Law

Stephen J. Entin on raising estate taxes

by on September 24, 2016 at 2:59 am in Economics, Law | Permalink

The transfer [estate] taxes are highly distortive of economic activity. In fact, they probably do the most damage to output and income per dollar of revenue raised of all the taxes in the U.S. tax system. There are two reasons. First, they are an additional layer of tax on saving and investment, activities that are highly sensitive to taxation and very likely to shrink in response to the tax. Second, the transfer taxes are levied at very high, steeply graduated marginal tax rates on a very narrow tax base. The high rates discourage saving and investment at the margin, while the average tax rate and tax revenues are held down by the credit. A tax that has a large differential between its average and marginal tax rates does far more damage per dollar of revenue raised than a flatter rate tax on a broader base.

Here is the full study and pdf.  The pointer is from Alex T.

Londonderry Derry

by on September 22, 2016 at 1:42 pm in History, Law, Political Science, Religion | Permalink

The city’s name is a point of political dispute, with unionists advocating the longer name, and nationalists advocating the shorter. A common attempt at compromise is to refer to the county as “Londonderry” and the city as “Derry”, but this is by no means universally accepted. Because of this, a peculiar situation arises as there is no common consensus either in politics or elsewhere as to which name is preferred; the city council is officially known as “Derry”, but the city is officially recognised as “Londonderry” by the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK government. Whilst road signs in the Republic of Ireland use “Derry”, alongside the Irish language translation “Doire”, road signs in Northern Ireland will always read (unless vandalised) “Londonderry”.

Here is the link.  I hope someday to go.

That is my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Looking at a broad swath of history, I see three major forces that can make financial systems safer: people being scared by recent events, solid economic growth and reduced debt in comparison to the value of equity. The financial crisis gave us the first on that list as perhaps its main “gift” (for now), but Dodd-Frank may have worsened economic growth problems.

On the plus side, we might like to think that Dodd-Frank improved the debt-equity balance by pushing banks to raise more capital. But that, too, now stands in doubt.

Last week Natasha Sarin and Lawrence H. Summers of Harvard University released a paper questioning whether Dodd-Frank has made big U.S. banks safer at all. The authors look at a variety of measures, including options prices, the ratio of market prices to book values, bank share volatility relative to overall market volatility, credit-default swap spreads and the value of preferred equity shares for banks. In every metric, it seems that the big banks are at least as risky as they were before the crisis, in part because they have lower capital values.

And this:

It’s a common economic prescription that regulation should insist that banks carry high levels of capital to withstand losses in bad times. But although Dodd-Frank raised statutory capital requirements, it may have drained banks of some of their true economic capital by regulating and sometimes prohibiting valuable banking activities. The ratio of market price to book value has declined for the biggest banks, and that is one sign of falling values for true economic capital, even though banks have met the letter of law by increasing capital as the regulations specified. Sarin and Summers note that measures of bank capital, as defined by regulators rather than the market, have little predictive power for bank failures.

Do read the whole thing.

Paul Krugman is upset that many Millennials are toying with the idea of voting for Gary Johnson rather than Hillary Clinton.  He offers a number of arguments, here is one of them:

What really struck me, however, was what the [Libertarian Party] platform says about the environment. It opposes any kind of regulation; instead, it argues that we can rely on the courts. Is a giant corporation poisoning the air you breathe or the water you drink? Just sue: “Where damages can be proven and quantified in a court of law, restitution to the injured parties must be required.” Ordinary citizens against teams of high-priced corporate lawyers — what could go wrong?

That is the opposite of the correct criticism.  The main problem with classical libertarianism is that it doesn’t allow enough pollution.  Under libertarian theory, pollution is a form of violent aggression that should be banned, as Murray Rothbard insisted numerous times.  OK, but what about actual practice, once all those special interest groups start having their say?  Historically, under the more limited government of the 19th century, it was big business that wanted to move away from unpredictable local and litigation-driven methods of control, and toward a more systematic regulatory approach at the national level.  There is a significant literature on this development, starting with Morton Horwitz’s The Transformation of American Common Law.

If you think about it, this accords with standard industrial organization intuitions.  Established incumbents prefer regulations that take the form of predictable, upfront high fixed costs, if only to limit entry.  And to some extent they can pass those costs along to consumers and workers.  The “maybe you can sue me, maybe you can’t” regime is more the favorite of thinly capitalized upstarts that have little to lose.

So under the pure libertarian regime, big business would come running to the federal government asking for systematic regulation in return for protection against the uncertain depredations of the lower-level courts.  It is fine to argue the court-heavy libertarian regime would be unworkable for this reason, or perhaps it would collapse into a version of the status quo.

