Assorted links

by on December 28, 2013 at 12:05 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. More on what is going on in Turkey, from Monkey Cage.  And here is Dexter Filkins.

2. Equality of income or equality of respect?  And Lane Kenworthy on why income inequality should not be the main focus (pdf).

3. Hobo nickel art.

4. Interview with Psychology Today about Average is Over.

5. Why it is hard to cut (some parts of) government spending.  And how badly will Italian opera fall apart?

6. Strand bookstore reports best sales ever.

7. Your doctoral thesis in one sentence, via Angus.  The first person, by the way, needed two sentences.

anon December 28, 2013 at 1:58 pm

2. Equality of income or equality of respect?

I was a very low status blue collar worker for more than 12 years in my 20s and early 30s, and it taught me the value of being treated with respect and courtesy. Now in my late 50s, I call every male worker I deal with “Sir” and every female worker I deal with “Maam” or “Dear”, regardless of age. (Except telemarketers, who get nothing but a disconnect.)

prognostication December 29, 2013 at 1:34 am

“Dear” is not respectful.

A Definite Beta Guy December 29, 2013 at 10:04 am

Crap. I have GOT to stop leading letters with that.

Enrique December 28, 2013 at 2:08 pm

#2 … Define respect

Foobarista December 28, 2013 at 4:47 pm

He’s confusing dignity with respect. Respect has to be earned and one’s respectability must be demonstrated, while everyone should be treated with dignity.

(He’s also confusing “democracy” with lower-case-r republicanism, but that’s another fight… :)

Jamie_NYC December 28, 2013 at 8:13 pm

+1

He gives Japan as a positive example, but conveniently omits the fact that Japanese society exerts tremendous pressure on its members to conform to various norms. In the US, where people enjoy much higher level of personal freedom, why does a fat slob that never worked a day in his life and regularly beats his live-in girlfriend deserve respect??

Tim December 28, 2013 at 2:08 pm

#2. Who doesn’t call service workers “sir” or “ma’am?” Is this uncommon? What else would you call them, “boy?”

Uninformed Observer December 28, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Here in the South, where respect is common currency, we call everyone “Sir” or “Ma’am.” Sadly, in many parts of the country that is not the case.

Non Papa December 28, 2013 at 3:40 pm

As a lifetime northern urbanite, I’ve experienced the awkwardness of not having a go-to, catch-all form of address for service workers, and I’ve seen others suffer from the same. Basically, there doesn’t seem to be a middle-ground between “sir” and “boy,” such that customers have to get a service worker’s attention either by pointed staring/harrumphing, or with repeated “Excuse me”s. It’s pretty uncomfortable.

Adrian Ratnapala December 28, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Yes. That catch-all is a great advantage. My (German) boss was saying how he envied English, because this was available (nobody says “mein Herr” any more). I had to admit even in English, it’s only really the Americans who have this. And apparently not even all of them.

Noah Smith December 28, 2013 at 8:24 pm

I’m from Texas, and I was one of the only people around who used “sir”.

dirk December 28, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Texas isn’t The South.

msgkings December 29, 2013 at 12:44 am

Eastern Texas sure ie

msgkings December 29, 2013 at 12:44 am

“is” not ie

dirk December 28, 2013 at 5:15 pm

You haven’t noticed that most women don’t like being called “ma’am” these days? Some women are offended by it because it implies they are older than they consider themselves; others, who are older, find it mildishly derogatory, particularly when they are the customer and the server refers to them as such. I learned never to use it years ago, but maybe it depends on the part of the country you are in. I’m in the Southwest.

Roy December 28, 2013 at 5:35 pm

There seems to be a line across Texas that demarcates this attitude to the word Ma’am. Sadly that line seems to be moving East, but then I am someone who still uses the word Miss as well.

Handle December 28, 2013 at 2:32 pm

#7: My favorite: “I thought there was a solution to invasive lionfish, but there isn’t.”

Replace ‘invasive lionfish’ with ‘X’, and if you elaborate you can describe nearly all post-enlightenment political history.

Max Factor December 28, 2013 at 2:40 pm

@4 Sorry TC but doctor is still the most prestigious job in the USA. Even nerds like myself don’t worship at the throne of tech entrepreneurs. They’re smart and knowledgable but far from wise.

Someone from the other side December 28, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Speak for yourself.

Most MDs (and sadly I had to deal with a ton of them over the last 9 months) I have even come across are pretty incapable of doing their job. Some are downright dangerous (like the one trying to prescribe me a combination of meds that has well known, potentially serious or even fatal interactions when there where 4 equally suited alternatives). If it had not been for a referral to a bunch of top of the line MDs from an MD acquaintance, I might well still be looking for one who has even the faintest clue of what is wrong.

