Friday, June 28, 2013

Book update with added commercial plug

I guess I can now say, my book Fixing U.S. International Taxation will be published by the Oxford University Press.  The anticipated publication date, at this point, is January 2014, although a sooner date, before the end of this year, is not impossible.

The book is suitable, by the way (if I may be so crass) for 2014 spring semester course adoption - for example, in (a) tax policy classes in law schools that include an international focus, (b) international tax law classes, where it might serve as recommended additional reading. and (c) courses touching on international taxation in economics departments, accounting departments, business schools, and public policy schools.

One who was thinking about it in that regard might compare it to my 2009 book, Decoding the U.S. Corporate Tax, which it greatly resembles in structure, although the big difference is that Decoding sought to explicate existing literature rather than to move things forward.  But in both cases, I have sought to combine broad accessibility and clarity with addressing issues in ways that experts would find interesting.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tax Prof Blog link to the Jerusalem book symposium

This Tax Prof Blog post includes a book description that I cobbled together (perhaps too quickly) by condensing some text from my introduction.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Book symposium at Hebrew University

Yesterday (Friday, June 21), Hebrew University held a book symposium concerning my forthcoming book, Fixing U.S. International Taxation.  As I've mentioned before, I appear to have a publisher lined up (a leading university press), but as we haven’t executed the contract yet I’ll wait to name it.

The commentators were Steve Shay, Yariv Brauner, and Fadi Shaheen.  Plus a lot of the leading Israeli tax academics were in the room, and participated in the discussion that followed the three presentations and my response.

I must say, I was really pleased with how the session went.  In addition to its being constructive and interesting, I felt there was general acceptance of the view, which I have been carrying around with me like a two hundred pound weight slung over my shoulder,  to the effect that the book is (OK, I’ll say it) a major step forward in the field.

More on the book's main themes in due course.  But I do think it's the best thing I've written, leaving aside my novel on non-commensurability grounds.

Ending two weeks' radio silence

Now that I am back in the U.S., I am happy to end my more than 2 weeks without a blog post.  I’ve been in Israel, as mentioned in previous posts, and when I was in my hotel and on-line (which required being in the lobby) I was having some technical difficulties signing in.  I probably could have figured out how to solve the problem, but I was fairly busy running around anyway.

I was staying up in the Mount Scopus area, near Hebrew University’s law school, at which I had a teaching gig.  I was supposed to have 5 classes over the two week period, meeting for 2 hours & 20 minutes each, but on the third day the students pitched to me the idea of lengthening classes 3 and 4 so that I could cancel class 5 without loss of overall class time.  A half hour was all that I could add to class 3, given the amount of material I had prepared and the fact that some of the students (I had about 14 in all) needed to leave, but I agreed to make class 4 a marathon, running for 4 hours total though with 2 short breaks.  (So it was three consecutive sessions of about 1 hour and 15 minutes each over a four-hour period.)  I told them that, while this would be pretty tough for me, it would be even tougher for them, as listening to someone for 4 hours can be harder than talking for that length of time.  But I think we got through it OK. 

The topic of the lectures (with some questions and discussion) was U.S. corporate and international taxation, emphasizing aspects of the U.S. system that are widespread rather than idiosyncratic, and trying to blend discussion of real world practice and planning issues with applied economic theory.  Most of the students had only had a basic class in individual income taxation, but I aimed to adjust for that, and I thought it went OK.  Early in a teaching career you learn not to under-prepare.  Later on, you learn not to over-prepare, so that you can respond more flexibly to the students and to what is happening in front of you.

Classes met in the afternoon, generally at either 2 or 4 pm.  So even on class days, I could do other things early in the day.  Generally on class days, as well as open days when I didn’t have a more long-range travel plan, I would walk down from Mount Scopus to the Old City of Jerusalem – about 2 to 3 miles down.  While going back up was obviously the same length, it felt much longer, what with the climb and mid-afternoon heat.  Wailing Wall, Dome on the Rock, City of David, the markets inside the walls, etc.

Usually I’d be pretty tired by the end of the day, but at least I was getting some exercise.  And I wouldn't complain, even to myself, about the heat and the Sun (which could be pretty rough if I was trudging steeply uphill at 2 pm), given how much more I would have disliked the cool and rainy weather that I gather New York has had much of the time.

In addition to seeing a lot of the Old City, the main markets, and the main tourist sites around Jerusalem (including the Zoo and the Israel Museum, which has a great Herod show right now, as his tomb was recently found), I also spent a couple of days in Tel Aviv, and went on visits to Jericho, Bethlehem, and Herodion (the site of Herod’s tomb).  There are quite a few more great tourist sites in Israel, but many of them I had seen already in earlier visits.  And since Jericho et al are in the Palestinian Territories, I got to see the wall, cars and workers passing through it, etcetera.

My final event of the two-week stay, earlier today (Friday as I write this), was a symposium at Hebrew University concerning my international tax book.  But I will save that for a separate blog post.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Current activities

I am hoping my international tax book will soon be under contract with a particular publisher.  More on this when there is concrete news to report.  I received some readers' reports, which I viewed as quite favorable and also as having some helpful suggestions, and I have gone through the text making responsive changes.  Ready to go final after a symposium session discussing the book at Hebrew University Law School in Jerusalem, scheduled for June 21 (with Steve Shay, Fadi Shaheen, and Yariv Brauner as the commenters), and subject also to a final read-through.

