Rawls, Bentham and the Laffer Curve

by John Quiggin on September 8, 2014

The 1970s saw two important and influential publications in the long debate over justice, equality and public policy. In 1971, there was Rawls Theory of Justice, commonly described in terms like “magisterial”. Then in 1974, at lunch with Jude Wanniski, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, Arthur Laffer drew his now-eponymous curve on a napkin. Of course there was nothing new about the curve: it’s pretty obvious that an income tax levied at rates of either zero or 100 per cent isn’t going to raise any money (* or, in the 100 per cent case, not very much money), and interpolation does the rest. What was new was the Laffer hypothesis, that the US at the time was on the descending side of the curve, where a reduction in tax rates would raise tax revenue.

I’ve always understood Rawls in terms of the Laffer curve, as arguing in essence that we should be at the very top of the curve, maximizing the resources available for transfer to the poor, but not (as, say, Jerry Cohen might have advocated) going further than this to promote equality.

A couple of interesting Facebook discussions have led me to think that I might be wrong in my understanding of Rawls and that the position I’ve imputed to him is actually far closer to that of classical utilitarianism in the tradition of Bentham (which is, broadly speaking, my own view).

Facebook has its merits, but promoting open public discussion isn’t one of them, so I thought I’d throw this out to the slightly larger world of blog readers.

It started out with a post by Ingrid, mentioning a paper she’d presented on limitarianism (a new term to me, though not a new idea), the proposition that as a matter of public policy or of individual ethics, there ought to be a maximum limit on individual incomes. I’m hoping Ingrid might write something more about this here, but she shouldn’t be blamed for any errors I make.

On my interpretation of Rawls, it seems as his difference principle implies a kind of limitarianism. If high income earners are taxed to yield the maximum possible revenue, then their incomes will be bounded above. This won’t be an absolute bound, but will depend on their earning capacity which in turn will reflect both the general level of technology and the extent of “pre-distribution”, that is whether the economic organization of society yields highly unequal market incomes.

That got me thinking about utilitarianism. One way of looking at Rawls (not one he accepted, but still defensible) is as putting forward an extremely egalitarian rank-dependent version of utilitarianism, with all the weight on the bottom of the distribution. But it turns out that you don’t need this to advocate a tax system very close to the Laffer maximum. On the default utilitarian assumption of log utility, additional income to someone on $1 million a year yields 1 per cent of the utility of additional income to someone on $10 000. So, a costly tax-transfer system taking from money the $1 million group and giving it the $10 000 is beneficial as long as the proportion lost through incentive effects, collection costs and so on is less than 99 per cent. Diamond and Saez did the sums properly a while back and concluded that

the social marginal utility at the $1,364,000 average income of
the top 1 percent in 2007 (Piketty and Saez, 2003) is only 3.9 percent of the social
marginal utility of the median family,
The implied policy is a progressive tax system with a top marginal rate of 73 per cent.

It seemed obvious that a Rawlsian policy should be very similar. But after looking around a bit, it turned out that Rawls was, at best, ambivalent about the whole idea of progressive income taxation, let alone the kind of revenue-maximizing extraction implied by a utilitarian analysis. Another interesting discussion followed on Facebook with contributions from Jacob Levy, Jon Mandle, Mike Otsuka and others. I’ve long since lost track of FB privacy policy, but you may be able to read it here.

I got two things out of the discussion. The first is that Rawls had some mistaken ideas about economics, logically unrelated to his difference principle, which contributed to his scepticism about progressive taxes. The intellectual atmosphere of the 1970s, which gave rise to the Laffer curve and the “tax revolt” may have had something to do with this.

The second is his focus on “ideal theory” which I don’t fully understand, but which seems to me to be unhelpful, partly for the reasons put forward by Jacob Levy. The general claim made by Rawls is that, whatever the case for progressive income taxes in society as it is, a properly organized society with limits on inheritance, open access to education and no unfair market power wouldn’t need them.

I don’t buy this. In any society sufficiently close to reality to need a taxation system at all, there are going to be inequalities of pre-tax income large enough that an egalitarian would want to redistribute that income. Given that nearly all taxes are regressive, a progressive income tax is an essential part of such a policy.

{ 460 comments }

1

MrArt 09.08.14 at 9:28 pm

What are your opinions on a progressive consumption tax? It can be dialled up to 11 (i.e over 100%) presumably without a zombie Laffee curve in sight?

2

Joshua W. Burton 09.08.14 at 9:32 pm

If high income earners are taxed to yield the maximum possible revenue, then their incomes will be bounded above. This won’t be an absolute bound, but will depend on their earning capacity which in turn will reflect both the general level of technology and the extent of “pre-distribution”, that is whether the economic organization of society yields highly unequal market incomes.

I’m not sure this is correctly formulated. Even if high income earners are not taxed at all — nay, even if markets are replaced by jungles and high income earners can enhance their wealth by stealing with impunity from anyone weaker — it will still be true that incomes are bounded above, by earning and bullying capacity, the technology level and the extent of upward pre-distribution. All the Rawlsian stuff flows out of the utilitarianism you supply in the next step; even the jungle is limitarian once the biggest lion is satiated, so at most Rawls is implying a more restrictive limitarianism.

3

engels 09.08.14 at 9:39 pm

it’s pretty obvious that an income tax levied at [a] rate… of … 100 per cent isn’t going to raise any money

Rather peripheral to your argument but this isn’t obvious at all (provided people engage in economic activity for reasons other than individual financial gain, which they do.) Joseph Carens has explored this line of thought…

4

Joshua W. Burton 09.08.14 at 9:45 pm

I got two things out of the discussion. The first is that Rawls had some mistaken ideas about economics, logically unrelated to his difference principle, which contributed to his scepticism about progressive taxes.

I think this may be right; in particular, the utilitarian argument hangs on some form of sharply damped utility. Does Rawls acknowledge that log utility is a plausible default, or even the (much weaker) argument that individual utility in this finite world has to be bounded somewhere in the limit of infinite income, and that therefore even power-law utility has to be dominated by 1/x?

5

Sean Matthews 09.08.14 at 10:02 pm

This post reminds me of something Simon Wren-Lewis wrote recently, where he pointed out that Pareto optimality as general principle in economics is probably indefensible, and the most likely explanation for its use is precisely to avoid the implications in your post (i.e. as a way to sneak normative political preferences into what claims to be an essentially technocratic discipline).

6

Omega Centauri 09.08.14 at 10:02 pm

I think it is more complicated than simple distribution. If it was just distribution and the utilty functions derivative is monitonically decreasing then complete egalitarianism maximise utility. But if there are incentive effects, which effect economic productivity, -or to make things more complicated, which effect the rate of economic growth/decay, then things get messy. Supply side asserts that the incentive effects are huge, whereas most people on the left think they are minimal.

7

J Thomas 09.08.14 at 10:10 pm

In any society sufficiently close to reality to need a taxation system at all, there are going to be inequalities of pre-tax income large enough that an egalitarian would want to redistribute that income. Given that nearly all taxes are regressive, a progressive income tax is an essential part of such a policy.

I want to look at the problem a bit abstractly. You want to have feedback systems that tell you what to make more of, and what to make less of. Similarly, you want to have feedback systems that will tend to correct overconsumption or underconsumption, and overinvestment or underinvestment.

As it is, every individual who has discretionary income decides for himself how much of it to invest or consume. We perhaps lack some of the feedback loops we need.

Imagine that we had two different kinds of money, consumer money and investment money. Individuals can trade or gamble consumer money among themselves, but it cannot be invested in businesses, it must be consumed. And investment money must be invested, it cannot buy consumer goods. Then it wouldn’t particularly matter if we had a minority of people who consumed 10 or even 100 times as much as the norm.

We would have a feedback loop for consumption — when people underconsume, existing consumption dollars would inflate faster than usual to encourage people to spend them now rather than later. But when they overconsume, they would deflate so that people who don’t need them now might put off consumption for later.

We would have a related feedback loop for investment. Production that people don’t want so much of, would be reduced, what people want more of would be increased within the limits of whatever limiting factors are there. When there are many opportunities to provide consumers with stuff they want, total investment would increase. When there are only a few, investment would drop.

The people who get to choose about investments can always find ways to increase their consumption. Stage meetings in Hawaii or Monaco. There are lots of ways to get perqs from the job. I can’t think of any general way to stop that, and taxation won’t affect it much.

But if we can divide most of the consumption from most of the investment, that would go a long way toward clarifying matters.

8

Joshua W. Burton 09.08.14 at 10:13 pm

Yes, but first we have to show that the utility function is decreasing. I mean, it’s obvious from over here in the cheap seats, but the closest I can come to an airtight logical argument is the integrability criterion — there are no flat distributions on noncompact sets. I don’t know what Rawls believed about this apparently trivial technical point, but without it there’s no argument at all here.

9

Jack King 09.08.14 at 10:28 pm

The concept of marginal utility is a powerful tool for justifying a progressive tax. Nonetheless, if we have reached a point on the curve when raising the tax rate higher yields LESS revenue to the Federal treasury, then what is the sense? As Keynes aptly pointed out:

“Aggressive taxation may defeat its own ends by diminishing the income to be taxed.” Collective Writings, 21:145

10

Bruce Wilder 09.08.14 at 10:30 pm

Reading A Theory of Justice, I could not help but suppose that the ambiguities of the theory, like the infamous ceteris paribus of economics, serve the persuasiveness of the argument, by letting people project their particular and peculiar prejudices without seeing how a more definite resolution of meaning into functional institutions might provoke objections. The doctrine of a veil of ignorance seemed to cover for this ambiguity, standing as a argument against importing the particularity of individual concerns into the making of rules.

Rather than a particular concern with income taxes, per se, it seems to me that a more general sense could be achieved by formulating a rule for the taxing of economic rents.

