TAX, SOCIETY & CULTURE

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Canada implements the MLI on BEPS; Will Parliament Take a Nap?

Published Sep 20, 2018 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

With the return of Canada's Parliament to business this week, debate theoretically should take place on Bill C-82, An Act to implement a multilateral convention to implement tax treaty related measures to prevent base erosion and profit shifting, a.k.a. the "Multilateral Instrument in Respect of Tax Conventions Act" (the official short title). But we can call it the BEPS bill since its job is to implement a set of consensus positions the OECD developed to eliminate "Base Erosion and Profit Shifting" by multinational taxpayers.

This BEPS Bill implements the OECD's MLI to Prevent BEPS, which is a multilateral treaty that amends existing bilateral tax treaties. The rationale is that countries were engaging in or at least facilitating BEPS, and they were often doing so through tax treaties, so a blanket change to a few thousand of these treaties was needed to prevent ongoing tax avoidance.

Given that the BEPS bill adopts one treaty to rule them all, Parliament might be expected to undertake careful scrutiny of its terms, but these expectations are not likely to be met. A study I completed with help from a very adept graduate student in 2016, entitled “While Parliament Sleeps: Tax Treaty Practice in Canada,” (published in the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law / Revue de droit parlementaire et politique 10 (1) : 15-38, March / mars 2016 and available in draft form here), found that over a fifteen year period, Parliament has adopted legislation implementing 32 international tax agreements without a single standing vote occurring in the House of Commons at any point in the legislative process.

These 32 agreements collectively form over 750 pages of binding law in Canada, none of which was considered for more than two sittings at any stage of consideration in either the Senate or House of Commons.

In Canada, tax-treaty implementing legislation is generally introduced in the Senate, studied very little there, and then sent to the House of Commons where it receives even less attention. Although tax scholars focus, rightfully, on scrutinizing the substance of tax treaties, we should not be lulled into ignoring the process by which Parliament discharges its role in legislating tax treaty implementation. To that end, some of the debate in Parliament is downright disappointing.

For example, consider the most recent exercise (written after my study), when the Senate was seized with Bill S-4, whose official summary reads:

 This enactment implements a convention between the Government of Canada and the Government of the State of Israel for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and an arrangement between the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income. It also amends the Canada–Hong Kong Tax Agreement Act, 2013 to add to it, for greater certainty, an interpretation provision.
In a speech of only a few minutes on the bill, the Legislative Deputy of the Government Representative in the Senate stated:
 It is urgent that we move forward with the study of this bill because if we want the agreements on double taxation to go into effect in 2017, the bill must receive Royal Assent by the end of 2016. Therefore, I invite all honourable Senators who wish to speak to this bill to do so as quickly as possible so that the bill may be referred to a committee as soon as possible.
In total, the entire House Finance Committee's study took less than 15 minutes. The third reading debate in the Senate lasted less than 10 minutes and, after calling the bill a "no-brainer," a "marvellous bill," and "a continuity-of-government bill" that "does wonderful things for Canadian industry and consumers alike," the Senators continued with this exchange:
Senator Day: Should I tell anybody what this bill is about?
Some Hon. Senators: No.
Then followed a dubiously notable comment by Senator Plett that "I'd like to add my voice and simply say that this, again, is clear evidence that occasionally a good biscuit can be found in a garbage can."

The idea that Parliament should rush to meet the government’s preferred timetable in what the Senate characterizes as a "garbage can" of a bill (or of a government--I am not sure which) is highly problematic. If it takes longer to scrutinize a bill, so be it. The government – for its part – didn’t leave Parliament much time in this case, having only introduced S-4 in the Senate on November 1st, 2016.  By the time the Legislative Deputy of the Government Representative in the Senate got to make her speech on November 24th, the clock was ticking quickly toward the MPs' and Senators' winter break.

I single out this debate not only for the unprincipled concession to expedited timing, but particularly for the exchange that followed. A Senator asked the Legislative Deputy of the Government Representative in the Senate “In your opinion, does the bill before us pertain to our participation in the WTO?” The response: “I do not know much about this bill. However, I do know that it is important, that it is urgent that we move it along, and that it has significant consequences.”

