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Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
   Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
– John Keats

Were I to run for a serious elected office, among my policy positions would include:

(1) Eliminate all favorable employer tax treatments for health insurance. In other words, raise the taxes employees and employers pay on the income they pay their workers. The obvious reason to do this, and even the hated GWB proposed it a decade ago, is to put the individual/non-employer-based health insurance market on equal footing with the employer market. Further, the enormous implicit subsidies this provides to health insurance “consumers” both increases the use of scarce health care resources which drives up costs and limits accessibility to others in a world where policymakers and health activists utterly refuse to think of expanding access on the supply side. The second thing this does is target taxes to the rich. Go read Picketty and others who worry about inequality – the sorts of programs they advocate to make income distributions more equal and tax systems more progressive are things like free college and inheritance taxes. Both of these would utterly fail to achieve their goals. On the other hand, it is surely the “rich” who disproportionate benefit from the deductibility of health insurance from income taxation. People who work are richer than people who do not. And the more you earn in the labor market, the larger your health insurance benefits are to be. But, go see how folks respond to proposals to “tax health care”, which of course is the bastardization / telephone game we get in any conversation people seem to have.

(2) Eliminate all tax deductions for charity. Again, think of this from a progressive tax system perspective. Who benefits from these sorts of programs? The rich and wealthy and high income folks are the ones making the largest charitable donations, and therefore benefit the most from the tax system here. Furthermore, a considerable share of tax free funding is ending up NOT benefiting the poor. I just gave money to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and while I find this to be a worthy cause, my taxes are lowered and rich, old white guys are better assured of having nice walking trails and bird habitat to enjoy in their long retirements (also long retirements that poor people, who pay into social security, also do not get to enjoy, but that is a story for another post).

To be quick, what we have here then is that we should raise taxes on employer provided health care, we should raise taxes on charities (indeed, I would eliminate them entirely, for more reasons than the above) and in doing so we would make the tax system more progressive, we would put a dent into our annual budget shortfalls, we would reduce the distortions and resource misallocations that happen by treating different “goods” differently, and based on our understanding of health insurance and charity, these proposals would very likely NOT have an adverse impact on people’s access to health care (it would improve it) or the amount of actual, real, charitable activity that happens in the US.

But to advocate these positions, ironically, seems to paint one as a dogmatic, anti-government ideologue. I kid you not. Go ask some people what they think of reducing the favorable tax treatment to charities and study their responses. What’s going on here? YMMV on the various stories, I’ll share mine in the future.

EDITED TO ADD: Note that I understand the challenges with the post title. You can absolutely be a free-market dogmatist and have a wide-ranging series of views on various forms of taxation, so perhaps a better presentation would have been something like being an antigovernment dogmatist not being free-market, these are not the same thing.

Even in a casual conversation, 2, 3 and 6 happened today and yesterday. Joy.

 

My eyes tend to gravitate toward climate and labor market issues, so I encounter the following two “arguments” all of the time.

(1) There are those who present global temperature data in the following way: “if you look at global temperature records, the rate of temperature increase around the planet has either slowed or paused entirely since 1998. In either case, the temperature changes over that time period lag far behind what almost any climate model predicted for this time period.”

Now, this upsets some people. Why is beyond me, because I certainly hope global temperatures do not continue to increase. A response to this is often, “you are cherry picking the data. There was a huge ENSO event (El Nino) in 1998 which drove global temperatures to be abnormally high, so comparing the temperature record starting only at that point is misleading”

Wintercow happens to agree with this.

 

And then we have:

(2) The real value of the minimum wage has declined by a lot since the late 1960s, and as a result we must therefore raise the current minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Now, this upsets some people. Why? Because the real value of the minimum wage was at an all time high in the late 1960s as compared to the overall wage level in the economy. Why this happens to be the “just” or “correct” level for a minimum wage is no different than saying that 1998 is the “correct” baseline from which to measure temperature anomalies.

 

What is interesting is that the folks who tend to be angry at the sentence uttered in (1) are those themselves uttering the sentence in (2). Similarly the folks that are uttering sentence (1) are likely to be those who are angry at those uttering sentence (2). Now, obviously, both are cases of data cherry picking (even if justified), and I would argue you can’t have it both ways. Either selectively choosing starting points for your data series is bad or it is not, but you can’t pick and choose which starting points to cherry pick from, correct?

Note, per usual, none of the above is intended to demonstrate the “rightness” or “wrongness” of either position, it is rather another exercise in consistency and Kahan’s insights about politically motivated reasoning.

