Economists are from Mercury, Policymakers are from Saturn: The Tax Policy Implications of Communication Failure

Note from the Digital Editor: In order to highlight the high-level of research and scholarship from the authors who have published in the William & Mary Policy Review’s peer-reviewed print journal, we have reproduced the abstracts from Volume 5, Issue 1 along with a link to an electronic copy of the full form of the piece. 

It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.

Policymaking lawyers and economists are different types of people who come together in the policymaking realm. Sometimes policymakers rely on economic analysis to make decisions. Sometimes policymakers use economic analysis to support decisions already made. In particular, economic analysis has played a large role in the formation of tax and budgetary policy. However, there is a problem. Not only do economists and lawyers communicate differently, they think, perceive, react, and respond differently. They almost seem to be from different planets, speaking different languages. While both lawyers and economists use “stories” to persuade, economic analysis cloaks the story in a complex mathematical model, opaque to those without training in economic theory. The results of economic modeling can obscure the decisions that policymakers and the public need to make—about the direction of the tax system, the nation, and the economy. This article examines the roles economists and lawyers play in the development and implementation of the income tax system.

Find the full version of this article in PDF form here.

Roberta Mann is Mr. & Mrs. L.L. Stewart Professor of Business Law at University of Oregon School of Law.