That would be a much more fun column: “Libertarian view untenable, implies too high a burden on polluters.”  I’m not sure that would sway the Bernie Brothers however.

Some of the criticisms of libertarianism strike me as under-argued:

And if parents don’t want their children educated, or want them indoctrinated in a cult…Not our problem.

Rates of high school completion were below 70% for decades, until recently, in spite of compulsory education.  Parents rescuing children from the neglect of the state seems at least as common to me as vice versa.

And what is the status quo policy on taking children away from parents who belong to “cults”?  Unusual religions can be a factor in contested child custody cases (pdf), but in the absence of evidence of concrete harm, such as beatings or sexual abuse, the American government does not generally take children away from their parents, cult or not.  Germany and Norway differ on this a bit, for the most part this is, for better or worse, the American way.  That’s without electing Gary Johnson.

By the way, Gary Johnson slightly helps Hillary Clinton.  Although probably not with New York Times readers.

That is my latest Bloomberg column, hardly anyone has a consistent and evidence-based view on this deal.  Here is one bit:

Critics who dislike Monsanto for its leading role in developing genetically modified organisms and agricultural chemicals shouldn’t also be citing monopoly concerns as a reason to oppose the merger — that combination of views doesn’t make sense. Let’s say for instance that the deal raised the price of GMOs due to monopoly power. Farmers would respond by using those seeds less, and presumably that should be welcome news to GMO opponents.

Yet on the other side:

What does Bayer hope to get for its $66 billion, $128-a-share offer? The company has argued that it will be able to eliminate some duplicated jobs and expenses, negotiate better deals with suppliers and invest more funds in research and development. Maybe, but the broader reality is less cheery. There is a well-known academic literature, dating to the early 1990s, showing that acquiring firms usually decline in value after tender offers, especially after the biggest deals. Mergers do not seem to make companies more valuable or efficient.

And this:

The whole Bayer-Monsanto case is a classic example of how a vociferous public debate can disguise or even reverse the true issues at stake. If Bayer fails to close the deal for Monsanto, Bayer shareholders may be the biggest winners. The biggest losers from a failed deal may be its opponents, who will spend the rest of their lives in a world where misguided judgments of corporate popularity have increasing sway over laws and regulations.

Do read the whole thing.

In two separate cases, thieves snatching bags from city streets and train stations inadvertently helped law enforcement get the upper hand in an ongoing bomb spree that’s hurt dozens of people and spans both sides of the Hudson River, sources said.

The day Ahmad Khan Rahami allegedly planted two bombs in Chelsea  — one of which detonated on West 23rd Street — two thieves accidentally helped to disable his second pressure cooker bomb left inside a rolling suitcase on West 27th Street, sources said.

The young men, who sources described as being well-dressed, opened the bag and took the bomb out, sources said, before placing the explosive into a garbage bag and walking away with the rolling suitcase.

In doing so, investigators believe they inadvertently disabled the explosive, sources said. That allowed investigators to examine the cellphone attached to the bomb intact and discover that it was connected to the family of Rahami.

From there, they were able to identify pictures on social media of Rahami’s family and of him, and they matched one of his photos to surveillance footage captured in Manhattan.

Here is the full story, via David Montgomery.  This somehow relates to Hume’s Dialogues on Natural Religion and the watchmaker analogy, but I’m still pondering that one…

Senior figures in the EU believe that Britain will give up on Brexit if they make negotiations as tough as possible, the Telegraph understands.

British officials are fighting to stop Europe adopting a no-compromise position in talks in the hope that the UK will change its mind about leaving the bloc.

This belief is fuelling the hardline message on issues like freedom of movement that have emerged from Berlin, Paris and Brussels in recent weeks.

More than five senior EU figures interviewed by the Telegraph this week expressed doubts that Britain would go through with Brexit when confronted by the “reality of the bureaucratic nightmare” and the “insane act of economic self-harm”, as they referred to Brexit.

One senior British official involved in the set up for the coming negotiations said the EU elite “seem to think the game is to make us change our minds”.

This stance has left officials fighting to explain to European leaders how “dangerous” a game they were playing, and how “unlikely” it was to succeed.

Here is the full story.  Speculative of course, but don’t forget this bit:

“Perhaps there was a time when this could not have got nasty,” said one source close to Mr Verhofstadt, “but when the Brexit minister calls the chief negotiator ‘Satan’ what response, really, does Britain expect?”

Do they really spell “fuelling” with two l’s?

