When I moved from private law practice into government work in 1982, I knew almost nothing about tax policy. Luck landed me on a staff with two of the giants of international tax, David Brockway and Richard A. Gordon. Slowly, they got me to understand that tax policy is like religion: I can’t prove that mine is right or that someone else’s is wrong. Maybe I suspected that, and certainly I should have known, but my values – the rich should pay more than the poor; business should have no incentive to move out of the taxing jurisdiction; activities society disapproves of might be targets for taxation – are just values, not truths.
Compromise has a bad name in some circles, but in taxation, results sometimes are not binary — black or white — but are instead a matter of how much.
A clash of unprovable values is playing out in the fiscal cliff debate, which will produce no permanent solution.