Life is a bit grim right now, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Those of us below 30th Street in New York City are without electrical power in our homes, and will probably remain so for at least several days. There are worse fates, but it is not very enjoyable.
Due to pockets of better conditions around here, I've actually been able to work a bit, although getting oneself to focus mentally is another matter. Classes have been canceled for the entire week, and I suppose next week remains uncertain, along with the question of makeup classes.
I have, however, been able to look at and think about materials that I will be using for the next paper on my agenda, which I have committed to write for "100 Years of the Income Tax" conferences that will be held in early 2013 at Florida State Law School and USC Law School.
I had been thinking of doing some sort of "Important Early Income Tax Thinkers, Then & Now" paper, possibly looking at the likes of E.R.A. Seligman, Haig, Fisher, T.S. Adams, etcetera. But as soon as I stuck a foot in the water, it became obvious to me that the one I am interested in writing about is Henry Simons. This partly reflects personal connections (e.g., I feel as if I have a cross-generational mentorship link to Simons, through Walter Blum at the University of Chicago Law School), but it also reflects Simons' extraordinary combination of intellectual modernity and otherness.
So I now have both a tentative title and, more importantly, a plan of action. "Henry Simons, Then and Now," with four main topics, each to be discussed with a presentist (more than a historical) eye to what we may learn from it all today:
(1) Simons: a different kind of libertarian
(2) Why progressive redistribution?
(3) Why an income tax?
(4) How should we design the income tax?
Each part should have a number of (at least to me) interesting and surprising features, not discovered by me, although I have my own perspective to add, but not generally well-known.