Summer Reading for Tax Geeks
Ernie Neve, CPA
June 5, 2019
Memorial Day has come and gone, and while summer doesn't officially unlock the door and open for business until June 21, who's waiting? Craft beer fans are swapping out those dark malts that taste like tree bark, and stocking up on summer brews with hints of lemon, lime, and cherry. Sports fans are turning their eyes towards baseball's upcoming All-Star game. (Yeah, hockey and basketball are still going on — but aren't those supposed to be winter sports?) And readers across America are combing shelves for the summer's hottest summer beach reads.
Beach books typically don't ask you to do much heavy intellectual lifting. They're usually the literary equivalent of bingeing an entire season of The Bachelorette in a single weekend. Some readers don't even bring books at all — they drop a kindle or an iPad in their bag to hide the latest 50 Shades story from the folks on the next towel. Occasionally, though, you find something weightier catching readers' eyes. So if that's what you need, NYU Professor Jonathan Choi has assembled a list of the 50 most-cited law review tax articles of all time. Boring, you say? Prepare to be surprised!
Taking home the gold, with 1220 total citations, is William D. Andrews' 1974 thriller, A Consumption-Type or Cash Flow Personal Income Tax. The plot follows a plucky tax professor challenging the conventional wisdom that taxable income should equal the sum of personal consumption plus accumulation. But that plot is really just an excuse to propose a graduated consumption tax. The story also takes us down subplots involving cash-flow accounting for loan proceeds to curb tax shelter abuses, nontaxation of reinvested capital gains, and a proposed zero basis for inherited assets. (See? Riveting!)
Claiming the silver, with 992 citations, we have Harvard professors Louis Kaplow and Steven Shavell arguing Why the Legal System Is Less Efficient Than the Income Tax in Redistributing Income. This is a classic legal thriller in the vein of John Grisham or Scott Turow. Except, in this case, the parties are "legal rules" and "the income tax system." Kaplow and Shavell put them both on trial and declare taxes to be the victor.
Finally, taking the bronze with 762 citations, is Boris Bittker's 1967 classic, A Comprehensive Tax Base as a Goal of Income Tax Reform. Bittker argues that it's simply too hard to define a neutral, scientific measure of taxable income, and each policy proposal should be judged provision by provision. (It's easy to be disappointed with Bittker's meek conclusion — after all, isn't the whole point of a law review article to propose something with no chance of real-world success?)
The rest of Choi's top 50 cover the same beach book ground you'd find at your local bookseller. There's rich historical drama. (Edward Zelinsky's James Madison and Public Choice at Gucci Gulch: A Procedural Defense of Tax Expenditures and Tax Institutions.) There's gripping family conflict. (Paul Caron's Tax Myopia, or Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Tax Lawyers.) There's even a sex scene or two to heat up your afternoon. (Marjorie Kornhauser's The Rhetoric of the Anti-Progressive Income Tax Movement: A Typical Male Reaction.)
So, tax articles are fun, right? Unfortunately, you can read them all summer long without learning anything about how to pay less. That's where we come in. Just pick up the phone before you head to the beach, or the lake, or the mountains, and see how much we can save you while you're enjoying a real beach read!