Economic rents are associated with political power and with the payment of income in excess of what is necessary to bring a resource into efficient use. The distortion of democratic political power by rentier influence would seem to a tendency that might affect both liberty and difference.

To the extent that high personal or household incomes are attributable to earning economic rents, the merits of a progressive income tax with a high top rate would seem to follow similar lines of argument, though personal income taxes might fit differently into a general program of corporate and property taxes, under such a scheme of argumentation turning on the concept of economic rent.

11

LFC 09.08.14 at 10:50 pm

In TJ sec. 43, R. says that “even steeply progressive income taxes” may be justified “given the injustice of existing institutions” (p.279, in the 1st [1971] ed.). (It’s in a sentence with a double negative, but when you restate it without the double negative, this is the substance.)

He also says (p.278) that a proportional expenditure tax “is preferable to an income tax (of any kind) at the level of common sense precepts of justice, since it imposes a levy according to how much a person takes out of the common store of goods and not according to how much he contributes (assuming here that income is fairly earned).”

The last clause and the parenthetical phrase “assuming here that income is fairly earned” (which he repeats at top of p.279) seems important as indicating R. is thinking in terms of income reflecting “contribution.” Where (or if) income is not a measure or reflection of “contribution,” there’s no reason, he would presumably say, to favor expenditure or consumption taxes over income taxes.

12

Bruce Wilder 09.08.14 at 10:52 pm

J Thomas @ 7

Some one with $100 million dollars in income is getting it from somewhere, and since all economic production is cooperative, she must be getting it from an arrangement of social cooperation, in which exploitation or extraction cannot be ruled out. We don’t distinguish investment in the organization of production of goods and investment in usury. If piles of money qualify as wealth and can earn income, there’s the possibility that usurious contracts supply the income as a transfer disguised as privately provided insurance, without any addition to the production of goods or value.

13

tgrtgr gbfbfbg 09.08.14 at 10:57 pm

We now have lots of empirical evidence from the happiness studies that not only does marginal utility decrease rapidly, but that it is basically log wealth. We don’t need logical proofs-thats just the way it is.

14

J Thomas 09.08.14 at 11:08 pm

Some one with $100 million dollars in income is getting it from somewhere, and since all economic production is cooperative, she must be getting it from an arrangement of social cooperation, in which exploitation or extraction cannot be ruled out.

Agreed.

We don’t distinguish investment in the organization of production of goods and investment in usury. If piles of money qualify as wealth and can earn income, there’s the possibility that usurious contracts supply the income as a transfer disguised as privately provided insurance, without any addition to the production of goods or value.

Agreed. How could we possibly prevent that? Somebody would have to look at the data and decide that some of it was usurious. And if somebody in particular had the right to judge that, he could extract usurious fees for favorable judgements….

But — OK, suppose that consumer dollars were nontransferable. You get them with your name printed on them and only you can buy consumer goods with them. Then the business you bought from exchanges them for some other kind of money and buys stuff with it.

Then somebody with $100 million in income might only have, say, $300,000 in consumer income and could not do a whole lot of conspicuous consumption.

He would still have power because he could make choices with his investment income that affected lots of other people. But that’s true of whoever gets to make those choices — private investor, hired manager, salaried bureaucrat, whoever. To stop that would take something really special.

15

Brett Bellmore 09.08.14 at 11:36 pm

I have to say, I’ve always found the use of mathematics by utilitarians to be hilarious. Is utility a scalar or vector? If the latter, in how many dimensions?

Neither. It’s a metaphor gone malignant. People, the idea of doing math on utility is a fantasy. You don’t have a meter that generates objective numbers when you point it at people.

It’s a metaphor. Try to remember that. You can’t do math with metaphors.

16

Ze Kraggash 09.08.14 at 11:56 pm

I think maximum income (100% income tax) is certainly a good idea. One thing it might do is to open the market to a large number of small actors, instead of a small number of big ones. No Walmart, no GE, no Microsoft: why bother building an empire?

17

Joshua W. Burton 09.09.14 at 12:06 am

You don’t have a meter that generates objective numbers when you point it at people.

In which case, if I do have such a meter, I can set up a utility arbitrage scam at your expense, for example by running a lottery, or a casino, or a television network, or an evil lobbying group that issues a discount card to members, or a military-industrial complex to “protect” you, or . . . .

Even better, I don’t have to have a meter that measures individual utility to the swing decimal point; statistical averages work in my favor once I’ve got a stake big enough to cover the fluctuations, which by the way go like sqrt(N) under very general assumptions.

18

mud man 09.09.14 at 12:13 am

The Laffer curve has the scaler “Tax rate” as abscissa, but Really it isn’t a number but function of income, so shape is important. It seems fair to levy that 73% across the board if revenue is used to support a ubiquitously adequate/comfortable standard of living, but no doubt at that level there are arguments about disincenting craft labor. So perhaps you want to adjust the rate by deciles (or whatever) independently, to maximize revenue from each? It occurs to me that maybe you would tax the lowest brackets very heavily; that is, you only need to incent management. I think it’s mostly managers who respond to that kind of incentive anyway. Then the low-class workers, who aren’t all that productive, lazy and shiftless as they are, could get theirs in kind. Live in shacks down by the meadow and sing spirituals or smoke weed.

19

LFC 09.09.14 at 12:16 am

A fairly recent article of possible interest (link to abstract).

20

Val 09.09.14 at 12:16 am

@13 Brett Bellmore
I think there is almost something in what you say, but because it’s kind of disrespectful (smartarse as we say) the point gets lost.

It doesn’t really matter about being a metaphor – all words or symbols are metaphors in that sense. The word is never that which it describes.

The question is, does it describe something which is agreed on by enough people to be useful? The problem with economics is – ecomomists use jargon AND have disproportionate political power.

So if a person like me, as a non-economist, wants to question the use of “utility” first of all I have to understand the arcane way they use it (knowing that they can always adjust the definition slightly if needed), and then successfully challenge it (knowing they have more political power than me). So the task begins to look impossible – economists set the terms of the discourse and exclude anyone who wants to challenge it. I’m sure there are some who wouldn’t like this view, but that’s how it appears.

And by the way, Bruce Wilder @11 and anyone else who uses the convention “she” when “he” would have been traditionally used, it’s misleading at best when you use “she” to refer to someone who is disproportionately rich and powerful. Better to use the neutral “they” even if it offends your sense of grammar – you can usually rewrite such sentences in the plural if it bothers you.

21

LFC 09.09.14 at 12:22 am

@Bruce Wilder
Reading A Theory of Justice, I could not help but suppose that the ambiguities of the theory…serve the persuasiveness of the argument, by letting people project their particular and peculiar prejudices without seeing how a more definite resolution of meaning into functional institutions might provoke objections.

You can say this about a great many theoretical books.

The doctrine of a veil of ignorance seemed to cover for this ambiguity
The veil of ignorance strikes me as one of the *least* ‘ambiguous’ parts of the theory.

22

In the sky 09.09.14 at 12:34 am

John,

By revenue maximizing rate, are you thinking static or in terms of present discounted values? Consider the logic of the likes of Chamley-Judd, which says the PDV maximizing tax rate is lower than the simple Laffer analysis. This is all the more true if you are a Ramsey-esque “ρ>0 is indefensible” type of person, which I believe you are. Correct me if I’m wrong, there. (Funny enough, I’d imagine Ramsey-esque discounters are typically found on the left of the political spectrum, but it is usually those on the right who focus on the growth effects of taxation. Incongruence for all?)

[Utility] is a metaphor. Try to remember that. You can’t do math with metaphors.

This is untrue. Utility is really very simple. You rank your preferences over goods or bundles and instead of saying “Number 1 is your favorite”, you replace it with “Number 1 gives you the highest utility, number 2 gives you the second highest”, etc. That’s all you need. It’s a simple way encoding of choice that permits math. It’s obscure and it confuses people, but it’s very simple.

You may well be right that utility maximization/Pareto efficiency/whatever is the wrong way to go about it. But you’re not right to say the formal math of choice is impossible.

23

In the sky 09.09.14 at 12:39 am

@Val

So if a person like me, as a non-economist, wants to question the use of “utility” first of all I have to understand the arcane way they use it (knowing that they can always adjust the definition slightly if needed), and then successfully challenge it (knowing they have more political power than me). So the task begins to look impossible – economists set the terms of the discourse and exclude anyone who wants to challenge it. I’m sure there are some who wouldn’t like this view, but that’s how it appears.

This is somewhat inevitable, no? Economists, like everyone else, have their lingo that precisely (archaically?) define is meant. Outsiders need to first understand this lingo to argue with them. I agree that economist are very poor at choosing words (e.g. rational, efficient, optimal). But I think the point of lingo is make sure the definitions don’t change. It would be easier to underhandedly change the meaning words if instead us economists relied on reams of prose, rather than strict definitions of things like utility.

24

ZM 09.09.14 at 12:42 am

I think it is quite a big problem that individuals income and property make up national economies. Also that a high proportion of income /rent is spent on consumption or invested further.

Current levels of over-Consumption and over-production are unsustainable – so you have to get people to only consume and produce a sustainable amount nationally per capita. If the sustainable amount is very low (I read 2-6% of current consumption would be around sustainable) then consumption should be about equal – maybe with ornate brooches for very important people (brooches are very small and don’t use resources but they can pin them on their clothes to note their importance – you see this quite a bit).

But I think once we drop individual consumption and overall production (consumption has to be individual – but material production should be overall because maybe 30% of adults can make 100% of material production and around 70% can perform service [i just made up these numbers, you would have to work out the correct numbers properly]) then that would affect the national economy quite a bit.