Putting aside the carefree decision to speak to a bill one “does not know much about” and the apparent confusion about how the bill relates to the WTO (did the Senator mistake a tax treaty for a trade agreement?), it would be hard to characterize the limited early Senate Chamber debate as well-informed or thoughtful in any way. On the House side, the bill was fast-tracked – a motion passed by unanimous consent stipulated that “when the House begins debate on the third reading motion of the Bill, a Member from each recognized party, as well as a Member from the Bloc Québécois, may speak for not more than five minutes, with no question and comment period, after which the Bill shall be deemed read a third time and passed."

As such, in its last debate, the bill received less than 20 minutes of attention in the House with no questions –that is, each party spoke but there was no dialogue in substance. The bill received Royal Assent on December 15th, 2016.

This brings me back to the BEPS Bill, which actually bucks the trend by being introduced in the House of Commons instead of the Senate. This is important because even though Senate debates on tax treaty implementing legislation are limited (as evidenced above), the Senate is still the body that generally studies these matters and has nominally built up expertise. Because the general trend in Parliament is that the Chamber that receives a tax bill second is the one that studies it less, one is left to hope without confidence that the House will undertake its due diligence.

There is cause for concern with C-82. Unlike the other tax treaty implementing bills I studied, this was preceded by a ways and means motion that provided the text of the bill in advance. In other words, the Minister of Finance tabled a notice on May 28th that contained essentially what would become C-82. But, rather than debate the Notice, the House on June 19th deemed that motion agreed to and further deemed the BEPS bill formally introduced.

Without venturing too far into the procedural weeds, it is perhaps sufficient to observe that there could have been a debate on that ways and means motion. Instead, the decision in June deemed this motion adopted ‘on division’ – that is, dissent is indicated for the record but we don’t know who disagreed or on what basis because there was no actual debate on the record.

This leads me to wonder whether we’ll see an actual debate occur on the merits of C-82 if even its introduction was fast-tracked through deeming. I doubt it. After all, MPs (and Senators alike) often find tax matters confusing and technical. Maybe in this case especially, the whole things seems like a foregone conclusion since we are talking about an OECD initiative in which Canada has been involved over many years. Moreover, Canada's undertakings in the MLI are modest to say the least. Even so, that doesn’t mean these bills don’t deserve careful study since it is agreed that certain tax arrangements erode Canada’s tax base (cf: the recently decided Alta Energy case). It is much harder (and more costly) to re-negotiate and re-legislate (if need be) a treaty than to get things right the first time (for a discussion, see See Charlie Feldman, “Parliamentary Practice and Treaties” (2015) 9 J. Parliamentary & Pol. L. 585). Adopt in haste, repent at leisure ought to be a mantra for tax treaties.

Unfortunately, Canada's Parliament has limited involvement in the treaty process and only so much influence over treaty-implementing legislation. An additional concern is that there is only so much time left in the legislative calendar with an election a year away. The government has important pieces of legislation moving – including implementing the TPP, adopting the first-ever national legislation on accessibility, and an election law overhaul that the government has already tried to fast-track. Moreover, of the 366 commitments the Trudeau government has made, the government’s own analysis indicates that just 96 have thus far been met. Many others also require legislation, for example, the specific commitments to “introduce proactive pay equity legislation for federally-regulated workers"; to modify Canada’s oath of citizenship to reflect Canadian and Indigenous history; to introduce an Indigenous Languages Act; and to reform the Canada Labour Code to help precarious workers.

Moreover, Parliament already has many bills to consider which have yet to complete the legislative process. Parliament's Legislation-at-a-glance page shows just how much each House has before it already, including criminal justice and family law reforms, firearms regulation, and military justice changes remaining in the House, and many big legislative matters before the Senate including bills on sustainable development, access to information, and fisheries reform. While the BEPS bill could be a step ahead of bills yet to come, it is easy to imagine easier-to-debate matters (such as labour reforms) getting much more debate in the House and, if and when it does get to the Senate, that body will be even more pressed for time given all the other items from the House being added to its plate.

With all these bills anticipated, and little experience in tax treaties, will the House give the BEPS bill its due? Unlikely. It is more likely that as far as Canada is concerned, C-82 will be a Bill Evading Parliamentary Scrutiny.