You may want to compare and contrast the expected economic impacts of these two things. I would inform you about Global Warming, but I do not want the fires of Hades to engulf me for daring to do so, you’ll just have to go take some climate expert’s word for what the economic impacts will be. In the meantime, it looks like extreme cases of antibiotic resistance would result in a global loss, in 2050, of up to 3.8% of global GDP. That is not small. Or it is. It depends.

  1. To appreciate the state of the “debate”, replace every use of the term “climate change” in a debate with “Genetically Modified Organisms.”
  2. If an economist dares to speak on climate change, lighting bolts will descend upon her from the heavens and the fires of Hades will engulf her from below
  3. If you see the word consensus, you are almost surely going to be hearing about a position that is not in debate, even among hardened skeptics. The word has become a useless cudgel.
  4. In a game pitting people’s preferences to worry about “Anything else important” vs. “climate” … climate is going to lose, even when it ought not to
  5. The environment is suffering because of climate change, in more ways than one
  6. Perhaps we can sum it all up with the usual, Climate is not about climate

Many of you are well aware of the Keynesian push for boosting aggregate demand when an economy is slumping. Indeed, we rarely are told when the economy is doing well enough to not need a shot in the arm. That suits many of our political biases.

So, I ask this question in all seriousness. Don’t many folks wish to see more infrastructure spending and other forms of public investment? Then in that world, how come the coming economic damages that are going to happen because of climate change are actually a cause of worry? In fact, how come the coming environmental challenges are not wide-eyed anticipated? You might answer that, “these environmental challenges will first reduce consumption before we respond to the damages” but is that not the same as when stimulus opponents argue, “sure, stimulate all you want, those funds had to come from somewhere else first?”

So, do we have a good theory for why people are worried about future climate change, especially if they are on the more interventionist side of things when it comes to political economic preferences?

So, the only shilling I do at the moment is for my current employer, I’ve turned down a few smaller chances to shill recently in part because I just don’t want to do it, but also in part because I am not in the mood to fight the “I really am not a shill fight” because, you know, I really am.

So, here is the deal. From whom is it acceptable for me to petition to raise money for my students? The annual sum would be somewhere in the $20,000 to $30,000 per year range, with the funds used to:

  • Purchase books
  • Purchase food for weekly or semi-weekly discussion meetings
  • Support students attending seminars and conferences and other events away from Rochester
  • Secure meeting space
  • Provide funding for travel, lodging, shared dinners and compensation for up to 5 speakers for the year to come in
  • Support additional programming and admin support including perhaps a small stipend for a student to take the organizational lead for such an effort
  • Website hosting and audio equipment for recording of programming and events.

There could be much more. And I can provide a lot more detail on what the group might accomplish, but think of it sort of like the Oxford Coffee Club but 21st century style – discussing, studying debating, enjoying reading and conversation on economics, politics, political philosophy, ethics, biology, theater, music, art, and more – a catch all in the true liberal arts tradition. There would not be any planned ideological orientation to the group outside of a shared interest in promoting nerdiness and hopefully good will among all.

But, as I see the landscape, there is not much funding out there available from sponsors who are not in some way in favor of some particular ideology or objective. Are there truly independent nerd funders out there who want to help a group of bright folks engage in a way that a typical college experience sort of rules out? Are there people and sources that would not draw the ire of the unreasonable? That sounds spineless of me, I suppose, but I don’t want to waste my time defending what the young women and men are up to and our motivations, we sort of want to craft an intellectual experience and keep it at that. But, I don’t have a million dollar endowment of my own to fund such a thing (permanently) or tens of thousands of dollars annually that would be useful to make this go well.

 

Friday Fun Facts

Rats and other rodents destroy between 5% and 25% of the world’s grain harvest annually. 

Now, those numbers appear absurdly large to me, but if right, and if someone one were able to make superhuman defenses against rodents, it would seem to me like we are already capable of growing enough food to feed the entire planet’s peak population expected sometime past mid-century. Of course, there are other things that would satisfy this desire as well.

This tweet just hit my feed (and signs are popping up in my neighborhood too):

NYSUT

I’ve seen it shared  by folks from the NYSUT. Now, whether or not the convention is a good idea (more on that later) is not the question, it’s the assertion that “high-paid lobbyists want to shape the state of NY.” Well, yeah, you mean like the NYSUT?  And everyone else who stands to gain or lose when the loonies in Albany mess with our lives? But it’s impolite to question the teachers.

Just whom should run the convention should it happen? If the worry is that it is political insiders, then … ?

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