For half a decade I’ve ushered in the New Year by doling out a bunch of advice, a position of responsibility that feels unwarranted given that just hours ago, I nearly drove into the back of a parked car because I was trying to recover a fallen Starburst.
Deserved or not, it’s always my favorite thing that I’ll write each year. But if you’ve read them all (you haven’t), you’ll notice that this year’s edition has a decidedly more “serious” feel. In the past, I’ve offered a number of small tweaks you can make to your career – join Twitter, learn a Code section, start a supplemental office supply business with items slowly and systematically stolen from your employer, etc… — but this year, for three-fifths of the resolutions, I’m asking you to consider some heavier actions.
It’s simple, really…2019 was a big year for me. I switched firms for the first time in nearly two decades, and that type of decision doesn’t come without a lot of soul searching. So I’ve been thinking about serious stuff, which means you’re going to read about serious stuff.
The hope, of course, is that all my sleepless nights will yield a nugget or two of wisdom you might just benefit from. Let’s find out.
Ask Some Hard Questions
Changing jobs was not an easy decision. My old firm was good to me, and I lost a lot with my decision to leave. My equity value. My deferred comp. Relationships with people who I considered friends, but who now won’t even make eye contact with me when we cross paths at a conference, and that hurts far more than the financial hit (Ed note: it does not). But I had to go.
Rather than provide specific reasons for my move and risk rankling my former employer, I’ll leave you with three things you should ask yourself each and every year to help you determine whether it’s time for you to do the same. One thing to note: while for our purposes today, these three questions are specific to your career, asking them every now and again about your life in general will serve you equally well.
1. Am I unhappy at my job?
Please note, this is a LOT different than asking yourself: “Am I happy at my job?” Regardless of what the 14,000 LinkedIn recruiters and career coaches blowing up your DMs will have you believe, you’re not supposed to be giddy about heading to work; after all; office life ain’t exactly a Drake video.
It’s an important distinction: you don’t have to love your career every day. Work sucks sometimes. Meetings can kill your soul. Clients can be unforgiving. Busy season is torturous. But you can’t just bail every time one of these things brings you down, because ALL careers have those moments. I’d encourage you to hold more modest expectations for your work life: if you have enough happy moments on the job that you don’t spend every day desperately wishing time away to the next weekend, holiday, or vacation, then you’re doing better than most.
But if the opposite is true, if your career is making you unhappy by actively taking a toll on your mental or physical health, well, that’s another issue. Maybe you’re traveling so often that you’re missing watching your kids grow up. Or you’re so upset about your relationship with your boss that you take it out on those around you. Or you’re being pressured to work so nights and weekends that the only thing rising faster than your billable hours is your blood pressure. When your complaints about your job evolve beyond “Carol talks too damn loud” or “I deserved an extra 1% raise last year” and into “I can’t remember the last time I smiled” or “after my last physical, my doctor handed me marketing material for a funeral home” territory; well, that’s when it’s time to consider a change.
2. What is non-negotiable to me?
I think I’ve said this before in this space, but I’m not particularly passionate about the tax law. It’s more of a means to an end. And for me, that end has always been the one thing – the ONLY thing – that I’ve always known I wanted in a career: intellectual stimulation. That’s the beauty of my gig: there will never be a night when I close the cover of the Code, lean back in my chair, and say to myself, “Welp…I’m finally done. I’ve figured it all out.”
Nope; instead, the tax law will continue to kick my ass each and every day, and that’s exactly what keeps me coming back.
But maybe your non-negotiable thing is different. Maybe you need a certain degree of autonomy. Or client contact. Or leadership responsibility. I can tell you with certainty, if you’re not getting the one thing that drives you, EVERYTHING else can fall into place – money, title, respect, etc… — and it won’t be enough. I’m serious when I say that my firm could pay me the GDP of a small island nation, but if I weren’t learning and continuing to grow, I’d walk out tomorrow. Don’t fight what makes you, you; feed it instead.
