Why the poor don’t raise taxes higher on the rich

June 22, 2005

In “Broad Ownership Needs Broad Taxpaying”, the PowerLine guys argue that:

Which leads to the question: What will happen if conservatives succeed, as part of their push for an Ownership Society, in redirecting much of the payroll tax from federal coffers into the personal accounts of workers? Most Americans would then be directly supporting the federal government only through the income tax and the few federal sales and excise taxes (e.g., on gasoline). The result: Most Americans would no longer be making any significant contribution whatever toward the maintenance of the federal government.
Any new programs that Congress might adopt would cost the average American little or nothing. He already pays scant income tax, and he would be getting much of his Social Security and Medicare taxes back in the expected personal accounts. So at that point the relatively small number of citizens who make significant income tax payments would be carrying our whole federal edifice.
And there’s the rub. “Rebating” a big chunk of payroll taxes back to workers in the form of personal accounts is devoutly to be wished for in most ways. But one troubling side effect of such a transformation would be to nakedly expose the tax burden that our personal income tax disproportionately lays on the top 5 percent of Americans.
Our Founders had no confidence that voters, unmoored from financial responsibility, would refrain from pillaging the wealth of their neighbors. If most of Washington’s costs end up piled on just a few backs, the only thing preventing a sharp ratcheting up of the income tax will be the decency and political principle of ordinary Americans.

This pessimism is unwarranted. The untaxes would refrain from raising taxes because they know that they benefit from revenue collection. A rational population that was untaxed would stil choose taxes that maximize revenue rather than taxes that maximize “justice”. Obviously if taxes are 100% no one would would bother to earn money. If taxes are 0% no revenue would be collected. The truth is somewhere in between and rational revenue beneficiaries would choose it. Actually they might choose something slightly lower corresponding to their hope that they themselves will eventually earn enough money to pay taxes.

Cooking made us human

June 21, 2005

Love this one

Critics of cooked foods, and there is a raw foods movement in the world, Wrangham pointed out, say “Look at chimpanzees. They eat raw and thrive.”

Chimpanzees, he re-emphasized, spend far more time eating than humans do and as a result don’t have time or energy to expand far beyond their range. In German research studies on the effects on humans of following a raw food diet, the results show that humans eating only raw food are hungry, experience weight loss and, in the case of women, quit having regular menstrual cycles, which means that the rate of reproduction is precariously lowered.

“It seems difficult for me to deny the evidence that the evolution of man came with the discovery of fire and cooking,” Wrangham said. “Cooking changed the biological design of humans, and that fact is the basis of paleo-gastronomy,” he added.

“Being able to spend a low percent of time eating made hunting possible and expanded the range of humans out of Africa and into Asia,” Wrangham said. Cooking also prompted the sexual division of labor: men, being bigger and stronger, hunted, and women provisioned and cooked.

Cooking created the human family or civilization, where humans not only assumed tasks suited to their skills but also put those skills to work in taking care of one another. You hunted for the group or family, as well as yourself. Or, you cooked for the hunter, as well as yourself.

How to become an early riser

June 13, 2005

Steve Pavlina says: Go to sleep when you are tired. But always wake up at the same time. And when you wake up, get up. Don’t snooze. Read the comments on his post as well as the followup.

Why Manhattan works: Its mostly narrow!

June 13, 2005

Ironman reviews public transport architecture and notes:

First of all, to really make public transportation really work, you need to make everybody live and work within easy access of it. From the public transportation standpoint, where today’s cities go astray is in their grid system. Once city streets extend beyond easy walking distance of a main street or transportation corridor, public transportation begins to become more difficult to provide. As the distance grows greater, public transportation service becomes more and more difficult to provide, and as a result, it becomes more costly, less efficient and less effective as a viable means of moving people from place to place.

So, to make public transportation viable as the primary means of transport for an entire city, cities themselves need to be designed to closely follow a single transportation corridor.

He doesn’t actually talk about Manhattan, but if you live there, you know he is making a really good point.

Free speech: Echo chamber or error-checking?

May 19, 2005

Virginia Postrel in the NYTimes talks about economic models for media bias. That media bias may simply be market differentiation. She says:

The article makes some provocative predictions. It suggests that adding relatively moderate competitors may push rivals to take more extreme positions to hold onto their audiences.

Trying to correct Al Jazeera’s bias, for example, by introducing pro-Western competition, as some analysts recommend, “might cause Al Jazeera and similar networks to further differentiate their product by advancing yet more extreme views,” write the economists. “The effect might be only to radicalize, rather than moderate, their audience.”

The defense against this sort of extremism is to maximize the quantity of new sources so people end up with sane portfolios. There is no reason to believe that people with diversified news portfolios will tend toward extremism. The real problem is people who just rely on e.g. the NYTimes in order to oppose the view of the administration. Or the NYSun just to oppose the view of the NYTimes, etc.

Transhumanism vs Democracy

May 12, 2005

I’ve been saying this to various friends for a while and Ronald Bailey says it in Reason more concisely:

Politics in the 21st century will cut across the traditional political left/right rift of the last two centuries. Instead, the chief ideological divide will be between transhumanists and bioconservatives/bioluddites.

In the 18th Century, the Framers of the American Constitution debated whether slaves should count in aportioning representation. The slave owners wanted them to count more because it would increase their power. The free states wanted them to count less because property can’t vote. The result was the “three fifths compromise” counting slaves as three-fifths of a whole person. As transhumanism moves forward, we will be reviving this debate. Do de-encephalized clones count in the census? What about clones in general as they will be more likely to share the original’s political preferences? Are sufficiently modified humans still human enough to vote? They may have preferences, but those preferences may be determined by the gadgets implanted into their heads rather than randomly based on environmental factors. Should unmodified humans be voting as they may be obviously stupider than their transformed counterparts?

At a less esoteric level, will be be coercing people to accept certain treatments (in the same way we coerce immunization)? What are the boundaries here? How dangerous is this?

On the other hand, will be be allowing people to undertake arbitratry treatments? How will they be stopped? How do we protect ourselves from the bio-transformative virus produced in our neighbors kitchen? What about their dogs?

Big vs Small, Private Sector vs Public Sector, Personal vs Impersonal

May 11, 2005

Many people on the left are concerned about Big Business. They worry that individual expression and liberty will get trampled by a corporate bureacuracy intent on self preservation and growth. Many people on the right are concerned about the behavior of Big Government. They worry that indivual expression and liberty will get trampled by government bureacracy intent on self preservation and growth. Entrepreneurs and artists are or should be concerned about both.

On the flip side, there is a lot of value to scale. For example, the quality of produce in my neighborhood has increased dramatically since Whole Foods arrived. Neither cars nor computers would not be available to most people if there were not big corporations and mass markets producing them. It took the might of the US government to stop both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia from spreading misery and death around the world.

In general I am biased in favor of letting individuals negotiate differences among themselves. I am not at all certain that government enforcement of contracts and payments serves anyone. More on this later. In the interim, read this post by Jeff Jarvis about the problems when companies grow. He is responding to this post by Fred Wilson asking whether Google is becoming AOL.