Tagged as: BEPS Canada MLI scholarship

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Today at McGill: Brooks on Comparative Tax Law: Development of the Discipline

Published Dec 04, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Today at McGill, Professor Kim Brooks will present her current work in progress as the final speaker of the 2017 tax policy colloquium at McGill Law. Here is the abstract:

The new millennium has inspired renewed interest in comparative law generally and comparative tax law in particular, with practitioners and scholars rapidly building the literature that defines the modern field. Despite the increase in authors undertaking comparative tax work, however, the contours of the theoretical and methodological debates lack definition; despite several leading articles that call on scholars to actively engage with each other on matters of approach, most scholars continue to “write alone”; and despite the increasing availability of thoughtful comparative law textbooks and monographs, tax scholars do not connect their work with debates in comparative law generally.

In this paper, I provide a foundation for future comparative tax law research. Part 1 reviews the major debates and theoretical directions in comparative law scholarship, focusing on the recent work in the field. Part 2 offers an intellectual history of comparative tax law scholarship, identifying the major contributors to the discipline of comparative tax law and conceptualizing the field’s development in five stages. Finally, Part 3 generates a taxonomy of modern comparative tax law research based on its
underlying purpose, explores how that work connects to the comparative law field, and identifies approaches to comparative tax law method, in the light of the work to date, that best advance tax knowledge.

The tax policy colloquium at McGill is supported by a grant made by the law firm Spiegel Sohmer, Inc., for the purpose of fostering an academic community in which learning and scholarship may flourish. The land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk), a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations.


This fall, in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the introduction of federal income taxation in Canada, the Colloquium focuses on the historical significance and development, as well as the most recent challenges, of the modern tax system in Canada and around the world. 

The Colloquium is convened by Allison Christians, H. Heward Stikeman Chair in Taxation Law. 

Prof. Brooks' talk will take place from 2:35-5:35pm in the newly renovated Chancellor Day Hall Room 101, 3644 Peel Ave, Montreal. All are welcome to attend.

Tagged as: colloquium comparative law history international law McGill tax policy

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Today at McGill: Mehrotra on value added taxation

Published Nov 20, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Today, Ajay Mehrotra, Northwestern University and the American Bar Foundation, will present "The VAT Laggard: A Comparative History of U.S. Resistance to the Value-Added Tax, as part of the annual Spiegel Sohmer Tax Policy Colloquium at McGill Law. This is a fascinating topic as the United States considers major tax reform without explicitly embracing VAT as much of the rest of the world has done. Prof. Mehrotra's new project will explore the U.S. position in light of how Canada, Japan, and other jurisdictions were able to overcome historical resistance to a national VAT by adopting a Goods and Services Tax (GST).

The tax policy colloquium at McGill is supported by a grant made by the law firm Spiegel Sohmer, Inc., for the purpose of fostering an academic community in which learning and scholarship may flourish. The land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk), a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations.


This fall, in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the introduction of federal income taxation in Canada, the Colloquium focuses on the historical significance and development, as well as the most recent challenges, of the modern tax system in Canada and around the world. The complete colloquium schedule is here.

The Colloquium is convened by Allison Christians, H. Heward Stikeman Chair in Taxation Law. 

Ajay Mehrotra's talk will take place from 2:35-5:35pm in New Chancellor Day Hall Room 101, 3644 Peel Ave, Montreal. All are welcome to attend.

Tagged as: colloquium history McGill tax policy

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100 Years of Tax Law in Canada