This comes, however, with one important caveat. If you feel your core motivations aren’t being satisfied, take a long look inward before updating that resume. As we’ll discuss later in this column, people are often far too quick to bail on a situation because they feel their bosses aren’t working to create the perfect career experience for them, when they haven’t first taken the hard steps to improve themselves in a way that will bring about that desired experience. But if you’ve done all you can do and your firm isn’t holding up its end of the bargain; it may be time to find one that will.
3. Is that light at the end of the tunnel a train?
Here’s the best bit of advice I can give to anyone who’s not already at the top of their respective industry: make sure you really want to be. I don’t care if you’re in public accounting or retail or the military…if you take a hard look at the people who are running the show and can’t find a single one whose life – not just job, but life — you’d want for yourself, then you’d better alter your trajectory.
I bailed on the Big 4 just five years into my career for that exact reason. As I previously mentioned, the only thing I’ve always known I wanted from my career was to make my living in the depths of the law, reading, researching, and writing. As a result, becoming a traditional client service partner with a huge book of business didn’t appeal to me. And while working in a Big 4 national tax group would have been a dream come true from an intellectual stimulation perspective, the only thing I’ve always known I wanted from my life was to call the mountains home, and the last time I checked, the skiing sucks in D.C. So as a young manager at PwC, I looked at the path I was on and realized it was time to pull the plug.
Failing to periodically peer into the future can be a costly mistake. Human nature is such – particularly among the types of people who pursue a career in public accounting – that we get so busy charging down the path to our next promotion, we forget to think about whether we want what that promotion will bring. If you’re not careful, you’ll put your head down for twenty years and reach every goal you’ve set for yourself, only to realize that you hate the view from the top.
And let’s be honest; public accounting ain’t for everyone. It’s a LOT of hours, and the paradoxical thing about our industry is that at some firms, the partners spend more time at the office than the new staff. Maybe that appeals to you. I’m guessing it doesn’t.
From my perspective, I was never scared of hard work, or averse to the notion that when you start your career, you’ve got to pay your dues. But at the same time, I always needed to believe that all that hard work and all those dues would eventually pay off, and that if I made partner, I’d be rewarded with the flexibility and work-life balance that had eluded me during those formative years.
Stated another way, I needed the partners at my firm to dangle a carrot, and at least during my time at Arthur Andersen, one partner in particular did just that. I was six months into my career, and I had been killing myself since Day One. During the heart of tax season, I popped my head into this partner’s office on a Friday afternoon and let him know that I’d have a return ready for him to review the next morning. He responded, “Tony, I made partner at this place so I wouldn’t have to work weekends.” I remember walking out of his office and thinking, “what a jerk,” only to be comforted moments later by the dream that if I worked hard enough and made partner, someday I could be that kind of jerk. It was strangely motivating; he was dangling a carrot, and at least at that time, I wanted it.
Truth be told, I think our industry in general could do a far better job at recognizing the value of dangling carrots; too many quality kids are leaving public accounting because they’ve done the math at their particular firm, and concluded that the rewards for working 70 hours a week while they’re climbing the ranks is the right to work 75 hours a week as a partner. And honestly, I can’t say I blame them, nor would I blame you if you do what I ask, look into the future at your firm, and conclude the same.
In 2020, ask yourself the hard questions. Make sure your job isn’t breaking your spirit. That it’s giving you what you can’t live without. And that you’re working towards a goal that you’ll actually enjoy reaching. If you’re not getting the answers you’d hoped, some hard decisions may also be in store.
Follow the Election
We are ten months away from what promises to be the most contentious presidential election in our nation’s history. At the moment, the field of Democratic challengers to President Trump’s bid for reelection has been whittled down from 25 to 15, making for a much less crowded stage and much more coherent conversations during the debates. And that’s a good thing, because I’m going to ask you to watch them all.
