Friday, November 11, 2011

Foreign tax credit discussion in Chicago

I flew to Chicago last night in order to appear on a foreign tax credit panel this morning at the 64th Annual University of Chicago Tax Conference. As I said at the start of my remarks this morning, I was glad to appear there, not just because it's an excellent conference (though it is - surely the best practitioner-led tax conference that I know of anywhere), and not just because I saw many old friends and acquaintances all around the room (although I did, some going back more than 25 years and whom I don't see regularly), but also because the conference was originally inspired and led by the great Walter Blum, whom I had the privilege to know when I started teaching at the University of Chicago Law School in 1987, and who was kind enough as to serve as a mentor (as well as being a friend) back in those days.

Less than 24 hours in Chicago, and I dodged a couple of bullets - first yesterday, when my flight to Chicago was canceled shortly before I was going to leave for the airport. I was re-booked to get there today, long after my session had ended, but I was able to scramble and find another flight. Then today I came extremely close (in distance terms, perhaps a couple of millimeters) to losing a contact lens down the sink in my hotel room. This could have left me a bit like Piggy in Lord of the Flies, albeit in a much friendlier setting.

But then I was able to catch an earlier flight home and was even upgraded to first class (the fruits of just how much travel I have been doing on United and Continental over the last year). I feel so much less like a head of cattle when I get an upgrade.

But perhaps of more interest was the session itself. Phil West of Steptoe & Johnson (a leading international tax practitioner, and former International Tax Counsel at the Treasury) was the main presenter on the subject "The Future of the Foreign Tax Credit." Lowell Yoder of McDermott Will & Emery chaired and organized the panel, as well as whipping it into shape over Giardano's pizza, and the other commentator was Michael J. Caballero, who is currently the International Tax Counsel.

Phil gave a very useful overview of where the foreign tax credit has been, and where it might be conceivably be heading, with a particular eye on a number of recent and ongoing controversies, enactments, and proposals, on many of which Michael commented. But my assigned task, which Phil very kindly gave the audience highly favorable word about, was to shed a different light on discussion of the foreign tax credit (and international tax issues generally) than perhaps one generally hears.

I welcomed this (as who wouldn't, in my shoes) in part because, as I have tediously yammered here from time to time, I really do believe that I have rethought the international tax field in an important way, previewed to some extent in recent articles that I have published but not to be fully laid out until my international tax book comes out (and I would be lucky to finish writing it by, say, mid to late 2012, what with the welter of conflicting obligations that I've either been handed or deliberately accepted).

One doesn't always feel that way about one's work (except perhaps if one is only loosely tethered to reality), even if one likes it, because it is hard to pull off that sort of thing very often, or indeed perhaps at all. But given that I do believe that I've done it this time around, it felt very good to get a strong confirmatory feeling from a lot of the audience - not that anyone there is necessarily chargeable with agreeing with me, but that people seemed to see the significance and, at least, plausibility of viewing the whole field rather differently than in the traditional international tax policy literature.

The first time I previewed these ideas, at a conference in North Carolina back in January 2010, I was distressed not to feel that what I had to say had gone over. But I've thought it through better, learned to say it better, and perhaps people have had more of a chance to think about it.

I also felt like I was in pretty decent form today. Just as NBA players (these are people who used to play something like "professional basketball" back in the distant past when there was such a thing) have good days and bad, so I felt like my jump shot was connecting a bit today. But not to worry, one can always count on worse days as well as better ones.

Anyway, here are the slides from my talk, which in many cases (I hope readers, like the conference attendees, can tell which ones) are borrowed from Phil West's talk, with my comments just added at the bottom to express my response to the standard approach that Phil was very ably laying out.

I should be able to post a fuller PPT version of what I have to say in early December, after giving a 45-minute talk on international taxation as a headliner at a conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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