To add insult to injury, I have “top of the line, we will pay for everything and help you with getting access to the specialist” health insurance [1] in a country with some of the best health outcomes worldwide, so the pool of MDs I started with was not exactly the worst you could come across.

Color me very unimpressed, to say the least. But then again I never had much (if any) respect for “authority”.

MAx Factor December 28, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Sorry to hear about your experiences. But I don’t have significant complaints re: the men and women who have treated me throughout my life. And now that I’m in my mid 30s, I have age cohorts who are doctors. I respect them infinitely more than my age cohorts that went into finance and law.

Someone from the other side December 29, 2013 at 10:32 am

In my early 30s – there are lot of idiots in finance and law but I remain amazed how much people graduate from med school who really have no business doing so. And contrary to popular belief, finance crowd generally has much less ability to cause truly bad outcomes – less so than most doctors, anyway…

Bryan Willman December 28, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Something like a decade ago, in an interview somebody asked Billy Joel what he most sought in people at this stage of life. And his answer was “competence”.

That has always struck home with me, and Mr. Joel gave it a one word name.

Think about it – your plumber, your Dr., the person at the checkout stand at the gas station. Isn’t the world *so much better* because they do their job competently? What ticks us of the most? People who cannot competently execute on simple things.

And of course, there are vast pools of people in “low status” jobs who are perfectly competent and reliably do those jobs without incident. Society really does depend on this….

Someone from the other side December 28, 2013 at 4:33 pm

THIS x 100

And sadly, a large share of people (on whatever skill level) are fairly to utterly incompetent at their job.

Turkey Vulture December 28, 2013 at 11:31 pm

“Of all the human qualities, the one I admire the most is competence. A tailor who is really able to cut and fit a coat seems to me an admirable man, and by the same token a university professor who knows little or nothing of the thing he presumes to teach seems to me to be a fraud and a rascal.”

- H.L. Mencken

Brian Donohue December 29, 2013 at 12:48 pm

+2, BW & TV.

There is so much work to be done at all times on this planet, and so many anonymous millions doing it, and it all has dignity.

Bryan Willman December 28, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Another contemplation on “inequality” and proposals to address it with high marginal taxes and redistributive programs…

Why does anybody think that the *result* of such a program would actually be a better society? That a world in a which “the 99%” or at least “the 47%” were largely dependent on “the 1%” and were assured to know it, would be fairer, nicer, happier, more robust, or safer than what we have now? Would such a society not in effect feel fuedal? Your income, indeed the whole quality of your life, would be dependent on what government could extract from the 1%? This would be “equality?”

Hmmmmmm

dirk December 28, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Taxing top earners more wouldn’t mean that poorer Americans are dependent upon them. Top earners, through their work, are creating an economy which is harmful to the income of most Americans. One benefit of higher marginal tax rates would be to encourage top earners to work less, thereby slowing the pace of destructive innovation.

Locke December 28, 2013 at 5:52 pm

So you want to slow the pace of destructive innovation, the force which has steadily increased the development distribution of technology and increased the quality of life for thousands of years?

dirk December 28, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.

The Industrial Revolution is still recent. Most people in the developed world will return to peasantry soon enough. Or can you come up with a scenario in which most people without super high IQs and an obsessive work ethic will be employable in 50 years? Yeah, I realize they can work as household servants and eat beans, but I consider that a negative outcome. Call me a lefty.

Also, your “thousand of years” is off. The standard of living of the average person in the 16th century was no better than that of the average person in the 2nd.

Roy December 28, 2013 at 8:20 pm

I hear that a lot, that the standard of living didn’t change between the 2nd and 16th century, but archaeology doesn’t show this. In almost all of Europe the material remains of the 16th century exceed that of the 2nd, unless you are looking at public works. And every century you go past the 1500s it the improvement is dramatic. I would even argue that you would see this improvement much earlier too. And considering the political disaster of the 5th through 8th centuries, you are still stretching.

Locke December 28, 2013 at 9:27 pm

It can take thousands of years for exponential curves to reach a noticeable inflection point. I imagine there are at least a couple conveniences within reach of 16th century residents that those in the 2nd would envy.

I concur with your prediction, but I not your prescription. Trying to maintain an unsustainable equilibrium in a dynamic system by staving off creative destruction is a sysiphusian task. I believe the the solution to your negative outcome is a negative income (tax); or rather its predecessor concept, the universal basic income. Not funded from taxing the highest incomes, however, but rather by implementing a land rent tax on all land owners, which is then paid back to the public as a citizens dividend.

