NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 82, Number 2

May 2007

Taxing Citizens in a Global Economy

Michael S. Kirsch

This Article addresses a fundamental issue underlying the U.S. tax system in the international context: the use of citizenship as a jurisdictional basis for imposing income tax. As a general matter, the United States is the only economically developed country that taxes its citizens abroad on their foreign income.

Despite this broad assertion of taxing jurisdiction, Congress allows citizens abroad to exclude from taxation a limited amount of income earned from working outside the United States. Influential lobbying groups, including businesses that employ significant numbers of U.S. citizens abroad, argue that this exclusion is necessary in order to keep American business competitive overseas. Recently, these groups have argued that modern developments, including lowered barriers to trade and the increased mobility of workers, strengthen this argument, and that the United States must allow an unlimited foreign earned income exclusion, or perhaps abandon citizenship-based taxation altogether, in order to remain competitive.

This Article analyzes how modern developments in the global economy affect the case for citizenship-based taxation. The Article concludes that recent globalization trends strengthen, rather than weaken, the case for taxing U.S. citizens living abroad. Moreover, it concludes that these modern developments weaken the case for giving preferential treatment to income earned by citizens working abroad.