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

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.

Soft Drinks, Taxes, and Regulation: Why the Attacks on Mayor Bloomberg’s Proposed Size Restrictions on Soda Servings Are Misplaced

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial size restrictions on soda servings, suggesting that Bloomberg’s critics’ points are misplaced. Buchanan argues that the size restrictions are much akin to a common sales tax, and points out the equivalence of taxes, restrictions, and lawsuits in remedying public harms. Moreover, he contends that the broad liberty objection that many have voiced in the face of Bloomberg’s proposal is flimsy, when carefully considered. And finally, Buchanan takes on the paternalism objection, as well—noting that marketing has distorted people’s choices substantially, and pointing out that we are in the midst of an obesity crisis, and that some government intervention may be warranted given the extreme nature of the problem, especially with respect to children's health.

It Does Not Matter Whether Congress Calls a Tax a Tax: Explaining the Dissenting Justices’ Misconceptions About the Taxing Power in the Affordable Care Act Case

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan takes aim at the arguments that the dissenting justices made regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and, more specifically, regarding the taxing power. Those taxing power arguments, Buchanan contends, proved to be a dangerous red herring. Buchanan makes his case to that effect by using some ingenious hypotheticals; he argues that it is perfectly logical to deem a certain measure a tax for some purposes, but not for others. It is substance, he says, rather than form, that ultimately matters. Moreover, Buchanan notes, a tax by its nature need not be motivated by the government’s aim to raise money, although the ACA will, indeed, raise some money. Often, Buchanan points out, taxes are meant not to raise money but to incentivize or penalize certain behaviors. Ultimately, Buchanan notes that it is of no import, legally, that the ACA is not characterized as a tax; the key is that it, in part, operates as a tax.

Social Security and the Economy: The President and Congress Should Be Happy That Social Security Is Not Part of the Problem, and They Should Leave It Alone

George Washington law professor and economist Neil Buchanan argues that the current debate about Social Security is dangerously misleading in several ways. Buchanan faults both parties for using inaccurate rhetoric: President Obama, he says, must stop acting as if Social Security is in peril, and both the President and Congress must stop using Social Security as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Republicans. In turn, and most importantly, Buchanan argues, Republicans must stop misrepresenting Social Security’s current financial situation as being dire, when that really is not the case. The best approach now, he argues, is to leave Social Security alone and focus on improving the economy. Buchanan also calls for an end to misleading estimates regarding in what year Social Security will be “bankrupt,” as they only scare and mislead the public. Finally, too, he warns that calls to “Act now to save Social Security” are often plans to weaken Social Security, in disguise.

Denying the Failure of Austerity Policies by Claiming That They Were Never Enacted: Understanding the Last-Ditch Effort to Save a Disastrous Ideological Agenda

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan takes on the arguments of those who have advocated for austerity as a solution for America’s and other countries’ still-struggling economies. First, Buchanan rebuts, in detail, the claim that government spending cuts will revitalize the economy by getting the government out of the way of the private sector. Then, he counters the argument that the reason austerity did not work was that it was never truly adopted in Ireland, the U.K., the U.S. or elsewhere. The only good news relating to austerity measures, Buchanan says, is that we have not yet seen governments “doubling down” on austerity by advocating even greater degrees of austerity, after the first austerity programs have failed to improve their economic situation—which would, he notes, be truly disastrous as well as inhumane.

How Would Economic Policy Change Under a President Romney? The Second in a Series of Columns Analyzing What Mitt Romney Would Do As President

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan continues his series of columns commenting on what a Mitt Romney presidency would look like from an economic point of view. In this column, the second in the series, Buchanan considers what the roles of the House and Senate would be in setting economic policy in a possible Romney presidency; describes the role that House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, would be likely to play; and postulates that, in a Romney presidency, America would see the imposition of austerity measures similar to those that we are now seeing in Europe, as well as the diminution of much of the federal government, with potentially disastrous consequences. Overall, Buchanan argues that a Romney presidency would only make America's current economic predicament much, much worse.

What Would Life Be Like Under a President Romney? The First in a Series of Columns Analyzing What Mitt Romney Would Do As President

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan looks at past and current evidence to predict what might happen during a possible Romney presidency. First, Buchanan covers Romney’s botched attempt to court female voters by claiming erroneously that President Obama was to blame for layoffs affecting women, and traces the real responsibility for women’s layoffs to schoolteacher firings, which Romney has supported. Buchanan also argues that it will be difficult for voters to isolate a clear set of beliefs that Romney has consistently held dear, which is troubling. Buchanan asks who the “True Romney” really is, and warns that it may not be the moderate Romney who governed Massachusetts. Instead, he contends, today’s Romney will stay conservative in order to gain a second term as president. Finally, Buchanan contends that, even if Romney did remain moderate while in the White House, Republican extremists at every level of government would still push him toward extremism at every juncture.

‘The One Percent’ and the Rewards of Education: Collecting the Revenue Necessary to Send More Americans to College Is Vital

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan takes strong issue with several arguments that have often been made by Republicans in the run-up to this year’s presidential election. Specifically, Buchanan counters arguments that taxpayers should not help pay for others’ college educations—and perhaps not their K-12 educations, either. He also takes on the two mutually contradictory arguments that (1) college is a waste of time and money, and (2) college education is the only force driving economic inequality. As to the first argument, Buchanan points out that education is a key indicator of economic progress, and that as we stagnate in our population’s educational achievement, other countries eagerly seek out more college education for their own people. As to the second argument, Buchanan argues that it can be rebutted by basic statistics, and that, even if it were true, the logical response would be to broaden American educational attainment.

