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Exploring German Tax Law Scholarship

Author: 

Wolfgang Schön

As tax law is subject to powerful political currents and international inflows, in addition to its function of interpreting existing law and shaping new law, German tax law scholarship takes on the important task of giving its object internal stability and of marshalling the fiscal grip of the state on the citizen.

The search for the internal structure of tax legislation follows two different yet often crossing or parallel paths: On the one hand, there is the attempt to build and unfold a coherent “tax system” by identifying and developing guiding principles of taxation. On the other hand, there is the endeavour to establish superordinate systematics by employing the link to non-tax branches of the legal system, namely to private law, constitutional law or the law of the European Union.

In his article Wolfgang Schön points out that a particular strength of German tax scholarship lies in the intensive interaction between theory and practice, in the dialogue between academics, judiciary, administration and tax practitioners. To a large extent, academic teaching and writing in Germany consists of doctrinal contributions which strive to interpret the law, to apply it to certain real or fictitious cases and to “discover” underlying “systems” or principles from which further conclusions and analogies can be drawn.

However, this continuous and time-consuming high-level dialogue might have been detrimental to dealing with more fundamental considerations, Schön points out. Methods and insights from history, sociology, political science and – above all – economics have only recently made their way into German legal scholarship.

Furthermore, in-depth tax policy analyses or so-called seminal articles on legal practice, which place important court rulings in a larger, political, historical or economic context are not as widespread in German academic literature as for example in common law countries.

Published:   Grenzüberschreitungen der Steuerrechtswissenschaft, StuW, 2018, 3, 201-215.