I get it…watching a televised debate is painful, particularly when there’s quality counter-programming available like “Finding Love on Leprosy Island” and “America’s Next Top Twitter Grifter.” But trust me; we need to watch the debates, because once the candidates have gone over their plans to adopt free healthcare, forgive student loan debt, and launch one billionaire into the sun on every full moon, there is always plenty of tax talk. And we should take campaign tax talk very seriously right now, because what are being proposed from the Democratic candidates are not subtle tweaks to current policy, but rather historic changes that would fundamentally impact the way our country taxes its wealthiest individuals and corporations. I know, I know…there are tax changes at stake in every election. So what makes this go-round different? I’ll explain it like this….
Here’s what you know about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: It was passed into law on December 22, 2017, containing $1.5 trillion in tax cuts over the ten-year budget window, making it the most comprehensive overhaul of the Code since 1986.
Here’s what you may not know about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: It was passed using the streamlined budget reconciliation process, which allowed the bill to become law without a single vote from a Democrat. Thus, it was a completely partisan tax law: only Republicans drafted the bill, and only Republicans voted for the bill. As a result, if the balance of power were to shift and Democrats were to take back the White House and –much less likely – the Senate in 2020, one of the new president’s first orders of business would be to put his or her own stamp on the tax law. But how meaningful would the changes be?
Here’s what you definitely don’t know about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act: There are two statistics about the TCJA that will ultimately come to define it:
1. In 2018, 9 out of 10 people earning more than $40,000 paid LESS TAX than they did in 2017, and
2. The bill has topped out at 38% approval among voters.
How can both of those two things be true? How can 9 out of 10 people pay less tax under the new law, but only 4 out of 10 be happy about it? The answer speaks to the way humans are wired: the only thing we hate more than NOT getting a tax cut, is getting a cut, only to find out that our richer neighbor got a bigger one.
And that explains the public’s dissatisfaction with the TCJA: while the middle class did fine, no matter how you slice up the numbers, the richest 1% and corporations did better.
So imagine you’re Bernie. Or Biden. Or Warren. It doesn’t require the touch of a master strategist to devise a tax proposal that will be received favorably by the public; after all, if people hate the TCJA because it gave large cuts to the rich and corporations, they should love a bill that taxes the hell out of those same taxpayers.
And that is exactly what we’re seeing. Though they go about it in different ways, Democratic candidates are unified in their goal to extract the tax revenue necessary to fund social programs exclusively from the richest 1% and corporations. Whether it’s Warren’s wealth tax (more on this soon), Sanders’ top rate on capital gains of 73.8%, or Biden’s tax on the financial statement income of large corporations, candidates are devising dramatic new tax increases aimed squarely at wealthy taxpayers and big businesses, who also happen to make up the majority of our client base.
As a result, you’ve got two responsibilities in 2020: to learn the proposals and share them with clients. The latter is critical for a couple of reasons:
1. By sharing the potential future tax landscape with clients, you allow the client to go into any planning strategy eyes-wide-open. For example, a client may wish to convert a long-time S corporation to a C corporation in pursuit of the current 21% corporate rate; and while that’s fine, it’s on you to inform them that should the election go a certain way, the corporate rate could be back at 35% as soon as 2021. Or consider your client that wants to defer gains until 2026 by investing in an opportunity zone: it could certainly be a great strategy, but you need to let them know that they’d be deferring out of a 23.8% rate and potentially into a rate three times higher when the gain becomes due in 2026. Your job is to inform, and let the client decide.
2. You know how WE feel like the tax law is extremely volatile right now? Well, our clients feel that too. And perhaps I’m overreacting, but I honestly believe that every taxpayer in America is currently looking at their tax advisor and evaluating, “Is this the right person to see me through these volatile times?” They want to know that we understand not only what the law says today, but where it’s potentially heading in the near future so we can respond to their changing needs. The only way to assuage their concerns is to communicate. Talk to them about the Democratic policies. Send them articles detailing different proposals. Put it this way, over the next few years, no one is going to lose a client because they communicated too much; but plenty will because they failed to communicate enough.