Published Sep 17, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink


2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Canada’s federal income tax. In commemoration of this milestone, a half-day symposium will be conducted in conjunction with the Spiegel Sohmer Colloquium on 2 October 2017. The goal of this symposium is to explore the evolution of tax law and policy in Canada over the past century. The symposium will feature a keynote by Kim Brooks followed by two roundtable discussions in which experts confer on some of the key themes of tax law and policy development in Canada. The symposium will conclude with a cocktail reception to celebrate 100 years of federal income tax in Canada.
Symposium Participants:
Kim Brooks, Professor of Law, Dalhousie University. Prof. Brooks is an internationally recognized tax scholar who has written multiple scholarly works on taxation in Canada and beyond.
Jakub Adamski, lecturer in business associations and contract law at McGill Faculty of Law. He runs a seminar on the history and development of corporate law with Marc Barbeau, with whom he is co-authoring a text on the subject.
Marc Barbeau, adjunct professor of corporate and securities law at McGill Faculty of Law and partner, Stikeman Elliott. Me. Barbeau practices in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, complex reorganizations and corporate governance. He runs a seminar on the history and development of corporate law with Jakub Adamski, with whom he is co-authoring a text on the subject.
Scott Wilkie, partner, Blake’s, and Distinguished Professor of Practice at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University. Mr. Wilkie is recognized as a leading corporate tax lawyer in Canada and has extensive experience in national and international corporate tax practice.
Colin Campbell, Associate Professor, University of Western Ontario. Prof. Campbell was a senior partner in the Toronto office of Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP until mid-2010 when he took up a position at UWO to teach and undertake research on Canadian tax history.
Lyne Latulippe, Professeure agrégée, École de gestion, Université de Sherbrooke. Prof. Latulippe’s work on the institutional aspects of international taxation development and the conduct of professional tax advisors is widely recognized and influential.

Robert Raizenne, adjunct professor of tax law at McGill Faculty of Law and partner, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. Me. Raizenne has extensive experience in a wide variety of tax matters and is a sought-after speaker and writer on national and international tax topics.

This event is free and open to the public.

Tagged as: conference history McGill Tax law

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100 Years of Tax in Canada: McGill Tax Policy Colloquium 2017

Published Sep 05, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

2017 marks the centennial of Canada's federal income tax, so it is appropriate that this year’s tax policy colloquium at McGill Law will focus on the theme of 100 Years of Tax Law in Canada. The colloquium is made possible by a grant from Spiegel Sohmer. The land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk), a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations.

The distinguished speakers who will contribute to this year’s colloquium include:

  • Kim BrooksProfessor of Law, Dalhousie University. Former Dean, Dalhousie Law, Prof. Brooks is an internationally recognized tax scholar. On October 2, she will present a keynote and take part in a half-day symposium on the history of tax law in Canada.
  • Amir Pichhadze Lecturer, Deakin University, Australia. Prof. Pichhadze is an emerging scholar who studied comparative tax law in the U.S. and U.K. and completed a Judicial Clerkship at the Tax Court of Canada. On October 23, he will present work in progress on the development of value added taxes in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S.
  •  Ajay MehrotraExecutive Director and Research Professor, American Bar Foundation, and Professor of Law, Northwestern University. Professor Mehrotra is a leading voice on tax history in North America who has studied various aspects of interrelationships and influences in Canadian and U.S. tax law history. On November 20, he will present a work in progress on intersecting developments in Canadian and U.S. tax law history. 
  • Ashley StaceyAssociate, Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend. Ms. Stacey is a junior associate whose practice is focused on advising First Nations and First Nation-owned businesses on corporate and commercial transactions and who blogs at oktlaw.com on tax and governance issues relevant to First Nations communities. On December 4, Ms. Stacey will present her work in progress on historical and contemporary intersections of taxation, sovereignty, and autonomy of First Nations in Canada.


The colloquium is open to all.



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Tagged as: colloquium McGill scholarship tax policy

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Heyka on Tax Treaty Arbitration and A World Tax Court

Published Feb 22, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Last fall I via twitter I shouted out two of my students who won the Tax Analysts Student Writing Competition, in the international category:

