In the fall of 2018, the Boston College Law School Legal History Roundtable started its 17th successful year. The Roundtable draws on Boston College Law School’s and Boston College’s strength and interest in legal history. It offers an opportunity for Boston College faculty and faculty from other area institutions, students, and members of the Boston College community to meet and discuss a pre-circulated paper in legal history. Meeting several times each semester, the Roundtable seeks to promote an informal, collegial atmosphere of informed discussion.
For the 2018-2019 academic year, Professor Mary Sarah Bilder, Professor Daniel R. Coquillette, Professor Frank Herrmann and Professor Daniel Farbman are conveners.
The Roundtable usually meets several times during the semester in the afternoon at 4:30 pm in the Library Conference Room of the Boston College Law School Library. Refreshments are available beginning at 4:15 pm.*
In 2018-2019, our first Roundtable will be jointly sponsored with the BC Law School Tax Policy Workshop and therefore meet at noon.
Papers will be available when appropriate before each presentation. Username and password: bclhroundtable
Thursday, September 13 (12:15 pm)
Ajay K. Mehrota, Professor of Law and Executive Director, American Bar Foundation and Northwestern University Law School
Ajay K. Mehrotra is the Executive Director and a Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation (ABF) and Professor of Law at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, and an Affiliated Professor of History at Northwestern University. He is the author of Making the Modern American Fiscal State: Law, Politics and the Rise of Progressive Taxation, 1877-1929 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), which received the 2014 best book award from the U.S. Society for Intellectual History. He is the co-editor (with Isaac William Martin and Monica Prasad) of The New Fiscal Sociology: Taxation in Comparative and Historical Perspective (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009). His writings have also appeared in student-edited law reviews and interdisciplinary journals including Law & Social Inquiry, Law & History Review, and Law & Society Review. Mehrotra received his B.A. in Economics from the University of Michigan, his J.D. from Georgetown, and his Ph.D. in American History from the University of Chicago.
The VAT Laggard: A Comparative History of U.S. Resistance to the Value-added Tax
When one examines how modern nation-states generate public revenue, the United States quickly emerges as a striking outlier compared to other advanced industrialized countries. Even a cursory review of statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that the United States is out of step with the rest of the developed world in the amount, and the way, it raises tax revenue. One reason for this apparent American tax exceptionalism is the absence of a U.S. national consumption tax. Whereas nearly all other OECD countries have a national consumption tax, frequently in the form of a value-added tax (VAT), the United States remains one of the few countries without a consumption tax at the federal level.
This project explores how and why the United States has historically rejected national consumption taxes. Nearly all developed countries, and many in the developing world, have some type of a national consumption tax, frequently in the form of a value-added tax (VAT). The United States is an exception. This project focuses on the fundamental question: why no VAT in the United States? To address this overall research question, this project explores three key historical periods. The first is the 1920s, when tax theorists in the United States and Germany first began to formulate and propose crude forms of value-added taxes. The second critical period is the decades of the mid-twentieth century. During the 1940s, the United States once again seriously considered but rejected national consumption taxes aimed at raising revenue for World War II. Similarly, after the war, during the U.S. occupation of Japan, American economic experts designed and implemented a proto-VAT for Japan. The third crucial period is the 1970s and ‘80s. During these decades, American lawmakers considered and even supported a U.S. VAT, but eventually withdrew their support or were ousted from political office. At the same time, other developed countries, such as Japan, Australia, and Canada, began to move towards a national VAT. By focusing on these three key historical periods from a comparative perspective, this project seeks to study how and why the U.S. has failed to adopt national consumption taxes, such as the VAT.
Tuesday, October 2 (4:30 pm)
Mitra Sharafi, Professor of Law, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Mitra Sharafi is Professor of Law and Legal Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with History affiliation. She is the author of Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947 (Cambridge University Press), which won the Law and Society Association’s Hurst Prize in 2015. She is currently working on her second book project, “Fear of the False: Forensic Science in Colonial India” as a Davis Center fellow at Princeton’s History department (fall 2018) and an ACLS Burkhardt fellow ’18 (National Humanities Center, 2020-1).
This paper explores the disbarment proceedings of South Asian and West African members of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court for barristers in London, circa 1900. Law students from across the British Empire attended the Inns by the late nineteenth century, and the three disciplinary cases of A.K. Ghose and S. Krishnavarma (from India) and Rotimi Alade (from the Gold Coast, later Ghana) shed light on the imperial legal profession’s views of racial and cultural difference; deception, education, and “good character”; and loyalty to British rule.