I am not quite sure how you can get people to only consume a sustainable amount – 1 way is that you could tax 100% of everyone’s income and then give them all a sum back for their sustainable monthly consumption (a bit extra for special needs like wheelchairs, crutches, sporting outfits, musical instruments, on birthdays etc) – this would be the Enid Blyton Naughtiest Girl in the School book redistributive justice solution (the school in the book was based on the English Summerhill school) – for special needs you or a stand-in would have to make your case to the council . The 2nd way would be to have rationing like in war time and post-war Britain, except with no incomes so people couldn’t acquire more than their sustainable rations,

There might be other ways? (economists would likely prefer to tax things according to their un -sustainability – say baseball bats are very unsustainable they are taxed at 300%, but daffodil bulbs are sustainable so they are taxed only at 2%)

But whatever method you use to arrive at sustainable production and consumption I think it would affect the national economy quite profoundly – and also have implications for your trading relations which you would have to diplomatically solve. I think this is why unsustainable consumption is encouraged by derelict governments – because it is tied up with the wealth of nations.

25

js. 09.09.14 at 1:02 am

Agree with LFC @10. And anyway, the form and structure of tax policy, let alone its details, is at best a secondary concern for Rawls, and more probably more accurately a tertiary concern. One may think this is a failing, but it’s jut not the book, or indeed books, he was writing. The man had enough to do as it is!

(Sorry, in a bit of a rush, but will try to say a bit more later. It’s a bit complicated because it inevitably comes back to the ideal theory question. If you reject that, I think it becomes almost impossible to see what Rawls was trying to do and why, for whatever it’s failings, it is indeed masterly.)

26

Barry 09.09.14 at 1:22 am

Sean Matthews 09.08.14 at 10:02 pm
“This post reminds me of something Simon Wren-Lewis wrote recently, where he pointed out that Pareto optimality as general principle in economics is probably indefensible, and the most likely explanation for its use is precisely to avoid the implications in your post (i.e. as a way to sneak normative political preferences into what claims to be an essentially technocratic discipline).”

IIRC, Daniel Davies, on this blog or his own, pointed out that a society in which one person owned everything and everybody else owned nothing, was pareto-optimal.

27

Wallace Stevens 09.09.14 at 1:49 am

Here is my take on Rawls. It’s been a while, so I’m happy to be shown he error of my ways.

My understanding of Rawls was that he wasn’t concerned with utility at all. There is the whole conundrum of how you measure it, and the impossibility of making interpersonal comparisons of utility, to be sure. But I don’t think that that was Rawls’ concern. I think that Rawls was actually starting from a completely different place–from the standpoint of a political philosopher who was concerned about equality. He is extending the liberal ideals of political equality, democracy and justice to include economic justice/democracy. His question was, how do you do that? He suggested that someone who was asked to agree on a set of rules for allocating society’s output, and who was also blind to their own fate in that society by the veil of ignorance, would choose a society in which inequality was only tolerated to the extent that it made the least well off person better off. This result is grounded in the notion that everyone has equal economic rights. But the notion is tempered by the possibility (note: only a possibility, to be tested in an actual economy, and not a certainty) that literal equality could, paradoxically, leave the poorest members of society WORSE off, due to incentive effects. Equality before the law does not present these kinds of, potential, trade-offs.

As far as I can recall, Rawls, or his hypothetical citizen sitting behind the veil of ignorance, does not concern himself with whether a better off person in this system is happier than a less well off person, or, if so, by how much. As noted above, it’s hard to gauge anyway. Nor is it assumed that the least well off person would value pure equality more than consumption. But what is addressed in this system as that we have a kind of equality that ensures that the least well off person gets as much stuff as possible.

28

Joshua W. Burton 09.09.14 at 2:29 am

IIRC, Daniel Davies, on this blog or his own, pointed out that a society in which one person owned everything and everybody else owned nothing, was pareto-optimal.

That might have been where I saw the jungle paper, cited @2. Short, sharp & very funny; I just read it again, and recommend it highly.

29

js. 09.09.14 at 2:53 am

I’ve always understood Rawls in terms of the Laffer curve, as arguing in essence that we should be at the very top of the curve, maximizing the resources available for transfer to the poor, but not (as, say, Jerry Cohen might have advocated) going further than this to promote equality.

You note that this isn’t right, and I wanted to adduce some evidence to that effect. So, quoting a bit from the section LFC referred to @10, where Rawls is dealing with the “background institutions for distributive justice” (TJ, 2nd ed. [1999], p. 245):

[The distributive branch] imposes a number of inheritance and gift taxes, and sets restrictions on the rights of bequest. The purpose of these levies and regulations is not to raise revenue (release resources to the government) but gradually and continually to correct the distribution of wealth and to prevent concentrations of power detrimental to the fair value of political liberty and fair equality of opportunity. Doing this would encourage the wide dispersal of property which is a necessary condition, it seems, if the fair value of the equal liberties is to be maintained. [emphasis added—js.]

I have emphasized the relevant bits to note that Rawls’ justification for these principles is not the difference principle but rather the first principle (maximally extensive equal liberties) and the other half of the second principle (fair equality of opportunity). It simply can’t be the case that a Rawlsian just distribution is equivalent to the top point of a Laffer curve because there are other, lexically prior constraints on it.

Later in the section, talking about progressive taxation (p. 246):

[T]hese are questions of political judgment and not part of a theory of justice.

Why Rawls thinks this goes back to what he thinks he is doing—i.e. ideal theory—but that bit, again, I’m not going to tackle (at least not now).

30

js. 09.09.14 at 2:56 am

In the para after the longish quote, “…justification for these principles…” should be “…justification for these taxes and regulations…”

31

js. 09.09.14 at 3:10 am

One last point of clarification: the passage I’ve quoted is about inheritance and gift taxes, but that’s not actually the point. What Rawls is committed to, as that passage makes clear, is that there are limits on the extent of legitimate wealth inequality—limits imposed by the first principle of justice and by the fair equality of opportunity, and not by the difference principle. Whether those inequalities accrue across generations or within one generation is surely irrelevant; they’d be equally illegitimate either way.

32

sidd 09.09.14 at 3:23 am

Why is there no hysteresis in the Laffer curve ? Or more strongly, what guarantees the Laffer curve is continuous ?

sidd

33

Terence Wood 09.09.14 at 3:41 am

“My understanding of Rawls was that he wasn’t concerned with utility at all.”

That’s mine too. He was, as I understand it, concerned with a form of procedural fairness in which undeserved inequalities in endowments (we may be born smarter or sillier, to wealth or poverty etc.) do not structure our society as they currently do. His alternative, fairer in his opinion, approach was to ask what sort of system people would design if they did not know what their endowments were to be. Hence the veil of ignorance. To Rawls a society “designed” by people who did not know their position within it would be a fair society in a procedural sense. And to Rawls such a society would, given that we are afraid of being at the bottom of the heap, be one where inequality was minimised except where it enhanced the least well off.

*In practice* this does look a lot like world a utilitarian who believes in diminishing marginal utility to wealth would favour, but it is still born of a different first order concern: procedural fairness, rather than welfare.

34

Joshua W. Burton 09.09.14 at 3:49 am

hysteresis

Martin Gardner’s original version of this gag (Scientific American, Dec 1981) has still never been bettered. A Google search on “Neo-Laffer Curve” will find it, along with numerous imitators.

35

In the sky 09.09.14 at 3:53 am

Why is there no hysteresis in the Laffer curve ?

Because it is a simple explanation written on a napkin.

This isn’t about James Mirrlees, whose work (also published in the 1970s) might interest you. In particular, see the recent work on the so-called New Dynamic Public Finance.

Or more strongly, what guarantees the Laffer curve is continuous ?

In the real world, there is nothing to guarantee that a 30.0000001% tax rate will raise comparable revenue to a 30% tax rate. Would you like to bet against it?

36

Moz in Oz 09.09.14 at 3:54 am

Idle question: now that we’re increasingly able to measure happiness directly, is our continued focus on money as the measure an example of the sunk costs fallacy?

Just while we’re talking about how philosophy can influence economics and all.

37

Joshua W. Burton 09.09.14 at 4:04 am

Idle question: now that we’re increasingly able to measure happiness directly, is our continued focus on money as the measure an example of the sunk costs fallacy?

Not really. Direct neurochemically measured happiness is almost certainly maximized under specialized drugs, and no one has yet figured out how to produce those without money.

38

ZM 09.09.14 at 4:04 am

Moz in Oz,

London School of Economics has a phone app to collect data on happiness/mood related to location/places and activities and sociality/people called mappiness. As well as answering the surveys daily you can add photos of your surroundings to a public map. It looks like an interesting project , generally I’m not that fond of quantified life apps, but I think the results of this could be used well in urban planning.

39

ZM 09.09.14 at 4:16 am

The first paper based on mappiness data is here

http://personal.lse.ac.uk/mackerro/happy_natural_envs.pdf

Abstract
“Links between wellbeing and environmental factors are of growing interest in psychology, health, conservation, economics, and more widely. There is limited evidence that green or natural environments are positive for physical and mental health and wellbeing. We present a new and unique primary research study exploring the relationship between momentary subjective wellbeing (SWB) and individuals’ immediate environment within the UK. We developed and applied an innovative data collection tool: a smartphone app that signals participants at random moments, presenting a brief questionnaire while using satellite positioning (GPS) to determine geographical coordinates. We used this to collect over one million responses from more than 20,000 participants. Associating GPS response locations with objective spatial data, we estimate a model relating land cover to SWB using only the within-individual variation, while controlling for weather, daylight, activity, companionship, location type, time, day, and any response trend. On average, study participants are significantly and substantially happier outdoors in all green or natural habitat types than they are in urban environments. These findings are robust to a number of alternative models and model specifications. This study provides a new line of evidence on links between nature and wellbeing, strengthening existing evidence of a positive relationship between SWB and exposure to green or natural environments in daily life. Our results have informed the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA), and the novel geo-located experience sampling methodology we describe has great potential to provide new insights in a range of areas of interest to policymakers.”