I posted about the first paper long ago but I inadvertently neglected to post the second.  Correcting that oversight, here it is, available at Tax Analysts: A World Tax Court: The Solution to Tax Treaty Arbitration, by Jake Heyka. Here is the brief abstract by TA:
Jake Heyka examines tax treaty arbitration standards while demonstrating that as a matter of fundamental justice, arbitration should be revamped. He proposes the creation of a world tax court.
Heyka begins by observing that "[t]he institution of international tax treaty arbitration (ITTA) is hotly debated in international business and tax law. While the process is helpful because it pressures governments to resolve contested tax decisions, opponents have called it 'secret and evil.'"
He then makes the provocative observation that "the use of ITTA ultimately frustrates the resolution of tax disputes and should be supplanted by a world tax court." In support of his proposal, Heyka lays out the history and critique of tax treaty arbitration (including by me) and concludes:
Standardizing ITTA will create some procedural certainty but does not guarantee consistent use of those procedures, allow the public to see whether the process is fair, or establish reliable precedent. As Lindencrona and Mattson suggested over 30 years ago, ITTA should be a stepping stone to what the world ultimately needs: a world tax court.
As radical as it may seem, the idea is not far-fetched. World courts exist in many commercial and noncommercial contexts, and those that deal with money rather than crime are followed by many countries and used quite often. Moreover, state authority is regularly ceded to resolve disputes between commercial parties in arbitration courts such as the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the London Court of International Arbitration, and many other arbitration institutes. A world tax court would merely serve as a place to resolve tax disputes in a similar manner while sustaining the public nature of tax law.
While I am late to post it, Heyka's article remains timely as the inclusion of arbitration in the recently released MLI is sure to keep the issue front and center in international tax discourse. Congrats Jake, and sorry for the delay in posting your accomplishment.

Tagged as: arbitration governance institutions international law McGill OECD scholarship

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Uncle Sam Wants...Who? At UBC Law This Week

Published Jan 18, 2016 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

This week I will be in Vancouver to present a paper at the UBC Allard School of Law. The paper, "Uncle Sam Wants...Who? A Global Perspective on Citizenship Taxation," is now available in draft form on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Across the globe, banks are flagging accounts with indicia indicating their owners may be “US Persons,” making it possible for the United States to enforce its taxation of nonresident citizens extraterritorially for the first time in history. The indicia method constitutes a mining expedition for US citizens carried out by foreign banks and governments. Establishing a tax jurisdiction in this manner is unprecedented and has significant practical and normative consequences. In the case of so-called “accidental Americans,” it violates one of the most fundamental and universally- acknowledged tenets of taxpayer rights, namely, the right to be informed about what the law requires. Third party indicia-searching should be universally rejected as a means of identifying a taxpayer population. Instead, the United States itself is responsible for cataloguing, informing, and educating its global population of taxpayers. Those who don’t belong in the system should be allowed to opt out without cost.
I welcome comments on this work in progress.

Tagged as: citizenship FATCA human rights international law jurisdiction scholarship tax policy US

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ICYMI: Call for papers; Conference on Taxation and Citizenship

Published Feb 19, 2015 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Together with Reuven Avi-Yonah, I am seeking paper proposals for a Citizenship and Taxation Symposium, to be held at the University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Friday, October 9, 2015. The call for papers closes on February 28.

This symposium will focus on ongoing developments regarding the unique US practice of taxing citizens who live permanently overseas. With the adoption of regimes such as the expatriation tax added by IRC § 877A and the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), the taxation of non-residents with US person status now has serious and tangible implications. 

Symposium Background 

 Like most countries, the United States claims the right to tax on a worldwide basis all of the people resident in its territory regardless of their legal status. But virtually alone in the world, the United States also claims worldwide fiscal jurisdiction over its citizens whether or not those persons are or ever have been resident within the territory. The legal claim over citizens dates to the first national income tax and has been continued through the present, but enforcement has always been an abstract ideal rather than a viable program. This status quo has dramatically changed as an unexpected side effect of the adoption of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2010. By introducing an unprecedented regime for global third party reporting, FATCA enables the IRS to enforce citizenship taxation on a worldwide basis for the first time in the history of the income tax. As will becomes ability, the normative foundations of citizenship taxation are coming under intense scrutiny. 

To explore these issues, the symposium presenters will offer different perspectives on the meaning, feasibility, efficiency, and fairness of the U.S. practice of citizenship taxation, and will comment on the practical and policy effects of new legislative developments. We invite proposals that consider U.S. citizenship-based taxation from a historical, economic, social, political, institutional, or philosophical perspective. We welcome proposals from junior scholars and from scholars within and outside the United States.

