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Today at McGill: Law and the Blockchain: A Crash Course

Published Feb 21, 2018 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

A full house expected for today's event, but it's not too late to join us if you're in Montreal!

Tagged as: conference McGill tax technology



Crisan and McKenzie on R&D Subsidies in Canada

Published Jan 30, 2018 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

The latest edition of the Canadian Tax Journal [gated] has a nice article by Daria Crisan and Kenneth J McKenzie that documents Canada's relatively generous tax subsidies for R&D spending, yet relatively underwhelming investment by large corporations, over the period 1981-2016. The article briefly summarizes the chronology of federal R&D programs and gives an overview of provincial policies. It finds that while Canada's spending on R&D is high relative to peer countries, the amount of R&D being undertaken relative to GDP consistently underperforms these peers and continues to decline. The bulk of the article is a presentation of data showing these trends. The conclusion is intriguing, positing three possible explanations for the puzzle of high spending but low investment:

The first is the rather obvious point that it may well be that Canada’s r&d performance would have been even worse in the absence of the subsidies. Of course we don’t observe this counterfactual, but it is consistent with the above observations. 
The second comment is more speculative ... Canada relies much more than
other countries on the type of “indirect” tax subsidies that we consider here, which
are generally available to all companies, as opposed to “direct” subsidies, such as
targeted grants. It could be that the nature of r&d subsidies in Canada—the reliance
on indirect tax incentives rather than direct grants—is the problem. ...
This leads to our third, and final, observation. To our knowledge, there is in fact
very little rigorous empirical evidence regarding the efficacy of direct versus
indirect government subsidies for r&d. Moving in this direction may well be the
right thing to do, but this seems to us to be based more on faith, and perhaps some
frustration with the Canadian “r&d policy puzzle,” than on solid empirical evidence.
Our hope is that the data presented here provide, at least in part, the basis
for additional research in this regard in a Canadian context. 
The authors conclude that their own ongoing research involves an empirical investigation of the effectiveness of direct and indirect incentives in promoting business r&d investment in Canadian

I don't know whether the type of spending matters in terms of investment incentives. I would think that it matters what the spending is related to. For example, does spending a lot of money on companies to patent things actually lead to "innovation," whatever that word means? What I have read to date suggests not. There seems to be a strong connection of innovation spending toward traditional legal rights in copyright and patent, but these rights seem decreasingly relevant to many contemporary innovative business models.

Despite a general lack of empirical evidence that taxpayer dollars are well spent on R&D subsidies, governments everywhere spend and spend and spend to spur innovation. As a result empirical studies  that shed light on the efficacy of this spending will always be welcome. If the studies show that traditional modes of subsidizing R&D do not provide the intended results, the question is whether governments themselves will be willing and able to innovate in terms of how they support innovation. From the chronology presented herein and my own research on the topic, the prospects seem dim. I look forward to seeing more of this important research.

Tagged as: Canada innovation R&D scholarship subsidies



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



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 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.


Tagged as: colloquium McGill scholarship tax policy



Tax Sovereignty in the BEPS Era

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

Kluwer law has recently published Tax Sovereignty in the BEPS Era, a collection of contributions I co-edited with Sergio Rocha, in which we and a slate of authors from a range of countries explore the impact of the BEPS initiative on "tax sovereignty"--which I take to mean the autonomy that nations seek to exercise over tax policy. Here is the description:

Tax Sovereignty in the BEPS Era focuses on how national tax sovereignty has been impacted by recent developments in international taxation, notably following the OECD/G-20 Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) Project. The power of a country to freely design its tax system is generally understood to be an integral feature of sovereignty. However, as an inevitable result of globalization and income mobility, one country’s exercise of tax sovereignty often overlaps, interferes with or even impedes that of another. In this collection of chapters, internationally respected practitioners and academics reveal how the OECD’s BEPS initiative, although a major step in the right direction, is insufficient in resolving the tax sovereignty paradox. Each contribution deals with different facets of a single topic: How tax sovereignty is shaped in a post-BEPS world.
And here is the table of contents:
Part I The Essential Paradox of Tax Sovereignty
  • CH 1: BEPS and the Power to Tax, Allison Christians          
  • CH 2: Tax Sovereignty and Digital Economy in Post-BEPS Times, Ramon Tomazela Santos & Sergio André Rocha
  • CH 3: Justification and Implementation of the International Allocation of Taxing Rights: Can We Take One Thing at a Time?, Luís Eduardo Schoueri & Ricardo André Galendi Júnior
  • CH 4: An Essay on BEPS, Sovereignty, and Taxation, Yariv Brauner