An Educated Population Is Essential to a Nation’s Prosperity, yet Some Politicians Are Demonizing Our Educational System for Political Advantage

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the recent Republican attack on American education. Buchanan begins by emphasizing the copious evidence showing that education leads to national prosperity. In addition, he contends that it only makes sense for everyone who benefits from our educational system—meaning all Americans—to together pay for that system, including via student loans. Citing recent comments by candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, Buchanan critiques and opposes their, and other Republicans’, seeming disdain for education. Buchanan argues that if you focus on the facts, education has been proven, over and over, to be well worth its cost. Other countries clearly know this, Buchanan points out, citing notable examples, and if we forget this truth, he says, we will surely fall behind as a nation.

Why Do We Simply Accept on Faith That Taxes Are Always Harmful? Economists Begin to Acknowledge the Weak Empirical Case for Tax Cuts, but We Should Say More About the Real Costs of Cutting Taxes

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan contends that a current assumption that lies beneath many Republican (and sometimes also Democratic) speeches and positions—the assumption that tax cuts are always good—lacks compelling empirical support. Buchanan focuses on the costs of cutting taxes, and takes economists, as a group, to task for not conveying more persuasively to the public that these costs do exist. While politicians tout tax-cut benefits, Buchanan argues, economists ought to underline tax-cut losses, too—such as the losses of essential government programs that, due to tax cuts, are closed or underfunded. He also points to recent commentary, based on empirical studies, from prominent economists Christina Romer, Uwe Reinhardt, and Paul Krugman, pointing out how surprisingly little taxes affect the economy.

Understanding the Misunderstandings on Both Sides of the U.S.-Chinese Financial Relationship: Who Is Taking Advantage of Whom?

George Washington law professor and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the financial relationship between U.S. and China—which he argues is far from as problematic as some claim. Buchanan covers the issues that have been raised regarding China’s holding U.S. debt; argues that the mutual China/U.S. dependence is ultimately healthy; discusses a possible worry on China’s part that the U.S. would accomplish a stealth repudiation of its debt through deliberate inflation, but deems that worry unrealistic; and considers whether the U.S. holds political power over China due to its holding our debt. Ultimately, Buchanan suggests, Americans should not be particularly concerned about the U.S.-China relationship, but should be quite concerned by the situation of the have-nots in both countries. Both governments, Buchanan concludes, need to ensure that the prosperity their country enjoys benefits not just the elites, but also the whole of society. While China is besting us in infrastructure improvements, he notes, it is not, at the same time, improving its citizen’s lives as it ought to. Yet the economic relationship between our two nations, he says, is sound.

Why Are So Many Economists So Unable to Help With the Ongoing Economic Crisis? Understanding What the Economics Profession Rewards and Penalizes

George Washington law professor and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the state of the economics profession today, linking it to the frustration many Americans feel when economists seem unable to come up with a clear set of prescriptions as to how the economy can be improved. Buchanan traces the root of the problem to the way in which economists are now trained, and the expectations placed upon PhD candidates. Ideally, Buchanan says, economists would be trained to study important and interesting real-world issues. Instead, he observes, they are not asked to actually try to understand the economy, but rather to master certain technical skills and to gain a command of topics in advanced mathematics that have limited, if any, direct real-world applications. Buchanan notes that some excellent economists do learn to grapple with real-world problems, but he observes that they do so more by happenstance, than as a result of their training. He traces the roots of this longstanding situation, and predicts that it will only change if and when the incentives presented to economics PhD candidates change.

The Buffett Rule Is an Imperfect Form of Tax Justice, but an Important Step in the Right Direction

Justia columnist, economist, and George Washington law professor Neil Buchanan comments on the controversy regarding the “Buffett Rule,” Warren Buffett’s observation that he surely should not pay a lesser percentage of his income in taxes than his secretary does. This rule—and the principle behind it—proved to be especially relevant this week, Buchanan notes, when presidential candidate Mitt Romney released some of his tax returns. Buchanan explains how wealthy Americans typically receive special tax treatment, and argues that it is not true that—as some claim—this treatment is necessary to induce the wealthy to invest. He also lauds the Buffett Rule as a key step toward reaching our ultimate goals as a nation, and ensuring the fair treatment of all Americans, regardless of income.

Why Interdisciplinary Legal Scholarship Is Good for the Law, the Academy, and Society at Large

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan responds to some of the common criticisms of interdisciplinary legal scholarship, defending such scholarship on the ground that it makes a valuable contribution. He begins by noting how legal scholarship has changed over the years, beginning around the 70’s, from a field that primarily summarized legal developments, to one that primarily describes how the law could and should change. As a result of this evolution, Buchanan argues, it made sense to bring in other academic disciplines to assist law professors who were interested in improving policies, and who wanted to draw from the relevant schools of thought in framing their policy recommendations and developing their ideas. There has been nostalgia on the part of some—and, especially, some judges—for legal scholarship the way it used to be: primarily focused on describing the law, not improving it. But Buchanan argues that this nostalgia, while understandable, is misplaced, for combining legal expertise with expertise in another field can importantly further the debate on important policy matters. Some questions, Buchanan notes, are truly interdisciplinary and for these, interdisciplinary scholarship is not just useful, but vital.

College Football Needs to Change, but Player Salaries Are Not the Answer: A Critique of the Misguided Calls to Give Up on the Student-Athlete Ideal

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the state of college football, and how it can be improved. Buchanan argues that what is needed is not a movement toward more professionalism in sports, as some have suggested, but rather measures that would both ensure that college athletes do not face serious physical injury (and are taken care of, physically and financially, if they do), and also guarantee that players truly receive the college education that is supposed to come along with their admission. In addition to putting forward his own proposals, Buchanan also considers Taylor Branch’s analysis of the issue in The Atlantic, and Joe Nocera’s commentary on it in the Sunday New York Times Magazine.