a trilemma of unconstitutional choices, President Obama effectively has no choice but to exceed the debt ceiling, and they explain exactly why that is. Buchanan and Dorf describe why, to honor the Constitution, a President must choose to issue debt in excess of the statutory limit, if the budget otherwise requires him to do so. They also argue that even Republicans in Congress should want the President to issue more debt, if Congress itself is unable to find a way to do its duty and increase the debt ceiling as needed. In their analysis, Buchanan and Dorf also invoke the idea that some choices are more unconstitutional than others; constitutionality, in other words, isn’t just either/or.

A Mismatch Between Tax Politics and Deficit Rhetoric: A Very Bad Tax Deal Is Passed by Politicians Who Do Not Understand the Economics of Deficits

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan sharply critiques the tax deal that was just passed. Buchanan contends that the big picture here is very different from that painted by Beltway insiders in the run-up to the deal, in important ways. To support his points, Buchanan covers the basics of the deal; points out that merely because both sides were disappointed does not mean that a good deal was struck; and questions the need for the deal in light of the fact that the long-term budget situation looks significantly better than most people think, in part because certain pessimistic assumptions about health-care costs have so far not proven true.

How Many Times Will Speaker Boehner Save President Obama From Himself? The Budget Negotiations Show That the President Is Still a Center-Right Politician Elected by Center-Left Voters

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that while President Obama appeals to voters on the left and in the middle, his economic policies are actually center-right—which might be a surprise to some of his constituents. Moreover, Buchanan points out that Obama has several times compromised with himself, rather than with the Republicans, in key negotiations, thus losing ground that, Buchanan suggests, didn’t need to be ceded. Buchanan also takes Obama to task for lacking the will to increase tax rates on the wealthiest taxpayers.

The Fiscal Cliff Is a Sideshow, but the Debt Ceiling Is the Main Event: If House Republicans Refuse to Raise It, the President Should Show Them What Discretion Really Looks Like

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on President Obama's options regarding the debt ceiling—noting that they are much better than one might think. Buchanan contends that Republicans may think that they can force Obama to cut spending, in order to avoid breaking through the debt ceiling, but Buchanan points out the other options that the President still has, and explains why none of these options will be appealing to Republicans.

What Do We Really Owe to Future Generations? The Devastation of Hurricane Sandy Exposes the Fallacy of Focusing on the Federal Government’s Deficit and Debt

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan connects the election, Hurricane Sandy, and the well-being of our children and the children of future generations of Americans. Analyzing a Romney/Ryan ad that had expressed worry about “saddling our children with debt,” Buchanan warns that what might be truly worrisome would be, conversely, to fail to spend money in ways that will improve the lives of future generations, with infrastructure high on the list. Buchanan cites Hurricane Sandy as an example, arguing that if floodgates are indeed necessary to protect New York City, then even if taking on debt would be necessary, the floodgates should be built. Buchanan also generalizes his point to apply to other infrastructure and other inter-generational government programs.

Governance by a Party With a Leadership That Has Been Taken Over by Sociopaths: The Fourth and Final Column Analyzing What Mitt Romney Would Do As President

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that the GOP leadership’s current stances are—as Nicholas Kristof also characterized them recently in The New York Times—sociopathic. Buchanan cites examples including the position that illegal aliens should be made so miserable that they will “self-deport,” even though their children too will suffer; and the position that aid to America’s poor should be sharply curtailed, even though that, too, would harm innocent children, with even children’s nutrition programs on the list to be cut. Buchanan takes issue, too, with proposed Romney/Ryan programs that would, he argues, only intensify social inequality, including ones targeting healthcare for the elderly.

Would I Lie to You? In the Debate and Elsewhere, Romney and Ryan Exploit the Manipulative Tactics of Car Salesmen (With Apologies to Car Salesmen)

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on why President Obama was widely perceived as losing the first presidential debate. Buchanan, who himself has a long history as a debater and debate coach, contends that one important problem for Obama was that Romney frequently said things that were outright false, and yet, Obama could not call him a liar, for that would run afoul of Americans’ tendency to believe what other say, and their aversion to call a person on falsehoods, because it seems so rude to do so. Buchanan thus contends that Romney’s debate tactics preyed on Americans’ deep-seated tendency to believe the best of others—and argues that Ryan uses similar argumentative strategies as well. In the first debate, Buchanan notes, Obama opted not to say “You’re lying, Governor,” as some commentators thought he should have, in retrospect. That raises an interesting question: Will he do so in the next Presidential debate?