Part II    Challenge to the Foundational Principles of Source and Residence
  • CH 5: Evaluating BEPS, Reuven S. Avi-Yonah & Haiyan Xu
  • CH 6: Jurisdictional Excesses in BEPS’ Times: National Appropriation of an Enhanced Global Tax Basis, Guillermo O. Teijeiro
  • CH 7: Taxing the Consumption of Digital Goods, Aleksandra Bal

Part III  Acceptance and Implementation of Consensus by Differently-Situated States
  • CH 8: The Birth of a New International Tax Framework and the Role of Developing Countries, Natalia Quiñones
  • CH 9: The Other Side of BEPS: “Imperial Taxation” and “International Tax Imperialism”, Sergio André Rocha
  • CH 10: Country-by-Country Over-Reporting? National Sovereignty, International Tax Transparency, and the Inclusive Framework on BEPS, Romero J.S. Tavares
  • CH 11; How Are We Doing with BEPS Recommendations in the EU?, Tomas Balco & Xeniya Yeroshenko      
  • CH 12: U.S. Tax Sovereignty and the BEPS Project, Tracy A. Kaye 
And finally, here is a brief description:

The book unfolds in three parts. The first, The Essential Paradox of Tax Sovereignty, features four chapters.

  • In chapter 1, Christians introduces the topic by demonstrating how BEPS arose from the paradox of tax sovereignty and analyzing why multilateral cooperation and soft law consensus became the preferred solutions to a loss of autonomy over national tax policy. The chapter concludes that without meaningful multilateralism in the development of global tax norms, the paradox of tax sovereignty will necessarily continue and worsen, preventing resolution of identified problems for the foreseeable future. 
  • Tomazela &; Rocha pick up this thread in chapter 2, where they demonstrate that BEPS addresses the symptoms, but not the problems, of the sovereignty paradox. In their view, the central defining problem of this paradox is an ill-defined jurisdiction concept. The chapter demonstrates why tax policymakers need to change the conventional wisdom on sovereignty in order to incorporate new nexus connections due to the changing nature of trade and commerce. 
  •  In chapter 3, Schoueri & Galendi further the inquiry by providing a detailed analysis of the interaction of contemporary cooperation efforts with the sovereignty of states in light of historical claims in economic allegiance, economic neutrality and now cooperation against abusive behaviour. 
  • Brauner rounds out this first part in chapter 4, which establishes the evolution of the concept of tax sovereignty. The chapter proposes an instrumental role for sovereignty in the process of improving cooperation and coordination of tax policies among productive (non-tax haven) countries, to balance claims and serve as a safeguard against political (in this case international) chaos. Brauner concludes that such a change to the business of international tax law would ensure at least an opportunity for all participants to succeed on their own terms. 

 Part Two of the book, Challenge to the Foundational Principles of Source and Residence, takes an in depth look at why residence and source continue to be the two essential building blocks of tax sovereignty and the backbone of the international tax system, surviving BEPS but still subject to multiple challenges in theory and practice.

  • In chapter 5, Avi-Yonah & Xu argue that BEPS simply cannot succeed in solving the sovereignty paradox because BEPS follows the flawed theory of the benefits principle in assigning the jurisdiction to tax. Avi-Yonah and Xu therefore make a compelling argument that for the international tax regime to flourish in the face of sovereign and autonomous states, countries must commit to full residence-based taxation of active income with a foreign tax credit granted for source-based taxation. 
  • In chapter 6, Tejeiro continues the analysis of the fundamental jurisdictional building blocks, demonstrating that by resorting to legal fictions within BEPS and beyond it, states are attempting to enlarge the scope of their personal or economic nexus, or to grasp taxable events and bases beyond their proper reach under well-settled international law rules and principles. 
  • Bal furthers the discussion in chapter 7, with an analysis of how digital commerce has upended traditional notions of source and residence. Bal advocates the consumer's usual residence as a good approximation of the place of actual consumption and therefore the best-justified place of taxation. 

