Reading tax

One might expect the literature on taxation to be dry and tedious. While there is plenty that is, there are some real gems awaiting the reader willing to take the risk of an unexpected nap. 

Start with some history. No one does tax history better than Steven A Bank (for the US) and Martin Daunton (for the UK). Bank’s From Sword to Shield: The Transformation of the Corporate Income Tax, 1861 to Present (Oxford 2010) is both a pleasure to read and packed with information. 

Daunton’s Just Taxes: The Politics of Taxation in Britain, 1914-1979 (Cambridge 2002) is part two (and we hope not the final part) in the history he began with Trusting Leviathan: The Politics of Taxation in Britain, 1799-1914 (Cambridge 2001).

Both authors have the knack of teasing the details out which illuminate the issues and the deep structure of tax policy. UK tax expert John Tiley edits an on-going series, Studies in the History of Tax Law for Hart Publishing (three volumes have appeared thus far) that includes spectacular scholarship on tax history around the world.

Not quite as amusing, but nonetheless invaluable is Thomas Rixen’s The Political Economy of International Tax Governance (Palgrave MacMillan 2008), which adds the connective tissue of international tax issues. International bureaucrats don’t leave as many humorous memos behind as British ones, so there are fewer funny moments in Rixen’s work than in Daunton’s, but it is an invaluable guide to the internationalisation of tax issues.

Reuven S Avi-Yonah’s International Tax Law as International Law: An Analysis of the International Tax Regime (Cambridge 2007) is a similarly superb guide to the ways in which tax treaties and custom are combining to create a body of international tax law. Chris Edwards and Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute comprehensively set out the case for tax competition in Global Tax Revolution: The Rise of Tax Competition and the Battle to Defend It (Cato 2008)

Tax law isn’t all regulations and statutes – it also has political side. John A Andrew III’s classic (and posthumously published) Power to Destroy: The Political Uses of the IRS from Kennedy to Nixon (Ivan R. Dee 2002) is a powerful reminder of the potential problems that can arise in tax administration. Alan A Block’s Masters of Paradise: Organized Crime and the Internal Revenue Service in the Bahamas (Transaction 1998) adds some international skullduggery to the mix.

For sheer excitement, you can’t beat John Perkins memoir, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Plume 2006). Now repenting his ill-spent working life, Perkins details a career of cheating tax authorities around the globe. Forget the green eyeshades and boring regulations, economic hit men use “fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder.”

Since it is all from his memory and notes, there are few sources cited but we can overlook that as this is surely soon to be a major motion picture. Perhaps Michael Moore could direct. Worth reading to get a feel for what many believe is routine behaviour around the world.

To calm yourself after reading Perkins, pick up University of West Indies Professor Rose-Marie Antoine’s Trusts and Related Tax Issues in Offshore Financial Law (Oxford 2005). This is a serious and weighty book, a worthy companion to the same author’s Confidentiality in Offshore Financial Law (Oxford 2002). Antoine is a significant scholar and both books are major steps toward understanding the transnational body of offshore law as a separate body of law.


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Andrew P. Morriss

Andrew P. Morriss, Chairman, is the D. Paul Jones, Jr. & Charlene Angelich Jones – Compass Bank Endowed Chair of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law. He was formerly the H. Ross & Helen Workman Professor of Law and Business at the University of Illinois,Urbana-Champaign. He received his A.B. from Princeton University, his J.D. and M.Pub.Aff. from the University of Texas at Austin, and his Ph.D. (Economics) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a Research Fellow of the N.Y.U. Center for Labor and Employment Law,and a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Energy Research, Washington,D.C., as well as a regular visiting faculty memberat the Universidad Francisco Marroquín,Guatemala. He is the author or coauthor of more than 50 scholarly articles, books, and bookchapters, including Regulation by Litigation (Yale Univ. Press 2008) (with Bruce Yandle and Andrew Dorchak), and is the editor of Offshore Financial Centers and Regulatory Competition (American Enterprise Institute Press 2010).

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