Harry Grubert, In Memoriam

Harry-GrubertHarry Grubert, one of the world’s foremost experts in the area of international taxation, died on August 10, 2017 after a battle with lymphoma. He was 81 years old.

Harry was a Senior Research Economist in the Office of Tax Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and was actively engaged in a number of research projects at Treasury when he passed away. During his almost four decades working at Treasury, he had a substantial impact on the field of international taxation. Harry’s pioneering work with tax return data from U.S. multinational corporations significantly improved the understanding of the economic effects of current law and alternatives for reform.

Harry received his Doctorate in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968, and taught at the University of Rochester before joining the public sector. Prior to joining the Office of Tax Analysis in 1978, Harry served as the Director of the Office of Foreign Economic Research at the Department of Labor and in a variety of other governmental posts. He has widely published on topics related to trade and international taxes, and his work appears in the National Tax Journal, the Journal of Public Economics, the Review of Economics and Statistics, the Journal of International Economics, and International Tax and Public Finance, among other journals, as well as in numerous books. In recognition of his extensive and important contributions to public policy, the National Tax Association awarded him the Davie-Davis Public Service Award in 2010.

A Festschrift for Harry will appear in the March 2019 issue of the National Tax Journal following an Office of Tax Analysis conference in his honor to be held in September of 2018.

Harry was a generous scholar whose insightful comments and expertise influenced the work of generations of academic economists, lawyers, and accountants as well as policy makers. In addition, he loved opera, good food, and had a passion for collecting art, some of which he leaves to the Phillips Collection.

Remembrances of Harry Grubert

Rosanne Altshuler, Professor, Rutgers University – I met Harry nearly 30 years ago as a graduate student working as a summer intern at Treasury. Little did I know then how important he would be in my life. Harry taught me everything I know about international tax and so much more. It was impossible to keep up with him. I struggled to understand what he was teaching me but the reward was always worth it. Whether true or not, I always felt a few steps ahead of others toiling in the field because of him. He had incredibly high standards and, frustratingly, was always right. Harry’s economic intuition amazed me. Humans have to do the math, geniuses don’t. I felt lucky to be able to go along for the ride with Harry especially in the work we did examining some of the creative and practical reforms he put forward. He taught me (and others) how to evaluate reforms to the international tax system.

We talked for hours on the phone and he was always interested in what I was working on be it discussant comments, a referee report, or even university administration. He was my mentor, colleague, and close friend. It is hard to describe how much I will miss him.

Hugh Ault, Professor Emeritus, Boston College Law School – I was saddened to read of the passing of Harry Grubert. It is hard to imagine the international tax world without his incisive contributions to the various conversations. He combined great technical economic skills with the ability to convey concepts and ideas to a wider public. And most important, in a world full of egos, he was a warm, generous and self-effacing human being. He will be missed.

Edith Brashares, Director of Business and International Taxation, U.S. Treasury Department – I didn’t get to know Harry until I started going to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris for meetings that discussed base erosion and profit shifting. It was through this work that I got to know Harry and appreciate the depth and breadth of his knowledge. Especially concerning French food. I would always join him for at least one really good meal that would eat up most of my per diem while in Paris. Unfortunately, I had just made it through his one-star restaurants and didn’t have the chance to get beyond that first level.

I always felt I had an unfair advantage over other countries when I had Harry join me at the OECD to discuss international profit shifting. Others rightly recognized his expertise and respected his views and I think made it possible for us to beat back some questionable analysis. I learned a tremendous amount from him about how multinationals shift profits and I often found myself telling others to ask Harry what he thought about an analysis or estimate given his ability to quickly assess a situation. As a result, he became the go to guy for informal advice on a wide range of tax and economic topics. I will miss him greatly.

Dhammika Dharmapala, Julius Kreeger Professor of Law, University of Chicago School of Law – All of us who work on international taxation are indebted to Harry Grubert for his contributions to the field. Over the years, I also discovered Harry’s deep interest in matters far removed from taxation and economics, such as opera, music and art. In between discussing issues in international tax, we had the opportunity to compare notes on great performances we had heard. Harry will be greatly missed.

