Assorted links

1. When should we tax goods with inelastic demand?

2. Comments on “the photo.”

3. Will on the new Jerry Gaus book; Kevin Vallier’s summary is intended as positive, but it reflects my reservations about the book: “In sum, OPR defends public reason liberalism without contractarian foundations. It is Kantian without being rationalistic. It is Humean without giving up the project of rationally reforming the moral order. It is evolutionary but not social Darwinist. It is classical liberal without being libertarian. It is Hegelian and organicist without being collectivist or statist.”  Too much engagement with macro-positions of philosophic others, too many strung together, semi-empirical casual observations, not enough focused, narrowed down progress on the knotty particular problems of social choice and aggregation and whether rules are simply an arbitrary category.  The argument takes on too many moving pieces — not quite empirical, not quite theoretical — in a way which is to this reader was not persuasive.


does pete sousa (photographer) have TOP SECRET clearance to be photographing the situtation room during a TOP SECRET Op?

if all of a sudden, the Op didn't go as planned, what would happen to this photo? or the photographer? would we hear about it?

It seems odd such a risky mission would also make a good photo op.

#2: Interesting comments in general. But I have to call BS on "these are the kinds of moments we elected him for" Really? We elected Obama for a bunch of reasons, but I don't think that one of them was that we thought he'd be better than McCain in gutsy battle decisions...

You mean like McCain's gutsy VP call! His choice for VP said it all for me about McCain's decision making. A hip-shooter as president we don't need.


Like she was worse than Obama's choice. Right.

#3: The idea that OPR lacks enough focused, narrow progress on social choice and aggregation is odd in light of the thirty page discussion of selecting proposals in Sec.16 and the shorter discussion of how the function of jurisdictional rights helps to resolve social choice and aggregation problems in Sec.18 (in my mind, one of the seminal contributions of the book), along with the discussion of supermajority rules Sec. 25. From what I can tell, Gaus spends more time on social choice and aggregation problems than anyone in political philosophy in the last several decades (including Sen). Further, there's an enormous discussion of why rules are the right level of analysis. It comprises nearly the whole of Chapter III, which is 85 pages long. It's also vital to the project of the book to recognize that it is advancing a novel account of how the empirical and theoretical flesh each other out. What you see as a quasi-empirical, quasi-theoretical muddle is in fact the core methodological argument of the book; it's not a sloppy bug, it's an attempt to advance a distinct way of approaching the ought-is distinction and how it functions in political philosophy that attempts to engage the real world.

having just reread the social choice section, I honestly do not see what is there in terms of a contribution.
Tyler Cowen

Which section is the one you reread?

I think I can say this about all the sections, though: no one has systematically integrated social choice considerations into public reason liberalism, or even into broadly deontological approaches to political theory outside of neo-Hobbesian contractarian theories which are not especially popular. Another point: Gaus recognizes that Arrovian worries must lead us to reject one of Arrow's axioms, but he also recognizes that the rejection cannot be arbitrary. Note that the entire book is an explanation for why independence of irrelevant alternatives can be relaxed: our social morality has evolved and is therefore inevitably path-dependent. If the rationale for this point holds, then there is reason to relax independence independently of trying to solve Arrovian problems. I think that's super-cool and new. Further, I'm not aware of any attempt to grapple with such concerns within a Kantian frame. It's a seminal contribution to show (a) that the same social choice problems that arise for utilitarian social welfare function guys applies to Rawlsians, (b) to offer any solution at all, much less the systematic solution Gaus offers.

Further, his presumption against coercion gives us grounds to reject neutrality as an ideal for voting rules. It helps to ground the case for supermajoritarian voting rules.

Of course *you* will be familiar with the social choice stuff Gaus reviews and integrates; however, consider his audience - political philosophers wholly unaware that these matters have any relevance at all. He has not only shown that they are relevant (again, a point obvious to you) but how they are relevant and how to go about responding to them. The contribution here is in the integration of seemingly distinct issues in a systematic way.

Does the "white house situation room" really look like the waiting room for a low cost pediatrici­an or is this just a bad angle on the shot.


What is the deadweight loss for a proportional consumption tax? What are the other drawbacks?

Suppose the Tax Rate = Price/($1 million). Of course the $1 million is just arbitrary (but it makes the math easy). At that level, there would be no tax on any item less than $100 (so food would tax free - except, maybe, beluga caviar).

So if you buy a Bugatti Veyron (price = $2.5 mil), the tax is 250%, or $6.25 mil
But if you buy a Honda Civic (price = $18k), the tax is only 1.8%, or $324.

A $500 iPad would have 25 cents of tax.
An $8,000 Segway would have only $64 tax.

And if you buy a million dollar penthouse apartment, the tax is 100%, or $1 mil.
But if you buy a $250k condo, the tax is 25%, or about $62.5k.

Then a person could make all the money they wanted, but if they lived a simple life like Buffet they still would not pay very much in taxes. Maybe, you wouldn't even need a separate tax code for Corporations. Corporations buy things just like the rest of us.

Finally, tax avoidance would be difficult, even for illegal immigrants and other actors in the black market (tips are under-reported, but even waitresses shop at Target). Ditto for people who store their income in Corporations or defer compensation through hedge funds. They all consume eventually. Plus tax collection would be simple. Trivial even. And no one would ever have to file a 1040 again.

Are there any academic papers on proportional consumption taxes? What were the conclusions?

I favor lump sum taxation. They used to be called "poll taxes", I believe. We know that if you tax something, you get less of it, so I don't want to tax income. Optimally all funding would be in the form of user fees to make marginal revenue equal to marginal cost, and the assumption that the cost of an individual is equal for all people (per year) seems more sensible than that the cost is proportional to their income.

Excellent taxation post. Almost nobody understands the theory of optimal taxation. The nuances are hard to understand without a lot of background theory.

@Mal, I see a boom in the sale of you-assemble kits, the end of bar tabs, monthly car rentals replacing purchases, etc.

On #1:
Unless gasoline consumption indicates that you have high hidden earnings potential,

Noooo... owning a SUV says absolutely nothing about "earnings potential" :P.

One link worth checking is this article from the Atlantic, September 1897: "Are the rich getting richer and the poor poorer?";g=moagrp;xc=1;q1=navy;rgn=full%20text;view=image;cc=atla;seq=0306;idno=atla0080-3;node=atla0080-3%3A2

many great articles there by the way

#2: And of course now we know that "The Photo" -- how very dramatic! -- is nothing more than a bunch of people teleconferencing with Panetta.

Puts quite a damper on all the breathless analysis, doesn't it?

It’s also vital to the project of the book to recognize that it is advancing a novel account of how the empirical and theoretical flesh each other out.

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