More active again

I’ve only been posting rarely over the last couple of months.

This has reflected my (for different reasons) (1) not wanting to address the political madness of the current era, which only makes one seem (and feel) angry and shrill, and (2) not always being focused on the minutiae of admittedly important day-to-day stuff in the tax system.

E.g., new regs come out in an area that I know something about. With finite time, especially as one’s summer all too rapidly ebbs away, I’ve wanted to continue focusing on the more general sets of issues that interest me more intellectually, and on which I feel I have distinctive ideas to contribute. There are a lot of smart people out there who do excellent jobs, close to the ground, in areas where I haven’t felt driven to focus my attention.

Academically speaking, I did three main things this summer. The first was push my literature and inequality book towards publication, which I hope will actually be taking place in early 2020. One thing I did in this respect, although not required by the prospective publisher, was to shorten the book by about 10% – taking out material that I had personally found interesting but that wasn’t sufficiently connected to the book’s main themes. This results, I hope, in a sharper and tighter manuscript. In the broader context, the stuff I removed seemed self-indulgent and unnecessary.

Second, I began work on a follow-up (but much shorter) book on international tax policy, reflecting the extensive legal and intellectual developments that have transpired since I published Fixing in 2014. But I put this aside for a bit to write a new article that I felt would sharpen my discussion of source concepts in this still-planned new book.

Third, I wrote┬áDigital Service Taxes and the Broader Shift from Determining the Source of Income to Taxing Location-Specific Rents. This should be publicly available shortly, both on SSRN and at the NYU Tax Policy Colloquium website, as I’ll be presenting it there on October 1. I’ll eventually give a talk based on it in Singapore in mid-January 2020, after which it will appear in a Singapore law review. I’m also game to discuss it elsewhere, e.g., in North America or the EU as well as in Asia, Australia, Africa, and Central and South America. (I enjoy travel, and benefit intellectually from getting to meet & discuss things with different groups of people.)

Now that the NYU Tax Policy Colloquium is starting (tomorrow!), I will be posting weekly commentaries on the papers that are presented there. These will not discuss the sessions themselves, as we feel it’s best to keep these off the record, a rule I would violate if I did not confine my reactions to my thoughts about and in relation to the papers.

These commentaries will of course be consistently quite diplomatic – I don’t like slagging people, especially at a stage when I’ve become more senior than most of the presenters. Slagging combines being genuinely unkind with being a bad ┬áchoice from the perspective of one’s own self-interest (and that of the colloquium). But consistently with all that, I will aim to be clear when I disagree with particular things that I see in the papers, since one can’t make mutual intellectual progress without exchanging points of view.

Once a few years ago, I expressed some degree of disagreement with a paper that was presented at the colloquium. The author disagreed sufficiently with me to revise the paper by adding several long footnotes that quoted and disagreed with what I had said. While I don’t recall the exact issue, I will say, in such author’s favor, that he had clearly spent a lot more time thinking about the issue than I had. (My response to a colloquium paper is the matter of a few days’ reflection at most – and I’m willing to opine more casually in blog entries than in traditionally published work.)

The author, being a gracious person himself and I think not actually too mad at me, showed me in advance his lengthy footnotes rebutting what I had said, and asked if I had any objection, etc. I said no, that’s fine, go ahead, and I also saw no reason to answer, even though it’s conceivable (but not certain) that upon fuller reflection I’d have at least partly stuck to my prior view.

There are also of course trolls out there, looking for ill-mannered fights, but that’s not my thing, and they tend to discredit themselves anyway.