Sunday, December 04, 2011

Conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil

I'm in the Sao Paulo airport, awaiting my overnight flight back to the U.S. after a very enjoyable few days here.

My talk, from the PPT slides posted in my previous entry, appeared to go well apart from the obvious distress that I caused the live-simultaneous translators. It took three of them to handle my talk (of perhaps about an hour?). They were dropping like horses on the Pony Express overnight delivery run, and seemed to think I was talking a bit fast. Not the first time I've heard this critique, but the live audience, which was 99 percent listening in English, appeared to be getting it fine. I later observed that quite a few of the Portuguese speakers at the conference, who were likewise being translated live (I believe, just for me), spoke every bit as fast as I do. But the translators told me afterwards (between shudders at the memory of the exhausting experience) that, for every 10 words or so of English speech, you on average need 13 or 14 words to say the same thing in Portuguese.

Anyway, people seemed interested in the talk. Brazil is an interesting case. At one time in the past a territorial country in re. outbound multinational investment, they have gone opposite to much of the rest of the world by shifting to a fairly tough worldwide system, with no deferral, tough formulaic transfer pricing rules, and anti-tax haven rules for foreign tax credit use (cross-crediting). They also have a 34 percent corporate rate, and are asking some of the same questions as people in the U.S. re. what to make of trends elsewhere.

Apparently, their shift in the other direction reflected that the government was looking for tax revenue and acted, whether for better or worse, without a lot of political debate about the usual set of international tax policy issues. But now Brazilian academics and civil society are getting interested, not in a particular change that they've already picked out, but in thinking about the issues more.

I offered the sort of analysis I've been arguing for in international tax policy lately, but without purporting to say "you should definitely do X." Rather, in addition to the structure of the analysis I noted some empirical issues that might help in evaluating what was best.

I also ended up commenting on a couple of other panels, first more on international taxation and then concerning transparency. I also participated in an informal seminar at a very nice separate location (on Ihla Bella, an accurately named island 3-plus hours from Sao Paulo), on issues of how the Internet et al has affected legal issues such as those pertaining to intellectual property. I suppose you could say I took somewhat of a modified Frank Easterbrook "law of the horse" type position.

I can't really say enough about what a warm and hospitable reception I received from the Brazilian and other (such as Argentinian) participants in these various events. I got a cultural impression of greater personal warmth and also taste for having a good time (such as with live music and very late evenings) than one would expect in a get-together of, say, North Americans or Europeans.

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