Part Three of the book, Acceptance and Implementation by Differently-Situated States, considers tax sovereignty after BEPS from a range of perspectives. Chapters 8 through 10 focus on perspectives from lower income or developing countries, while chapters 11 and 12 review the landscape from the perspective of Europe and the United States, respectively.

  • In chapter 8, Quinones explores how developing countries might take advantage of the new international tax architecture, developed for purposes of coordinating the BEPS action plans, to ensure that their voices are truly shaping the standards. She argues that the knowledge gap between developing and developed is getting narrower instead of wider, with major negative impacts expected for the international tax order. 
  • Rocha continues this discussion in chapter 9, with a proposal: instead of simply accepting the BEPS Project’s recommendations and their reliance on historical decisions about what constitutes a country’s “fair share of tax”, developing countries should join in the formation of a Developing Countries’ International Tax Regime to focus discourse on the rightful limits of states’ taxing powers. 
  • Furthering the theme of autonomous priority-setting, in chapter 10 Tavares focuses in on a key part of the BEPS consensus, exploring whether implementing the CBCR standard, without a deeper transfer pricing reform, should be viewed as a priority in every country. He further questions whether this particular initiative, even if important, is worthy of mobilization of the scarce resources of developing countries. Tavares concludes with an incisive review of the role of the inclusive framework in prioritizing some needs over others. 
  • Balco & Yeroshenko then consider BEPS implementation from the very different perspective of the EU in chapter 11. The chapter demonstrates that even within the EU, BEPS implementation is not straightforward, as the interests of member states sometimes conflict and the basic notion of tax sovereignty remains fundamental even while tax coordination and harmonization across the EU expands. However, the authors note that the progress made in the last several years on key cooperation norms, which was largely inspired by BEPS, has been unprecedented. 
  • Finally, Kaye provides a capstone to the book in chapter 12, where she makes the convincing case that although some in the United States saw the BEPS Project as a threat to US tax sovereignty, this project was in fact necessary in order for the United States to effectively wield its tax sovereignty. Kaye’s chapter thus ends the book with a clear picture of the ongoing paradox of tax sovereignty in the world after BEPS.

Tagged as: BEPS scholarship sovereignty tax competition tax policy



Spiro on Citizenship Overreach

Published Apr 25, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

The always excellent Peter Spiro has recently posted this new article on SSRN, of interest. Abstract:
This Article examines international law limitations on the ascription of citizenship in the context of U.S. taxation of non-resident citizens. U.S. citizenship practice is exceptionally generous, extending citizenship to almost all persons in its territory at the moment of birth. At the same time that it is generous at the front end, U.S. citizenship is sticky at the back. Termination of citizenship on the individual’s part involves substantial fees and tax compliance. It is difficult to shed a citizenship one may never have wanted in the first place. 
This stickiness would be inconsequential if few costs were associated with the status. But the United States taxes its citizens on a worldwide basis. The 2010 enactment of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act has ramped up historically lax enforcement and imposes substantial administrative burdens on even middle-earner citizens abroad. 
In this frame, U.S. birthright citizenship and expatriation regimes may violate international norms, especially with respect to those "accidental Americans" who departed the United States as children. Even in the context of extremely relaxed historical constraints on state nationality practice, there were acknowledged nineteenth century limitations on the extension of citizenship to individuals with insufficient connection to a state -- citizenship over-claiming, as it were. The article also describes the historical requirement that naturalization be volitional, a norm now appropriately applied in some cases in the context of birthright citizenship.  
To the extent the ascription of U.S. citizenship compromises individual rights, there are tax fixes and there are citizenship fixes. Citizenship fixes include opt-in and opt-out mechanisms for birthright citizenship. The better solution may lie in frictionless exit for those with nominal ties to the national community. Though reform is more likely to be accomplished through the tax regime, the moment highlights the over-inclusiveness of U.S. citizenship and the growing salience of international law to citizenship practices.
I'm less confident than Peter that reform will ever be delivered through the tax regime, but I am very glad to see this important contribution to the growing literature focusing on the citizenship/taxation link.

Tagged as: citizenship fairness FATCA international law justice scholarship tax policy u.s.



