Saturday, November 23, 2013

2013 National Tax Association Annual Meeting

The NTA Annual Meeting ended a few hours ago, and (as per my last blog post) I am stranded in my hotel lobby, because that is better than being stranded in the airport.  My flight is just over two hours away, but no need to leave yet.  We are so close to the airport that, when playing tennis on the hard courts here - as it turned out, without injuring my ACL-deficient right knee, although there is always next time to worry about - I could almost have imagined I was playing at the U.S. Open.  All those giant jets taking off and landing right next to you.  Circling birds of prey as well.  I was hoping that they didn't know something about me that I didn't.

Anyway, the conference appears to have been a big success.  At least, this was my own sense of it, and people kept telling me so, in connection with my role as co-Program Chair (with Tracy Gordon). Our main strategy was to be inclusive and accept as many of the submitted papers and panels as we could.  This has a downside, since 4-paper sessions are potentially more jumbled and scattered than those with just 3, and since having lots of parallel sessions at the same time risks thinning out the audience.  But it also means that more people attend, more people get to present, that attendees have more choices, and we thought it would create a richer conference experience.  Inclusive is good.  Plus we just hated having to say No any more than we had to.  (Unfortunately, resource constraints meant that we'd be saying this to dozens of people in any event - but no reason to make it even worse.)

Economists with NTA-related interests presumably already tend to know about the Annual Meeting.  In addition, many of them know about the advantages of going, especially if one is junior.  You get exposure for your own work, feedback on it, you get to meet and talk with other people in the field, etcetera.  But tax law professors, and tax practitioners with broad policy interests, don't participate at the levels that the NTA wants.  (That said, there were at least twenty law profs here this year.)  Equally or more importantly, lots of junior tax people in the law schools may not be aware of the extent to which they may benefit from attending NTA annual meetings.  One of the great things about the NTA, especially for lawyers given the predominance here of economists, is the inter-disciplinary element.  Lots of panels are deliberately designed to include both groups.  But there is also a sufficiently large cadre of tax law professors who already come to the NTA with some frequency that you get to see plenty of your kind, which is good as well (networking, feedback, exchange of ideas, etcetera).

The next NTA Annual Meeting will be held in Santa Fe, at some point in November 2014.  Certainly a nice town in which to spend a few days, by all reports. But here are a few practical tips regarding how to get a paper accepted, based on my experience this year as a program chair.

Tip #1 - Start thinking about it before the Call for Papers goes out next year.  When it does go out, by the way, then even if you have not already joined the NTA (though why wouldn't you do that, especially if reimbursable as a professional expense), you ought to be able to get word, e.g., via the Tax Prof Blog.

Tip #2 - If possible, form the entire panel for a proposed session.  This would consist of either three or four papers, a couple of discussants, and a moderator or organizer (presumably, one of the authors or discussants).  This year, we accepted all of the proposed sessions.  I can't speak for next year's program chairs, but for a couple of reasons forming an entire panel gives you a leg up.  One, we hated to turn down people who had done this much work and put that degree of thought into it.  Two, it made our lives easier, since otherwise we had to accept individual papers and then start grouping into multi-paper sessions, where fit was important but not always easy to provide (and it took a LOT of time).

Tip #3 - Only if you have enough live prospects on your desktop, submit several papers, not just one.  I personally hated turning down ALL of someone's multiple submissions, plus there is a diversification advantage.  If one paper didn't seem like a great NTA fit to us, then maybe another one seemed better suited.  So don't submit sheer dogs, if you have just one good paper at hand and nothing else that's really suitable, but if you do have more than one live prospect, then by all means submit them all rather than choosing.  (Easy for me to say, of course, given that I won't be the one who has to read all of the submissions next year.)

Time for the airport - I will try to post, once I'm there or shortly afterwards, on one of the highlights (unless one calls it two of the highlights): the lunch talks at this year's NTA meeting, which were given by Peter Orszag and Raj Chetty.  (Perhaps with a mention as well of the session honoring Michael Graetz, who was this year's Holland Medal winner at the NTA, this award being one that is granted for lifetime achievement.)

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