The narrative that “progress is regressive” is a dangerous one, though is a chant gladly taken up by the victims of progress: http://techcrunch.com/2013/12/28/uber-lecab-and-others-now-have-to-wait-15-minutes-before-picking-you-up-in-france/

dirk December 28, 2013 at 9:35 pm

You are merely zooming in on a more detailed view of things. If you want to show the world post IR on the same graph, the slope from 100 to 1600 is going to appear pretty flat.

The more relevant point is that the curve is now descending and what’s good for the wealth of nations is now bad for the wealth of the median citizen in the developed world.

dirk December 28, 2013 at 10:10 pm

@Locke You have to work within the political realities. This country is far too conservative at heart for a notion like guaranteed income. On the other hand, it is liberal enough to raise taxes, particularly if the driving sentiment for doing so is to milk the rich.

Instead of guaranteed minimum income for doing nothing, we could have a lot more government work programs like The Post Office. Better to pay people to do something than nothing. Nobody wants to pay taxes so that someone else can do nothing. Also, I suspect that government workers do not feel like they are leaches on society. Redistributing wealth (or you could just call it distributing wealth) in this manner would not destroy the dignity of the beneficiaries of the scheme as suggested by the commenter at the top.

As for how people are taxed I agree that income taxes are not first best. Also, your link about the French is about the French. We don’t have to be French. Taxes good, regulations bad – is my motto.

msgkings December 29, 2013 at 12:48 am

+1 to dirk’s last post

Guaranteed income needs to have some dignity saving/providing wrapper

john personna December 29, 2013 at 12:12 pm

-1 for both of you, to deny the underlying utility of a Post Office, is to brand yourselves as a particular kind of early 21st century ideologue.

Locke December 29, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Nonsense. We’re entering a period of hyper-efficiency induced structural unemployment. “Dignity of work” for all would be great, if there were enough jobs. There won’t be. And propping up sectors from past economies at unsustainable expense isn’t the answer either.

A universal basic income isn’t welfare. It is every citizen’s right by way of inhabiting a land where some profit from the exclusive use of that land; they should be taxed for the privilege, with the revenues redistributed to the citizenry. Everyone receives it, without regard to employment or any other class or status. Similar systems already exist in the real world, some right here in the United States; Alaska’s oil revenue sharing program being an example. Thomas Paine, a hero to American conservatives, was a strong proponent of this concept. I think that it is more palatable and feasible than may seem obvious at first glance.

There’s no need to take away from the grease of commerce by taxing income and consumption, nor to operate massive, inefficient, centrally managed state welfare services. The underlying source of all taxation becomes based on exclusivity (monopoly) of access to the natural commons: land. This theme also becomes a basis for taxing disruptive use of the environment (carbon taxes) and natural monopolies (FCC regulation of airwaves, utility companies, etc).

None of this is to say that a UBI type of system is intended to completely replace labor income. Ideally the cultural and legal frameworks which promote the historical Protestant 40 hour work week begin to dissolve and allow a population of 50 laborers working 40 hour weeks while 50 other unemployed laborers work 0 hour weeks to gradually become a population of 100 laborers working 20 hour weeks. (The same holds true for households: you don’t necessarily need two full time breadwinners as long as the civil union returns an aggregate full loaf).

And as for that destructive innovation, we need a lot more of it. We just need to better insulate against its side-effects. A UBI independent of employment offers a safety net to incentivize the risk taking required for innovative entrepreneurship as well as to dampen cyclical unemployment.

Ultimately, however, the distribution of income is only a symptom of the distribution of capital. Much of the 1% do not even receive an income, but rather subsist on capital. The cure to wealth inequality is to create more capitalists, and doing so doesn’t require massive centralized redistribution of wealth. Some combination of a citizen’s dividend and a citizen’s endowment (the later perhaps funded through inheritance tax?) could go a way towards facilitating that distribution.

dirk December 29, 2013 at 3:08 pm

The Post Office still exists because it is illegal for anyone else to put something in your mailbox. So, yes, they serve a purpose because they have regulated away the competition for their core business. Would be better if anyone could put legitimate mail in your mailbox, but I’m in favor of subsidizing The Post Office with tax money because it is a good jobs program.

Rafael G December 29, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Lower in fact, 2nd century Romans were better off than any large population in the 16th century. There were many periods of economic progress and decline through the histories of many civilizations. Modern west, which began in the centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, has experienced near continuous economic growth since it’s early days in the early middle ages. But economic growth greatly accelerated during the period from the mid 18th century to the mid 19th century, making all previous growth appear rather insignificant by comparison.

john personna December 29, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I don’t see a big difference, dirk, between something put in my mailbox and left on my step (and as it happens, people do wedge things not-quite in my mailbox, quite-often).

But really the thing we all know about the PO was that it was necessary for the growth of nations to have a universal means of peer-to-peer communications. We are entering an age when peer-to-peer systems abound, but they tend to be varied while not being universal. Currently, and trade away from the PO is a trade to non-universality.

