Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tillinghast lecture at NYU Law School

Today I gave the 15th annual Tillinghast Lecture on International Taxation, to a group of about 300 people at NYU Law School. The audience mainly consisted of NYU graduate students in the International Tax Program, other NYU students, faculty and staff from the law school, NYU Law School grads, other legal academics, a few economists, and a number of tax practitioners. Mostly from NYC and thereabouts, but a few came from out of town.

I'll post the PowerPoint slides for the talk shortly, and also a link for the underlying paper once it's up on SSRN. (But I am going to do minor revisions first.) While the title is "The Rising Tax Electivity of U.S. Corporate Residence," it ranged more widely than that, discussing many of the basic considerations (as I see them) in the choice of U.S. international income tax regime for corporations. Drab though this may sound to those not in the field, there's actually great complexity and depth to this set of topics, which also may matter economically to a degree.

I knew I had a lot of fairly complicated things to say and very different types of points to make or issues to address, so the problem of how to make it all comprehensible was a challenging one. Especially as I talk quite fast, and am willing to hit a lot of related but distinct topics successively. And I'm also trying to connect simultaneously with multiple audiences (students, sophisticated journalists, practitioners, economists, policymakers, etc.).

Did I worry about any of this in advance? Who, me? Why, yes, as a matter of fact, at least briefly.

This is probably a once-only talk, unlike other recent academic papers that I gave multiple times (typically to 20 or so people at a shot) and thus was able to sharpen up as I went along like an off-Broadway show that starts with previews. But I had put in some time polishing my slides, and also figuring out how best to discuss & explain things, though I absolutely can't stand to do a literal dry run practice talk.

In doing these sorts of public talks (usually, however, shorter talks before smaller audiences), you get to know that you have better days and worse ones, just as one's tennis forehand may be crisp and accurate one day, then into the net or floating long the next. And you always figure that strangers will judge you based on today's performance (just as in tennis, where there's nothing lamer than saying to someone you haven't played before, "Sorry, I'm a bit off today"). But in addition to having thought things through to a fair degree, I discovered early on that I seemed to be in reasonably good form today. So if you were there and found it bewildering, I don't even have the "just an off-day" excuse, inadequate though that would be anyway.

In sum, I felt good about it from a performance as well as a substantive aspect. Also, though I got some good comments, I generally had anticipated them, thus confirming my sense that I am on the right track in thinking about these issues, and have a fair amount to add (only part of it raised in today's paper) even though the topics are by now familiar in the biz.

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