Analysis and Commentary on Tax and Economics

Airplane Seatbacks, the Coase Theorem, and Simplistic Solutions to Difficult Questions

George Washington University law professor and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the minor nationwide debate over reclining one’s seat on an airplane. Buchanan argues that one reporter’s claim that the debate is “an excellent case study for the Coase Theorem” manifests a fundamental (yet common) misunderstanding of that theorem.

Message to Young People: Social Security Will Be There For You, Unless You Let Wall Street Take It Away From You

George Washington University law professor and economist Neil Buchanan argues against the notion that Social Security will “go broke” before today’s workers retire. Buchanan discusses the origins of the idea—including disinformation campaigns by opponents of Social Security—and explains why the is unfounded, as long as people continue to support the program politically.

Why Laffer Lingers: Tax Cut Snake Oil Is Still for Sale

George Washington law professor and economist Neil Buchanan explains why large numbers of people continue to believe erroneously that tax cuts result in greater tax revenues. Buchanan argues that the only real-life examples that seem to support the notion are cherry-picked and anecdotal evidence. He concludes that the claim that tax cuts are self-financing is only barely plausible as a matter of logic, and it has been disproven over and over again by both conservative and liberal economists alike.

Increasing Revenue by Lowering Taxes

Chapman University law professor Ronald Rotunda argues that the best way to increase revenue is to lower taxes. Rotunda explains that the current taxation structure incentivizes the wealthy to find loopholes and avoid paying taxes altogether, whereas those same corporations and individuals would be more likely to pay under lower tax rates. Rotunda also discusses the trend of corporations moving their headquarters and business centers from states with higher taxes, such as California, to states with lower taxes, and the negative impact of such moves on the origin state.

The Real Problems of Poverty and Inequality Exist Today, Not Decades or Generations From Now: Part Two of a Two-Part Series on Income Mobility and Inequality

In this second of a two-part series of columns on income mobility, George Washington law professor and economist Neil Buchanan explains why we should focus on reducing economic inequality today. Buchanan warns that our focus should not be on the increased rate at which economic inequality is growing, but on its very existence. He argues that even if inequality were gradually abating on its own, as some have postulated, inactively waiting for it to do so would continue to allow millions of people to suffer the pain of poverty until that distant and hypothetical time arrives.

Poor, Rich, and Very Little Movement in Between: Part One of a Two-Part Series on Income Mobility and Inequality

George Washington University law professor and economist Neil Buchanan critiques the argument that income mobility adequately addresses the issue of economic inequality. Buchanan contends that supporters of the mobility argument rely on a theory of mobility that disregards the reality of the permanent effects that poverty has on people. In a companion column next week, Buchanan will discuss where the arguments that Professor Piketty offered in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century fit into the arguments over inequality, mobility, and redistribution.

A Conservative Law Professor Points the Way Out of the IRS Scandal-That-Never-Was

Neil Buchanan, a law professor and economist at George Washington University Law School, critiques the so-called IRS scandal of 2013 and one conservative law professor’s persistent attempts to paint it as something it is not. Buchanan explains why the story never amounted to a scandal at all and posits that a recent op-ed by that professor arguing otherwise undermines the reputation of that that professor’s blog as a nonpartisan source of tax-related news.

Freedom, Taxes, and Forced Labor: A Strange Brew of Libertarianism and Marxism

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan sharply critiques the notion of “Tax Freedom Day” and the underlying idea that paying taxes constitutes forced servitude to the government. Buchanan describes the origins of that line of thinking and explains why, if taken to its logical conclusion, it makes no sense.

The False Choice of Old Versus Young in American Budgetary Politics

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan debunks the common claim that we spend too much money on seniors and too little on children. Conservatives and “centrist” Democrats claim that, because of this supposed disparity, Social Security and Medicare are too generous and must be cut. In fact, Buchanan explains, our country puts a lot more of its resources into children than we generally understand, but most of it is hidden from view.

Should Mt. Gox Be Bailed Out? What Should Regulators Do in Light of a Major Bitcoin Heist?

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on recent headlines that caused a panic in the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency world: The largest Bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, was reporting a loss of nearly 750,000 Bitcoins currency units. (Prominent Bitcoin blogger Ryan Selkis made a post to his blog in which he described an unverified report of the loss.) This figure would be worth above $400 million at current prices. As of now, Mt. Gox, which is incorporated in Japan, has filed for insolvency protection there. Ramasastry comments on key events, and possible future reforms that could be put in place so that this situation does not recur.

The Dignity of Work Without End: Do Conservatives Really Want People Never to Retire?

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan points out important advantages of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). For instance, the ACA's decoupling of work and health insurance frees workers who had stayed in their positions simply because they needed the health insurance, rather than changing jobs and/or enjoying some leisure or time with family and friends. Buchanan suggests that freedom-loving conservatives ought to applaud that new freedom which the ACA creates. In addition, on a more theoretical level, Buchanan explains how, in his view, the imbroglio over the CBO’s report exposed the arbitrariness of conservative economics.

Bitcoin: If You Can’t Ban It, Should You Regulate It? The Merits of Legalization

Justia columnist and U.Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the question whether Bitcoin—a so-called virtual peer-to-peer currency—should be regulated by the U.S. and/or States within it. (Along with the Treasury Department, California and New York are also contemplating possible legal or regulatory measures regarding Bitcoin.) Ramasastry looks at recent attempts to extend legal recognition to Bitcoin, and explains why she believes this is a good thing. She adds that while it may be good to clarify that legitimate businesses and consumers may use Bitcoin, it may be too early now to determine what, if any, further measures are needed to provide consumers with needed safety with respect to their Bitcoins.

The Short, Unhappy Life of a Republican Attack Line, and Its Angry Aftermath

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan thoroughly debunks the oft-cited Republican claim that Obamacare will “kill” millions of jobs. Moreover, Buchanan points to some of the important pluses of Obamacare, such as the end of “job lock,” which occurs when a worker is stuck in a job he or she wants to leave, but cannot do so due to the fear of losing his or her health insurance.

Debt by Any Other Name: Even If the President Were to Default on Our Obligations, He Would Still Violate the Debt Ceiling

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the latest iteration of the ongoing debt ceiling melodrama. However, Buchanan points out that we need not endure all these iterations, given the basic point that the debt ceiling is flatly unconstitutional. Buchanan contends that President Obama should long ago have simply said that the debt ceiling cannot supersede the spending and taxing laws that Congress has passed. Here, Buchanan and fellow Justia columnist Michael Dorf, a Cornell law professor, offer a new analysis, contending that Congress has already guaranteed that the President will violate the debt ceiling, even if he tries not to do so.

The Great Inequality Debate, and the Reemergence of Distribution as a Respectable Subject of Discussion

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the subject of income inequality in America, now a key topic once again. Buchanan criticizes President Obama's belated embrace of equality, and the actions of those whom Buchanan describes as the self-styled pragmatists and centrists who dragged Democrats to the right.

President Obama Should Not Put the Fed in the Middle of 2014’s Debt Ceiling Madness

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that, in the inevitable 2014 debt-ceiling fight, unless President Obama changes his approach, the Fed will be forced to spend enormous political capital defending the financial system. The damage that would then ensue, Buchanan notes, could take decades to fix, if it could be fixed at all.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, holds the James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973.... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately... more