Thursday, 21 February 2019

Heavily Taxing Billionaires to Promote Innovation

An important issue confronting the world concerns the high concentration of wealth and redistribution of that wealth through the tax system. Part of the problem is what to do with the wealth gained from additional taxation of billionaires (and what is a politically defensible use of that additional revenue). Democratic presidential candidates are starting to create a "dream list" of things to do with billionaires' money.  Well, why not use that money to invest in research and development which may lead to more jobs, innovation (even life saving innovation), and additional tax revenue.  
Professor Michael Simkovic from University of Southern California Gould School of Law takes on general claims that taxing billionaires may lead to less innovation in a short five page article titled, “Taxes, Spending and Innovation.”  Professor Simkovic points to studies concerning patents and Nobel Prize winners.  Professor Simkovic states:

Public policy can be used to promote innovation by raising taxes and extensively funding high quality science, math, and engineering education, or by encouraging immigration of people with those skills.

There has been a general decline in the amount of federal funding in terms of real dollars for some time for the National Institutes of Health.  Well, billionaires give to universities and other charities, right?  We don't need to heavily tax them as they choose to give their wealth to charitable organizations that innovate.  Professor Simkovic notes that voluntary gifts to charity, including to universities, is relatively small at “2% of GDP”—for gifts from all donors.  He concludes we should look to peer-reviewed empirical work to test claims and that, “Claims that we can drive more innovation and growth through a higher concentration of resources in the hands of a small number of billionaires—while providing fewer resources to middle and upper middle--‐class knowledge workers—are not empirically supported.”  [Hat Tip to Professor Paul Caron’s Tax Prof Blog]. 

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Noncompetition Agreements as Tax Evasion?

Professor Rebecca Morrow at Wake Forest University Law School has authored an interesting article, titled "Noncompetition Agreements as Tax Evasion," concerning the ubiquity of noncompetition agreements and potentially attacking those agreements through treatment of them as tax evasion.  Here is the abstract:

Al Capone famously boasted of his criminal empire: “Some call it bootlegging. Some call it racketeering. I call it a business.” Treasury Agent Frank Wilson and Prosecutor George Johnson put Capone behind bars not by disputing his characterization and pursuing murder or assault or RICO charges, but by accepting it and enforcing its tax implications. Irrespective of their legality, Capone’s businesses were profitable, and Capone had not reported their profits for tax purposes. A simple application of bedrock tax law achieved what other legal routes failed to achieve and sent Capone to Alcatraz. The trick was to see the tax argument.

Policymakers should use a similar approach to curtail the excessive, exploitative, and anticompetitive use of employment noncompete agreements. Currently, nearly one in five (or thirty million) American workers is bound by an employment noncompete. Employers claim that they adequately compensate employees for noncompete restrictions with higher wages, bigger raises, and/or more generous bonuses. Policymakers scoff at this claim and use contract law to attack them. Unfortunately, employment noncompetes are like Al Capone in that they have flourished despite the law’s efforts to restrain them. Recently, the largest study of noncompetes in U.S. history paradoxically found that their prevalence is unaffected by their enforceability. In states like California that refuse to enforce employment noncompetes, they are as common as in states that uphold them. Contract law has proved ill-equipped to respond to the pervasive, expanding, and damaging use of noncompetes.

This Article is the first to shift the focus and to argue that employment noncompetes, as employers currently use them, constitute tax evasion and should be attacked as such. If employers pay employees for noncompetes through compensation, then by employers’ own account, this compensation is not purely an expense associated with immediate benefits; rather, it is an expenditure associated with future benefits — benefits that the employer will enjoy years after payment. Thus, the IRS should stop allowing employers to fully immediately deduct the compensation they pay to employees subject to noncompetes and instead should require that an adequate portion of total compensation be allocated to the noncompete and amortized over the restricted period, beginning when employment ends.

The article is available, here.  [Hat tip to Professor Paul Caron's TaxProf Blog.]

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Mayer Brown Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Report

The law firm of Mayer Brown has published its 2019 Outlook: Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Report.  The 20 page Report warns that cybersecurity breaches are likely to increase in 2019.  Helpfully, the Report provides an overview of numerous new and potentially forthcoming regulatory changes in the United States and other countries.  For example, the Report covers U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Drug Administration regulation.  The Report also raises the National Association of Insurance Commissioners model data security law that was adopted by the state of South Carolina, Ohio and Michigan.  The Report also covers some potential differences in law across countries such as maintaining privilege and preserving documents in anticipation of litigation.  On trade secrets, the Report notes:

Trade Secret Theft. Companies should expect the current Administration to remain focused on the threat to American economic prosperity and national security posed by economic espionage in 2019. In 2015, China and the United States publicly committed to not engage in the cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property for commercial gain. Recent statements from senior administration officials and high-profile indictments brought by the Department of Justice indicate the view of some leading government officials that China has failed to adhere to that commitment. For example, the Department of Justice indicted two Chinese nationals associated with the Chinese Ministry of State Security of numerous hacking offensives associated with a global campaign to steal sensitive business information. Congress is also likely to consider legislative responses to trade secret theft and economic espionage. These actions suggest that 2019 is likely to see further disputes with China over cyber theft of trade secrets. Companies—especially those in industries that have previously been targeted by espionage campaigns— are likely to benefit from tracking developments in this space.

President Trump noted that he is continuing to push China on cybersecurity issues concerning trade secret theft in his recent State of the Union address:

We are now making it clear to China that after years of targeting our industries, and stealing our intellectual property, the theft of American jobs and wealth has come to an end.

Therefore, we recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods -- and now our Treasury is receiving billions of dollars a month from a country that never gave us a dime. But I don't blame China for taking advantage of us -- I blame our leaders and representatives for allowing this travesty to happen. I have great respect for President Xi, and we are now working on a new trade deal with China. But it must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit, and protect American jobs.

Mayer Brown has also issued a discussion of the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security ("ENISA") 2018 Threat Landscape Report.