Locke December 29, 2013 at 9:56 pm

The private sector can largely do most of what USPS does much more efficiently in most cases, but there’s still always going to be those remote routes that lie outside of market efficiency or that the market otherwise neglects. That’s exactly the niche where USPS can fill in at a fraction of the current operating cost. There’s probably a role to play in coordination as well, and postage stamps could be used as a form of voucher system for people whom the private mail delivery industry would otherwise price out of participation.

No need for a jobs program at the exclusion of more efficient alternatives though.

Uninformed Observer December 28, 2013 at 3:14 pm

#2. I have generally enjoyed Noah Smith, but his inability to see the link between money and respect is sadly typical of the American left. Simply put, when you give money to people (as largess, not as a gift or payment in kind), you take away their respect.

Alexei Sadeski December 28, 2013 at 6:05 pm

It’s typical of the left everywhere.

Noah Smith December 28, 2013 at 8:24 pm

I pointed this out in my wage subsidies post:
http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2013/12/wage-subsidies.html

The Anti-Gnostic December 28, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Why the emphasis on “equality?” Does “equality” exist anywhere in nature or in anyone’s family, workplace, religious institution, personal relations, sports team, homeowner’s association?

Should I give equal respect to Bernie Madoff and Pope Francis? Should a Whopper flopper make the same amount of money as an ICU nurse?

Liberty or equality–choose one.

lxm December 28, 2013 at 3:50 pm

The Waltons own as much as the bottom 40% of all Americans.

They must shit gold.

Where’s Teddy Roosevelt when you need him.

joshua December 28, 2013 at 4:28 pm

If you own any wealth you own more than a huge chunk of the bottom because a huge chunk has zero assets or debt.

lxm December 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Ok, close your eyes and hold your breath.

40% of Americans equals about 120,000,000 people.

The Waltons are worth more than the sum of the wealth of 120,000,000 of their fellow Americans.

And they couldn’t have done it without their father’s help.

Someone from the other side December 28, 2013 at 4:39 pm

How many of those 120M actually have 0 or negative net worth? And for how many is it the result of myopic consumerism?

lxm December 28, 2013 at 4:43 pm

To Someone:

One thing is clear: They had the wrong daddy.

Alexei Sadeski December 28, 2013 at 6:07 pm

@Ixm:

What’s the point oh having $100B if I can’t give it to my kids??

john personna December 28, 2013 at 6:31 pm

What Alexei, you don’t want to win the Americas Cup?

Max Factor December 28, 2013 at 7:45 pm

I love the Waltons argument. These folks didn’t do anything to earn that money except pop out of the birth canal of Sam Walton’s wife. I would be embarrassed to inherit anything more than a few hundred thousand dollars from my parents – whatever money they have should be for them to enjoy. And if they were billionaires who left me a fortune, I would devote my life to giving the inheritance away ala Bloomberg. Sitting on billions of dollars like modern day dragons or pissing the money away on artwork and boats is so childish. Find a problem and combat it. Lots of organizations like GiveWell (promoted here) use research and economics to help make giving work. There’s a lot of good stuff going on in the world of non-profits – it’s not the black hole it used to be.

Sometimes I think Libertarianism is just a convenient way for people to feel justified in ignoring their common man. As long as everyone has the same opportunity (which they don’t) then we can’t fuss or meddle with the outcomes.

john personna December 28, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Max, “pissing away the money” actually solves the inequality problem.

The Anti-Gnostic December 28, 2013 at 10:46 pm

@ Max Factor:

There’s no equality of opportunity? Boo fucking hoo–my dad wasn’t Sam Walton either. I note also that by luck of the draw you don’t have Down’s Syndrome and you have time and resources to post on the Internet when many people struggle to get enough food and sleep. Maybe we should give you a rap on the head with a ball peen hammer to level the playing field.

The Sam Walton argument is terrible. Part of the reward for working hard, innovating and earning a profit are you get to make life easier for your own children. Personally, I’m doing everything I can in my humble way to grease the skids for my daughter–I want her to marry well and have some grandchildren for me to enjoy, for whom it will also be my pleasure to knock off as many of the sharp corners of life which I can within my limited means.

Upset that happy little vision of mine with your redistributionist schemes, and you are going to have a fight on your hands friend-o. Tell the “common men” about your to-each-according-to-his-needs plan and see what they say.

Max Factor December 29, 2013 at 1:27 am

@Anti-Gnostic

“Part of the reward for working hard, innovating and earning a profit are you get to make life easier for your own children.”

