It turns out that the Stanley Surrey piece I posted on SSRN was not actually my most current draft. I somehow posted one that lacked the brief Conclusion that goes at the end. The truly current version (which I believe is the same as that which I posted, except for its having the Conclusion) is available here.
Here is our schedule of public colloquium sessions with speakers for fall 2022. Assuming that COVID restrictions continue to decline, all sessions will be fully live, and will be followed by dinner nearby with the speaker and a group of about 8 people total (including interested students). All sessions will meet from 4:25 to 6:25 pm, in the NYU Law School main building, Vanderbilt Hall, room 202.
1) Tuesday, September 13: William Gale, Brookings Institution.
2) Tuesday, September 27: Jennifer Taub, Western New England University Law School.
3) Tuesday, October 11: Bridget Crawford, Pace Law School.
4) Tuesday, October 25: Alex Raskolnikov, Columbia Law School.
5) Tuesday, November 15: Goldburn Maynard, Indiana University, Kelley School of Business.
6) Tuesday, November 29: Ariel Jurow Kleiman, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.
A few quick additional notes: (a) I am hoping that we will be able to offer “hybrid” attendance by people who are interested in the sessions but can’t make it to our NYU site. But don’t know yet how the law school will be operating in this respect.
(b) In general, these public sessions meet every other week, Each is preceded by a class-only session discussing the same paper just with the students (albeit possibly with the author’s participation, in person or remotely). However, the November 15 session comes three weeks after its precursor, because Tuesday, November 8, is Election Day. Also, our first week of class is Tuesday, August 30, but this will be a general introductory session for the students, not focused on a particular paper.
(c) Back in the days when we had 14 public sessions instead of 6 – because the semester was a week longer, and I had a co-convenor with whom to share the work – I took a certain pleasure in the concept: “And now for something completely different.” In other words, each week’s paper might have absolutely nothing in common with that from the week before. I both found this personally refreshing and felt that it helped to show the students just how intellectually diverse and far-ranging a field tax policy is or can be. The downside was that it could be a bit overwhelming for people.
(d) This fall, by contrast, with just 6 papers, I feel the optimal approach is a bit different. There will be greater topical continuity, and something of a general theme. Most of the papers will address issues around inequality, in one way or another – although I have told the authors that this should not entirely get in the way of their writing and presenting whatever is of greatest current interest to them (and would work for us). Still, this focus will largely hold. That said, there will be a wide diversity of approaches among our speakers, who differ greatly in their interests and methodologies. Also, inequality itself is a very broad topic, as the papers will collectively help to make clear.
I have just posted on SSRN a completed draft of an article that I wrote earlier this year on Stanley Surrey. You can download it here.
The abstract goes something like this:
Nearly forty years after his untimely death, Stanley Surrey, the renowned Harvard law professor (and Treasury official), remains perhaps the most important and influential tax law scholar in American history. The recent publication of his highly illuminating memoirs offers a convenient occasion for reassessing his work.
In offering such a reassessment, this essay takes its title from William F. Buckley’s 1974 observation that, while Surrey claimed to analyze tax policy issues with “scientific detachment,” in fact he was a tax “moralist,” whose policy recommendations were “based on a highly articulated set of personal value principles.” Largely agreeing with Buckley as a descriptive matter, the essay considers what Surrey’s work both gained and lost intellectually by hewing so strongly to a set of career-long, deeply held beliefs. Along the way, the essay contrasts Surrey’s moral and intellectual certainty with the skepticism and resistance to grand system-building of Boris Bittker of Yale Law School, Surrey’s only mid-century rival for intellectual leadership of the tax legal academy.
UPDATE: I somehow failed to upload a draft of the paper the first time around. Here it is, definitely with the paper available for download.
My new book, Bonfires of the American Dream in American Rhetoric, Literature and Film, is out now. Here is the Amazon link, and here is the publisher’s (Anthem Press).
Here is the publisher’s description:
How could American social solidarity have so collapsed that we cannot even cooperate in fighting a pandemic? One problem lies in how our values mutate and intersect in an era of runaway high-end inequality and evaporating upward mobility. Under such conditions, tensions rise between our egalitarian and democratic traditions on the one hand, and what we often call the “American Dream” of self-advancement and due reward on the other.
In our current Second Gilded Age, as in the first one from the late nineteenth century, the results of economic competition appear to suggest, falsely, that some of us are “winners” who deserve everything they have, while others are contemptible “losers.” The rich ostensibly owe the poor nothing – not even compassion or respect, and certainly not material aid through government.
