Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Why are they so wrong?

I have been struck by the tendency of conservative intellectuals, including some I know (and am too fond of personally to rake over the coals in public) to get the pandemic so wrong. Non-Trumpists are included in this group; it's a more general ideologically driven myopia. They of course are going to want to forget it (and avoid learning from it) later on, but the lessons are worth considering even without any finger-pointing or shaming component.

Hostility to scientific (and all other) expertise, within the adjoining ideological swamp in which they swim, is one factor here, although some of these folks are genuine intellectuals. A second, of course, is reflexive anti-government sentiment, so that any sort of coordinated national response, especially at the expense of economic output of the sort that GDP measures, is immediately suspect. (Quick test: If, pre-Great Recession, you didn't believe in Keynesian policy responses to severe downturns, did you learn from that? Some did, e.g., Richard Posner, but others didn't.)

But another important contributing intellectual fallacy is over-estimating the extent to which relatively benign and sustainable equilibria will rapidly and spontaneously emerge in all "markets," including, say, the interaction between viruses (or other micro-predators - the particular substrate doesn't matter to over-generalizers) and their hosts.

Suppose, for example, that one has in mind the model of economic equilibrium in the market for consumer goods - Econ 101-style - along with the usual raft of assumptions suggesting that it will always spontaneously and instantaneously emerge in the absence of centralized interference, which of course is assumed, for its part, to be certain of miscarrying. (BTW, trained economists who actually understand economic theory in greater-than-Econ-101 depth realize that these models do NOT predict when or how fast equilibrium will emerge in multiply constrained real world conditions.)

Whether and when a relatively benign and sustainable equilibrium might emerge is really a matter of how the numbers play out in very complex and multifaceted settings where we don't know any of the inputs. But benign, sustainable equilibria don't always emerge, even in the very long term if too much gets destroyed along the way.

Consider the Black Death, American chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, and the global overkill by hominins of large landed species that didn't coevolve with them. In each case, one who was sufficiently committed, intellectually and emotionally, to believing in the rapid, inevitable triumph of spontaneous order and the invisible hand would presumably "predict" that the runaway phenomenon will stop itself. And it is indeed true that some of the relevant forces will always be pushing in that direction. But those forces don't necessarily prevail in any particular setting or time frame.

Global warming is of course another example. Many of the same people who are embarrassing themselves with respect to the pandemic have likewise been doing so on climate change, apparently because their ideology demands that they predict that the benign (from our standpoint) feedback effects will overtake the adverse ones - although in fact it is purely a question of how particularized phenomena happen to play out mathematically.

Unfortunately, if the rapid emergence of (at least relatively) benign spontaneous order in all "markets" (defined as broadly as possible) is your religion,  then you are going to be very wrong sometimes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Preview of Literature and Inequality

Most of the book's first 49 pages can be viewed for free here.

The Amazon Kindle version and preview aren't up yet, but I hope soon. The B&N Nook version appears to be live.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Fall 2020 NYU Tax Policy Colloquium

At this point, we obviously do not know what the fall 2020 semester will look like, be it at NYU Law School or anywhere else. But the possibilities surely include its taking place more or less as normal, or else perhaps via Zoom.

In any event, the schedule was 99% set when the coronavirus stoppage got rolling, so I figured, why not take the last couple of steps to complete it.

I should note that I don't yet know for sure who will be my co-convenor. That, actually, was up in the air even before the transformation.

Anyway, with full hopes (whether or not confidence) that this will actually happen, here is what we hope to have on tap:


(All sessions meet from 4:00-5:50 pm in Vanderbilt 208, NYU Law School)

1.     Tuesday, August 25 – Steven Dean, NYU Law School
2.     Tuesday, September 1 – Daniel Shaviro, NYU Law School
3.     Tuesday, September 8  – Natasha Sarin, University of Pennsylvania Law School
4.     Tuesday, September 15 – Adam Kern, Princeton Politics Department and NYU Law School

