I am currently at the International Fiscal Association's annual meeting, which is being held this year in Boston. These days I tend not to go to conferences unless I am one of the speakers, but as it happens I am one at the IFA. I am appearing on a panel tomorrow to discuss financial transactions taxes, as well as alternatives such as the financial activities tax. Our seven-person panel had a 5 (!) hour meeting today to plan our 2-hour panel tomorrow - the IFA norm for panels emphasizes rigorous advance preparation, verging on scripting. But it was actually reasonably enjoyable and interesting, especially considering how long we all were there.
Turning to the panel's subject, I am not a huge fan of the financial transactions tax compared to the alternative tax instruments of my choice, but if it is the FTT or nothing, I would certainly consider saying yes to it, either for the EU (the issue in tomorrow's panel discussion) or the U.S. Given our political system's severe dysfunctionality and our revenue needs, along with the fact that (as Keynes argued back in 1935) there seems to be too much effort invested in seeking stock profits at the expense of rival investors, and finally given that the FTT is fairly progressive (albeit as an oddly designed tax on saving and investment), there is something to be said for it if we rule out all the alternatives (progressive consumption tax, VAT, carbon tax, financial activities tax, etc.). And I do respect the very serious effort that the European Commission folks put in trying to design it appropriately. That said, there certainly are lots of problems, such as in how to treat derivative transactions, as well as the prospect of cascading inter-business taxes that could prompt financial market disintermediation. But tomorrow I will be more analytical than bottom line.
The IFA's annual meeting is an interesting sociological event that I have never attended before. A few thousand people attend, mostly European and Third World, mostly practitioners but with a few academics and NGO or government types. I know a lot of people here in numerical terms, not that many in percentage terms, and it is obviously a huge networking event for tax professionals who want to meet their peers in other countries. I gather that it used to be mostly OECD, but now countries such as South Korea and India are huge players as well. Probably lots of interesting dynamics that I cannot myself directly observe.