|Allison 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 social media.
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 up.
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.