From Programmatic Reform to Social Science Research: The National Tax Association and the Promise and Perils of Disciplinary Encounters

Law & Society Review, Vol. 45, No. 3, pp. 593-630, 2011

Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1933745

54 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2011  

Ajay K. Mehrotra

American Bar Foundation; Northwestern Pritzker School of Law

Joseph J. Thorndike

Tax Analysts; Northwestern University School of Law; University of Virginia - College of Arts and Sciences

Date Written: September 26, 2011

Abstract

This article uses the history of the National Tax Association (NTA), the leading twentieth-century organization of tax professionals, to strengthen our empirical understanding of the disciplinary encounter between law and the social sciences. Building on existing sociolegal scholarship, this article explores how the NTA embodied tax law’s ambivalent historical interaction with public economics. Since its founding in 1907, the NTA has changed dramatically from an eclectic and catholic organization of tax professionals with a high public profile to an insular, scholarly association of mainly academic public finance economists. Using a mix of quantitative and qualitative historical evidence, we contend that the transformation in the NTA’s mission and output can be explained by the increasing professionalization and specialization of tax knowledge, and by the dominant role that public economics has played in shaping that knowledge. This increasing specialization allowed the NTA to secure its position as a bastion of scholarly tax research. But that achievement came at a cost to the organization's broader civic mission. This article is thus a historical account of how two competing professional disciplines – tax law and public economics – have interacted within a particular organizational field, namely the research and analysis of tax law and policy.

Keywords: Tax law, public economics, history of tax policy, interdisciplinary studies

JEL Classification: A12, A14, B25, E62, H20, K34, N42

Suggested Citation

Mehrotra, Ajay K. and Thorndike, Joseph J., From Programmatic Reform to Social Science Research: The National Tax Association and the Promise and Perils of Disciplinary Encounters (September 26, 2011). Law & Society Review, Vol. 45, No. 3, pp. 593-630, 2011; Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1933745. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1933745

Ajay K. Mehrotra (Contact Author)

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Joseph J. Thorndike

Tax Analysts ( email )

6830 N. Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22213
United States

Northwestern University School of Law

600 North Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60601
United States

University of Virginia - College of Arts and Sciences ( email )

United States

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