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A Millennial Economist Helps Power a Tax Evasion ‘Brain Trust’

  • June 20, 2021

Some Republicans, who have for years cut back resources for the tax collection agency, argue that the I.R.S. cannot be trusted and that Democrats will use it as a political weapon against conservatives. Those worries became more pronounced last week, after ProPublica published an article based on I.R.S. data containing detailed tax information about the wealthiest Americans.

“The proposal, which is sold under the guise of trying to close the tax gap, is very concerning and pulls almost all taxpayers into a surveillance dragnet,” Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, told Ms. Yellen at a hearing this week. “My concerns are amplified by the egregious apparent leak of private taxpayer information out of the I.R.S.”

Democrats have been broadly supportive of efforts to empower the I.R.S. to go after wealthy tax evaders. But Ms. Sarin’s emergence raised eyebrows among some progressives, including allies of Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Mr. Summers’s centrist views have long frustrated left-leaning Democrats, and he and Ms. Sarin have criticized wealth taxes, a proposal for reducing inequality that Ms. Warren has championed.

As Democratic presidential candidates were debating wealth taxes in 2019, Ms. Sarin and Mr. Summers wrote an essay for The Washington Post with the headline “Be very skeptical about how much revenue Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax could generate.” Last year, in a Brookings Institution report about a pragmatic approach to progressive tax reform, Ms. Sarin and Mr. Summers described wealth taxes as “extreme” and “radical.”

Ms. Sarin’s work with Mr. Summers has at times led to outsize scrutiny of her work. The Revolving Door Project, a progressive watchdog group, criticized Ms. Sarin last year for co-authoring a paper that examined the merits of allowing people to make early withdrawals from their Social Security benefits to cover expenses during the pandemic. The research appeared to endorse the concept.

“On the right, such plans have been openly advanced as the first step along the path to Social Security privatization,” Jeff Hauser, founder of the Revolving Door, wrote in his newsletter in May last year. “All the more reason to keep Summers and his cohort out!”

A week later, Ms. Sarin distanced herself from the idea in a Bloomberg column and said Social Security should be strengthened, not weakened.

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