Agreed. I deny myself so that I can hopefully pay for my kid’s college education. But I’m complaining about massive dynastic wealth – not parents leaving a few hundred grand for their kids. I would be embarrassed to walk the earth with more than a couple of million bucks in my accounts, let alone billions like the Waltons or tens of millions like Wall Street PMs and bankers. I concern myself with the plight of others and I’m not embarrassed to admit it even if I’m in the minority. I recognize that I lucked out in this world and am more than happy to give a hand up to those less fortunate and those born into poor circumstance. There’s no way I have what I have if I were born in Detroit or Camden or Atlantic City.

Things are only going to get crazier and less equal once we’re hit full blast with technological unemployment and the rise of the smart machines. Redistribution and wealth taxes are coming whether it’s fair or not.

Alexei Sadeski December 29, 2013 at 2:51 am

@Max:

Are you making a principled argument? Should we ban all things which Max is ashamed of doing? Should we ban all things which all people are ashamed of doing?

One of the main draws of building up massive wealth is to create a dynasty. One of the main draws of building up *any* business is to create a dynasty.

So long as the dynasties are delivering milk to the poor (Waltons & capitalism) instead of slaughtering conscripted slaves (all dynasties in antiquity), we should consider ourselves lucky.

john personna December 29, 2013 at 11:35 am

I think, Alexei, that the question of principle should be “how much of life should be a birth-lottery?” (My answer is “some, but not too much” as too much would deny human growth and spirit.)

Mike W December 29, 2013 at 11:35 am

And so the problem is…what? Statements that imply that person x’s wealth is *excessive* without describing why it is a problem are merely demagoguery…or envy.

john personna December 29, 2013 at 11:45 am

I believe that lxm was saying that way too much wealth in the us was tied up in a birth lottery.

john personna December 29, 2013 at 11:47 am

(I’ve never had a problem, playing the game of capitalism, with a middle class starting point. Do any of you claim that isn’t enough, that you weren’t good enough to make it with that start? That you needed a million (or a billion) from dad to “make it on your own?”

If you have confidence, and think that every generation should have confidence, then you shouldn’t think that vast dynasties have a place in the American capitalist system.)

Mike W December 29, 2013 at 11:49 am

@ Max Factor: “And if they were billionaires who left me a fortune, I would devote my life to giving the inheritance away ala Bloomberg. Sitting on billions of dollars…”

What makes you think the Waltons are not “giving the inheritance away”? The Walmart foundation spends a billion dollars each year and the Walton Family Foundation a half-billion. The alternative to spending their fortune through their foundations would be to pay a substantial amount of it to the federal government in estate taxes. Would that money be better spent through the foundations or filtered through the politics of Washington? As for “sitting on billions of dollars”, the Walton fortune is mostly in Walmart stock…the family owns about 50%. Their wealth is largely on paper because to conver that stock to cash would tank the share price.

Max Factor December 29, 2013 at 12:14 pm

@all

I didn’t use the word “ban” nor do I prescribe anything re: dynastic wealth. I was just pointing out my subjective feelings on wealth and inheritance. Bloomberg, Buffet and Gates all weighed in on the issue – they all agree that leaving too much money to heirs is a bad idea.

Re: the Waltons giving away $1bil per year – color me unimpressed. They own $100bil+ in Walmart stock and the dividend yield is 2.40%. So they’re giving away less than they are receiving in dividends. Your typical American taxpayer gives much more to charity on a percentage basis than the Waltons. The Waltons can do whatever they want – I don’t care – I’m not making policy – but if my daddy left me with billions I would devote my life to giving it away responsibly.

Prior Approval pointed out (below) how much the Waltons and their kind dodge taxes. So that $1bil looks even less impressive:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-12/how-wal-mart-s-waltons-maintain-their-billionaire-fortune-taxes.html

derek December 28, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Are they poorer because the Waltons are rich?

john personna December 29, 2013 at 11:51 am

Sure, a higher estate tax would have paid for better schools. But more than that, inherited wealth does not have a good record for the heirs themselves. Like child stars, they tend to have bad histories. Why did the heirs to one of the largest fortunes in America grow up horribly neglected and abused?

The Anti-Gnostic December 29, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Right. Just like there’s a homeless person that would be happy to settle in your spare bedroom and there are bedpans that need changing while you’re wasting time on the Internet. We can always come up with some allegedly more compelling need for other people’s savings. I mean “better schools,” what’s more compelling than that? I can hardly see to type these words for all the tears welling up in my eyes.

“Live complicatedly, so others can make a living catering to your complex tastes” just doesn’t make a good bumper sticker.

The Anti-Gnostic December 29, 2013 at 12:44 pm

And this: “(I’ve never had a problem, playing the game of capitalism, with a middle class starting point. Do any of you claim that isn’t enough, that you weren’t good enough to make it with that start? That you needed a million (or a billion) from dad to “make it on your own?”