Somehow — I can’t imagine why — this financial matter has fallen down the memory hole as of late.  Here are a few paragraphs from Wikipedia:

In 1978 and 1979, lawyer and First Lady of Arkansas Hillary Rodham engaged in a series of trades of cattle futures contracts. Her initial $1,000 investment had generated nearly $100,000 when she stopped trading after ten months…

Various publications sought to analyze the likelihood of Rodham’s successful results. The editor of the Journal of Futures Markets said in April 1994, “This is like buying ice skates one day and entering the Olympics a day later. She took some extraordinary risks.”[3] USA Today concluded in April 1994 after a four-week study that “Hillary Rodham Clinton had some special treatment while winning a small fortune in commodities.”[9] According to The Washington Post‘s May 1994 analysis, “while Clinton’s account was wildly successful to an outsider, it was small compared to what others were making in the cattle futures market in the 1978–79 period.” However, the Post’s comparison was of absolute profits, not the percentage rate of return.[14] In a Fall 1994 paper for the Journal of Economics and Finance, economists from the University of North Florida and Auburn University investigated the odds of gaining a hundred-fold return in the cattle futures market during the period in question. Using a model that was stated to give the hypothetical investor the benefit of the doubt, they concluded that the odds of such a return happening were at best 1 in 31 trillion.[15]

Financial writer Edward Chancellor noted in 1999 that Clinton made her money by betting “on the short side at a time when cattle prices doubled.”[16] Bloomberg News columnist Caroline Baum and hedge fund manager Victor Niederhoffer published a detailed 1995 analysis in National Review that found typical patterns and behaviors in commodities trading not met and concluded that her explanations for her results were highly implausible.[17] Possibilities were raised that broker actions such as front running of trades, or a long straddle with the winning positions thereof assigned to a favored client, had taken place.[14][17]

That said, I fully grant such matters are not closely correlated with ultimate political performance.  But I am seeing so, so much apologia, selective event citation, and wishful thinking these days…

What is also interesting is that this is another case where — relative to actual legal priorities — one can correctly suggest that an actual prosecution was not warranted.

Please do note I regard it as my first priority to try to understand and also explain the (rather dire) situation we are in, rather than to put maximum thumb weight on the outcome I would most like to see happen.

There should be a whole category of “results that aren’t true as stated but are interesting nonetheless.”  Here is a new paper by Daniel L. Bennett and Boris Nikolaev:

This article examines the relationship between economic freedom and happiness inequality for a large sample of countries. We find that economic freedom is negatively associated with happiness inequality and robust to several alternative measures of happiness inequality, including the standard deviation, mean absolute difference, coefficient of variation, and Gini coefficient. Among the economic freedom areas, legal system and sound money are negatively correlated with happiness inequality. Drawing on the Engerman-Sokoloff hypothesis, we use a measure of factor endowments as an instrument for economic freedom to provide a further robustness test, finding a negative association between economic freedom and happiness inequality.

Two points.  First, the influence of economic freedom often diminishes once you control for the quality of government in a particular locale.  This is perhaps more of an “all good things go together” result than any particular causal story.  Second, many of these results are mediated by the “hard money” component of economic freedom.  But hard money is not economic freedom per se, but rather it may be proxying for some successful cultural attitudes.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.  Also via Kevin, here is another published result you shouldn’t quite believe as stated: “…the combination of feeling tired and happy may enhance acceptance of atypical or unusual ideas, which could potentially help creative thought.”

In the four years that Ayanna Chisholm has worked collecting tolls out of tiny glass booths at the Holland Tunnel and elsewhere in New Jersey, there have been several constants. There are familiar commuters, malfunctioning toll arms, occasional scofflaws — and an incessant barrage of come-ons, sexual comments, lecherous stares and crude gestures from male motorists.

Some of Ms. Chisholm’s colleagues say they have been subjected to drivers exposing themselves. The fusillade is especially menacing because it is inescapable, the workers confined to small hutches on the highway.

Like other women in her profession, Ms. Chisholm, who works for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has learned to wear little makeup, crack her booth’s window open as little as possible, and drop change into waiting hands to avoid drivers who try to stroke her palm.

That is from the NYT, and of course the same was true decades ago.  No one from New Jersey should be surprised at how most internet comments have turned out.

Despite all of their adversities, Haitians had rather low crime rates.  Martinez and Lee’s 1985-95 study reported a homicide victimization rate of 16.7 for Haitians, which was lower than those for non-Hispanic whites and Latinos and far lower than the rate for American blacks.  In fact, the Haitian crime figures may be inflated, since over 54 percent of the suspected killers of murdered Haitians were African American.  In other words, the Haitian victimization rate is not an especially good indicator of Haitian offending, because, contrary to the usual situation, Haitians were the victims of an inordinate number of out-group killings.  They were believed to have been only 3.5 percent of the murder suspects at a time when they were 14 percent of Miami’s general population.