In Bonfires of the American Dream, Daniel Shaviro develops these themes through close studies, in social context, of such classic novels and films as Atlas Shrugged, The Great Gatsby, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Wolf of Wall Street. He thereby helps to provide a better understanding of what, apart from racism, has in recent years caused things to go so wrong culturally in America.
And here are the blurbs (none by people whom I have ever met – these are not from the network of back-scratching personal favors):
“This is a wonderful book, a page-turner about popular American thinking about the American Dream. Shaviro shows how much of our cultural experience consists of economic fantasies, and how much in turn those fantasies shape our culture and our politics. Brilliant, accurate, surprising, and unfailingly interesting.” — William Flesch, Professor of English, Brandeis University, USA.
“These readings of film and literature are subtle, convincing, and fascinating. Further, since they are written in short sentences, in plain yet lively prose, with carefully explicit conclusions, they are wholly accessible to the lay reader. Their theme is of exceptional interest to us all, in our anxious perception that American democratic values may be on course for disintegration.” — Professor Chris Fitter, Department of English and Communication, Rutgers University, USA.
“A selective but fascinating tour of American popular culture (Atlas Shrugged, The Great Gatsby, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Wolf of Wall Street) that illuminates destructive discrepancies between American ideals and practices and bitter divisions between rival ideals since the founding. One wonders how America has survived—and if it should.” — Professor Steven Johnston, Political Science Department, The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA.
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- String Lighting– String lighting is trendy, and you can see them in many cafes and restaurants. It is a very soft and low voltage light that makes your place look warm and beautiful. This light is mainly used to create a site that looks entertaining and desirable, and you can install it anywhere because these lights are straightforward to install. All you have to do is hang them. These lights are a bigger version of fairy lights that can be used in the bedroom or kitchen. These lights are also used at parties and on romantic dates.
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Mentioned above were some unique lighting ideas for your house, so now what are you waiting for? Select the one that suits your home the most and get it.
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I now have two completed article drafts that I have not as yet posted anywhere. But they will be available in due course. Each has a presumed publication site (outside of the usual law review rat race), and I would anticipate posting each on SSRN before it appears in print.
The first, tentatively entitled “Moralist” Versus “Scientist”: Stanley Surrey and the Public Intellectual Practice of Tax Policy, should be appearing in a book of essays concerning Surrey that Lawrence Zelenak and Ajay Mehrotra plan to release, in relation to their recently published edited volume of Surrey’s memoirs.
Its abstract goes something like this: “This essay takes it title from William F. Buckley’s 1974 observation that, while Surrey claimed to analyze tax policy issues with ‘scientific detachment,’ in fact he was a ‘tax moralist,’ whose ‘policy recommendations were based on a highly articulated set of personal value principles.’ Largely agreeing with Buckley as a descriptive matter, the essay considers what Surrey’s work both gained and lost intellectually by hewing so strongly to a set of career-long, deeply held beliefs. Along the way, the essay contrasts Surrey’s moral and intellectual certainty with the skepticism and resistance to grand system-building of Boris Bittker of Yale Law School, Surrey’s only mid-century rival for intellectual leadership of the tax legal academy.”
Although I myself am temperamentally closer to Bittker than Surrey, I would say that here I rather take Surrey’s side. The piece also discusses (although Surrey never did, at least in writing) the impact that anti-Semitism may have had on his thinking. (He was a prominent, at least ethnically Jewish, intellectual during am era of rampant, albeit not wholly dominant, mainstream American anti-Semitism.)
The second, a first draft of which I have just now completed, is entitled Would an Unapportioned U.S. Wealth Tax Be Constitutional, and What Does That Mean? It is ticketed for an economics journal, and aimed primarily at non-legal readers. I haven’t actually written the abstract yet. But a large part of the aim is to explain legal reasoning to non-lawyers who are used to substantive areas in which a conclusion may be objectively, and provably, either right or wrong. I also express my views on the current debate about wealth taxes, and about taxing rich people’s unrealized income, leaning heavily on others’ research as this is not an area into which I have delved extensively on my own. And I discuss the relevance to the analysis of the current Supreme Court’s right-wing ideological orientation.
My new book, Bonfires of the American Dream in American Rhetoric, Literature, and Film, is coming out with Anthem Press in a couple of months. Here are the blurbs (names redacted for now, although they will appear in the volume when it comes out):
2. “These readings of film and literature are subtle, convincing, and fascinating. Further, since they are written in short sentences, in plain yet lively prose, with carefully explicit conclusions, they are wholly accessible to the lay reader. Their theme is of exceptional interest to us all, in our anxious perception that American democratic values may be on course for disintegration.”