Mihir Desai, Mizuho Financial Group Professor of Finance, Harvard Business School and Professor of Law, Harvard Law School – Harry blazed the trail on international tax issues – a trail that many of us have followed him on. He was far ahead of his time on many important issues and I’ll miss his intellect, humor and collegiality.

Patrick Driessen, Joint Committee on Taxation (retired) – Without Harry’s intellectual generosity I would have spent 25 years at JCT estimating bows and arrows excise taxes. International revenue estimating also brought with it the task (and joy) of reading all of Harry’s drafts, journal publications, and Treasury reports, as well as hearing Harry’s stories about what was happening at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue. In 2015 we were still discussing an earnings stripping result that Harry produced in 2007, and Harry blew off one of my arguments by writing “We at Treasury are unfortunately limited by the evidence.” Of course that kind of line from Harry just meant the conversation was about to get interesting. The loss of Harry means that we (including Treasury) are most unfortunately now quite limited by his absence in interpreting international tax stuff as well as the things that count most.

Ronald Findlay, Professor Emeritus, Columbia University – Since you (Rosanne Altshuler) and I are both members of the very exclusive Grubert co-author club you will surely agree that there simply was no other economist with the same intuitive power as our dear friend. On reflection I have to say that I learnt as much or more from talking with Harry as from the lectures of Samuelson and Solow. Please convey my deepest condolences to his family.

J. Clifton Fleming, Jr., Ernest L. Wilkinson Chair and Professor of Law, Brigham Young University – For years, Harry Grubert furnished Treasury with important and deeply thoughtful policy work. In addition he was a source of unflagging intellectual integrity within Treasury regardless of the shifting ideological predilections at the top of the Department. He spoke truth to power. Everyone who cares about good tax policy will miss him and I will particularly miss him because I have mined his work in my own scholarship for years. His able collaborator, Rosanne Altshuler (whose work I also mine), will surely carry on but I hope that someone like him is rising in Treasury’s permanent staff.

Geraldine Gerardi, retired Director of Business and International Taxation, U.S. Treasury Department – Harry Grubert was an excellent economist and a clear thinker who could cut to the core of a tax issue. He was very generous with his time and I learned a lot from him. He walked me through some of the most complicated issues in taxation that I have ever encountered, again and again and again! His wise counsel improved the work of many of the economists at Treasury’s Office of Tax Analysis and he was widely viewed as one of the Office’s greatest assets.

Harry’s publications, which developed the conceptual and empirical literature on the economic effects of international taxation, are an important part of his professional legacy. His work is insightful, relevant and thought provoking. Harry was highly respected both domestically and internationally. I have no doubt that his vast body of professional work will continue to inform the tax reform discussion for decades and will provide a firm foundation for analytical work in the future.

Timothy Goodspeed, Professor, Hunter College, City University of New York – Fresh out of graduate school and schooled in public finance but not international tax, Harry helped me greatly with his intellect and unbelievable knowledge of the various rules and regulations that make up the international tax system. You would think that after nearly 30 years I would have caught up, but not so. I continued to learn and be amazed by his grip on rules and their economic consequences nearly 30 years later.

I will miss Harry. His intellectual ferocity is legend. However, he had a much softer side that only came across once you got to know him better. This I will miss as much if not more.

Jane Gravelle, Senior Specialist in Economic Policy, Congressional Research Service and Former President, National Tax Association – I found Harry’s research invaluable in my own work. There were so many aspects of international tax that he wrote about. When we began a serious discussion in Congress about moving to a territorial tax (not just the idea but the details), it was Harry’s work (with John Mutti) I turned to first. When I needed information about what share of firms were in excess credit position, again it was Harry’s work (with Rosanne Altshuler). He worked on the cost of tax planning, on formula apportionment, on so many issues. All of these references show up in my own writing. But I also relied on Harry to help me with understanding and researching many issues on a personal level. I would call him and say, “I’m looking for this,” and he would say it’s in that set of statistics, or didn’t x write about it. He was always willing to help me and I shall miss him. I don’t think there is anyone who could step into his shoes and the scope of knowledge he had about economic effects, legal issues, and institutional memory.