 Symposium Participants 

 In addition to the conveners, the symposium will feature a panel of distinguished speakers, including:

  • Wei Cui, University of British Columbia School of Law 
  • Tessa Davis, University of South Carolina Law School 
  • Michael Kirsch, Notre Dame Law School 
  • Patrick Martin, Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP 
  • Ruth Mason, University of Virginia Law School
  • Saul Templeton, University of Calgary Faculty of Law 
  • Phil West, Steptoe & Johnson 
  • Ed Zelinsky, Cardozo School of Law 
Guide for Proposals
  • Deadline for proposals: February 28, 2015.
  • Paper proposals must be between 300–500 words in length and should be accompanied by a CV.
  • Successful applicants will be notified by the end of March 2015. 
  • Proposals should be submitted by email to Reuven Avi-Yonah and Allison Christians
  • Successful applicants must submit a working draft of their paper by September 8, 2015 for circulation among conference participants. 
  • additional info and updates on the symposium will available here.

Tagged as: citizenship conference scholarship tax policy u.s.

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The power to tax

Published Sep 05, 2014 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

The start of a new semester means the return to fundamentals in taxation for me, which always begins with a discussion of the power to tax. Yesterday I asked my students: could Queen Elizabeth say hey Canadians, I notice you still have my face on your dollar and you've got a nice surplus shaping up; over here in England it's all austerity and program cuts. Mind helping out a bit? General consensus: she might as a legal matter be able to tax Canadians to help the Brits out, but she won't. Hmmm. During the discussion a student informed me that Canadians pay more for monarchical services than the Brits do. Well, sharing is caring.

Relatedly and on a more scholarly note, a recent twitter conversation brought me to a chapter in a book on socio-legal tax research (thanks to Martin Hearson for starting that conversation and Judith Freedman for making this recommendation). The book is called Taxation: a Fieldwork Research Handbook, edited by Lynne Oats, and the chapter I had my eye on today is entitled Tea Parties, Tax, and Power, by Rebecca Boden. Boden writes:

History...points to a longstanding power relationship between rulers and those they rule that is articulated through tax regimes. States, whether feudal or modern, need money to operate, to pursue their various programmes, from war to welfare, As citizens may be unwilling to relinquish their money voluntarily, the state must have powers to require payment, with sanctions for non-compliance. By the same token, this power is held in balance in democracies by the principle of consent, exercised through representation. Ultimately, taxpayers give their consent to be dominated and have their money taken away from them.
This contingent nature of the state's powers in taxation - taxation by "consent"- chimes with Foucault's notion that power can never be absolute (Foucault 1977). No, Foucault argues, is power only hierarchical or structural, rather it works in a capillary fashion. As such, the analysis of such power relationships is central to the critical tax project - only by viewing tax structures, policies, and practice through the prism of power relationships that change them can we understand how and why they are constituted and what their effects are likely to be.
There is much more in the chapter to reflect upon, but I found this intro intriguing. In my view a lot of mischief takes place in the subtle--maybe you missed it--transition from the use of the word "citizen" to the use of the word "taxpayer." This is a transition all too many scholars make without even noticing it, yet it masks a world of ideology and assumption that frame and define how we think about tax today.

The power to define the taxpayer permeates contemporary tax policy discussion. The question of who can tax whom is one that could or should involve theory but while the scholars talk it over, reality plays out in economic might. In an intro to tax policy principles that I recently prepared for my tax policy course, I wrote:
Perhaps because taxation has been so connected to state-building, most scholars closely associate the act of taxation with the state. Some even go so far as to argue that taxation is a fundamental right belonging to the state as sovereign, often citing Thomas Hobbes for the proposition that “[t]hese are the rights which make the essence of sovereignty … the power of raising money”. None have offered theoretical grounds for the claim that states are in fact holders of rights, however.
We observe throughout history that states exercise powers (mostly through military and economic might), and only declare rights for themselves upon successful domination (such as in constitutions and charters). This observation leads to the likelihood that taxation is not anyone’s right but rather it is a constructed reality, coming about solely by and through human experience. This would explain why so much has to be done to both justify as a matter of theory - and entrench as a matter of custom - the state’s authority to tax.
We don't have to work too hard to think of a few examples where defining the taxpayer is an exercise in claiming authority, which fundamentally depends on power. FATCA is an obvious one; anti-inversions, BEPS, and the OECD common reporting standard are less obviously but equally so.