How about you tax all estates at 100% more than “a middle class starting point” and let me know what happens.

john personna December 29, 2013 at 12:57 pm

I think those comments were sufficiently crazy, and sufficiently unrelated to what I was saying, to qualify for the “self-refuting” label.

Ray Lopez December 28, 2013 at 3:45 pm

@#1 – lots of Turks in DC…what do they think of this present situation in Turkey? I suspect they’ve thrown in the towel long ago and really could care less…happens to a lot of expats who live in the USA. You lose interest in your home country except as it relates to any property you may have left there. Certainly that’s true for me. These political power plays are predictable and one reason why you should diversify your assets so they don’t reside in just one jurisdiction. And, IMO, that includes the USA (coming soon–you watch–political instability of the Balkan kind right here in Archie Bunker-land good ole US of A).

Someone from the other side December 28, 2013 at 4:38 pm

This is true to an extent but I believe it depends a lot on the circumstances in your home country – the more influence the general population wields, the more you stay engaged. When I lived in Asia, I still participated in many of the Swiss votes whereas my German and French friends seemed to be interested in their home countries to a significantly lower extent (the other group that seemed pretty interested in the situation in their home country was North Africans but that was during the Arab Spring so I guess that is somehow to be expected)…

Rahul December 29, 2013 at 12:19 am

Do the Swiss wield more influence home than Germans / French? In what way? Just trying to understand what you are saying here.

Someone from the other side December 29, 2013 at 10:36 am

Absolutely, every law is (in principle) up for a referendum. Plus you can launch your own, so you wield massively more influence than in a representative democracy (of course it also helps that with only a couple million people voting at a time, your vote has at least some small influence)

The Anti-Gnostic December 28, 2013 at 6:35 pm

The last thing any self-respecting country should want is a population of expat’s still hip-deep in the politics of their home country. If it were up to me, foreign provocateurs like Fethulleh Gulen would be put on the next flight back to Ankara to whatever fate awaits them.

Foreign governments and foreign opposition groups lobby the US Congress and have more high-level bureaucratic access than most US citizens. I don’t know why this isn’t treated like espionage.

Rahul December 29, 2013 at 12:22 am

What’d you have said about the French / Belgians in exile in WW-2 or Jews trying to help kin back home?

The Anti-Gnostic December 29, 2013 at 9:02 am

Let’s see if this will pass muster: I’d have told them go and fight for your own homeland and don’t get my homeland entangled in your overseas inter-tribal conflicts. Why should the US spend blood and treasure preserving the cultural and territorial sovereignty of their ethnic nation-states while they get to treat my homeland like the world’s global boarding house?

Foreign governments and foreign opposition groups lobby Congress and enjoy high-level access that’s denied to most citizens. I don’t know why this isn’t treated like espionage.

lxm December 28, 2013 at 3:53 pm

#2. Apparently there have been studies done that indicate that the rich really don’t seem to influence governance very much.

I guess they haven’t looked at the tax code.

Alexei Sadeski December 28, 2013 at 6:08 pm

US tax code is extraordinarily progressive.

prior_approval December 29, 2013 at 4:58 am

You mean progressive like this? – ‘Federal law requires billionaires such as Adelson who want to leave fortunes to their children to pay estate or gift taxes of 40 percent on those assets. Adelson has blunted that bite by exploiting a loophole that Congress unintentionally created and that the Internal Revenue Service unsuccessfully challenged.

By shuffling his company stock in and out of more than 30 trusts, he has given his heirs at least $7.9 billion while legally avoiding about $2.8 billion in U.S. gift taxes since 2010, according to calculations based on data in Adelson’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Hundreds of executives have used the technique, SEC filings show. These tax shelters may have cost the federal government more than $100 billion since 2000, says Richard Covey, the lawyer who pioneered the maneuver. That’s equivalent to about one-third of all estate and gift taxes the nation has collected since then.

The popularity of the shelter, known as the Walton grantor retained annuity trust, or GRAT, shows how easy it is for the wealthy to bypass estate and gift taxes. Even Covey says the practice, which involves rapidly churning assets into and out of trusts, makes a mockery of the tax code.

“You can certainly say we can’t let this keep going if we’re going to have a sound system,” he says with a shrug.’ http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/grat-shelters-an-accidental-tax-break-for-americas-wealthiest/2013/12/27/936bffc8-6c05-11e3-a523-fe73f0ff6b8d_story.html

Anonymous coward December 29, 2013 at 6:28 am

$100B sounds big in the mouth, but in a large country like the USA, with just federal tax receipts approaching $3T a year, $100B in 13 years is a rounding error. Sorry.

libert December 29, 2013 at 4:28 pm

And yet Solyndra’s $0.5B was a massive scandal. Funny how that works.