Itai Grinberg, Professor, Georgetown School of Law – I was truly fortunate to get to spend significant time with Harry during my time at Treasury. He knew the international tax data better than anyone else (by a mile), he was incredibly insightful in thinking about what it all meant, and was generous with younger colleagues and always willing to have long conversations and share his expertise. I was honored when years later he started coming to my tax policy colloquium at Georgetown Law. Every time Harry walked in the room I knew it was going to be a more robust discussion than it would have been without him. I will miss him, his penetrating intellect, and his warm heart.

James Hines Jr., L. Hart Wright Collegiate Professor of Law and Richard A. Musgrave Collegiate Professor of Economics, University of Michigan – For me Harry was, and probably always will be, a figure in international tax so central that I can’t really think of the subject without thinking of Harry. Over the years I certainly learned a great deal from his patient tutelage. I will genuinely miss the guy.

Edward Kleinbard, Ivadelle and Theodore Johnson Professor of Law and Business at USC Gould School of Law – He was a wonderful man along so many margins – brilliant, incisive, funny, and a generous colleague, to name a few.

Rick Krever, University of Western Australia – It’s just so much fun corresponding with Harry, working with him, talking with him, kibitzing with him. I wanted to keep doing it forever.

James Mackie, Director, Office of Tax Analysis, U.S. Treasury Department – Harry was gem. But like anything of value, his insight required work. It required effort for us mere mortals to dig through the intellectual space between premise and conclusion, question and answer, where Harry jumped immediately to the correct conclusion. Harry saw truth as obvious, but for us it frequently wasn’t, and required a lot of work to sort things out. But boy was it worth the trouble! Harry also was my friend, a convivial (if extravagant) dinner companion and an engaging conversationalist on a wide range of topics: food, sports, arts, politics. I miss him.

Mark Mazur, former Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy, Robert C. Pozen director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center-I knew Harry for a number of years prior to joining Treasury in the Obama Administration. I knew he was brilliant and incredibly knowledgeable about international tax. So whenever there was a particularly difficult international issue, I would go up the stairs to Harry’s office so he could tutor me on the specific topic. He was incredibly gracious with his time and I always left smarter than when I arrived. For that I am incredibly grateful. (He also was fun to run into in the line for morning coffee when the conversation was not always work-related.)

Peter Merrill, Principal, National Economics and Statistics Practice – I first met Harry 35 years ago when, as a new PhD, I joined the Joint Committee on Taxation staff and was assigned to work on international tax policy. Harry’s knowledge of the international tax data and economics literature (to which he contributed substantially) was legendary and, thankfully, he tutored me in a subject that I previously knew nothing about. Harry was an exemplary policy analyst — he was a brilliant and intellectually curious economist whose conclusions were grounded on empirical research.

Lillian Mills, Beverly H. and William P. O’Hara Chair in Business, University of Texas at Austin – He was a legend. I particularly appreciated how at Treasury the economists helped preserve institutional memory while the attorneys kept a pulse on current planning innovations. I remember how I could talk to Harry about some international tax wrinkle and he would say ‘we tried that in 19xx’. We have lost so much Treasury memory and caution with his death.

Jack Mintz, University of Calgary Palmer Chair in Public Policy, University of Calgary (and Eleanor Mintz) – Harry was not just a terrific empirical tax economist but a wonderful and trusted companion with his obvious interest in politics and arts. I think of all the times we have been together, the most special ones were when Harry came to our house to dinner (when visiting his brother in Toronto). It was always a lot of fun.

John “Jack” Mutti, Sidney Meyer Professor of International Economics, Grinnell College – As a taxpayer, colleague, and co-author, I greatly appreciated Harry’s long career at the Treasury Department. Harry had excellent intuition for the economic implications of myriad international tax provisions, and a creative way of framing policy-relevant questions that could be fruitfully evaluated with tax return data. Even for those who remain active across as many decades as Harry was, few individuals will acquire such a unique set of skills and perspectives.

