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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Trend in Tax Law Scholarship

            Hello to the PrawfsBlawg community!  I am a tax law scholar new to PrawfsBlawg blogging, and will explore what I perceive to be an increasingly prominent trend in tax law scholarship. Fields of scholarship, of course, have trends.  This makes sense, as scholars exist in a community of thinkers.  While each individual may be creating her own scholarship, she is undoubtedly influenced by the community of thinkers of which she is a part.  As the community moves in a certain direction, this move inevitably influences each scholar’s own thinking, further solidifying the trend.

                This inclination toward trends is of course true in tax law scholarship, as in other fields.  For quite some time, tax law scholarship (like many other fields) has been influenced by law and economics.  As a result, scholars have spent many years thinking about how to make the tax system more efficient.  Now, I believe that tax law scholarship seems to be undergoing a new trend, toward thinking more about tax law through the lens of administrative discretion and administrative law.  As recent conferences such as the Junior Tax Scholars Workshop and Law and Society reveal, panels addressing administration of the tax law have become a mainstay at tax law conferences.  Indeed, as another indication of this trend, Dan Shaviro recently noted that the NYU Tax Policy Colloquium papers this past year exhibited a somewhat unexpected shift away from economics and toward administration.

                What might be explaining this trend?  What administrative issues are ripe for examination?  Where might this scholarship be going?  As someone working on a new paper regarding administrative simplifications and the tax law (with Josh Blank), I am quite interested in these questions.  I’ll spend some of my next posts exploring this increasingly prominent trend in tax law scholarship.

Posted by Leigh Osofsky on July 1, 2015 at 10:29 AM in Tax | Permalink


I wonder if part of the reason for this is because "that's where the money is", i.e., scholars are focusing on an area in which they feel they can have the most current impact. Given the political difficulties of getting Congress to enact any significant changes to the Code and the realities that these challenges are likely to persist into the foreseeable future, analysis of how the Code can be administered more efficiently, rather than analysis of how changes to the Code itself can improve efficiency, provides the best opportunity to make proposals for efficiency gains that might actually be adopted. In addition, the fact that each year the IRS must do more with less because of its budget situation amplifies the need for administrative improvement. Finally, I agree with Brian that these trends are not mutually exclusive, as a lot of the administrative analysis I see in administrative scholarship still engages the economic analysis and builds upon it by engaging the behavioral economics literature.

Posted by: Ted Afield | Jul 2, 2015 9:16:45 AM

On the domestic tax law front, the Supreme Court's decision in the Mayo Foundation case might have had something to do with the trend as well. But to expand on Brian's thought just a bit, the greater interdisciplinarity of legal scholarship is likely relevant as well. Though I think this is less true in the United States, business school scholars in other common law countries in particular have been studying tax administration for quite some time. As American tax law scholars interact more with these folks at international conferences, it is probably not too surprising that they have developed their own ideas for coming at these issues from the legal perspective.

For anyone who writes in this area who is interested, the Tax Administration Research Centre at the University of Exeter has a new, peer reviewed Journal of Tax Administration that is looking for content. They also host an annual tax administration workshop and, at least in the past, have covered travel expenses for scholars whose papers have been accepted for presentation.

Posted by: Kristin Hickman | Jul 2, 2015 8:20:58 AM

Thanks for the thoughts, Brian! You are certainly right that public finance economists are spending more time thinking about the importance of enforcement and administration, and that this is likely working in tandem with the trend I have identified. My view, at least, is that within the tax law professor world, there has been a distinct, increased focus on tax law from an administrative perspective, and not through an economics lens. As a result, while I think you are right that, within the economics world, there has also been an increasing focus on enforcement and administration, I think we are still seeing a remarkable, new focus / lens by tax law scholars. More on this soon . . .

Posted by: LZO | Jul 2, 2015 7:22:55 AM

But Leigh, as the poet Kenneth Koch said, one train can hide another ("And there may be even more in there!"). The trends are not mutually exclusive, and may be mutually reinforcing. Public finance economists are coming around to the importance of enforcement and administration, as you know.

Posted by: BDG | Jul 1, 2015 4:44:08 PM

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