Nothing Is Certain But Death and Taxes… And Zombies

Do zombies have to do taxes?
Photo by Harmony Huskinson
Make-up by Ryann Padilla, Alex Makk and Kayla Frost

While filing tax returns can be stressful, the process hardly calls to mind a zombie apocalypse.  However, that’s exactly what ASU professor Adam Chodorow’s first thought was when he saw Occupy Denver march straight into an ill-timed zombie walk that was headed down the same street. “Being a tax person,” he says, “I wondered whether zombies are considered dead for tax purposes.”

The associate dean teaches tax law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and has previously published heavy-hitting academic articles such as “Biblical Tax Systems and the Case for Progressive Taxation” and “Tracing Basis Through Virtual Spaces.” That’s why his latest article, “Death and Taxes and Zombies,” sent shockwaves through the academic community more used to referencing the IRS than “Shaun of the Dead.”

Associate dean and professor Adam Chodorow brought some comic relief to taxes.
Photo by Michael Brilliant

Chodorow insists that having fun is his central priority as an ASU professor. After leaving his job as a tax lawyer, he vowed to write only about what fascinated him. Now, he says, “It’s front and center in how I approach my job.” His commitment to enjoying what he does drove him to take his interest in zombies and turn it into something more. But before he could write the article that caught the eye of The New York Times, he buckled down and did some unorthodox research.

“Death and Taxes and Zombies” incorporates many different forms of zombie-related media, from “28 Days Later” to “The Walking Dead,” and even manages to mention the ever-popular “Twilight” saga in the process. Pay careful attention to the paper’s footnotes, and hidden gems reveal themselves.

When questioning whether the estate tax should apply to vampires, Chodorow uses a footnote to suggest their preoccupation with money: “Count Chocula has clearly made a killing on his cereal, and rumor has it that even Count von Count is loaded,” one footnote reads. “While harnessed to the greater good of teaching children to count, it turns out that the Count’s OCD-like fascination with numbers turns out to be typical of vampires.”

Given the recent spike in zombie-centric movies and television shows, it is no wonder that Chodorow’s article quickly gained national attention. Zombies have captivated our collective imagination, and within weeks of its publication, Time, io9 and the blogosphere were discussing “Death and Taxes and Zombies.”

Eric Thomas, an organizer of the live action role-playing game Humans versus Zombies at ASU,  believes there is a reason people find zombies fascinating. “Zombies are capable of destroying the foundations of civilization,” the engineering junior says.

Similar to Thomas, psychology junior Landan Spilsbury says that zombies have become even more interesting in light of recent events. He says, “In the past few months, we’ve seen a slew of real-life zombie reports.” (seen here and here.)

Either way, it seems we all want to know whether we would be able to maintain order if zombies actually made an appearance in the workplace. Given the current political climate, Chodorow says, “I’m beginning to wonder whether even an apocalypse would bring Congress together.”

This is the core question of Chodorow’s article — could the U.S. not only survive, but possibly even thrive in the event of a zombie apocalypse? If zombies were capable of working (e.g. “Shaun of the Dead”) and paying income taxes, the answer might be yes.

First, though, some messy questions would have to be answered starting with whether zombies could legally be considered to be alive. When this comes up, Chodorow is quick to point out that in many movies, the zombies are never dead in the first place. “It’s more difficult in movies like ’28 Days Later’ and ‘I Am Legend,’ where you don’t die,” he says. “You get sick and become a bloodthirsty monster, but you’re still alive.”

While that question has yet to be answered, there are some facts that Chodorow is sure of completely. As responsible adults, he says, people need to become better versed in tax policy. According to him, many people end up cheating on their tax returns simply because they do not know what constitutes income. He says, “I have a lot of students say that they’ve been cheating on their taxes for the last 10 years.”

Zombies, if considered alive, would have to work and file taxes like all other non-decaying humans.
Photo by Harmony Huskinson
Make-up by Ryann Padilla, Alex Makk and Kayla Frost

Even more important to Chodorow is that voters do not let the upcoming presidential election turn them into zombies. Instead of viewing candidates’ rhetoric through a critical lens, he says, too many voters believe it unquestioningly — especially concerning matters of tax policy.

Wary of the promises that politicians make during election season, Chodorow says that he hopes that other voters will follow suit: “I wish that people would pay more attention and be skeptical consumers of what they hear, from both the Republicans and the Democrats.”

Whether preparing for the zombie apocalypse or just getting ready to vote, doing some research is vital.

Fans of “Death and Taxes and Zombies” can look forward to Chodorow’s forthcoming article on zombies and the US Census. Before he takes on another paranormal legal project, though, he plans to balance his workload with a few more serious endeavors first. His schedule may not allow for any zombie research right now, but the professor is committed to continuing his investigation.

“This has been so much fun,” he says. “I think I want to give it another go.”

 

Contact the writer at jlpruett@asu.edu, or contact her on Twitter @jlpruett