40

primedprimate 09.09.14 at 4:21 am

Rawls combined with Harsanyi gives us the standard welfare function (i.e., sum of discounted utilities across many people and over many generations) along with a suitably risk averse utility function. Hence the Chalmley and Judd dynamic models of optimal taxation could start to be applicable with adequate heterogeneity modeled explicitly. But even if we accept, the Chalmley Judd conclusions, saying that the optimal tax rate on capital should be 0 is not necessarily regressive if consumption taxes are made progressive and Georgist-type land taxes are high enough.

On another note, if status anxiety is a thing (and it has to be, because at some biological level we are engaged in what could be considered a large scale zero-sum competition for high quality mates), then that makes progressive taxes even more important from a Rawlsian perspective. What’s missing from Chalmley and Judd, in other words, is an adequately realistic utility function.

41

In the sky 09.09.14 at 4:29 am

On the tangent of mathematics and economics and utility functions and Mirrlees, I think just about every reader of this blog would learn from and enjoy watching this.

42

Moz in Oz 09.09.14 at 5:06 am

Thanks ZM, that’s the sort of thing I was thinking about. Some psychological treatments use a mood diary, which is a primitive form of apps like that and I occasionally wonder whether, yes, “there’s an app for that” :)

To me, measuring what you actually care about (utility or happiness) rather than playing around with approximations and half-measures would seem to be a useful first step. The end goal, of course, is to be able to re-evaluate random stuff we’re thinking of doing and say “hey, we get much more happiness per dollar …” whether that be something brutal like taking the few to pump drugs into the many (per Joshua’s post), or more sensible stuff like planting flowers in new parks instead of expanding roads. Of course, then we shift to political science and “how to we obtain a government that will act on evidence rather than corruption and ideology”.

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Zamfir 09.09.14 at 5:43 am

Happiness studies seem a perfect example of the pitfalls of quantification. You measure something with ever increasing accuracy and resolution, but in the process that ‘something’ changes to be an easily measurable quanitity, and no longer what you set out to measure.

The people involved are quite aware of that, they are smart people. But in the end, you get kudos(and grant money) for being a quantitative Real Scientist, and far less for inconclusive philosophizing. So numbers we get.

44

Chris Bertram 09.09.14 at 7:20 am

I think there’s quite a lot going wrong here.

First, what the DP looks at are expectations (expressed in terms of access to some primary goods) and it injuncts the selection of the institutional structure that maximises the expectations of the least advantaged (not the poorest or worst off). Tax regimes are only a part of that, Rawls’s big hope is via dispersal of capital ownership.

Second, there’s actually a massive ambiguity about the maximisation part. One way in which the DP is interpreted seems to require pursuing growth in perpetuity so as to maximise the expectations of the least advantaged. But that’s in serious tension with other remarks that Rawls makes about, for example, the Millian stationary state and about the legitimacy of a collective choice to pursue a low-growth economic policy. Given that , an alternative might be to say that, for a level of development, the DP only permits inequalities that are functionally required to maximize the expectations of the least advantaged at that level. Clearly, for many such levels that wouldn’t be right.

45

Harald K 09.09.14 at 8:53 am

IIRC, Daniel Davies, on this blog or his own, pointed out that a society in which one person owned everything and everybody else owned nothing, was pareto-optimal.

Steve Randy Waldman has has series of posts serving as an introduction to welfare economics, and it illustrates this points, as well as similar points about other forms of optimality, very nicely.

46

Brett Bellmore 09.09.14 at 10:10 am

“I think there is almost something in what you say, but because it’s kind of disrespectful (smartarse as we say) the point gets lost.”

Yeah, I’m disrespectful because I don’t think utilitarianism deserves respect, any more than astrology, which I also treat with contempt. An interesting metaphor, if it had been left at that, but you just couldn’t leave it at that.

“It doesn’t really matter about being a metaphor – all words or symbols are metaphors in that sense. The word is never that which it describes.”

Yup, got my own copy of “Science and Sanity”, which I dig out when I get a really bad case of insomnia. That observation is going on a century old at this point. But “charge” is genuinely quantifiable in a way “utility” isn’t. Which is why your smartphone can’t tell you it’s time to eat ramen and send money to starving children in Africa.

“The question is, does it describe something which is agreed on by enough people to be useful?”

Feh, astrology has that going on, to roughly the same extent. “Utility” describes something vague enough that enough people can fool themselves into thinking they agree, that they can settle down and pretend to use it.

Like I said, is “utility” a scalar or a vector? You add those differently, you know, you can’t actually do math on ‘utility’ until you’ve answered that question.

“Utility is really very simple. You rank your preferences over goods or bundles and instead of saying “Number 1 is your favorite”, you replace it with “Number 1 gives you the highest utility, number 2 gives you the second highest”, etc. That’s all you need. It’s a simple way encoding of choice that permits math. It’s obscure and it confuses people, but it’s very simple.”

Simplistic, actually. About on the level of those smiley/frowny faces for quantifying pain in the doctor’s office, that seem to make sense until you get a ruptured ear drum, and realize you’ve been off by a factor of ten when rating all your headaches.

But then you get down to aggregating Sam’s stubbed toe with Robert’s orgasm and Leslie’s love of deep fried foods, and the utility monster wanders by, and aliens 23 light years away are enjoying watching our wars on their telescopes way too much, and people forget it’s just a metaphor, and start pulling out the math, and it all becomes hilarious.

Mind you, I think “utility” can be a useful metaphor, so long as you remember that’s what it is. Something to add to your ethical toolbox. But people who forget it’s a metaphor seem to throw out all their other tools…

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J Thomas 09.09.14 at 10:38 am

#33 Terence Wood

His alternative, fairer in his opinion, approach was to ask what sort of system people would design if they did not know what their endowments were to be. Hence the veil of ignorance. To Rawls a society “designed” by people who did not know their position within it would be a fair society in a procedural sense. And to Rawls such a society would, given that we are afraid of being at the bottom of the heap, be one where inequality was minimised except where it enhanced the least well off.

But in today’s world many people do buy lottery tickets even when they know the odds. There are people who take tenure-track jobs even knowing the odds are strongly against them. (But in that example they might believe that their inherent worth changes the odds. If they believe that tenure is not granted at random then that changes things. They might each believe they have a better than even chance to win.)

And then, people sometimes do stupid things because they feel lucky.

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John Quiggin 09.09.14 at 10:39 am

“Rawls’s big hope is via dispersal of capital ownership.”

I think that’s correct as a description of Rawls, and also supports my view that Rawls had some *badly* mistaken ideas about economics, logically unrelated to his difference principle.

There’s no reason at all to think that, in the absence of redistributive taxation or else much stronger predistributional interventions (strong state support for trade unions, incomes policies etc) that dispersal of capital ownership is sustainable, let alone a way to promote the interests of the least advantaged (inevitably, those with little or no capital).

As Marx observed a century before Rawls, the natural dynamics of capitalism see small capitalists swallowed by large ones. Lucas makes pretty much the same point from the opposite end of the ideological spectrum. The idea of a society of small capitalists is Chestertonian romanticism (or Jeffersonian if you ignore slaves).

49

John Quiggin 09.09.14 at 10:42 am

The top of the Laffer curve is the most egalitarian position consistent with Pareto optimality.

50

Brett Bellmore 09.09.14 at 10:43 am

“But in today’s world many people do buy lottery tickets even when they know the odds. “

People buy tickets to ride roller coasters, even though they’ll be deposited in the same place they got on. I think it fundamentally misunderstands the act of buying a lottery ticket to treat it like buying a really long shot stock offering.

Lottery tickets are tickets to daydream.

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J Thomas 09.09.14 at 10:51 am

Lottery tickets are tickets to daydream.

Yes, and what are tenure-track jobs?

The concept is a good one — people who design a society knowing that their own place in it will be random, will tend to design one that doesn’t hurt anybody because they may be hurt themselves.

But in reality, people sometimes gamble their lives on payoffs that would not appear to add up.

Maybe it’s because to them, no third choice looks adequate. Maybe if they were designing a society they would try to set it up so that no one is faced with that sort of situation.

52

Chris Bertram 09.09.14 at 11:00 am

John, why would you jump to the conclusion that a dispersal of capital ownership would take the form of a society of small capitalists? Pretty clear that Rawls’s James Meade-inspired view of a “property-owning democracy” doesn’t have that character.

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J Thomas 09.09.14 at 11:00 am

As Marx observed a century before Rawls, the natural dynamics of capitalism see small capitalists swallowed by large ones.

As the fishes in the sea.

But in the sea, there is a continual source of new small fishes for big ones to eat. Some small fish produced babies quickly, so they will have lots of replacements before they are eaten. Some large fish produce millions of eggs so that on average one will grow big before it is eaten. There are many rough equilibria available because over the past hundreds of millions of years, each system that was too unstable was replaced by something that could at least maintain enough of its components in waiting to rebound and get another try.

Marx was wrong in detail, but he may have been right that what we have may inevitably get too unbalanced to maintain itself.

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Harald K 09.09.14 at 11:10 am

Lottery tickets aren’t as crazy as some people would have it. If you need ten points to win the game, and you have a choice between guaranteed 8 points and 1/100 chance at 12 points, you take the latter.

When people take “stupid” risks, I think that should be seen as a symptom that they feel they are on track to lose the game. Whatever the game is to them right there and then.