With FATCA, the US is using its sheer economic clout to get the whole world involved in chasing what it deems to be "US persons" for their tax tribute, without any discussion about whether the state's unilateral conferring of citizenship constitutes consent to (permanent and worldwide) taxation. Indeed, it continues to erect ever-higher barriers to shedding that status, without a single policy discussion at any level of government about the merits of this action. Those who think not can be expected to resist per Foucault, or, if it suits your taste better, Locke:
[People] therefore in society having property, they have such a right to the goods, which by the law of the community are their's, that no body hath a right to take their substance or any part of it from them, without their own consent: without this they have no property at all; for I have truly no property in that, which another can by right take from me, when he pleases, against my consent.
At the OECD, the common reporting standard, ostensibly modeled on FATCA but in fundamental principles not at all like FATCA, is all about making sure the "right" government gets the info it needs to exert its power over "its" taxpayers. Same idea: a state claims the authority to tax people that live within its territory, but other states have the power to thwart that exercise. (Different in fundamentals than FATCA for two reasons: (1) finding implied consent to tax is a given for residents of a state and (2) the OECD is not currently suggesting countries use economic sanctions to force others to cooperate).

The anti-inversion and BEPs issues are similarly about exerting power over a "taxpayer." Despite bemoaning their apparent helplessness in preventing corporate US persons becoming corporate non-US persons, US lawmakers clearly claim the authority to intervene and they likely have the power, too. But, this involves erecting higher and higher walls to keep the "taxpayers" inside. Internationally, discussions about the global problem of multinational tax dodging focus on the failure of the state to tax corporate persons that come in to the jurisdiction to do business. At the OECD, the BEPS project is very much about who belongs to who, so we can decide what belongs to who. Source and residence as tax concepts have always been about power and they have always been explained with ideas about authority and consent.

Globally, discussions about both corporate and personal income taxation are being forced to focus more and more on unanswered questions about the power to tax, and the issues of authority and consent that are raised when power is exerted and when it is resisted. The full Boden chapter is thus definitely recommended reading and I'm working my way through the rest of the book, which looks promising in several respects. More to come on this subject.




Tagged as: corporate tax FATCA institutions jurisdiction power scholarship Tax law tax policy

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Tax and Human Rights: What's Next? #TJHR

Published Jun 21, 2014 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Yesterday we concluded the McGill Tax Justice and Human Rights Research Collaboration Symposium. It was an action-packed three days and I left feeling that what I had set out to generate had in fact been accomplished: a cross-platform, cross-disciplinary conversation on the intersection of taxation and human rights. Everyone learned a great deal about a range of people who want to think about how taxation and human rights concepts work together, and a range of ideas and challenges generated by that exercise. I think I came away with at least a sense of the current landscape of this field, its recurring themes and questions, and where the research is likely to go in the near future. 

I'll write some more on this as I have a chance to reflect on the proceedings and review some of the tape of the sessions I had to miss (running a conference is all too unfortunately more about moving people around and dealing with technology and such than sitting back and listening). We have sought waivers from the conference participants and will be able to upload some of the sessions, or parts thereof, in the coming weeks. We are also in process of obtaining permission to post papers and presentations, and as those come in we will post those as well.  Not all presenters and presentations will be available online but enough, perhaps, to give a sense of what took place over the past three days. Updates on available content will be available at the conference website, linked above. 

As with any conference, what the participants say is only part of the story: the other and more lasting part is the networking and connection building that takes place. I heard from some of the participants about exciting new connections and possibilities for future collaboration. I myself managed to connect with many participants with whom I hope to collaborate again in the future. It is an exciting field and one I believe is gaining momentum. There is much work to be done.

The photo on the conference flyer, reproduced above, is a detail of the grand entrance to Old Chancellor Day Hall at McGill. We added it to the flyer as a tribute to the history of research and learning that goes on in this institution, and as a symbol of openness, welcome, and inclusion that characterizes the Faculty of Law at McGill. I hope and believe that the symposium opened many doors for future collaboration on the subject of tax justice and human rights. 

More updates in the weeks to come. 


Tagged as: conference fairness human rights justice McGill research scholarship Tax law tax policy

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