Tsilly Dagan

Tsilly DaganTell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I was born and raised in Givatayim, a small town in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, Israel, where my grandparents had built their home after immigrating from Russia as members of a socialist youth group back in the 1920s. I was the first in my family to attend university and to take interest in law (and in taxation). I studied at Tel Aviv University and practiced (yes, tax) prior to completing my LL.M. (in taxation) at NYU while living in New Haven (where my partner, Hanoch, went to school).  The three-hour train ride to each class while expecting our first child yielded one of my first articles, “commuting” (about the deductibility of commuting expenses), as well as a baby girl who was easy to soothe by the routine sound of the spinning wheels.

What led you to a career in academia?

I was drawn to academia when, during my LL.M., I took two seemingly very different courses – game theory and international taxation – in the same semester. Studying them at the same time made me think the insights of game theory may shed light on the dynamics of international taxation. It made me start conceptualizing states under globalization as competitive “actors” who are “thinking strategically” in their efforts to outbid one another in the competition for resources and revenues.  This was an idea worth writing as a PhD dissertation when the game theoretical analysis yielded some interesting and counter-intuitive results as to why do developing countries end up on the losing side of the international tax game. At that point, I got a teaching job as a graduate student and fell in love with teaching. Pursuing an academic career was the natural move afterwards. My pre-tenure years involved a constant juggling between teaching, research and raising three kids. But, at least, my kids got the right message about the joy of academic life; or, as my daughter once put it, “mommy, if you want to be tenured, just delete less.” 

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on two projects. One focuses on the question of how tax and regulatory competition unbundle states’ sovereignty – when citizens and residents can de-facto pick and choose among the regulatory offerings (tax and non-tax incidents) of many states. This, of course, has many ramifications for the state-constituent relationship, for the future of the welfare state as well as for global justice. My other research project centers on domestic issues of “horizontal equity.” It critically evaluates the features that tax law treats as relevant for considering taxpayers’ relative equality. My core claim is that tax law is not and cannot settle solely for comparing taxpayers’ economic wellbeing. Instead, in order to treat taxpayers with equal respect and concern, tax law must also consider other key aspects of their personhood, such as their gender, (dis)abilities, families, and social interactions, as well as their social and political communities. I seek to demonstrate how many of these features already play an important role in income taxation, and argue for a reevaluation of the system in cases where these features are ignored.   

What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time?

In ordinary times I love spending time with friends and family. Covid-19 and the (too many) lockdowns, as well as the time spent home, turned me—like many others I suspect—into a devout gardener (see photo) and an enthusiastic cook.

What is your favourite place to visit in the world?

I have a soft spot for New York City, where I went to school and where I have often come back to for both short and long visits, with my family as well as alone. Walking the streets of the west village as a broke student, and, much later, the streets of the upper west side and central park, while taking my son to school, gave me a chance to experience and enjoy the unique vibe and extraordinary energy of this exciting city.




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