Anonymous coward December 30, 2013 at 3:09 am

Have pity on poor Republicans, they have it so tough they must use anything they can! Also by the old saw, if you see one cockroach it means there are a thousand where you don’t see them. Also hadn’t Obama backed it personally? Ditto healthcare.gov.

Tom January 1, 2014 at 7:38 pm

The ultimate joke is on the citizenry, of course, but Healthcare.gov is the farcical counterpart of nemesis coming after the hubris of the make-it-so wave of well-manicured hand.

Alexei Sadeski December 29, 2013 at 10:53 am

Even with an estate tax of zero, the US taxation system would remain one of the most progressive in the OECD.

lxm December 29, 2013 at 11:28 am

The point wasn’t whether the tax code is progressive or not.

The point is that you can buy tax breaks and influence the tax code. The tax code is riddled with loopholes and special rules for special people. I consider it insane, but it sure does look like rich and powerful interests can buy laws they like. Maybe they can’t get everything, but they sure as hell get a lot.

I remember during the Obama-Romney campaign rich people started complaining about Romney exposing special tax breaks that they didn’t want anyone to know about.

But after all, if you are rich and you can’t buy politicians and judges what’s the point of being rich? Corporations are people, my friends.

Alexei Sadeski December 29, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Actually, yes, the fact that the US tax code is extremely progressive is precisely the point.

If all that vaunted influence were so effective, you just might expect the US to not have amongst the most progressive tax codes in the OECD – loopholes or no loopholes.

lxm December 29, 2013 at 2:27 pm

@alexis

Let’s see Warren Buffet pays less as a percentage of income than his secretary.

My wife complained to me that we pay taxes at a higher rate than Mitt Romney. I asked my financial advisor if we could pay as little as Mitt. He said, “NO. Not ever. Not even if you paid me more.”

So I’m glad to hear our taxes are progressive.

You are giving me the standard argument from the right: Look at this fig leaf! See! I told you so! (In this specific case the fig leaf is US income taxes are progressive)

The underlying argument is I’ve got mine so go F… yourself.

Alexei Sadeski December 29, 2013 at 9:19 pm

@lxm

Both Mitt’s and Buffet’s reported tax rates are false.

The Anti-Gnostic December 30, 2013 at 10:09 am

We tax capital gains lower because those assets were purchased with post-tax dollars. But I agree with your overall point, your and Warren Buffett’s secretary’s taxes are too high.

Mike W December 29, 2013 at 5:25 pm

“These tax shelters may have cost the federal government more than $100 billion since 2000, says Richard Covey, the lawyer who pioneered the maneuver.”

How do this legal estate tax avoidance device “cost the federal government”? Is the rationale that all income actually belongs to the federal government?

wiki December 28, 2013 at 5:58 pm

It’s hard to have equality of respect when the cultural elites have done everything in their power to disparage the values, beliefs and preferences of middle America. The aftermath of the counterculture is not irrelevant. And as for Japan, is it any accident that of all the developed nations, Japan has been the most socially conservative, especially with respect to gender roles, but also with respect to the value of traditional authority, respect for parents, the need for discipline at home and in school, the belief that ethnic Japanese are fundamentally superior to all other groups, and the willingness of mainstream Japan NOT to treat all cultures as inherently equal within Japanese society? Show me an America that’s more like that and I’ll show you an America that finds it easier to maintain equal respect despite high income inequality. You can flip Noah Smith’s argument around to say that when the elites lost their ability to demand respect and deferential behavior in the home and the workplace commensurate with traditional mores, should it be surprising that CEOs and managers now require larger monetary differentials in compensation? Certainly many Japanese would not exchange their mix of salary and social privileges for the higher wages but more egalitarian and even legalistically enforced restraints in the workplace that are seen in the American corporation.

Alexei Sadeski December 28, 2013 at 6:10 pm

+1,000,000!

Roy December 28, 2013 at 8:25 pm

This applies to medicine as well. The work position of doctors has declined considerably as well. Japanese doctors may not be paid that much but their social status is considerably higher and they are absolute masters of their work environment.

I have heard it argued that in the UK doctors gave up money to preserve status by backing the NHS, my experience backs this up.

Millian December 29, 2013 at 5:59 am

But the deferential behaviour wasn’t a win-win situation. Men gained and women lost. In fact, given what we know about the importance of women in children’s life outcomes, it probably wasn’t even a zero-sum game: it probably helped men and hurt both women and children.

wiki December 29, 2013 at 9:46 am

Unlikely. The Japanese system means low crime, low out of wedlock birth, and greater stability. As Tyler says, “solve for the equilibrium.” Many of the problems of today’s men — including the couch potatoes and dropouts and bitter divorces, and the attendant problems they pose for society and the nuclear family as a whole — are partially caused by the lack of relative rewards for men becoming head of households while granting more privileges to wives, working women, ex-wives.

