California Dreamin’: Tax Scholarship in a Time of Fiscal Crisis

Source: Joseph Bankman, Paul L. Caron, UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 48 no. 1, November 2014

From the abstract:
This essay makes three claims about the current state of tax law and academic tax scholarship in America: (1) the federal budget imbalance, caused by the failure of both political parties to raise the tax revenues needed to fund the nation’s spending priorities, is unsustainable and threatens our nation’s future; (2) tax scholars need to shift our focus from technocratic work to systemic solutions to the existential threat posed by this fiscal gap; and (3) California’s response to its seemingly intractable budget problems provides a template for resolving the federal budget stalemate in Washington, D.C.

Two years ago, both California and the nation were imperiled by long-term, structural, budget imbalances. California has reduced that peril by raising (already high) personal tax rates on the wealthy. The political success of that approach suggests that at the national level, Americans might be willing to support higher rates to maintain government services and move toward fiscal solvency.
The fiscal crisis highlights a problem with the dominant conception of legal tax scholarship. Under that conception, scholarship is (or should be) apolitical and confined to subjects about which the writer can demonstrate mastery. Unfortunately, the most pressing problem in the field is inescapably political and requires the scholar to address some issues about which no one can master. If we hew to a restrictive definition of scholarship, we limit our voice on a subject about which we have much to say.