Christians is a new entry this year
Allison Christians is the H Heward Stikeman chairwoman in
the law of taxation at the McGill University faculty of law in
Canada. She has a particular focus on the relationship between
taxation and economic development, including the role of
government and non-government institutions and actors in the
creation of tax policy. As well as her academic
responsibilities and an upcoming book on tax and human rights,
she works with the Independent Commission for the Reform of
International Corporate Taxation (ICRICT) and has a blog that
discusses a variety of international tax themes. She tweets
using the handle @taxpolblog. Here, ITR's Amelia
Schwanke speaks to Christians about changing the status quo in
tax, her priorities for the year ahead, and the importance of
International Tax Review: Can you tell us about
your work as an ICRICT expert in 2015?
Allison Christians: My main recommendation [in terms of
reforming international taxation] is that the OECD is not the
proper place for global tax policy to be promulgated; that the
OECD as a forum represents the views of its own membership and
raises issues of interest out of its own membership, therefore
excluding the vast majority.
That's a stomach problem, though, because the OECD has the
infrastructure, has the institutions and always has had, so if
you say the OECD is not the right place, where is the right
place? And quite obviously the UN is the right place. But
that's politically unpopular for the world's richest countries;
it's very unpopular for the United States for example; they do
not want tax policy being discussed at the UN, they want it
under their own control in the OECD. I think anyone who studies
international tax and development will come to this conclusion
that the OECD is very convenient for its own members. It's a
very good forum for representing the interests of its own
members, but its membership is small and it is limited. So the
constant issues facing developing countries just don't come
ITR: Where did your career in tax begin?
AC: As a law student I was interested in how law allocates
resources, rights and power. I think in tax it was the moment
that I realised and found [it to be] one of the principal tools
we use to allocate resources and power not just within our own
society but across societies. I was really intrigued by how
this field that is so technical and apparently so uninteresting
was actually the key to the global allocation of resources in
some fashion. It was clear to me that the social, economic and
political ends that taxation can achieve coupled with the sort
of puzzle of law – it's a complex, interesting,
difficult and challenging area of law. When you put those
together it was just obvious that I would want to spend a lot
of time in my career thinking about this.
ITR: Looking ahead to 2016, what do you expect to
see in the tax world?
AC: I think what we're going to see here is the
implementation of peer monitoring and peer review [mechanisms].
Again, the OECD can't force you to change your domestic law but
what it can do is say 'well we are going to watch, check each
other, notice each other and talk about each other' and that
becomes the enforcement angle of a global tax consensus.
I think 2016 will be very interesting because you'll look at
the goals of the Independent Commission [ICRICT] which are
thinking about how tax policy works for the rest of the world,
how tax policy mediates between multinational companies that
are mainly based in rich countries and the rest of the world
where they mainly operate and how well the OECD's project that
did the proposals, did the policies, meets those needs? And, if
they did, how they will be implemented?
ITR: Are there any other specific projects you are
working on this year?
AC: I've got a couple projects; one is a big project I'm
doing on tax and human rights. I'm really interested in how the
global contribution of tax, the global allocation of tax
revenues, impacts human rights and how we make a connection
between what the international rules are and what people
actually experience in their own lives and how these big
picture ideas actually play out on the ground, so I continued
to be interested in tax in development and tax in human rights
as a part of that picture.
The other project I'm working on is a big BEPS project: I'm
going to do a multi-country study on BEPS implementation. I'm
working on that with Steven Shay of Harvard in connection with
the International Fiscal Association.
ITR: You have quite an active digital and social
presence with your blog and Twitter account; what benefits do
you find in discussing tax on such a comfortable platform?
AC: I think blogging is a way to do a couple of things; one
is to think through contemporary issues as they arise and how
they may fit into the bigger picture. It's also an interesting
way to have an international conversation with people you
wouldn't otherwise meet.
Blogging has that capacity for you to meet people who are
interested in your field, talk to them, collaborate, get to
know them and never [physically] meet them. I think when you
deal in international tax, let's be honest, it's a very scary
area to deal with because it's so big, it's so massive and
complex that you're pretty much always going to be wrong about
something, the way you think about something, the way you
interpret something; you're pretty much always going to have
room for improvement in your thinking and blogging is a way to
connect with people that can say 'what about this?' or 'how
about that?' In many ways you just wouldn't get that input in
your own circle.
Once I'm blogging, I'm having a conversation with the world
and I get much more rich input from people with a different
perspective that can help me see the world in a way that I
can't normally see.