So suck it up and soak it in. Watch the debates, read about the candidates’ plans at the Tax Policy Center, and get yourself – and your clients – informed. The worst that can happen is NONE of this stuff becomes law, and you can go back to watching “Friday the 13th Part XII, Jason v. Buddy Revell” on Netflix.
Get Your Learn On
Whenever I teach, I can always count on a line of young professionals awaiting me at the end of the session, all eager to ask me a variation of the same question: “Why did you choose a career in public speaking when you’re clearly missing an upper lip?”
But once I’ve done my best to explain my facial challenges away, they invariably hit me with the same follow-up question: “How did you get comfortable enough with the tax law to do what you do?”
And that is a question I’m much happier to answer, though you – and your wallet – may not like what I have to say.
I went back to school and got a master’s in tax; THAT’S how I got comfortable with the tax law. Simple as that. Without that education, I would have never been handed the building blocks of technical expertise. Without it, the Code never would have felt smaller and more manageable. Without it, I would have never went on to publish, and certainly never stood in front of a room and talked about the finer points of Section 163(j). I owe every good thing that’s come in my career to the graduate tax program at the University of Denver, and for the past twenty years, I’ve unabashedly shared that fact with anyone who would listen. But if it’s a story I’ve told so often, why add it to my resolutions column for this year?
Because I’ve noticed a disturbing trend recently; one that ties back to the first item on our resolutions list.
Person after person fleeing their tax jobs because they “aren’t learning enough.” Person after person explaining to me that, just as happened to me nearly two decades ago, they feel as though as their career progresses, their substance is not keeping pace with their title. And that (rightfully) scares the hell out of them.
So they go work for a bigger firm. Or a smaller firm. Or whatever firm promises them that they’ll get to work only on the type of clients they’re interested in. And at their new job, they are going to learn EVERYTHING they could possibly want to learn.
But it never works out. Because the reality is, regardless of what guarantees your new firm may make, once you get there, your career is in the hands of people who are running a business.
People get busy. People have outside interests, and marriage troubles, and any number of other things that will keep them from walking you though the tax law in the way you envisioned. And then, there’s this little secret: they may not know much about the tax law. Remember what I wrote in a previous resolution: there are any number of ways to have a successful career in tax, and being an expert is but one of them. The odds that you’re going to stumble upon a capable and willing mentor at your new gig are slim (though we’re going to work to change that below).
And businesses, of course, have to make money. So while your new firm may promise you that you’re going to WORK ONLY ON S CORPORATIONS or read buy-sell agreements all day, the bottom line is, if they need someone to crank out payroll tax returns and you’re available, you’re going to be cranking out payroll tax returns.
So if you’re expecting your new co-workers to spoon feed you everything you’ll ever need to know about the tax law, you’re going to be waiting for a loooong time. And you know what? That’s not a “them” problem. Because the harsh truth is, it’s no one’s job to make you the expert you want to be.
If you want to learn, to really learn about the tax law, you’ll want to head off to a graduate tax program. There, it IS someone’s job – someone who knows a hell of a lot, by the way – to make you the expert you crave to be. To teach you the past, present, and future of the tax law. To leave you with an appreciation of Revenue Ruling 99-6, Section 453, and Glenshaw Glass. If you invest fully in every class you take – except for Trust and Estate Taxation, of course; that stuff’s the worst — your time in a graduate tax program will represent the seminal moment of your career. Remember: knowledge builds on itself. So it’s not just what you’ll learn IN the program that’s important; it’s the technical base you’ll take with you that 1) will allow future application of the Code to be far more seamless, and 2) allow you to prove yourself capable at the very type of work you long to do. In other words, rather than switching jobs to get your hands on the high-end work you desire in order to build expertise, I would encourage you to acquire the expertise first, show your employer what you’re capable of, and then the high-end work will naturally make its way to your desk.
Look, I get it…there’s always a good reason NOT to go back to school. It’s expensive and time consuming. You swore you would never study and sit for an exam again. Or, as someone once explained their reasoning to me, because they’d been practicing for a while, they “already knew” everything they’d learn in a graduate tax program; an interesting take from someone who hasn’t actually attended a graduate tax program.