But whether you like the outcomes or not, part of the societal balance in Japan that SWPLs like Noah Smith admire derives from the very social mores and highly constrained behavior that SWPLs otherwise disparage.

Anonymous coward December 30, 2013 at 3:02 am

+100500

Someone from the other side December 29, 2013 at 10:39 am

That unwillingness to consider other cultures probably also influences their lack of growth to a significant degree. If you refuse to learn from others, well at some point you WILL fall behind.

Anonymous coward December 30, 2013 at 3:13 am

Reading comprehension problems or just conflating? “Willingness of mainstream Japan NOT to treat all cultures as inherently equal within Japanese society” ≠ “refuse to learn from others”. They learn from others where there are things worthy of learning.

Adrian Ratnapala December 29, 2013 at 1:40 am

I don’t know enough about Turkey to talk about the real political situation, but Tucker’s conclusion “…Erdoğan has ensured that whether or not he falls, the damage to Turkish political institutions will still be considerable.” might not hold.

Institutions in Turkey and many other countries have been taking 2-steps forward and 1 step back for decades now. Erdoğan has made some of those steps himself. Perhaps he is now the most powerful actor with an interest in weakening institutions. If he is removed, then no one will immediately be in that position and we might expect a strengthening of democracy.

Once more: Everything I said is just theory, you would need specific knowledge of Turkey to be able to guess if it is realistic in this case.

Steve Sailer December 29, 2013 at 2:59 am

There are a lot of specifics in Turkey. It’s been settled for 10,000+ years, and quite a few complications have built up over the years.

Alexei Sadeski December 29, 2013 at 10:56 am

Haven’t they found cave paintings in France that are 30k+ years old? That would point to Turkey having been settled for slightly longer than 10k years, yes?

Millian December 29, 2013 at 6:01 am

It is nice to see some balance about Turkey: namely, that Erdogan replaced not a vibrant democracy but a state run for the interests of the secular military. Dani Rodrik is correct in his partisan analysis, but that’s what it is.

ThomasH December 29, 2013 at 7:50 am

It is hard to reduce low value expenditures and increase high value expenditures if that is not your aim and that was certainly not the objective of Tea Party-ish Republicans; they wanted to create room for more reductions in taxes on high-income people. BTW, I did not see the analysis that showed the squirrel did not increase profits of California almond growers by less than his cost, so maybe that was not a good example of waste.

Ted Craig December 29, 2013 at 10:12 am

Did you at least see the part where it was walnuts, not almonds?

Ted Craig December 29, 2013 at 10:11 am

5. The problem with sequestration is it didn’t last long enough for any real pain.

TMC December 31, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Real problem was that anyone was left to start the gov’t back up.

mike December 29, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Re #2-

Respect, or social status as it has been previously described, is largely a function of sexual relationships. Men want social status because women are attracted to it, and women want their men to have social status so they can gloat over other women. You can’t fake it or “redistribute” it, because its only value is inside peoples’ heads. A world in which people are realistic about social status and a world in which people pretend to believe in some social-status-equalization ideology but don’t really believe it will not be any different in practice. Are we going to take women out back and shoot them if they won’t date low-status men? Are we going to shoot women who look down on other women who are with low-status men? Are we going to shoot women for being embarrassed by their men when they are with other women? No, so this redistribution isn’t going to happen, it’s just another vector for shitlib politics.

chuck martel December 29, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Whatever. When wandering the aisles of the local supermarket I’m always amazed at the number of pretty decent looking guys pushing a shopping cart for really scary looking women. What ever happened?

Thomas December 29, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Your surprise suggests that the rule exists.

mike December 30, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Exactly. What is the big gripe today? “Income inequality.” Never mind that in absolute terms all strata of society are far better off than they have ever been. We have climbed the hierarchy of psychological needs, and the pressing issue of the day is social status. But there’s no way to “grow the pie” or even “slice the pie differently” out of this one. It is completely zero-sum. Arguably, the best shot was pornography and daytime soaps and romance novels, making every man feel like a stud and every woman feel like a princess without having any other humans involved. But all we got from this was more headcases.

Anonymous coward December 30, 2013 at 3:04 am

Obviously, they could not get anything better (and pushing shopping carts for their girlfriends doesn’t help). What with American obesity rates, good-looking women command huge premiums. Also what Thomas said.

RAstudent December 30, 2013 at 3:31 pm

#5. Maybe the level of government spending is much closer to optimal than many people think. Maybe there just isn’t a whole lot worth cutting?

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