2012 Ross Parsons address in Taxation Law: Rethinking the Concept of Income in Tax Law and Policy

19 November 2012

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For the much of the last century, the "Haig-Simons" definition of income has served as a touchstone for normative debates in North American tax law and policy. Notwithstanding this apparent prominence in policy and theory, however, existing income taxes in the United States and Canada have consistently departed from the Haig-Simons concept in at least three crucial respects - excluding "imputed income" from leisure, services, and durable goods, excluding gifts and inheritances, and recognizing gains and losses for the most part only when they are realized through a sale or other disposition and not as they accrue from one period to the next. Although these departures from the Haig-Simons ideal are usually explained on purely pragmatic grounds, they might also be justified on normative grounds. If so, it follows that one should also question the Haig-Simons definition as a normative ideal for the taxation of personal income. Indeed, the underlying rationales for this concept of income fail to provide a convincing foundation for the taxation of personal income. Nonetheless, the deficiencies of the Haig-Simons definition may also point to a more attractive concept of income based on participation in the market economy that might attract greater scholarly and popular support. As a result, the aim of this paper is not to challenge the taxation of personal income but to defend it.

About the speaker

David G. Duff is Professor of Law and Associate Dean at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law, where he teaches and writes in the areas of areas of tax law and policy, environmental taxation, comparative and international taxation, and distributive justice.

Prior to joining UBC Law in 2009, Professor Duff was a faculty member of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law for thirteen years. Before that, he was a tax associate at the Toronto office of Stikeman, Elliott. He was also employed as a researcher with the Ontario Fair Tax Commission from 1991 to 1993 and as a tax policy analyst with the Ontario Ministry of Finance from 1993 to 1994. He is a member and former Governor of the Canadian Tax Foundation, a member of the International Fiscal Association, an International Research Fellow of the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation, and has been a visiting scholar at the law faculties at Auckland University, McGill University, Oxford University, and the University of Sydney.

Professor Duff has published numerous articles on tax law and policy, is the lead author on a textbook/casebook on Canadian income tax law, has co-authored a book on accident law, and has co-edited books on tax avoidance in Canada and Canadian climate change policy. He has written several articles on tax avoidance and the Canadian General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR) and was cited in the Supreme Court of Canada's most recent GAAR decision in Copthorne Holdings Ltd. v. Canada, 2011 SCC 63:

Lawyers/barristers: attendance at this lecture is equal to 1 MCLE/CPD unit.

Time: 6.30-7.30pm lecture followed by a cocktail reception

Location: Sydney Law School, Building F10, Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney

Cost: Free, registration essential

Contact: PLaCE Coordinator

Phone: 02 9351 0429

Email: 395522693f1e3117451e044b0d5c2c2a14572b5d474d2f30