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  • Originally published 06/04/2013

    German tax inspectors oblivious to Holocaust

    BERLIN (Reuters) - Many low-level tax inspectors in Germany's Nazi-era finance ministry were oblivious to the Holocaust and dutifully tried to contact murdered Jews whose wealth was being plundered by the ministry's top officials, according to a new book.Germans have publicly atoned for Nazi crimes in a myriad of ways over six decades, providing scores of billions of dollars in reparations to Holocaust victims, their descendants and the state of Israel. But only recently have leading government ministries come clean on their own particular Nazi past....The finance ministry's role in assisting the Nazis was long assumed as a fact but never examined in real detail until Berlin historian Christine Kuller's book "Bureaucracy and Crime", which it commissioned....

  • Originally published 05/30/2013

    Julian Zelizer: Fix Our Tax Headaches

    Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and "Governing America."(CNN) -- Something good can come of the bad news about taxes. Last week there were more revelations about who knew what, and what actually occurred, when the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative organizations that were seeking tax-exempt status. Former IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman told Congress he was "dismayed" about what had happened.Taxes were front and center once again when Apple CEO Tim Cook was forced to respond to a congressional report that the company had avoided paying billions of dollars in taxes.The controversies generated a big stir in Washington and the news media, though it is unclear that the general public is quite as interested as the politicians and the reporters. Nonetheless, at least for now, both stories have produced intense congressional investigations to find out who was responsible for any wrongdoing.

  • Originally published 05/17/2013

    Robert E. Wright: How Nonprofits Became Tax-Exempt

    Robert E. Wright is the Nef Family Chair of Political Economy at Augustana College in South Dakota and the author of “Corporation Nation,” which will be published in December by the University of Pennsylvania Press.The uproar over allegations of politically motivated investigations by the Internal Revenue Service shouldn’t be surprising given Americans’ long love affair with nonprofits and their strong disdain of partisanship, especially within bureaucracies.After independence, and especially after ratification of the Constitution, Americans began forming businesses, charities and other associations at unprecedented rates. Unshackled from British law and the threat of monarchical tyranny, they sought to invest in long-term stability, and in each other, in ways that required the establishment of large and lasting organizations.To create these institutions, early Americans adapted corporate laws from Britain. At first, incorporation required both for-profit and nonprofit organizations to obtain a charter from state governments. Charters were special laws passed by state legislatures and signed by governors under the rules of state constitutions.

  • Originally published 04/28/2013

    Time Again for Repayable Taxes?

    Denarius of Sabina Augusta, Roman Republic era. Credit: Dartmouth College.Today, legislators facing budget deficits must decide the degree to which to cut spending, increase taxes, or borrow. All three can have negative effects on the economy and legislators’ individual prospects for re-election. Gridlock has resulted on more than one occasion.Until a few centuries ago, governments regularly resorted to additional fiscal techniques. One was to pillage other countries. That does not work well anymore because most wealth today takes the form of flighty human capital, not easily appropriated physical stuff. Moreover, wars have grown too expensive and too destructive to make them paying propositions.

  • Originally published 04/17/2013

    Taxes

    Download this backgrounder as a Word documentWorth ReadingRay Raphael: The Income Tax Amendment Turns One Hundred and It’s Worth CelebratingIs the Income Tax Illegal?Michael Lind: What If All Sides are Wrong about Taxes?Q&A: How FDR Built Today’s Tax SystemBackgroundHow does the federal income tax – due on April 15 each year – work in the United States?It’s complicated.

  • Originally published 04/17/2013

    Joseph E. Stiglitz: A Tax System Stacked Against the 99 Percent

    Joseph E. Stiglitz is an economist and professor at Columbia University.LEONA HELMSLEY, the hotel chain executive who was convicted of federal tax evasion in 1989, was notorious for, among other things, reportedly having said that “only the little people pay taxes.”As a statement of principle, the quotation may well have earned Mrs. Helmsley, who died in 2007, the title Queen of Mean. But as a prediction about the fairness of American tax policy, Mrs. Helmsley’s remark might actually have been prescient.Today, the deadline for filing individual income-tax returns, is a day when Americans would do well to pause and reflect on our tax system and the society it creates. No one enjoys paying taxes, and yet all but the extreme libertarians agree, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, that taxes are the price we pay for civilized society. But in recent decades, the burden for paying that price has been distributed in increasingly unfair ways....

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Kenneth F. Scheve Jr. and David Stasavage: Is the Estate Tax Doomed?

    Kenneth F. Scheve Jr. is a professor of political science at Stanford University. David Stasavage, a professor of politics at New York University, is the author of “States of Credit: Size, Power, and the Development of European Polities.Under the deal struck by President Obama and Congress to avert the “fiscal cliff,” the estate tax — long targeted for elimination by Republicans — survived, but in a substantially diminished form.In 2001, the year George W. Bush became president, individual estates over $675,000 were taxed and the top rate was 55 percent. Now, the maximum tax is 40 percent and only individual estates worth more than $5.25 million are taxed (a figure that will now be automatically adjusted for inflation).

  • Originally published 03/07/2013

    Q&A: How FDR Built Today’s Tax System

    A new book, Their Fair Share: Taxing the Rich in the Age of FDR, explores how the modern progressive income tax emerged from the Great Depression and World War II. Washington Wire posed a few questions to its author, historian Joseph Thorndike, who is director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts, a visiting scholar at the University of Virginia, and a fellow of the George W. Bush Institute.What gave you the idea for this book? It’s hard to work in Washington without developing a more-or-less permanent sense of déjà vu. That’s especially true when it comes to tax policy, where so many of today’s arguments are just retreads of yesterday’s. I wanted to search out some of these earlier debates, since I think they have a lot to tell us.But why the Roosevelt years? The tax system we have today is basically the same one FDR built during the 1930s and 1940s. He had a lot of help, of course, especially from Congress. But FDR’s decisions – and his ideas about fairness – are very much with us today....

  • Originally published 02/04/2013

    The Income Tax Amendment Turns One Hundred and It’s Worth Celebrating

    Image via Shutterstock.Yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday, and like tens of millions of Americans, I watched the game last night, blackout and all. Yesterday morning, though, I celebrated a less popular institution: the federal income tax. February 3 marked the centennial of the Sixteenth Amendment, which wrote that tax into the Constitution.Why do I feel so alone?