The Rich, the Poor, and Changes Over Time: How Mitt Romney’s Condemnation of People Who Pay No Federal Income Taxes Conflicts With a Republican Talking Point About Income Mobility

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan debunks Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s claim that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes. First, Buchanan points out that virtually all Americans pay taxes every year, if one counts payroll taxes, excise taxes, indirect taxes, state and local taxes, corporate taxes that are passed on to workers in the form of lower wages, and more. Second, Buchanan notes that, over a lifetime, a person may, for very good reasons, have non-taxpaying years—for instance, when he or she is a student—mixed with taxpaying years, suggesting that Romney is wrong that non-taxpaying is always a part of a culture of victimhood. Buchanan also contends that it is a contradiction for Republicans to look at income mobility in America over time, and yet to look at only an annual snapshot when it comes to income taxes.

What Would Happen to Young People If We Cut Their Parents’ and Grandparents’ Government Benefits? The Third in a Series of Columns Analyzing What Mitt Romney Would Do As President

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the Romney/Ryan proposal to cut seniors’ benefits. (Although the Republicans are now backpedalling on the proposal, Buchanan points out that such cuts must be the very essence of their strategy, for they refuse to raise taxes, including taxes on the rich.) Buchanan contends that such cuts will harm not just the elderly, but also their children and grandchildren, because the harm to one generation will inevitably harm the others that follow. With younger people being forced to heavily subsidize and support their parents and grandparents, due to the cuts, Buchanan predicts that more families will then need to worry about their finances. Moreover, Buchanan adds, the brunt will fall not only on elders’ families, but also on our regional and national economies as well.

The Unserious Mr. Ryan and the Idea-Free Mr. Gingrich: Understanding the Beltway’s Confusion of Mere Ideology With Actual Ideas

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan takes strong issue with Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s reputation for being a “serious thinker.” Like Newt Gingrich before him, Buchanan contends, Ryan is being falsely sold to the public as an “idea guy,” when, in truth, he says, Ryan is simply repeating conservative cant. Ryan’s undeserved reputation, Buchanan argues, derives in part from moderates and liberals in the D.C. commentariat who are playing along with the Ryan myth, and in part from the reality that only conservatives play what Buchanan calls “the ideology game.” Buchanan predicts, accordingly, that Ryan—like Gingrich before him—will eventually prove to disappoint even those who once showered him with praise.

The Double Etch-a-Sketch Ticket: The Romney Campaign Tries to Erase Paul Ryan’s Dishonest and Troubling Track Record

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on VP candidate Paul Ryan’s record. Buchanan argues that, while Ryan is being presented as a numbers maven, in fact Ryan is merely an ideologue with no experience in economics or in budgeting. Buchanan also argues that Romney would have been far wiser to opt for a running mate without so many positions that Romney now must repudiate. Buchanan charges that Ryan, rather than “running the numbers” simply makes them up—as, for example, Ezra Klein’s recent analysis, regarding Ryan’s long-term budget projections, shows. Buchanan also charges that Ryan uses mere assumptions—and unrealistic ones—when facts are needed, as with Ryan’s tax plan. Disagreeing even with Romney’s own economic advisers, Ryan, Buchanan notes, offers ideas and plans that any competent economist would reject. Although the media loves a debate, Buchanan urges them to admit that in this instance, only one side is on track, whereas Ryan is grievously off-base.

The States Can Afford to Expand Medicaid, and the Federal Government Can, Too: Governors Would Be Foolish and Cruel to Opt Out of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid Expansion

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) decision, states should not opt out of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, as they are allowed to do, and as many Republican governors have suggested that they will do. Buchanan argues—providing many specifics—that the states can easily afford the Medicaid expansion, especially as the states are being offered a generous deal by Congress; and that the federal government can afford it too. Overall, Buchanan concludes that the case for states’ opting for the expansion is overwhelmingly strong. In addition to being the right thing to do with respect to health care for states’ poor and near-poor citizens, he contends, choosing the Medicaid expansion proves to be fiscally responsible as well.

Coercion, Volition, and Consent: Did the Supreme Court’s Decision Limiting Congress’s Ability to Cut Off Medicaid Funds Signal a New Sensitivity to the Realities of What Counts as a “Free” Choice?

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on an interesting and little-remarked aspect of the Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known colloquially as “Obamacare”: the decision’s concept of what constitutes free choice. Buchanan examines the significance of that concept in the ACA case, and notes that—in addition to the decision’s significance for Commerce Clause cases, and taxing power cases—the ACA decision may possibly affect other cases, in other areas of law, that also turn on what counts as the exercise of free will, versus what counts as coercion.