But guess what sucks even more than paying tuition or taking an exam? Not having any idea what the hell you’re doing, that’s what. And attending a graduate tax program has never been easier: every major school has an online program, and while tuition ain’t cheap, scholarship money isn’t that hard to come by. I know someone who recently took a $30,000 pay cut to go to a new firm because while they loved their current job, they felt they weren’t learning enough. But when I suggested, “hey, why don’t you stay put, take the $30K, and spend it on a master’s in tax?” they responded that they didn’t want to make that big of a commitment. And that’s not an uncommon response: forgive me if I come across as harsh, but a lot of people want to become experts, but not if it means they have to spend nights and weekends studying the course work for Corp 2.
But if you ARE willing to work for it, if you’re willing to apply to schools, buck up for the tuition and show up to class, you can learn so, so much about the tax law in a graduate program. There are few things in life that are truly life changing, but this can be one of them. Unless you get me as a professor, that is; then we’ll mostly just talk about this.
Take a History Lesson
Hey, remember a few minutes ago when I suggested you follow the election closely? Well, one proposal put forth by two leading Democrats warrants a little extra attention.
Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have both promised to tax the wealth, rather than the income, of the richest 1-3% of taxpayers. While the plans are plagued with questions about their administrative practicability and true revenue raising capabilities, addressing these issues is putting the cart before the horse. Because there is a far greater challenge facing a wealth tax: such a tax may well violate Article 1, Section 9, Clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution.
Tax and constitutional lawyers have already started to take sides, but why not formulate your own opinion? I’d encourage you to do so, for two reasons:
- The process will require you to journey back to the formative moments of our great nation, gain an understanding of how the interplay between slavery and taxation gave rise to the infamous three-fifths compromise, and understand and appreciate two Supreme Court cases decided a century apart that led to the adoption of the 16th Amendment and the introduction of our first unchallenged federal income tax, and
- If you don’t, someone might ask you about it and you’ll sound like a big dummy.
Here’s a little background to get you started:
In the spring and summer of 1787, the founding fathers set about establishing a new government at the Constitutional Convention. Included in the original draft of the Constitution was Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4, which gave Congress the power to impose the “taxes, duties, imposts and excises” necessary to pay the country’s debts and provide for its common defense and welfare. The only catch, however, was that all “duties, imposts, and excises” were required to be uniform. In other words, Congress couldn’t impose a duty at one rate in Connecticut and another rate in Maryland; the rates had to be the same.
Initially, the hope was that duties, imposts, and excises would be the extent of the federal government’s taxing power, with any additional responsibility falling to the separate states. The framers of the Constitution did recognize, however, that at some point — for example, a time of war — additional revenue might be necessary, which explains why Clause 4 provided the right to Congress to impose “taxes” in addition to duties, imposts and excises. No income tax was imposed at that time, however. Nevertheless, Clause 4 gave Congress the power to tax whatever it needed to — from income to people to land — and that made some in the south a bit nervous.
The southern states feared that the government might use its taxing power to kill two birds with one stone, collecting revenue by taxing behavior it didn’t approve of; for example, slavery. The south was concerned that Congress could levy a tax on slave ownership, under which the southern states would bear a disproportionate share of the burden when compared to their counterparts in the north.
As a result, southern leaders pushed for a requirement that any “direct tax” on people or property must be allocated among the states based on population. This meant that if the government wanted to tax, say, $10 per slave — with slaves being considered property at that time — rather than collecting the tax directly from slave owners, Congress would be required to multiply $10 by the number of slaves, compute the total revenue to be generated, and then allocate that revenue among the states based not on slave ownership, but on population. Thus, if Connecticut and Georgia had an equal number of people, they would pay the same amount of tax, even though Georgia might have far more slaves. A similar process would play out on a tax on land, either by acreage or value.
Acquiescing to the south, the apportionment requirement was added to the Constitution as Article 1, Section 9, Clause 4, which states:
No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.