Shu Yi Oei: The Offshore Tax Enforcement Dragnet

Published Mar 31, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Shu Yi Oei (Tulane) has posted an important new paper on U.S. offshore tax enforcement, of interest. Here is the abstract:

Taxpayers who hide assets abroad to evade taxes present a serious enforcement challenge for the United States. In response, the U.S. has developed a family of initiatives that punish and rehabilitate non-compliant taxpayers, raise revenues, and require widespread reporting of offshore financial information. Yet, while these initiatives help catch willful tax cheats, they have also adversely affected immigrants, Americans living abroad, and “accidental Americans.”  
This Article critiques the United States’ offshore tax enforcement initiatives, arguing that the U.S. has prioritized two problematic policy commitments in designing enforcement at the expense of competing considerations: First, the U.S. has attempted to equalize enforcement against taxpayers with solely domestic holdings and those with harder-to-detect offshore holdings by imposing harsher reporting requirements and penalties on the latter. But in doing so, it has failed to appropriately distinguish among differently situated taxpayers with offshore holdings. Second, the U.S. has focused on revenue and enforcement, ignoring the significant compliance costs and social harms that its initiatives create.  
The confluence of these two policy commitments risks creating high costs for the wrong taxpayers. While offshore tax enforcement may have been designed to catch high¬-net-worth tax cheats, it may instead impose disproportionate burdens on those immigrants and expatriates who have less ability to complain, comply, or “substitute out” of the law’s grasp. This Article argues that the U.S. should redesign its enforcement approach to minimize these risks and suggests reforms to this end.
The paper provides a thorough review of the panoply of offshore enforcement programs and mechanisms and documents the harms of their dragnet approach, especially on the most vulnerable and least likely targets. A significant contribution to the literature.

Tagged as: CRS FATCA FBAR offshore tax policy u.s.



Some Recent Scholarship on Tax and Human Rights

Published Feb 28, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

I've posted on SSRN a new work in progress and two recently published works on the topic of taxation and human rights:

Human Rights at the Borders of Tax Sovereignty

Tax scholarship typically presumes the state’s power to tax and therefore rarely concerns itself with analyzing which relationships between a government and a potential taxpayer normatively justify taxation, and which do not. This paper presents the case for undertaking such an analysis as a matter of the state’s obligation to observe and protect fundamental human rights. It begins by examining existing frameworks for understanding how a taxpayer population is and ought to be defined. It then analyzes potential harms created by an improperly expansive taxpayer category, and those created by excluding from consideration those beyond the polity even if directly impacted by the tax regime. It concludes that a modified membership principle is a more acceptable framework for normative analysis of the jurisdiction to tax, even while acknowledging the overwhelming weight of existing perceptions about the bounds of the polity and the state-citizen relationship as significant barriers to acceptance.
Taxpayer Rights in Canada
Canada is one of many countries where taxpayer rights are becoming an increasingly common topic of discourse among policymakers, practitioners, and the public. Especially in light of recent developments regarding the global expansion of taxpayer information exchange, the role of taxpayer privacy and confidentiality rights have emerged as significant legal issues. This chapter surveys the contemporary theoretical, legal, and political landscape of taxpayer rights in Canada. Part I outlines the theoretical and legal sources from which taxpayers may be said to have rights. Part II examines Canada’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights and considers some of the historical, legal, and political issues that give rise to their core principles. Part III focuses in on the taxpayer’s right to privacy and confidentiality in the context of evolving global trends surrounding the use and exchange of taxpayer information. The Chapter concludes with some observations about where taxpayer rights may be headed in Canada.
Taxpayer Rights in the United States
Despite abundant sources of legal and quasi-legal protection against abuses of individual rights and freedoms, there are areas of contention regarding respect for taxpayer rights in the United States. This chapter lays out the framework of taxpayer rights and considers their meaning by considering a contemporary case, namely, the recent expansion of citizenship-based taxation through globally enforced financial asset reporting and information exchange. Part I outlines the theoretical and legal sources from which taxpayers may be said to have rights. Part II examines the US Taxpayer Bill of Rights and considers some of the historical, legal, and political issues that give rise to their core principles. Part III focuses in on the taxpayer’s right to be informed in the context of citizenship-based taxation in a globalized world. The Chapter concludes with some observations about where taxpayer rights may be headed in the United States.