5.     Tuesday, September 22 – Henrik Kleven, Princeton Economics Department
6.     Tuesday, September 29 – Leandra Lederman, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
7.     Tuesday, October 6 – Michelle Hanlon, MIT Sloan School of Management
8.     Tuesday, October 13 – Steve Rosenthal, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center
9.     Tuesday, October 20 –Michelle Layser, University of Illinois College of Law

10.  Tuesday, October 27 – Clinton Wallace, University of South Carolina School of Law
11.  Tuesday, November 10 – Owen Zidar, Princeton Economics Department
12.  Tuesday, November 17Abdoulaye Ndiaye, NYU Stern Business School
13.  Tuesday, November 24 – Lilian Faulhaber, Georgetown Law School
14.  Tuesday, December 1 – Erin Scharff, Arizona State Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

My book Literature and Inequality is now live

I realize that such things seem trivial right now, but my new book Literature and Inequality has now gone live, as per the Anthem Press link here and the Amazon link here.

UPDATE: Barnes and Noble has a better price for Literature and Inequality.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Remarks from 2019 Fordham international tax conference

Sometime back in October 2019, Fordham Law School hosted a symposium entitled "The Future of the New International Tax Regime." Remarks (including mine) from the session, which featured a number of well-known international tax scholars, have now been printed in physical form by the Fordham Journal of Corporate and Financial Law, and are also available online.

You can find the full proceedings here. My remarks are at pages 250-258 if you go by the numbered physical pages, aka pages 33-41 within the posted file.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Literature and Inequality book launch, cover art

With events being canceled all over the place, I realized that it was time to make things official, and scrap the once-firm plans for the following book event:

New York University School of Law
invites you to a discussion of
Literature and Inequality: Nine Perspectives from the Napoleonic Era Through the First Gilded Age (Anthem Press)
with author
Daniel N. Shaviro, Wayne Perry Professor of Taxation
Branko Milanovic, Stone Center Senior Scholar, Visiting Presidential Professor
The Graduate Center, CUNY
Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law
Monday, April 13, 4:30 p.m.

All things permitting, including in particular the state of life here more generally, I anticipate this event's being rescheduled for the fall.

Meanwhile, here is an advance look at the book's cover art:

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

New article (coming soon) on minimum taxes

I've just completed a new article draft, entitled "What Are Minimum Taxes, and Why Might One Favor or Disfavor Them?" It addresses, among other topics:

(1) the purposive, technical, and semantic contours of what the term "minimum tax" is generally used to mean, along with the reasons why these matter - relating, for example, to the creation of clientele effects and discontinuous marginal incentives,

(2 the lessons to be learned from the rise and fall of the alternative minimum tax (AMT),

(3) the Biden versus Warren design question of whether, if one gave tax consequences to highly profitable companies' financial statement accounting income, this should involve the use of a minimum tax structure or a standalone structure,

(4) the relationship between avowed minimum taxes and provisions, such as loss nonrefundability and applying foreign tax credit limitations, that set a zero percent floor on a particular tax rate,

(5) the issues posed by global minimum taxes, including GILTI in U.S. law and the OECD's recent GloBE minimum tax proposal.

In general I am quite skeptical about minimum taxes, although there may at times be optical or political economy reasons for preferring them to a given, limited set of realistically available alternatives.

I'll post it on SSRN soon, but probably not until I get some feedback from presenting it. The problem with posting too soon is that some of one's readership looks at it too early, before it's been improved. Barring travel restrictions from the coronavirus, I'll be presenting it at the Critical Tax Conference in Gainesville, FL, on April 3 or 4, and then at the Maurer Law School's 2020 Tax Policy Colloquium (in Bloomington, IN) on April 9. Also possibly in Oxford this summer, if international travel is feasible.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Discussion of the 2017 U.S. tax act at the Columbia Business School

Last night, I was a panelist at the Columbia Business School's Richman Center for a discussion of the 2017 U.S. tax act. The moderator was Jesse Green, and the other panelists were Stephan Eilers and Joseph Stiglitz.

The Richman Center will shortly be posting the session on video, and I have posted an approximate version of my remarks here.