Paul Oosterhuis, Of Counsel, Skadden Arps – I first met Harry soon after he arrived at Treasury in the late 1970s. He became a pillar of knowledge of international tax over his almost 40 years there. In recent years he would agree to meet me at the Old Ebbitt for lunch when I wanted to debate an issue in his writings—issues from an overall versus per country minimum tax to the destination versus origin taxation of intangible income. He was generous with his time and his thinking; I learned a lot from him. Apart from our lunches I often saw Harry as he walked past my office between the subway and the Treasury. He always stopped and chatted, maybe for only a minute, but those minutes added up to fond memories of his grace, humor and wisdom. I will miss him.

Robert Peroni, The Fondren Foundation Centennial Chair for Faculty Excellence and Professor of Law, University of Texas – Harry’s passing is, of course, a major loss for the tax policy world. His international policy work has been so influential and he has had a great effect on the work of many scholars (including me). And he was always fun to talk with about these tax policy issues. I will greatly miss him.

Neviana Petkova, Financial Economist, U.S. Treasury Department – Harry was a kind and generous colleague and friend. I spent countless hours in Harry’s office picking his brain about the finer points of international tax policy – he always had a ready reference or a copy of an article to share. I will miss his invaluable insights and encyclopedic knowledge of everything international tax. Harry was much more than an international tax expert, he was a captivating and engaging conversationalist, with far ranging interests, and a quick wit. A tremendous loss!

Laura Power, Financial Economist, U.S. Treasury Department – As one of Harry’s Treasury colleagues, I have on a daily basis been amazed, impressed, and inspired by his quickness of mind, his deep understanding of economic theory, and his utter mastery of all aspects of international tax. His insights, ideas, and intuition were critical to nearly every meeting, briefing, conference, or seminar I ever attended with him – the room often literally hung on his words (the only time I recall not relishing his input was at my own Treasury job candidate seminar many years ago, when his pointed and slightly caustic questions kept me on my toes!). He has helped to define and shape so much of our thinking about international tax, and he will continue to do so for many years into the future, through his many papers, and through the impact his ideas have had on so many of us. But Harry also really knew how to live! His appreciation for family and friends, as well as for art, food, travel, music, and good conversation, all reflected his love and enjoyment of life. During one of his many trips to Paris, I learned that he sometimes sent photos of his grander meals to our then boss, Gerry Gerardi. I asked Harry if I might be included on these emails, and he proceeded to send us the most amazing pictures of meals straight out of Food and Wine, with mouthwatering titles like “A real mille feuille” or “best lobster bisque with napoleon.” I still get jealous and hungry every time I remember them. His death leaves a great hole on so many levels. I will miss him terribly.

James Rauch, Professor, University of California, San Diego – Harry was my favorite person with whom to discuss intellectual trends in the profession. He had such great perspective and wisdom. Many of us have noted Harry’s love of fine living. In 2012 Harry adjusted his Paris visit schedule so he could attend my wife’s art opening at the Institut du Monde Arabe. Harry was in his element there every bit as much as at a tax policy conference. Afterward he treated us to one of the most memorable dinners of our lives. What a gentle, kind, modest, and generous man he was!

Ralph Rector, Financial Economist, U.S. Treasury Department – I was Harry’s “data guy” at Treasury for almost nine years, filling in for Gordon Wilson after he retired. I produced data files that Harry used with several of his papers and also worked with him by running tax models that were used to develop revenue estimates. I can relate to Steve Shay’s experience communicating with Harry. Harry thought and talked in terms of key concepts which I had to translate into computer code. I learned to just take my best guess and have Harry correct me and take another try until ultimately we both were satisfied. Throughout it all, I learned to appreciate Harry’s keen insight and determinism to stay with something until it was the best we could do.

Not only was Harry a valued colleague, he was a fascinating person with whom to talk. He traveled widely (his last trip was a few months ago to England where he attended a conference at Oxford), he was an art collector (several pieces in his collection will be going to art museums), and he was a connoisseur of fine wines. But, despite his intellect and his “highbrow” interests, I never found him to be arrogant or haughty. He was open to new ideas and eager to discuss them. His usual greeting to me was “what’s new?” and that often led to wide-ranging and enjoyable conversations. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to work with him.