Tagged as: fairness justice scholarship sovereignty tax policy



Idiot's Guide to DBCFT, Ryan Style

Published Jan 18, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

I've been fielding several "what is is this DBCFT idea" kinds of questions so I thought it might be helpful to present the six basic features of the DBCFT as proposed (in very general form) by Paul Ryan and a very simple chart to explain how the DBCFT would "work" if it was enacted as described in Ryan's "Better Way" plan.*

Accordingly, based on that proposal, the six main features of the DBCFT would be:

  1. domestic sales are included
  2. foreign sales are excluded
  3. dividends from foreign subsidiaries are exempt
  4. all foreign costs are non-deductible
  5. net interest is non-deductible
  6. allowable domestic costs are immediately deductible (expensed)

Obviously these are oversimplifications and I'm ignoring transition rules and so on, but these are the basic building blocks. The Ryan plan proposes a tax rate of 20%. 

So what happens if these building blocks are put in place via legislation, assuming away all transition issues etc., and that a tax imposed is a tax collected?** If we imagine a product that will sell for $125, and costs $100 to produce (in materials and labour), this is what happens:

Box 1: MAGA ideal: made in America, by Americans, for Americans. Tax will be collected on profits earned by selling goods produced & sold domestically. The DBCFT most resembles an income tax in this scenario (though expensing and non-deductibility of interest still moves it toward a consumption base); it will also be the easiest to collect.

Box 2: Exports. Tax exemption for sales abroad will create (possibly permanent) NOLs to carry forward indefinitely. This will require deciding on loss-shifting policy. This is obviously not an income tax but it not a VAT either.

Box 3: Imports. Sales in the US of goods produced abroad are taxed on a gross basis, more like an excise tax (or yes, a tariff). With an estimated $1.2 trillion trade deficit, this part of the DBCFT is expected to raise the most revenue but the success of that strategy depends to some degree (maybe a large degree) on remote sellers collecting tax (that’s complicated--see Europe).

Box 4: Foreign Sales of Foreign Products. Neither costs nor revenues are counted for goods produced and sold abroad, even if produced and sold by a US-based company. This part of the DBCFT would be more or less consistent with either a VAT or territorial income tax.

That, in a nutshell, is the basic skeleton of the DBCFT as proposed in the Ryan plan. It will be interesting to see what, if any, of this ends up enacted IRL.

* There is absolutely zero chance that the proposal will be enacted as described. Still, it is helpful to understand the basic vision. I do not claim to be an expert on the DBCFT and offer here no analysis or predictions about the incidence of the tax, or the impact such a tax would have on US or world capital flows, investment, consumption, economic growth, or international relations. This paper by Wei Cui, or this one by Wolfgang Schoen are helpful in addressing many of these issues.
** A tax imposed is never a tax collected. There is always a gap between a great idea (or for that matter a not so great idea) and something that can actually be carried out: tax administration is tax policy.

Tagged as: DBCFT Tax law tax policy US VAT WTO



Christians and Ezenagu: Kill Switches in the New US Tax Treaty

Published Jan 12, 2017 - Follow author Allison Christians: - Permalink

Recently published as part of the Brooklyn Law School symposium Reconsidering the Tax Treaty, this article looks at the introduction of new clauses to switch off treaty benefits where the treaty partner adopts certain kinds of tax rate or base reductions.  I think these clauses are interesting because they create a way for one country to control the future tax policy decisions of another. Whether other countries will agree to a treaty with such a provision is another story.

Here is the abstract:

The new US model income tax treaty contains an unusual addition: mechanisms for the parties to unilaterally override the negotiated treaty rates in specified circumstances. Previewed last year in proposed form — a first for Treasury — these new mechanisms work as kill-switches, partially terminating the treaty as to one or both treaty partners. The idea is to forestall a more problematic outcome, such as an enduring breach of one of the parties’ expectations, or the opposite, a complete termination of all the treaty terms in the face of such a breach. Yet embedding a kill-switch in a treaty creates distinct legal, procedural, and political pressures in the tax-treaty relationship that implicate treaty negotiation, ratification, interpretation, and dispute resolution. Kill-switches also communicate a defensive tenor in the tax treaty relationships among many countries. This Article analyzes the new kill-switch provisions and concludes that their introduction in the U.S. Model reflects the steady deterioration of tax treaties from essentially diplomatic documents premised on the good faith of the parties to detailed contracts drafted in anticipation of the opposite.

Tagged as: scholarship Tax law treaties US