Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Tax Canon -- Bittker '67 (Part 2)

So I have now made it through my second mile-marker in the tax canon, and I must say that if all tax articles are as fun to read as Boris I. Bittker, A “Comprehensive Tax Base” as a Goal of Income Tax Reform, 80 Harv. L. Rev. 925 (1967), then I am genuinely perplexed as to the what-are-you-an-idiot reaction that I get when I tell people I am interested in tax law. Professor Bittker was clearly having fun with this article; he spends sixty pages skewering proponents of a comprehensive tax base (CTB) by pointing out errors in their reasoning and sarcastically mocking them for failing to consider many of the issues that he points out. I may have been miffed had I been one of the pro-CTB commentators who inspired this article, but as it is, it makes for an amusing read.

Stepping through many aspects of the tax code -- from the various exclusions from gross income, personal and business deductions (and the fuzzy frontier between the two), timing and accounting principles, and the basis for taxation of individual income itself -- professor Bittker describes the consequences that would necessarily follow implementation of CTB principles and often ends up with a ridiculous scenereo that would make one embarassed to have ever said, "hey, we should have a comprehensive tax base." In most cases the crux of the argument is that exclusions and deductions in their current form serve legitimate purposes, and while they may be imperfect, removing them wholesale would result in drastic, counterproductive, and unjust consequences. He basically accuses CTB advocates of being shortsighted and failing to think before they speak.

As for how this article made me feel stupid: I had to look up two non-tax terms that I had not before encountered. Arguendo and rara avis, meaning "for the sake of argument" and "a rare person/thing" respectively, have not previously shown up on my radar though they both seem like useful terms (which I am sure to notice everywhere now) that one would expect to show up fairly often. Ah well yet again.

Note: Clearly I am opting for short blurbs about these articles; I can't tell if this is because it is truly preferable or if I am just too lazy to go back through many pages of notes to talk about specifics that interested me. If article #3 turns out to produce a short and fluffy blog post, then I suppose that will just have to be the norm. By the way, article #3 will be Stanley S. Surrey, Tax Incentives as a Device for Implementing Government Policy: A Comparison with Direct Government Expenditures, 83 Harv. L. Rev. 705 (1970). Now there's something to look forward to.

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