Leslie B. Samuels, former Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy, Senior Counsel, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP – When I arrived at Treasury in 1993, I had heard the legend of Harry’s intellectual thought and expertise on international tax policy issues. Happily for our tax system and me, the legend was in fact reality.

Early on, I worked directly with Harry on various international tax proposals, including proposals to make the taxation of “possessions” corporations under Section 936 more efficient. Harry was THE expert on section 936, a tax provision that had very important policy and political considerations. The lobbyists involved in Section 936 referred to him as “President Grubert”. Their nickname was spot on.

I relied on Harry’s superb expertise, deep institutional knowledge, straight talk and judgement. He was a marvelous Sherpa. I will miss him.

Steve Shay, Senior Lecturer in Law, Harvard Law School – Soon after arriving at the Treasury in 1982 as a young lawyer I was asked to consult Harry Grubert on some question. I trudged to Harry’s office and waited until he looked up with his seemingly gruff exterior. I asked my question. Harry did not say anything. He stood up, started a shuffle-like pacing and mumbled something. I said “I am sorry, but I do not understand what you just said.” Harry looked at me as though seeing me for the first time and gave me his answer. I had no idea what it meant.

I did not want to extend the encounter and poked my head in Marcia Field’s nearby office. I explained the question and Harry’s answer and Marcia patiently translated what Harry meant. Marcia was my first Harry-whisperer. While I have had several over the decades, including Gerry Gerardi when I returned Treasury in 2009, Rosanne Altshuler has been a constant and tops the list.

I gradually would call or go to Harry’s office whenever I had a question about international tax data or on economic issues. Going to his office was a pick-me-up if only because it was consistently messier than mine. It is hard to keep track of all the things I learned from Harry. One was to not judge based on appearances – Harry was shy and kind, not gruff and foreboding. He was smart, had encyclopedic knowledge of international fiscal economics and tax data and, it turned out, was a patient explainer to people he thought were interested in getting something right. He did mumble though.

Harry was a gift for any policymaker interested in evidence-based policy.Harry was data-driven and clear-eyed about the limits of theory in relation to real world facts. Harry taught that no one neutrality can guide international tax policy and that you have to prioritize which margins to optimize. It is not possible in the real world to optimize all affected margins. Transfer pricing was about achieving neutrality between related and unrelated transactions, not favoring large cross-border firms or Government revenue maximization. I could go on.

What Harry was most of all was intellectually honest. He regularly called out sloppy thinking and motivated analysis – mine and that of others far smarter than me. On that margin, Harry was a model. I saw him do it again in at June conference at Oxford and I somehow thought we would always have Harry to set us right.

It is hard to express how much I will miss Harry.

Daniel Shaviro, Wayne Perry Professor of Taxation, New York University School of Law – I am sad to pass on the news that Harry Grubert, longtime Senior Research Economist in the Office of Tax Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and also a friend I greatly admired, has died quietly from a long-term illness.

Harry had more knowledge about U.S. international taxation than any other living individual. I’m not referring to legal knowledge, of course, as he was an economist – albeit, an exceptionally well-informed one about the law. But his long years of research and study regarding U.S. multinational firms, based on tax data that he understood better than anyone else, made him an extraordinary resource, almost like a public utility in light of his kind generosity and willingness to share what he knew.

He was also a leading scholar who developed a number of interesting and important international tax reform ideas (often in coauthored work with Rosanne Altshuler), and one whose research yielded innumerable consequential empirical findings – for example, regarding the costs associated with U.S. multinationals keeping their funds tied up abroad.

I would generally see him a couple of times a year at research conferences, most recently in Oxford this past May. And he was a presenter at the NYU Tax Policy Colloquium, I believe three times. We wouldn’t have kept asking him back if he hadn’t combined excellent and important papers with being a great presenter and fount of knowledge as well as wisdom.

