Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Sessions at U Va and NYU

I'll often blog about my talks or conference appearances and such, but have lately been too busy and backed up at work to spare the time. But at a certain point it gets so bad that it really doesn't matter any more at the margin if you ignore your main responsibilities for a bit. It can't get any worse, and is very far from getting noticeably better. So here goes.

Last Friday, I traveled to Charlottesville, VA to discuss Decoding the Corporate Tax at a Virginia Tax Study Group panel, kindly arranged by Michael Doran (who is leaving Virginia for Georgetown). My co-panelists were Ethan Yale (who is leaving Georgetown for Virginia) and Michael Schler. Nice discussion, and to my shock I actually succeeded in personally selling 11 of the books afterwards to people who I hope are now satisfied customers.

Ethan presented his own paper, describing a corporate tax reform proposal to tax corporate dividends like share repurchases (i.e., with basis recovery). I find this an interesting proposal to add to the existing menu, and think its merits depend in part on the significance of the corporate governance issues that might make the dividend vs. repurchase choice important. Then I described my book (overview plus brief description of policy proposals at the end) and Mike S. commented on both of our proposals.

I do like the policy proposals in my book, which are (1) lowering the corporate tax rate but with offsetting adjustments, (2) ceasefire-in-place international tax simplification, and (3) addressing corporate governance problems via the gap between taxable and financial accounting income. But I agree with the other two discussants that the book's main contribution over a long-term perspective is expositional, relating to the rich yet inconclusive economics literature and how to think about the subject, rather than to the proposals themselves.

So there we are, a nice and reasonably productive day in Charlottesville, VA; it's Friday at 4 pm, and I've just arrived at the airport to fly back to NYC. I need to fly back promptly as I have no overnight bag, no place to stay, and a commitment to appear the next morning, back in NYC, at an NYU Alumni Reunions panel with a couple of hundred scheduled attendees. The panelists are supposed to discuss tax policy in the Obama Administration, and as an added complication we have been too busy to finalize what we're actually doing.

In the Charlottesville airport at 4 pm, I learn that my flight to NYC has been cancelled, a victim of the East Coast storms last Friday, and indeed that the Charlottesville Airport (a very small one) is done for the day apart from (1) a couple of flights headed to points further south, plus just maybe (2) a flight to Philadelphia that was supposed to leave at 3:30 but is now tentatively scheduled for 7:15.

Lots of options at this point. Drive to NYC? Drive to Washington (2 hours) and take a shuttle in the morning? Airport hotel? Ask my hosts to find lodging? (They were very willing to help.) I chose Door Number 5, the flight to Philadelphia, and hoped for the best. Good call, as it transpired - it left earlier than expected and via 3 separate trains I made it the rest of the way back home only 3 hours late overall.

This left time the next morning to plan and then execute the panel on Tax Policy in the Obama Administration. Greg Jenner, whom I've known since we both worked on the Tax Reform Act of 1986, was my main co-discussant on the topics for our half of the panel. We ran through most of the Obama budget proposals, other than business & international (which went to our co-panelists), and although Greg is at least technically a Republican (albeit the honest and intellectually responsible kind that's all too rare these days) we agreed about a lot. Both of us either need more meds, or are rightly reading the long-term fiscal situation as extremely threatening.

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