Thursday, July 21, 2016

Tax and social justice paper

I noted in an earlier blog post that I am writing a short piece for the tax and social justice conference that is upcoming at NYU in late September.  The piece now has a title - "Interrogating the Relationship Between 'Legally Defensible' Tax Planning and Social Justice" - and I've actually written it, or at least a 10,000 word first draft.  It went really fast, verging on writing itself.  And it does indeed take the unusual form, for the last 80 percent, of a dialogue between two fictional individuals with somewhat differing viewpoints.  At the moment, although one always must distrust the infatuation associated with something you have just written and that came together easily, I rather like it.

I'm not planning to post it before September, but here is the abstract:

"Large-scale tax avoidance by wealthy individuals and large companies that is legally defensible under relevant national tax laws can nonetheless have major adverse effects on social justice and/or public morale.  However, its legal defensibility complicates analyzing its ethical implications, as compared to the more straightforward case of committing tax fraud.  Legal defensibility also complicates the analysis of the extent to which advocates of human rights principles and policies should focus on such desiderata as “good corporate tax behavior” and the ethics of tax professionals.

"Much of this complexity pertains to (1) issues of ex ante legal uncertainty regarding whether a defensible position would actually be upheld if closely scrutinized, (2) the multifaceted character both of tax professionals’ ethical obligations and of their incentives, and (3) the ambiguity of people’s personal ethical obligations to act altruistically, rather than just self-interestedly.  It also is hard to judge the tactical questions associated with focusing on these issues, rather than on the tax rules’ content.  Ethical challenges may help to undermine social acceptance of current practices, but also may distract from legal reform efforts."

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