55

John Quiggin 09.09.14 at 11:10 am

“why would you jump to the conclusion that a dispersal of capital ownership would take the form of a society of small capitalists”

Aren’t these two synonymous? A (small) capitalist is an owner of (a small amount of) capital. If capital is dispersed across the entire population, everyone owns a small amount of capital, so we have a society of small capitalists. There’s a semantic distinction here that I’m missing.

But, I have no problem with switching to the term “property owning democracy”. If there is no redistributive taxation, and no strong predistribution, a property owning democracy will not be stable: property will end up concentrated in the hands of a few. Strong inheritance taxes might offset this a bit, but not very much, unless there is a lot of intervention to stop inter vivos transfers.

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Brett Bellmore 09.09.14 at 11:30 am

But, John, “ownership” consists of a combination of rights concerning something. If you set up a mechanism to control transfer of that something, you’ve transfered part of the “ownership” to whoever runs that mechanism. And, public choice theory, they will act as though it were their own property. For many practical purposes, it will be their own property.

And so, your mechanism for preventing the concentration of wealth assures the concentration of wealth, it merely concentrates the wealth in the hands of those who regulate industry, rather than those who nominally own, and run, industry. Which just might be why 6 of the 10 wealthiest counties in America are clustered around D.C.

Don’t indulge in unicorn economics.

57

Mdc 09.09.14 at 11:43 am

“There’s no reason at all to think that, in the absence of redistributive taxation or else much stronger predistributional interventions (strong state support for trade unions, incomes policies etc) that dispersal of capital ownership is sustainable, let alone a way to promote the interests of the least advantaged (inevitably, those with little or no capital). “

I think Rawls agrees with this. His ‘property owning democracy’ involves massive predistributional intervention. Note his observation that private ownership of the means of production is not required by principles of justice.

58

dan 09.09.14 at 11:45 am

It is not obvious at all that 100% tax rate raises zero revenue!
In fact, lets say the government taxed 100% and then redistributed it exactly as wages and incomes are distributed today. Why would anything change?

Look the confidence people have that government is a bad way to distribute income is fine, but its particularly touching in a sort of childlike way that these same people put so much trust in their bosses to make good decisions on distributing income.

One thing is clear that my boss distributes rather less than I contribute to me…

Oh well, back to your strawman…

59

Mike Huben 09.09.14 at 12:03 pm

Perhaps I am confused, but I don’t see a clear handling of the distinction between income and capital here.

Even if we had 100% taxation, Bill Gates could still be one of the richest billionaires ever simply because the value of his investments increased so much. Nobody seems to be dealing with the elephant in the room of increasing value of investments not being counted as income and thus not taxed (except when they are cashed in.)

Nor is the power to control due to ownership considered to be income, even though it has monetary value. A Bill Gates taxed at 100% might have less income than an impoverished worker, but still will have vastly more financial, political and social influence through his posessions.

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J Thomas 09.09.14 at 12:06 pm

If you set up a mechanism to control transfer of that something, you’ve transfered part of the “ownership” to whoever runs that mechanism. And, public choice theory, they will act as though it were their own property. For many practical purposes, it will be their own property.

It’s possible to set up methods to control for that, but of course every mechanism to do anything can be subverted.

Say you have a system of bureaucrats who are supposed to regulate rich people. If each rich person gets assigned a bureaucrat at random, who does his job and then passed it on to someone else, then it is mostly useless to bribe them unless they contact you to tell you they are temporarily on your case. And that can be controlled.

Customs will evolve where a bureaucrat does something especially nice for you out of the kindness of his heart and later contacts you hoping for the reward that you give him out of the kindness of your heart and the hope you are maintaining the system which will serve you again. It’s very hard to prevent people from cooperating when they are willing to depend on blind trust and mutual kindness. And if we make it anonymous after-the-fact which bureaucrat did which thing, then the system stops being accountable to the public and the bureaucrats at the top can redesign it to serve themselves.

So my immediate suggestion is, before those customs have time to evolve, change the system to something else.

Every system can be subverted, including pure free enterprise. It’s up to the owners of the systems to take palliative measures and occasionally replace defective systems.

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rwschnetler 09.09.14 at 12:26 pm

Mike Huben @59: How do you get capital growth when income is taxed at 100%?

62

Brett Bellmore 09.09.14 at 1:01 pm

J, but bureaucracy implies hierarchy. You can randomly assign the drones who apply policy, to discourage discriminatory application of policy, but you can’t randomly assign the people further up the hierarchy, who create policy, and are perfectly capable of discriminatory policy design.

To some extent, like waste under thermodynamics, accumulations of power, and the abuse of that power, are unavoidable. System design just realocates the power and abuses. If you fool yourself about this, and think you’re eliminating them, you might just make them worse.

Do we have a more, or less, laissez faire sytem than 10 years ago? 20 years? 30? How’s income inequality doing? A regulatory state is perfectly capable of exacerbating inequality, instead of improving it.

BTW, what do you think of Glenn Reynold’s proposal for a “Revolving door” tax?

63

Peter K. 09.09.14 at 1:10 pm

@56

That’s a pretty ideological way to look at things. When I think of the wealthy counties around DC I think of Eric Cantor who went from working for the financial industry within government to working for them outright.

http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/toles_revolv.png

The Tea Party base of the Republican Party seems to understand this even if you don’t.

The neoliberals/ rightwing has been winning policy-wise these past 30 years and we’ve gotten stagnant wages and increased inequality to show for it. Lower taxes, destruction of the labor movement, gutting the welfare state, deregulation and privitization, and “free trade.”

A reasonable person behind Rawls’s veil of ignorance would chose the social democratic policies of the post war years which lead to the creation of the middle class, the consumer economy, and rising living standards for their children if given a choice between that and the results of the Reagan/Thatcher revolution.

What’s funny is that the goldbugs and hard money men like Steve Forbes and the New York Sun editors – who dwell behind a veil of ignorance – have lately pointed to the social democratic post war years of prosperity as proof that the gold standard works and that Nixon ruined everything by going off gold. How can they ignore that ever since Reagan and Thatcher, the elite have been moving policy in their preferred direction?

Only lately have things moved the other way, with Obama’s PPACA and Dodd-Frank.

64

Peter K. 09.09.14 at 1:15 pm

@62

“Do we have a more, or less, laissez faire sytem than 10 years ago? 20 years? 30? How’s income inequality doing? A regulatory state is perfectly capable of exacerbating inequality, instead of improving it.”

Again you seem highly ideological. As Senator Warren recently pointed out, 30 years ago, you could live off the minimum wage, barely. Now you can’t. It depends how you regulate, not just the amount of regulation.

The shadow banking system was allowed to arise unregulated and we got an epic bank run. The housing bubble was blown in part because of deregulation.

65

Brett Bellmore 09.09.14 at 2:01 pm

“As Senator Warren recently pointed out, 30 years ago, you could live off the minimum wage, barely.”

And 30 years ago, you could get a full time minimum wage job. Now you’re likely to be trying to juggle two. But at least you would have health insurance at that full time job you don’t have. And that’s got to be considered an improvement, right?

Anyway, are you under the illusion that you’re not as ideological?

66

J Thomas 09.09.14 at 2:17 pm

To some extent, like waste under thermodynamics, accumulations of power, and the abuse of that power, are unavoidable. System design just realocates the power and abuses. If you fool yourself about this, and think you’re eliminating them, you might just make them worse.

Sure. But if you just accept that the current abusive aristocrats will own everything forever, it might get worse that way too.

I like the metaphor of managing lakes for fish. You decide how you want the lake to go, and you try to get it to go that way with fertilizer, stocking, management of water inflows, etc. But it’s likely to slip out of balance anyway. People tend to like their lakes to have enough big fish to eat the little fish, because otherwise the little fish overpopulate and you wind up with a lake full of skinny little fish that can’t get enough to eat. (Equality?) But if there aren’t enough big fish, it’s very hard to get new ones when a young big fish can’t get food any better than the starving little fish can. When things get too much out of balance, you drain the lake and start over.

There are people who say that if the wealth was all redistributed evenly it would be back in the same hands within 200 years. If there’s value in redistributing it, then it’s probably worth doing every 100 years, or maybe every 50 years, the timing of the biblical Jubilee.

There are probably no perfect permanent solutions, but sometimes a fresh start can do a lot of good.

http://www.clemson.edu/extension/natural_resources/wildlife/publications/fs19_managing_farm_ponds.html

67

jake the antisoshul soshulist 09.09.14 at 2:23 pm

The Tea Party base of the Republican Party seems to understand this even if you don’t.

The neoliberals/ rightwing has been winning policy-wise these past 30 years and we’ve gotten stagnant wages and increased inequality to show for it. Lower taxes, destruction of the labor movement, gutting the welfare state, deregulation and privitization, and “free trade.”

The Tea Party clearly supports neoliberalism, except for, possibly, some aspects of free trade.
The problem with “laissez faire” is that it assumes some sort of rationality for the actors. To paraphrase the famous quote, “you can never go broke overestimating the irrationality of the human species.” In a market economy, we depend entirely too much on the neurotic competitivenees and aquisitiveness of a few wealthy and powerful actors. Seriously, how much additional utility is there in earning $10b when you already earn $9b?
Hopefully those actors are just neurotic and not sociopathic.

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J Thomas 09.09.14 at 2:32 pm

BTW, what do you think of Glenn Reynold’s proposal for a “Revolving door” tax?

Theater.

A company that can afford to reward a former bureaucrat with a million-a-year job can afford to reward him with a two-million-a-year job. It’s chump change for them.

69

Thornton Hall 09.09.14 at 2:50 pm

First impression, before digging into the comments: this is actually quite important.

If economists read moral philosophy with a background assumption that utilitarianism is correct, it explains how we got here. There is some dismissiveness lately about “conspiracy theorists” who imagine a “neoliberal hegemony.” But if every economists just “knows” utilitarianism is the way to go, you get to a lot of (wrong) neoliberal conclusions without a conspiracy.