I was asked yesterday by an NYT reporter (Peter Coy) to comment quickly on the constitutionality of the Biden Administration’s new proposal to impose a 20% minimum tax (including unrealized income) on the super-rich. His column (which quotes my paragraph 3 below) is available here.
Here is the full text of the comments I sent him. (This preceded publication of the Treasury’s Greenbook explanation yesterday afternoon.)
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In the current baseball lockout, the players are rightly focused on the problem of tanking, while the owners are oddly verging on indifferent to it. (Their proposed revision to the amateur draft rules is ludicrously short of the mark.)
Since clearly it is good for the sport (in terms of fan interest, likely revenues, and aesthetics) to limit the current level of tanking, I can only presume that the owners sufficiently value the downward pressure on salaries that tanking presumably creates to be happy to make things worse overall. This could either be a financial calculation about their share of the overall take, or (given how poisonous the labor relations in baseball appear to be) they may even value hurting the players financially as an end in itself. Or, perhaps they figure that the players care more about it than they do, so they can use an inadequate proposed response to extract leverage in the bargaining process.
To explain: Suppose a given team isn’t going to do well this year no matter what. But they hope to be better in the future, e.g., after their minor league prospects get a chance to develop. It makes perfect sense for the team to trade current value (e.g., an aging star who is still very good) for future value (e.g., promising minor leaguers). They are trying to trade current wins for future wins, because the latter are expected to have greater marginal value. After all, the aim isn’t just to maximize overall wins over time, but to make the playoffs and win championships.
That is not tanking, and there is probably no reason to limit it. The key is, under the problem as stated so far, the team still wants to win as much as possible this year – they just are willing to reallocate expected wins from the current to the future given how the marginal value of a win depends on its other wins for the same season.
A team that does this will still be trying to win every game it can this year (subject to the roster moves that serve its long-term goals). And its fans will still be rooting for it to win every game it can, even if they are realistic about how good this year can actually be.
Then we get to the actual system, where draft position depends on your won-lost record, in the inverse. Now a bad team, even taking its roster as given, actually wants to lose each game it can (or should want to, from an incentives standpoint). Sophisticated fans also want it to lose and lose. (E.g., as a New York Jets fan, I was disappointed by their wins last year that took them out of the running for Trevor Lawrence.)
But when a team is rationally wanting to lose, and even if its fans are rationally on the same page, it diminishes the sport. Things are worse and less interesting all around. So, while I wanted the Jets lose and was disappointed by their (with typical stupidity and incompetence) stumbling into a couple of ill-needed wins, that simply reflected the current design. Wanting your team to lose under the current rules does not logically require wanting there to be rules under which you will want your team to lose.
On the other hand, there is a reason for having teams with worse won-loss records get higher draft positions. This helps promote long-term equality in how well different franchises do, which I would argue is good for each of these sports on multiple grounds.
How can these points both be true? Easy. It’s the classic tradeoff between incentive and distributional goals. The James Mirrlees optimal tax set-up involves a very similar problem. From a distributional standpoint, at least within the model we should 100% equalize after-tax-and-transfer resources. But this would destroy incentives to earn. So the optimal solution involves a tradeoff between the right distributional answer (100% earnings tax to fund a demogrant) and the right incentives answer (no earnings tax).
A sport like baseball, football, and basketball tracks right onto this model. No draft preference for the losing teams is bad on distributional grounds. But an overpowered draft preference for losing creates undesirable incentives to tank.
Currently in both baseball and football, I get the sense that incentives to tank are overpowered. In baseball, it’s quite extreme, as the Astros and to a lesser extent Cubs success stories of almost a decade ago help to show. Basketball, by contrast, seems to have gotten it more into the right range. From a purely distributional standpoint, it is unfortunate and suboptimal that the very worst team in the league has only a relatively small chance at the #1 pick. But it does mean that teams aren’t battling so hard to be the worst, even when there is a consensus #1 pick out there, since the payoff is only a modest increase in one’s likelihood of landing that player. And to get yourself into the NBA draft lottery, you actually have to miss the playoffs. Given that the best non-playoff team has only a small chance of rising a great deal, teams are generally trying to win – and less prone to tanking – creating a better sport with better games and, I would think, greater fan interest (late in the year especially) than in the alternative.
Returning to baseball, the owners are proposing a lottery only for the three worst records. That simply doesn’t do enough, or even close to it, to address tanking. Baseball tends not to have as clear a standout #1 pick as basketball more often does, anyway. So the players are right – more of a lottery would be good for the sport, and if the owners disagree (as opposed to just pretending to do so for now) then it is because they are short-sighted at best and malevolent at worst.