As I will also be teaching a 10-hour course at Hebrew University on corporate tax law and policy, I depart for Israel tomorrow (Friday June 7), and will be there for two weeks.

Meanwhile, in addition to preparing for the Hebrew U. class and dealing with prehab and surgical choices for my busted knee, I have gotten back to work on a new article, tentatively called Nudges, Shoves, Bans, and Retirement Policy, that uses the Chetty et al Denmark retirement study as a jumping-off point for broader ruminations about such topics as behavioral economics, retirement policy, nudges, libertarian paternalism, and adding Social Security to the pension default vs. savings incentives debate.

I anticipate that it will be a bit more focused than my choice here of the word "ruminations" may make it sound, but I do plan to cover a fairly wide spectrum of implications rather than having a narrow focus.  Another somewhat new direction for me, albeit drawing on my writings about Social Security and retirement policy.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Ambiguous empirical factors

OK, it's one thing to lack data or significant studies on point (I gather there isn't much out there) regarding my assertion, in my forthcoming international tax book, that the U.S. rules create high deadweight loss relative to the revenue being raised.  Everyone appears to agree with this anyway.

It's another matter entirely to have tough personal choices depend on probabilistic estimates that would require better empirical data than one has.  (Even apart from the challenging task of assigning welfare weights to the key aspects of various alternative scenarios.)

So yes, as a consumer though not producer of empirical literature, I would like to have better information than I have regarding the merits of alternative courses of action with regard to the torn, and hence now effectively non-existent, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in my right knee.

ACL is an odd injury.  If you're a sports fan, you read about Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Mariano Rivera, etcetera, tearing their ACLs, having corrective surgery, and taking nine months to a year or longer before they are back in action - but generally, with full restoration of prior function.  But one thing I've learned already about my month-old injury is how startlingly high-functioning, for some but not other purposes, one can be without an ACL.  The swelling is mostly gone and I'm doing rehab. But at this point I can easily walk 5-10 miles, handle stairs but not irregular climbing, am working back towards my pre-injury capacity on elliptical machines, and pretty much never feel significant pain.  On the other hand, I can't run, feel significant instability in the knee, and if I tried any activity such as basketball or tennis I would likely be carted off on a stretcher within the first 5 minutes.  The real danger is knee buckling (I've had two major instances since the injury) that can involve tearing cartilage, increased likelihood of arthritis down the road, etc.

So should I have the surgery?  I've met with three surgeons, and the one I thought best (e.g., for being the most evidence-based of them) said that, even putting tennis entirely to one side, it would be "very reasonable" to have the surgery.  Part of the reason it's no more than that is age.  Restorative surgery (using either one's own ligament scrapings or, ahem, a cadaver) is considered entirely standard for people under age 40, but once you get beyond that it's a closer call (and at one time SOP said not to do it).

Arguably, if I do the surgery, I'll be playing tennis for 20 to 30 more years, albeit shifting at some point to doubles.  But I have a history as an injury magnet.  Imagine doing all the work to restore my knee and then having something else go out.

Closer at hand, there's the issue of my risk of developing arthritis.  A weakened knee that keeps buckling and suffering additional cartilage tears is  truly a prime candidate for debilitating arthritis, which can only at best be managed, not cured.  But the evidence isn't clear regarding how much I actually help myself with the surgery, which can itself promote onset if it doesn't go entirely well.  Or take the question of whether I should expect further buckling incidents if it isn't fixed, and how likely these are to involve significant cartilage tearing.  (At the moment, my kneecap has some damage but the menisci apparently are fine.)  Very hard to gauge.  Even with more and better data, the particularities of my case would undermine relying on it.

Such studies as there are often prove frustratingly unclear about where the odds lie, as to questions ranging from the whether to the when to the how.  And one problem is that there are multiple groups that need to be disaggregated.  E.g., younger vs older, professional versus recreational athletes, people who are more cautious and diligent versus those who are less so, people who follow different recovery timetables, people who are in better vs. worse shape when they go in and thus might face different probabilities of facing serious atrophy & rehab problems with associated muscles (such as the quadriceps).

Anyway, I've picked my surgeon, assuming I do it, and answered a couple of the how questions.  The big remaining question is when - although this includes the "if" question, since one time I could do it is never.  As I am going to Israel for two weeks this Friday, and as I love the summer and don't want to ruin it for myself entirely, the "sooner" option right now probably means the end of July, so I will be sufficiently recovered to teach my first fall semester class (even if I'm still on crutches) at the end of August.

"Later" means early December, right after my last class.  That's a much better time of year for me to deal with the rehab, in multiple dimensions.  But it would mean that I got started on recovery 4 months later, and it would be unwise if I spent the interim making things worse such as through incremental cartilage tears.  On the other hand if I spent it getting into really great shape, the recovery might go faster.  Plus if I go that long and have more function restored than I am currently expecting (e.g., suppose I can actually run again, at least in a straight line), then the "if" question becomes harder again.