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Tax Issues Can Be Fascinating

Law professor Francine Lipman reviews We're Not Broke, a film about the way sophisticated taxpayers are shifting their share of the burden to others. The film is part of the Boyd Public Interest Law Film Festival, Sept. 19-20.
Arts & Culture  |  Sep 11, 2013  |  By UNLV News Center
February 26, 2011, Los Angeles: On US Uncut’s first national day of action, protestors focus on Bank of America for the company’s tax avoidance practices. [Photo courtesy of Adrian Belic]
Editor's Note: 

The Boyd School of Law's Public Interest Law Film Festival will be held Sept. 19-20 at the Barrick Museum. It is free and open to the public. This article, by law professor Francine Lipman, discusses the film We're Not Broke, which will be screened at 3:45 p.m. Sept. 20. For a full schedule, visit the festival website.

Evocative, engaging, and informative are not words that immediately come to mind when thinking about our federal income tax system. But the 2012 Sundance Film Festival-winning movie We're Not Broke is all of those adjectives plus more.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Taxes are the cost of a civilized society," yet Americans today struggle with how to allocate this cost among its members. Our income tax systems are progressive, meaning that the more income the higher the marginal tax rate. However, sophisticated taxpayers, including publicly traded companies, are able to navigate the tax laws to minimize or even eliminate their share of the burden. Because of this artful and aggressive tax planning, more of the costs are shifted to members who simply cannot afford the excess burden. This phenomenon, among others, has resulted in record breaking income and wealth inequality as well as the Occupy Wall Street movement.

We're Not Broke, directed by Karin Hayes and Dorothy Bruce, does an excellent job of explaining the complexity of this tax issue with accessible, plain language, and visual imagery that pleases the eyes, mind, and soul.

How should we allocate the cost of our civilized society? The answers are neither simple, absolute, nor straightforward. Nevertheless, this movie should facilitate an engaged and informed community conversation about this critically important issue facing us today and in the future.

Join the conversation Sept. 19-20 at the Third Annual Public Interest Law Film Festival William S. Boyd School of Law.