Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Vignettes from a short trip

Last evening through tonight I was in Washington to discuss international tax issues on a panel run by the apparently prestigious Tax Council Policy Institute, a rather generic name for a group run out of KPMG that has conferences with lots of CFOs and such in attendance. (I am hoping they will merge with the Tax Foundation to form the Tax Council Policy Institute Foundation.)

One amusing moment: I was watching the Wisconsin primary news in the hotel last night, on an unknown channel that for 30 seconds or so I thought was actually a serious news station. Then it struck me that their vote analysts were explaining about how Obama gets votes from "extreme left wing" college students. Ah, that must be Fox News, I realized.

Today at the session, a co-panelist took umbrage to my describing theories such as capital export neutrality, capital import neutrality, and capital ownership neutrality in trying to orient U.S. international tax policy. Those are just theories, he said, and what matters are things in the real world.

If they're good theories, I replied, they tell us something about the real world, and if not then we simply need better theories.

A bit later he started talking about how the important thing is that firms such as his face a level playing field when competing against foreign firms.

The riposte was a bit obvious, but sometimes you have to be obvious. That is a theory, I pointed out.

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