As a result, the term “direct tax” became rather important. Unfortunately, history would reveal that the framers of our constitution were not unlike board members of a modern corporation, spouting meaningless buzzwords that may sound important but that no one, the speaker included, actually understands. A “direct tax,” it would appear, was just such a buzzword.
How do we know? Because James Madison was keeping copious notes during the Constitutional Convention, that’s how, and he noted that when Rufus King asked for the precise definition of a direct tax, Madison’s recorded in his shorthand, “no one answd.” Soon after, Alexander Hamilton would lament that it was “a matter of regret that terms so uncertain and vague in so important a point were to be found in the Constitution.”
Nonetheless, the concept of a direct tax made it into the Constitution, and the only items that clearly fell within its definition were a per-person poll tax and a tax on land acreage or value. Beyond that, it would be up to the courts to determine what was and wasn’t a direct tax, and we wouldn’t have to wait long to get our first look.
Hylton v. United States
In 1794, Congress assessed a tax on carriage owners. Daniel Hylton, who owned a veritable armada of 125 carriages, was none too pleased with the new tax. He sued the government, arguing that the tax was a “direct tax” on property — carriages being no different than land — and because it wasn’t being allocated among the states based on population, was unconstitutional.
The court, which at that point was manned by many of the same people who had drafted the constitution, concluded that the carriage tax was not a direct tax. In doing so, it viewed the tax in a roundabout way, suggesting that:
- We don’t really know what a direct tax is.
- We do, however, know that a direct tax is required to be allocated among the states based on population.
- It would follow, then, that only those taxes that can reasonably and equitably allocated among the states based on population can conceivably be a direct tax.
Applying this logic to the carriage tax, the Supreme Court noted that in some states, there are many carriages, but in others there are few. How could this tax be equitably allocated among the states based on population? Suppose the tax was to be $10 per chariot, the total population of the U.S. was 100, and the total tax to be collected was $1,000. Virginia, where there are 50 carriages, has a population of 20, and thus is allocated $200 of the tax. Because there are 50 carriages in Virginia, the tax comes to only $4 per head. Meanwhile, Connecticut, with a population of 8, would be allocated $80 in tax. Unfortunately, there are only two carriages in all of Connecticut, and so each owner pays $40 in tax, ten times more than a carriage owner in Virgina. Sound fair?
Not to the Supreme Court, as it called such an allocation “too manifestly absurd to be supported.” As a result, a carriage tax could not be a direct tax, because it could not equitably be allocated among the states based on population.Thus, the court stated, the “only objects that the framers of the Constitution contemplated as falling within the rule of apportionment were a capitation tax and a tax on land.” Thus, at least in the moment, Hylton established the precedent that a tax on luxury property, to be borne only by those who could afford such luxury, was not a direct tax required to be apportioned among the states.
The Income Tax Act of 1894 and Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co.
In 1894, a confluence of factors led Congress to enact its first peacetime national income tax. The idea was to extract the revenue from the wealthy by providing an exemption of $4,000 — over $100,000 in today’s dollars — with any excess taxed at 2%. The tax applied to all forms of income, from compensation to services to rents to investment income.
The tax was quickly challenged as unconstitutional, with opponents alleging that a tax on income arising from land (think, rents) and personal property (think, stocks and bonds) was akin to a tax on the land and personal property itself, and because a tax on property was a “direct tax,” so was the new income tax. The Supreme Court, in one of the more contentious decisions in its history, agreed by a 5-4 vote, striking down the income tax as unconstitutional because:
- Part of the tax was a direct tax on the income generated by land and even personal property, and
- Because that income could not be cleanly separated from taxes on income from services — which were not direct taxes — the entire law had to be struck down.
In reaching its decision, the court largely ignored the principle established in Hylton — to say nothing of the century of supporting case law that followed — that only those taxes that could be reasonably allocated among the states can possible be a direct tax. Had they embraced that line of thinking, clearly, an income tax could not reasonably meet the definition of a direct tax.
