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

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.

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.