Crises and Tax

63 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2017 Last revised: 31 Mar 2018

See all articles by Andrew Blair-Stanek

Andrew Blair-Stanek

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

Date Written: March 28, 2018


How can law best mitigate harm from crises like storms, epidemics, and financial meltdowns? This Article uses the law and economics framework of property rules and liability rules to analyze crisis responses across multiple areas of law, focusing particularly on the ways the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) battled the 2008-09 financial crisis.

Remarkably, the IRS’s responses to that crisis cost more than Congress’s higher-profile bank bailouts. Despite their costs, many of the IRS’s responses were underinclusive, causing preventable layoffs and foreclosures. This Article explains these failures and demonstrates that the optimal response to crises is to shift from harsh property rules to compensatory liability rules, temporarily. Arranging such a shift in advance further mitigates harm when crises arrive.

This analysis also provides new insights for the broader literature on property rules and liability rules. For example, arranging in advance for temporary moves to liability rules during crises can avoid windfalls, allow speedier relief, and encourage flexible private contracts. These lessons have practical applications in areas as far afield as how constitutional law and patent law respond to epidemics.

Keywords: Tax, Financial Crisis, IRS, Property Rules, Liability Rules, Pliability Rules, Calabresi, Melamed, Cathedral, Patent, Epidemic, Quarantine, Bankruptcy

JEL Classification: H2, H21, H12, K34

Suggested Citation

Blair-Stanek, Andrew, Crises and Tax (March 28, 2018). 67 Duke L.J. 1155, Available at SSRN:

Andrew Blair-Stanek (Contact Author)

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law ( email )

500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-1786
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics