Expertise and International Tax Norms
34 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2017
Date Written: January 17, 2017
This paper explores how a particular framework for understanding international taxation — a framework driven by so-called international tax neutrality norms — developed among economists and legal academics in the 1960s and subsequently became entrenched among public-sector policymakers. The neutrality norm framework marks a turn from the instrumental use of international taxation in the 1950s toward an efficiency-oriented approach towards international taxation. Although some scholars question the usefulness of this turn towards efficiency, the neutrality norm framework continues to dominate discussions about international tax policy today. This paper traces the intellectual history of the neutrality norm framework: how it emerged in the late 1950s, and how it became a durable framework for understanding international tax policy.
This paper makes three interventions in the literature. First, existing accounts of U.S. international taxation deemphasize the neutrality norm framework in favor of showing continuity in international tax policy from the 1920s to the present. I argue that proponents of the neutrality norm framework used it to consolidate and entrench the 1920s legal regime in the face of political challenges, an important intellectual move that has allowed this 1920s legal regime to remain the touchstone for current approaches to international taxation. Second, I argue that the neutrality norm framework has an intellectual and aesthetic appeal that tends to obscure other ways of thinking about international taxation. For this reason, there may be significant costs to retaining neutrality norms as part of a pluralistic approach to international tax policy. Third, this paper illustrates how academic and expert ideas find their way into public policy, as well as the potential risks of allowing such ideas to become entrenched among policymakers.
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