It also explains what struck me as strange from the start: economists think John Stuart Mill was really smart and still use his basic framework to explore the world. But coming from a philosophy background, I had long dismissed Mill because (as I remember it) his defenses of utilitarianism don’t just fail, they are juvenile.

This is ultimate hammers see every problem as a nail. If you’re good at math, utilitarianism is amenable to math. And if you’re good at math you might not pick up on the social cues that demonstrate utilitarianism fails as a model for real world morality.

70

MPAVictoria 09.09.14 at 2:56 pm

“Do we have a more, or less, laissez faire sytem than 10 years ago? 20 years? 30? How’s income inequality doing? A regulatory state is perfectly capable of exacerbating inequality, instead of improving it.”

I think it is pretty obvious that we have a more laissez faire system them we did 30 years ago and that it has been a disaster. We are finally starting to right the ship but change is slow.

71

LFC 09.09.14 at 3:15 pm

I think JQ is off on a rather puzzling track here.

Rawls was not an economist, and he writes explicitly in TJ that his subject is the theory of justice, not political economy. His main concern is that “the basic structure” of society should satisfy the principles of justice that he argues for. The particular institutional means to that end, though he discusses them somewhat, are more contingent parts of his view, and he is open, within certain limits, to different ways of achieving a reasonably just society. The idea “of a just basic structure…serve[s] as a standard for appraising [existing] institutions and for guiding the overall direction of social change” (TJ, ’71 ed., p.263), and not as a recipe for deriving, e.g., the precisely optimal level of progressive taxation. (Note also btw that he expressed increasing concern over time about the bad effects of economic inequality on the political process and on “the fair value of political liberty,” as indicated clearly by the passage from the revised ed. of TJ that js. quoted @29, and hence was a strong supporter of getting money out of electoral politics to the extent possible via public financing of campaigns.)

He emphasizes the justice of the system as a whole, rather than specific parts: e.g. he does not accept the “precept” of “to each according to his contribution,” as embodied in the marginal productivity theory of distribution, as a satisfactory principle of justice; rather, this precept “is but one among many secondary norms, and what really counts is the workings of the whole system” (TJ, 1st ed., p.309, emphasis added). “There is no presumption…that following the precept of contribution leads to a just outcome unless the underlying market forces, and the availability of opportunities which they reflect, are appropriately regulated. And this implies…that the basic structure as a whole is just.” (p.308) [emphasis added]

In short, even if JQ is right in thinking that Rawls had some “mistaken ideas about economics,” it doesn’t matter very much for the core of what Rawls was doing. If one can achieve a just basic structure via ‘dispersal of capital ownership’, fine; if not and other routes are a better means to the end, fine. (I think there are cogent criticisms to be made of Rawls, esp. his relative lack of concern with issues of global/int’l distribution, but that he had “mistaken ideas about economics,” even if correct, is not v. high on the list of such criticisms.)

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Stuart Ingham 09.09.14 at 3:34 pm

On a particular point: the ‘wide dispersal of capital’ doesn’t have to take the form of property-owning democracy. Rawls also thought that a form of market socialism–where there is no individual ownership of the means of production but a market in labour power and goods–was a basic structure consistent with his principles of justice.

More generally I agree with Chris. The difference principle doesn’t simply distribute money in accordance with making the worst off as financially as well off as they can be. It demands that any inequalities that exist are necessary to make sure that the life opportunities of the least advantaged are maximized. One of the possible implications of this is that it might be the case that a tax rate beyond the zenith of the laffer curve is necessary to prevent the development of an (opportunity-damaging) oligarchical class. It might also be the case that growing the economy is more important to opportunities for the least advantaged than either maximizing welfare or preventing the development of a wealthy class. If it were to be shown to be true that low tax rates grow the economy faster over time, even when not maximizing revenues, we might imagine that the just tax rate is before the zenith of Laffer’s curve.

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Stuart Ingham 09.09.14 at 3:44 pm

The penultimate sentence in that last message should read ‘either maximising government revenues or’ not ‘maximising welfare.’

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Theophylact 09.09.14 at 3:59 pm

<a href="http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2569#comicSMBC on utilitarianism.

In the sky: If economic behavior were continuous, we wouldn’t see items priced at $19.95.

Brett Bellmore: Mathematics is a metaphor unless you’re a Platonist.

75

Theophylact 09.09.14 at 4:01 pm

DAMN the absence of preview! That’s “SMBC on Utilitarianism“.

76

Thornton Hall 09.09.14 at 4:14 pm

This will be a much better world when a student using the words “Pareto optimal” is greeted with a classroom full of groans and a professor who says, “What nonsense have you been reading?”

77

TM 09.09.14 at 4:52 pm

BB 46, you have my vote.

78

Peter K. 09.09.14 at 5:05 pm

@67, yes the Tea Party supports neoliberalism but they are fundamentalist and want to push it the extreme like how ISIS warps Islam. They kicked Eric Cantor the majority leader out because of his corporate welfare cronyism. That was my point. But without a little cronyism and redistribution you get Piketty and depression.

@65 Bellmore. It’s difficult to tell where you’re coming from with the “6 of the wealthiest counties are around DC.” Are you so far left you came out the other side, just like those who believe the Federal Reserve should just allow the economy to collapse, one of those cluttered minds on the Internet?

“And 30 years ago, you could get a full time minimum wage job. Now you’re likely to be trying to juggle two. But at least you would have health insurance at that full time job you don’t have. And that’s got to be considered an improvement, right?

Anyway, are you under the illusion that you’re not as ideological?”

I try be as non-ideoligical as possible in that I try not to let my normative views and preconceptions warp my view of the facts or of the historical record. Everyone thinks they’re like that of course.

“But at least you would have health insurance at that full time job you don’t have. And that’s got to be considered an improvement, right?”

What are you getting at, exactly? Your points seem a little scattershot.

“And so, your mechanism for preventing the concentration of wealth assures the concentration of wealth, it merely concentrates the wealth in the hands of those who regulate industry, rather than those who nominally own, and run, industry. Which just might be why 6 of the 10 wealthiest counties in America are clustered around D.C.”

I mean you completely ignore the point I made in the other comment. The economy was better regulated, taxed, managed in the 50s, 60s, 70s, until the neoliberal-Reagan revolution of the 1980s. There was more prosperity and rising incomes. There wasn’t a concentration of wealth in the hands of the regulators as public choice theory(sic) would have it. You’re being ideological.

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Bruce Wilder 09.09.14 at 5:27 pm

LFC @ 71

Rawls was not an economist, and he writes explicitly in TJ that his subject is the theory of justice, not political economy. His main concern is that “the basic structure” of society should satisfy the principles of justice that he argues for. The particular institutional means to that end, though he discusses them somewhat, are more contingent parts of his view, and he is open, within certain limits, to different ways of achieving a reasonably just society.

It seems to me that it is Rawls, who was off on a puzzling track. And, so we puzzle. What can it possibly mean to talk of “the basic structure” of society solely in transcendent terms? Does it mean everything? Does it mean nothing? Does it mean different things to different people?

It hardly answers with a case to assert that quite different systems of institutions might satisfy an allegedly transcendent moral standard. The difficulty of applying an actual standard in the context of an actual system of institutions remains as a necessary operationalization of the concept. If you cannot say, fairly definitely, with reference to an actual system of institutions, how to manage that institutional system, how to reform that institutional system, doesn’t that throw doubt on whether the transcendent principles asserted have any definite meaning?

The veil of ignorance seems to set up a Manichean contest between a politics of moral principles founded on disinterestedness, and a politics of definite and vested interests, in which the better angels of our nature will fight for the former, without ever quite knowing what political programs might satisfy the interest of a disembodied ideal, while the latter commissions political and economic architects to achieve definite and measurable objectives. Does this make any sense?

80

Plume 09.09.14 at 5:29 pm

Of course there was nothing new about the curve: it’s pretty obvious that an income tax levied at rates of either zero or 100 per cent isn’t going to raise any money, and interpolation does the rest.

Actually, it’s not pretty obvious. Because it’s false. In our system, between our taxes and our paychecks, we do transfers and exchanges in order to receive the goods and services needed or desired (hopefully) — in the public and the private sector. Our system splits things between public and private, which means we can’t have 100% taken in taxes. But if we limited the exchange to individual citizens and the public sector, then that 100% tax rate would work just fine. Money is just the means to enable the exchange, and a way of accounting for it. What matters is what a person receives for that money, not (necessarily) where it comes from. If he or she receives all they need in exchange for 100% going to one source (the public sector, for instance), instead of two, why should they care? As long as the quality and value are at least the same or better, why should they care?

I think you cede far too much ground to Laffer to start things off.

81

LFC 09.09.14 at 5:31 pm

T. Hall @76
This will be a much better world when a student using the words “Pareto optimal” is greeted with a classroom full of groans and a professor who says, “What nonsense have you been reading?”

Not if Pareto optimality is taken as a purely descriptive notion. The problem arises when someone says “X distribution must be good because it’s Pareto optimal.”

82

Bruce Wilder 09.09.14 at 5:34 pm

The reactionary politics of the Virginia School of Public Choice clothed its critique of the regulatory state in a way that meant that it was prescribing the very disease it was describing.

83

Plume 09.09.14 at 5:34 pm

Dan @58,

True. I made my comment before reading yours.

Again, I think Mr. Quiggin is ceding too much ground to the Laffers of this world, from the start.

84

Plume 09.09.14 at 5:35 pm

Peter K,

I think it’s safe to say that Brett is a righty. I don’t think he would argue with that placement on the left/right continuum.