That is from Barry Latzer’s new and interesting The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America.

As loyal readers know, I’ve long been in favor of a system where a drug approved in another major, developed country is also approved here. For a long time it seemed as if I was shouting in the wilderness but in the last few years support for the idea has grown, as the Cruz-Lee Reciprocity bill indicates. In A Cure for Swelling Drug Prices: Competition, Greg Ip at the WSJ notes another new development:

Mr. Tabarrok says the FDA should also offer reciprocal approval of drugs that regulators in other advanced countries have already cleared. Imports of generics from countries with government-negotiated prices ought not to be as controversial as patent-protected drugs because they involve far less expensive and risky research. Indeed, the Generic Pharmaceutical Association and its European equivalent, Medicines for Europe, have proposed a “single development pathway” under which approval in one jurisdiction would automatically confer approval in the other.

The proposed plan is for generics only where the issues are simpler but Greg is right to conclude more generally:

The FDA has long insisted, for safety reasons, that it approve all drugs regardless of whether they have been approved overseas. But if the FDA was once a better regulator than its overseas peers, it isn’t now. Ken Kaitin, a professor of medicine at Tufts University who has studied drug regulation around the world, says there is “absolutely no evidence” the U.S. drug supply is safer than in Britain, Canada or Europe.

Thus, the FDA wouldn’t be compromising safety by harmonizing its approvals with foreign regulators. Indeed, by making more drugs available at lower cost, it could ultimately make Americans healthier.

Perhaps less than you might think.  There is a new paper by Mario L. Chacon and Jeff I. Jensen:

We use the Southern secession movement of 1860-1861 to study how elites in democracy enact their preferred policies. Most states used specially convened conventions to determine whether or not to secede from the Union. We argue that although the delegates of these conventions were popularly elected, the electoral rules favored slaveholders. Using an original dataset of representation in each convention, we first demonstrate that slave-intensive districts were systematically overrepresented. Slaveholders were also spatially concentrated and could thereby obtain local pluralities in favor of secession more easily. As a result of these electoral biases, less than 10% of the electorate was sufficient to elect a majority of delegates in four of the six original Confederate states. We also show how delegates representing slave-intensive counties were more likely to support secession. These factors explain the disproportionate influence of slaveholders during the crisis and why secessionists strategically chose conventions over statewide referenda.

Not entirely unlike the first American secession!

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Conatus Pharmaceuticals Inc. has several patents for emricasan. Some don’t expire until 2028. A third party wanting to sell the molecule would need to license it from Conatus, according to Joseph O’Malley, global chair for intellectual property at Paul Hastings LLP.

“Assuming that drug were to be found to treat Zika,” Mr. O’Malley said, “it would be bad news for the company. It would be under tremendous pressure to license it for little or no money.”

Alfred Spada, Conatus’s chief scientific officer, said if emricasan “were effective in the treatment of such a devastating disease, I think we would be ecstatic.”

Here is the full WSJ story, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

What if Donald Trump actually won the election?  What would happen with trade and the economy?

Here is part one, all nice and pretty with photos, part two will come tomorrow.  Zoellick suggests that if Trump abrogated various trade deals, the legal default would be a return to…Smoot-Hawley!  As former USTR, he should know.  Anyway, here is one part of the dialogue:

Cowen: I expect a somewhat slightly more optimistic scenario. I think a President Trump would give us a reality-TV version of a tariff hike. I don’t necessarily think he wants to experience the pain of tariffs going up, markets crashing and all the political fallout early in his time in office.

Yet he’s promised he would do something and he loves to spar with people and claim he’s being done wrong and rail against elites rather than own problems and solve them. So I think what he would probably do is announce that he had abrogated these treaties, not actually do it. There would be a very high level of uncertainty but I don’t think the laws on the books would necessarily change.

The biggest thing at stake here is uncertainty. Under all of these scenarios, the real impact would be on services, which often rely more on the regulatory system. Uncertainty would result in a higher implicit tax on exports of services to the U.S. than on exports of goods.

Zoellick: I think that’s an extremely optimistic interpretation. Remember, he has the authority to act. He can raise tariffs and create havoc.

I agree on your uncertainty point, but I think you may be a little blithe about the risk to markets. Other countries aren’t just going to stand for the U.S.’s blustering.

This is serious stuff. I worked on German unification. I’ve done a bunch of trade deals. I’ve had some experience internationally. If you act the way Trump talks you’re going to pull down a 70-year-old system that got us out of the Great Depression and helped the U.S. become the strongest economy in the world. This isn’t for fooling around with.

Here is the full, raw text with no formatting.  Eleven full pages, that is for me the best version!  There are many, many points of interest, I really liked this exchange.