Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Academic wars in corporate tax reform

In this week's Tax Notes, Al Warren of the Harvard Law School has an article critiquing Ed Kleinbard's "business enterprise income tax" (BEIT) proposal for corporate (and broader business) tax reform. I would be very surprised if Ed doesn't have a reply in next week's Tax Notes, and I am also planning to submit a short letter to the editor responding to Al's article.

It would be fair to say that Al is not a huge fan of the BEIT, which he assesses as unworkable and unmotivated in the sense of lacking a good rationale for its key design choices. I feel that his critique is too harsh, referring here to the content not the tone of his piece. In other words, even if he is right that the BEIT in its exact currently proposed form doesn't work, I see considerably more value and reasonable motivation (in the sense of real problems addressed) than Al does. So rather than casting the BEIT and its author into the innermost circle of hell, which is one takeaway readers could conceivably derive from Al's critique, I think it ought to remain an important player in how we think about business tax reform alternatives. My letter to the editor will say a bit more about this, in addition to being purely on the substance rather than musing about the background as I am doing here.

While one should never be mealy-mouthed in one's critiques to the point of failing to inform readers properly of the merits as one sees them, I feel there was room for a more sympathetic inquiry than Al delivered - in the sense of asking what problems the proposal might be trying to solve, what we might learn that is of value from particular pieces even if we don't like it as a whole, and what underlying constraints (e.g., bad tax rules that we know we will be forced to live with in any event) might help explain any of the features. Adopting a more sympathetic tone in this sense, without being mealy-mouthed, leads to a better tax reform debate both directly, because one's critique may be improved by it, and indirectly, by encouraging more inclusive discussions.

Have I ever fallen short of this? Well, I don't claim to be a saint or to lack occasional impulsiveness and strong reactions. In general, I'd rather be rude "up" than "down" in the hierarchy, which means I need to be ever nicer as the years go on. If, or perhaps I should say when, I fall short I am certainly willing to have it pointed out to me.


Unknown said...

Dr. Shaviro,
If I may introduce myself, I am Bill Hermann the project director for the APT Tax concept of Dr. Edgar Feige from Wisconisin-Madison. I do this part-time from my medical practice which is why you may not have heard of this idea. I did develop what I believe is an informative website www.apttax.com covering the subject and including Dr. Feige's papers. He is, of course, assisting me where necessary. I would be honored to hear your review of the concept which I believe would progressively solve many issues facing the country. This is a Federal tax system. However, I do mix some state tax references in which I would ask you to ignore because admittedly there are lots of problems to be worked out on that point. I would particularly turn your attention to the "Freq Asked Questions" section where I address those criticisms typically made primarily by the (un)Fair Tax mob. Please email me your remarks from the website link - director@apttax.com . Thanks, look forward to your comments.

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