85

LFC 09.09.14 at 5:39 pm

Plume @80
If all income, from whatever source, is taxed at 100% and goes to the public sector, then some arm of the govt will have to funnel it back to people in the “right” proportions, which even a committed redistributionist might find, shall we say, cumbersome. (Leaving aside the question of whether anyone, in any society likely to be on the horizon, would do anything productive or innovative or whatever if 100% taxation awaited.)

86

Thornton Hall 09.09.14 at 5:49 pm

@81 “The Fibonacci Sequence” is a mathematical concept that turns out to be descriptive. “Pareto optimal” describes nothing existing in the world and confuses the difference between “is” and “ought” by it’s very nature.

87

LFC 09.09.14 at 5:51 pm

@B Wilder

TJ, p.7:

For us the primary subject of justice is the basic structure of society, or more exactly the way in which the major social institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation. By major institutions I understand the political constitution and the principal economic and social arrangements.

In other words, “the basic structure” is essentially his term for the main institutions of the social-economic system and how they work together to generate distributive outcomes of various sorts.

B. Wilder:
If you cannot say, fairly definitely, with reference to an actual system of institutions, how to manage that institutional system, how to reform that institutional system, doesn’t that throw doubt on whether the transcendent principles asserted have any definite meaning?
No, it doesn’t. And they’re not “transcendent” — what are they transcending?

88

Plume 09.09.14 at 5:51 pm

LFC,

The money doesn’t have to be funneled back. Again, we use the money to buy things. If the public sector provides the goods and services needed or wanted, what need do we have of cash?

As for incentives for productive work. The vast majority of people want to feel that they do something useful, that they contribute, that their efforts are appreciated. For most people, given the fact that the median wage is roughly 28K for individuals, making a ton of money is obviously not the rationale for work. There are other reasons. And, given the fact that just 19% (roughly) of all households (which can mean multiple incomes per unit) make 100K or more, we’re talking about far greater incentives for people to go to that 100% system . . . if they receive more in goods and services than they do now. And they would.

For the vast majority of people, in fact, the switch would see a major increase in quality of life and standard of living, not a decrease. For those at the very top, not so much.

89

LFC 09.09.14 at 6:01 pm

B Wilder
The veil of ignorance seems to set up a Manichean contest between a politics of moral principles founded on disinterestedness, and a politics of definite and vested interests, in which the better angels of our nature will fight for the former, without ever quite knowing what political programs might satisfy the interest of a disembodied ideal, while the latter commissions political and economic architects to achieve definite and measurable objectives.

To the limited extent I can follow this, I think it’s wrong. The veil of ignorance is a thought experiment, it’s a device. It doesn’t “set up a contest” between anything. Rather, if you accept it as a (hypothetical) device it helps to clarify the nature of the argument. I guess you don’t accept it, which is fine; not everyone does. But I think to say it “sets up a contest” is a misunderstanding.

90

Barry 09.09.14 at 6:03 pm

09.09.14 at 5:31 pm
T. Hall @76
This will be a much better world when a student using the words “Pareto optimal” is greeted with a classroom full of groans and a professor who says, “What nonsense have you been reading?”

LFC: “Not if Pareto optimality is taken as a purely descriptive notion. The problem arises when someone says “X distribution must be good because it’s Pareto optimal.””

Isn’t that what it’s for? Otherwise, it’s a triviality.

91

LFC 09.09.14 at 6:10 pm

I’ll withdraw my remark about Pareto optimality.

92

Brett Bellmore 09.09.14 at 6:15 pm

BTW, what do you think of Glenn Reynold’s proposal for a “Revolving door” tax?

“Theater.

A company that can afford to reward a former bureaucrat with a million-a-year job can afford to reward him with a two-million-a-year job. It’s chump change for them.”

J, I didn’t particularly think you liked Reynolds, but then, I wasn’t asking your opinion of him, but instead the proposal. Assuming you’re capable of evaluating an idea apart from who advanced it…

Sure, they could pay him $2m instead of $1. But you could set the tax at 75%, instead of 50%. Or make it exponentially progressive. Liberals are a fan of that sort of thing, no? At SOME point, you could set it high enough that the company wouldn’t see the point in paying ex government officials $100m a year to double their government salary.

What’s wrong with the general concept?

93

Brett Bellmore 09.09.14 at 6:17 pm

I mean, J, wouldn’t you love to see Republican office holders squirming as they tried to rationalize voting against a proposal like this?

Or are you just concerned its your own side that would vote to kill it, and end up looking bad?

94

J Thomas 09.09.14 at 6:21 pm

#78 Peter K.

The economy was better regulated, taxed, managed in the 50s, 60s, 70s, until the neoliberal-Reagan revolution of the 1980s.

Externalities made a big difference.

In the 50’s we were still recovering from the Depression and WWII. There were a whole lot of profitable investments to make, a big backlog waiting for us. The US South was full of opportunities, a bunch of 3rd world nations that more-or-less spoke English, governed under US law. We mechanized southern agriculture and increased production. Started to industrialize the South using labor that didn’t even want unions. (Though they did have some tendency to skip work the first day of hunting season.) Lots and lots of opportunities and we developed them slowly enough not to get too overheated.

By the 60’s we were getting the idea that permanent good times were here. People planned for prosperity and expected it.

Then Johnson wanted his Great Society and Vietnam at the same time. Congress would not let him pay for both. Probably we could have afforded both if Congress would go along. Maybe. Johnson fudged the numbers so Congress would accept it, and his administration didn’t keep two sets of books. They did all their economic planning with the fake numbers. It didn’t work. By that time the economy depended heavily on government planning.

Nixon had no idea how to recover from Johnson’s mistakes, and Congess might not have gone along if he told them how much he wanted to spend on Vietnam. The economists of the time had no explanation. Then the Shah of Iran told Kissinger he wanted to get a cartel working and Kissinger, concentrating on geopolitics, told him to go ahead. We got the first oil shock. For some years our economy was stuck reacting to oil.

The second oil shock in 1979 hit us again. Carter called for the “moral equivalent of war” to reform the US economy. He deregulated the US oil industry, hoping to get increased production.

Reagan benefitted from Carter’s policies; US oil production went way up — the new policy of “Burn America First” worked in the short run. Also by promoting the Iraq/Iran war, he got both nations to sell as much oil as they could to finance the war. The USA intervened directly in the war when Iran threatened to reduce iraq’s oil exports. We wanted them to kill each other but we wouldn’t let them attack each other’s oil exports. The 1980’s oil glut went a long way to prop up the US economy despite Reagan’s economic policies.

Under deregulation, the oil industry like so many others consolidated. Strategic decisions were made by fewer and fewer people. We may have reached the point that anticompetitive practices truly make sense. Like, when there are lots of competitors and a shortage of your product, it makes sense to increase production. While that drives down unit prices, still if you don’t do it somebody else will. The more you can sell, the bigger slice of total industry income you will get. But when there are only a few competitors, it may make sense to keep production low and everybody shares the glory of high unit prices. Higher profits all round.

When there are oil shortages today and oil companies refuse to explore for more, is it that they plain don’t expect to find enough to justify the cost of extracting it? They expect alternate energy to get cheaper be\fore they have amortized their costs? Maybe.

Or maybe they have worked out that they make more profit from scarcity than they possibly could from glut, and nobody can force them to increase production.

TL;DR Bottom line: In the 50’s and 60’s the US economy had everything we could want — natural resources of all kinds, innocent unexploited labor, new technology, etc. By the middle 1970’s that had collapsed, we couldn’t get enough oil. We still can’t get enough oil and no amount of regulation, taxation, or management can fix that. The best it can do is help us sink on an even keel rather than capsize. Or help us transition to alternate energy sources.

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TheSophist 09.09.14 at 6:40 pm

A couple of thoughts:

1. The fact that Dick Cheney was present at the creation of the Laffer curve serves as one more data point for the theory that he is, in fact, Mephistopheles.

2. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that folks very high up believe in the Laffer curve (and the fact that current tax rates are on the wrong side of the curve) as a truism. I once asked a senior US Senator why all of his proposals for cutting the deficit were spending cuts, rather than ways of increasing revenue, and his extremely convoluted answer boiled down to “Laffer curve.” (I wanted to ask about the 73% studies as a follow-up, but I’d been asked by the administration not to be too confrontational, as the local Republican party had stopped sending speakers to our campus for a long time after I’d asked a Congressman why every conservative party in Europe was committed to fighting climate change and the Rs were still denying it existed.)

3. Surely the Laffer curve is nothing more than post hoc theorizing. ” I am rich and want to pay as low a tax rate as possible. The Laffer curve justifies me paying a lower tax rate, therefore I choose to believe it to be true.”

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Bruce Wilder 09.09.14 at 6:44 pm

T Hall @69 & @ 76
LFC @ 81

I think economists, generally, learn that utilitarianism is not correct, for pretty much the reasons BB gave above: once you start adding up utiles across individuals, you’ve lost all contact with reality. So, what economists learn to do is to pay formal respect to the choices people make, and the preferences thus revealed, setting a limit on their own normative judgements. The concept of Pareto-optimality is taken up as a formal expression of an acknowledged limitation on the moral judgment of the technocrat. That it is also consonant, in practice, with a rich man’s declaration to a poor man: “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable” is just by-the-by.

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J Thomas 09.09.14 at 6:44 pm

#92

“A company that can afford to reward a former bureaucrat with a million-a-year job can afford to reward him with a two-million-a-year job. It’s chump change for them.”

Sure, they could pay him $2m instead of $1. But you could set the tax at 75%, instead of 50%. Or make it exponentially progressive.

Exponentially progressive sounds good, in a way. It probably shouldn’t apply to former bureaucrats who go into business for themselves. If I have an idea for cute wooden toys that could make me 5 times what I make as a government employee, should I lose almost all my profits because the government can’t tell whether I’m really getting bribes from formerly-regulated companies? But then, the government *can’t* tell and if there’s a loophole that giant businesses can use to bribe regulators, they’ll take it.