As a matter of style, Harry was a fox, not a hedgehog – he knew many things (and I do mean many), rather than being inclined to focus on one big thing. If you’d ask him, say, about Rule or Proposal X’s effects, he’d say: Here are the 17 margins at which it has an impact. He could even snap at the hedgehogs a bit, when the mood took him (suitably to the metaphor, I suppose). But his kindness and generosity always prevailed, with all who engaged with him.

Joel Slemrod, Paul W. McCracken Collegiate Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy and Professor of Economics, University of Michigan – It goes without saying that Harry had an encyclopedic understanding of international tax rules and their effect on economic behavior; he was always my go-to guy on this subject. But what I will remember most fondly is what a gentle man he was, and how we would go together to the opera at conferences whenever we could, capped off by our triumphant visit to La Scala a few years ago. I will miss him sorely.

Bob Stack, Deloitte Tax LLP, former Deputy Assistant Secretary (International Tax Affairs) – I first met Harry in March 2013 when I arrived at the Treasury Department. At first I had trouble understanding whatever point Harry was making. Part of that was because he was an economist and I am a lawyer. And another part was Harry being Harry. He trained me well, however, and after some time working together I learned to discern the nuggets of wisdom he was offering and always turned to him for what he had to offer—which was always a lot. I was very fortunate to see Harry recently in Oxford after I had been out of government for several months. I share the sentiments of those who found him to a warm, wonderful human being. In contrast to someone like me who breezes through Treasury as an appointee, Harry stands as the embodiment of the invaluable, brilliant career civil servant – too often underappreciated by politicians and the public at large. He will be missed.

Eugene Steuerle, Institute Fellow and Richard B. Fisher Chair, Urban Institute – Harry is one of my heroes. Whenever I needed advice about some issue of international taxation, he was my go-to person. It wasn’t just his expertise: I knew I would get as unbiased and disinterested an analysis as was possible, though I must confess I did not always understand the many implications he would lay out. In a time when true civil service is so disparaged, let’s not also forget that Harry kept striving onward, working at way below pay once one subtracted out lost pension benefits, just to try to solve the nation’s international tax problems for those with enough sense to listen. I’ll also miss that bemused, half-laugh, half-smile, when he would begin some comment on the foibles of tax policy.

William Strang, Financial Economist, U.S. Treasury Department – Harry Grubert’s passing is a huge loss for the international tax community in general and Treasury’s Office of Tax Policy in particular. His combination of international tax economic research; knowledge of the law, literature, theory and data; and policy experience was unparalleled. Perhaps the best example of his value was when someone would mention a seemingly obscure issue, and Harry would say that he had a paper on that. Many years ago, a junior lawyer here asked another for a definition of “eminence grise.” The other replied simply, “Harry Grubert.” While Harry wouldn’t patronize those who should have known better or weren’t being intellectually honest, he was very generous with those of us who were relative newcomers to the field, even if his explanations often omitted steps that were obvious to him but not to us. Office wisdom held that if he argued with you, it was a compliment that you were worthy of his attention. Perhaps most generous of all is that, when most retire at 65 or earlier, Harry stayed until the end, passing on his invaluable institutional knowledge to younger generations. My only regret is that we didn’t get to properly say thank you or goodbye.

One would think that someone so accomplished in any field couldn’t possibly be versatile but Harry was highly knowledgeable about other areas. In particular, he was a tasteful collector of modern art and a frequent customer and savvy critic of Michelin starred restaurants. He often shared unlikely stories or facts, such as when, out with his family, he recognized Anthony Burgess on the street and told his brother (Harry being too shy), who invited Burgess to dine with them, which he did. Or the fact that he was Canadian. Or that he was at Art Basel Miami when UBS was there recruiting U.S. high-wealth tax evaders. If we had been able to throw Harry a going away party, I wanted to somehow give him a visit to Josef Hoffman’s Palais Stoclet in Brussels, as it is only open by permission of the owner, Hoffman was a favorite of Harry’s, and Harry had mentioned that he would like to visit.

Eric Toder, Urban Institute Fellow and Co-Director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center – Harry was a mentor and valued friend and colleague and I will miss him, as will so many others. His contributions to the academic literature in international taxation and to the development of policy at the Treasury Department were immense.