To illustrate, compare Connecticut with Alabama. If an income tax were required to be allocated in accordance with population, Alabama, having the larger population, would pay more of the burden than Connecticut, despite the fact that the per-capita income in Connecticut is nearly twice as large as in Alabama. This point was made in passionate, angry fashion by the four dissenting opinions in Pollack; judges who appeared astounded that the Supreme Court would effectively foreclose the ability for the U.S. to ever implement a national income tax.
Strike down the income tax it did, however; at least for a short while. Because by the time 1909 rolled around, Congress realized that a national income tax was a necessity, and so it overruled Hylton via the 16th Amendment, which provided:
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
It’s important to note that the 16th Amendment did not establish that an income tax is not a direct tax; rather, it simply stated that an income tax — even if it WERE a direct tax — may be taxed directly to individuals and is not required to be allocated among the states based on population.
The 16th Amendment was ratified in 1913, the same year our present day income tax began to take shape. And over the century that has followed, there has been little need for the courts to address the question of what, exactly, is a direct tax. If Warren or Sanders were to win the presidency and attempt to institute a national wealth tax, however, the debate will begin anew, and battle lines will quickly be drawn.
Opponents of the tax will say the constitution is clear — a wealth tax on the value of real or personal property is a direct tax, and must be allocated among the states based on population. Pollock will be cited.
Supports of the constitutionality of the tax, however, will stress that no one was in a better position to interpret the meaning of a “direct tax” than the framers who sat on the court in Hylton, and will thus embrace that decision’s principle that only a tax that can reasonably be allocated among the states can be a direct tax, and a tax on wealth cannot possibly fit that description. They will stress the dissenting opinions in Pollock, the century of case law that preceded it, and the fact that in today’s America, wealth and population do not go hand in hand.
Given the divide in this country between the 99% and the 1%, the idea of a wealth tax isn’t going away, even if Warren and Sanders should ultimately fail to win the White House. So dig in, do some reading, and formulate an opinion. You’ll be following the election and learning tax history, satisfying two-fifths of this year’s resolutions at the same time. That’s efficiency.
Pass It On
Maybe you’ve read this far and thought, “I’m ahead of the game. I’ve got a master’s in tax, things are cool at my current job, and I’m up to speed on the Democratic candidates’ proposals AND the history of the wealth tax. According to Nitti, I can take the rest of the year off.”
Or maybe you’ve reached an age where you don’t have the capacity to see these resolutions through. After all, once I hit 40, every time I learned something new, it pushed some old stuff out of my brain. Just last week I took a home wine-making course and temporarily forgot how to drive. Or maybe I was just drunk. That’s not important. What’s important is that whether you’re done learning or just refuse to do so, there’s still a role for you over the next 12 months: teach the next generation.
Because if you think the type of introspective thought and commitment to self-improvement is hard for a seasoned professional, just imagine how confused our younger co-workers are. They need one of us to guide them, to be impartial, to put their happiness and career goals ahead of the needs of whatever company we work for. Earlier, I lamented how hard it can be to find a willing and capable mentor . Let’s change that in 2020.
This year, I ask you to step beyond your firm-mandated coaching relationship and take an interest in someone below you on the industry ladder. Talk to them about the things we discussed in this article: ask them if they’re happy; not just in their career, but in life. Make sure they understand the value of a graduate degree, and if they need you to teach them some law to whet their appetite for more education, do it. Help them avoid the mistakes you’ve made in your career. But most importantly, just be there for them. Be an outlet, a confidant with whom they can share anything that’s bothering them. After all, most of us are never going to be named to the Top 100 in Public Accounting, rewrite the regulations, or earn 30,000 followers on Twitter. The most lasting impact we can make on our industry is to leave it better than when we arrived, and that’s something any one of us can do if we’re willing lend a hand to those just starting out.
Young professionals: you’re not off hook either. I don’t care if you’ve only got one year of experience — that’s one more year than someone else, and you’ve got something to share. Pull them aside, take them to lunch, and help them navigate their careers.
After all, after five years and 25 resolutions, I’m starting to run out of advice.