The Long Literary History of … Tax Law?

Tax law is not known for its literary prose, but a U.S. Tax Court judge, in a case involving some challenged business deductions by a theater professor aiming to be a playwright, explained that tax law actually has a long literary history (interesting footnotes omitted):

It is a truth little remarked on by scholars that tax law has been a fount of literature for 5,000 years. The oldest literary work still extant–the Epic of Gilgamesh–is a long narrative of a friendship begun during a protest against government exactions. In more recent times, some of our language’s most notable authors have used fiction to delve into tax policy: consider Shakespeare’s criticism of the supply-side effects of a 16-percent tax rate; Swift’s precocious suggestion of a system of voluntary assessment; and Dickens’ trenchant observation on the problems of multijurisdictional taxing coordination ….

The prof didn’t fare too well before the court. In an opinion divided into a Prologue, Act I, Act II and Epilogue, the court agreed that the petitioner “approached his playwriting in a business-like manner,” but disallowed many of his business deductions, including, for example, approximately 100 expenditures for “Performances, Viewing.”

Petitioner testified at trial “that every time he listens to a CD or watches a movie, he is engaged in playwriting and not recreation.” The court found this to be a “less than candid” assessment of his business expenses.

Calarco v. Comm’r of Internal Revenue, T.C. Summ. Op. 2004-94, Docket No. 1530-03S, (T.C. July 20, 2004). Thanks to Paul Scott and Cynthia Cohen.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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