What’s wrong with the general concept?

I like the general concept. We desperately need a way to keep giant businesses from bribing or threatening individual government regulators. I don’t know how to do that in detail, particularly when any method we use can be subverted by businesses that are willing to put more effort into doing it than we are into stopping them.

As to which political party gets embarrassed for opposing a particular inadequate method — that’s theater.

98

Brett Bellmore 09.09.14 at 6:55 pm

“2. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that folks very high up believe in the Laffer curve”

The Laffer curve IS a truism. Mathematically, it is scarcely conceivable for the point it gets across to be wrong.

Where we’re on it is, of course, a contingent, empirical fact, not a mathematical truth. But don’t get the validity of the theory, and the contingent fact, mixed up and reject the mathematical truth just because you dispute the contingent fact.

99

MPAVictoria 09.09.14 at 6:57 pm

TheSophist I love everything about your comment and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

100

MPAVictoria 09.09.14 at 6:58 pm

“The Laffer curve IS a truism.”

Nope, nadda, nien, no.

You would still collect money even if the tax rate was 100%.

101

Plume 09.09.14 at 7:02 pm

Pareto’s 80/20 rule for wealth and distribution is pretty close to the mark. Right now, the richest 20% of the world consumes roughly 85% of our resources, and in America, our richest 20% hold 85% of the nation’s wealth.

I don’t know if Pareto studied the environmental impact of this, but it seems pretty obvious. The World Wild Life Fund estimates that we’ll need two entire earths to meet demands by 2030, and four entire earths if everyone consumes like the average American.

This puts the world in the nearly impossible position of needing massive redistribution of wealth and resources, while preventing an overall increase in consumption. It’s insane that we let this go on for so long, and people knew. Pareto saw this imbalance a century ago.

Allowing the super-rich to cling to their ridiculously low tax rates in the face of all of this is beyond surreal. Laffer be damned.

102

Brett Bellmore 09.09.14 at 7:04 pm

“We desperately need a way to keep giant businesses from bribing or threatening individual government regulators.”

Or, from the opposite perspective, we desperately need a way to keep regulators in giant government from extorting or threatening businesses. I think liberals really need to open up to the possiblity that the corruption is going BOTH ways. Business bribes government, sometimes. Government extorts business, sometimes. Neither side has clean hands, and thinking that one side does just leads to putting the fox in charge of henhouse security.

103

Plume 09.09.14 at 7:08 pm

Brett,

It’s one way. The American government has always been incredibly generous to business, from the start of the American Experiment. There is no developed nation in the world with as generous a package of tax incentives, deregulation, privatization, special funds, loan guarantees, R and D, international business promotion, bailouts or using military force to blast open markets on its behalf.

Nothing comes close, and that goes back at least a century.

104

Theophylact 09.09.14 at 7:12 pm

The Laffer Curve isn’t even correct at both extremes, unless you take “%100 taxation” to mean total confiscation of all income. That would still produce revenue until mass starvation cut off the source. A 100% marginal tax rate would still produce plenty of revenue. (For a while Sweden had a top marginal rate of %102; this caused problems for Astrid Lindgren, but both she and Sweden survived.)

105

Brett Bellmore 09.09.14 at 7:12 pm

That’s just willful blindness, Plume. That’s all it is. Government is just as capable of being a source of corruption, as a sink. Its not the one perfect shining institution in the world, corrupted to the extent it can be by everything outside it. Government is run by falible humans, just like every other human institution, and all human institutions are, to some extent, sources of corruption.

You’re demonstrating that “unicorn economics” I referenced earlier.

106

Plume 09.09.14 at 7:21 pm

Brett,

We’re talking apples and oranges here. Your point was that government goes after business. Attacks it, somehow. I’m saying our government has long coddled, pampered, protected and supported business. It doesn’t turn business into a victim.

Unless I misread you, I get the sense you think business is the victim all too often.

When it comes to government actions otherwise, I know it’s deeply flawed and can be tyrannical and despicable in its actions. Its militarization of the police, the government’s war on dissenters, whistleblowers, unions, labor, drugs. Its privatization of public resources. Its endless wars and covert coup attempts. etc.

I don’t for a single second hold it up as some kind of perfect institution — far from it. Which is why I favor changing it to a truly democratic system, without political parties and embedded, virtually permanent control by this or that faction.

Again, I may have misread you, but I know you misread me if you think I see our government the way you describe.

107

Chris Bertram 09.09.14 at 7:29 pm

John, there are all kinds of ways in which capital ownership can be dispersed that don’t involve making each person the private owner of a small amount of capital. Various forms of social ownership, co-ops, etc etc.

108

Matt 09.09.14 at 7:34 pm

J Thomas, I think you are correct in identifying that there were many one-time-only, limited-shelf-life circumstances that made American postwar prosperity easy for workers and owners alike. I think you’re somewhat overemphasizing rising oil prices relative to other factors. The reindustrialization of war-devastated countries, the industrialization of developing nations, the collapse of the USSR, increased displacement of human labor by machinery*, and the rise of free trade agreements seem more important to me.

The USA relies on imports for less of its oil consumption than China, India, South Korea, Japan, France, or Germany. If oil prices went back to the good old days of 1998, the relative benefit would be greater for India and China and some of the USA’s top developed-country competitors.

*This seems to be getting special attention in the last few years, but it is actually a very long-running trend: http://www.nma.org/pdf/c_trends_mining.pdf

In 1953 there were 293,000 coal miners in a population of 160 million. In 2011 there were 88,000 coal miners in a population of 310 million. The number of coal miners shrank by 70%, the ratio of coal miners to population shrank 85%, while total coal output increased by 140%.

I personally think that this is going to be a major factor in coal losing the “war on coal” in America. Coal companies shed hundreds of thousands of mining jobs way before the current president was elected, and those long-surplused workers and their communities have much-diminished reason to see their prosperity as aligned with that of coal companies.

109

Jeff R. 09.09.14 at 7:35 pm

MPAV@100: Surely you agree that there is some level of taxation at which the revenue collected does in fact drop to zero? If not 100%, then 200%, or 1000%, or 1000000%, there’s some point at which even the wealthiest cannot afford to work.

You don’t lose very much in terms of curve-based arguments by moving the endpoint to whereever that is rather than the simplification of 100%; that long tail doesn’t really come into play ever.

110

MPAVictoria 09.09.14 at 7:48 pm

See Theophylact @104 Jeff.

He put it better than I could anyway.

111

Brett Bellmore 09.09.14 at 7:53 pm

Plume, either business is, uniquely, the only institution in society incapable of being victimized, or you’ve got to explain why a government that does all that wouldn’t attack business, too.

Lord Acton’s observation is as true as ever: Power corrupts, and the more power you give to government, the more corrupt you must expect it to become. The challenge when it comes to human institutions isn’t how to keep them from being corrupt. It’s how to design them so that they work even though they are corrupt.

112

Plume 09.09.14 at 7:57 pm

Jeff R,

But what point is there is postulating 200% taxation or higher? That would never happen. We did, however, have a long period of time when the top marginal rate was above 90%, and that worked just fine. In fact, when it was in place, America had its one and only middle class boom.

We could, of course, leap out of this entire quandary if we had enough imagination and a big enough moral compass. Thinking outside the box, we could eliminate all taxation on everyone and everything, if the currency in question was never released into the wild for private employers to distribute, but was instead paid directly for work done. The relationship would change from private employer/employee to everyone is an employee and a co-owner of the means of production. There is no need to tax wages in that case. The public sector, owned by all of us, would already have access to the funds it needs. They never would have sent those funds into the (private) wild, to be recycled back to the public sector. But workers — all of us — would have their salaries too. No taxes. No cycling back to the public sector. The public sector already has what it needs.

113

Plume 09.09.14 at 8:00 pm

Brett @111,

The reason our government doesn’t attack business is because our political parties depend upon business to the nth degree. On the individual and party level, they don’t get people into office without direct and indirect business support.

This isn’t rocket science. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you. You don’t try to hurt the people who made you.

114

Plume 09.09.14 at 8:07 pm

Or can unmake you.

When it comes to business and the wealthy in general, it’s not just what they do for politicians, in a proactive, supporting role. It’s what they can do to crush them, if politicians get on their bad side.

Carrot and stick, etc.

Poor people have no such leverage. Workers have no such leverage. The middle class has no such leverage, really. Several studies have come out recently saying that politicians don’t even listen to the bottom 90% of the population.

We are very close to a plutocracy, and our system incentivizes that. The reason it’s a false victimhood meme for business to say they’re under attack, is because they hold all the cards, and our pols need them waaaay too much.

115

MPAVictoria 09.09.14 at 8:15 pm

“Poor people have no such leverage. Workers have no such leverage. The middle class has no such leverage, really. Several studies have come out recently saying that politicians don’t even listen to the bottom 90% of the population.

We are very close to a plutocracy, and our system incentivizes that. The reason it’s a false victimhood meme for business to say they’re under attack, is because they hold all the cards, and our pols need them waaaay too much.”

Well said. They have most of the money and almost all of the power and they are still not happy. They want to take us back to the days of the nobility where everyone who is not a member of the elect will have to bow and scrape at their feet.

/Of course once we hoist the red flag over city hall who knows what will happen….

116

engels 09.09.14 at 8:29 pm

The challenge when it comes to human institutions isn’t how to keep them from being corrupt. It’s how to design them so that they work even though they are corrupt.

How ridiculous.

117

Thornton Hall 09.09.14 at 8:56 pm

One of the problems with the Laffer nonsense is that it’s not clear at all that it is a good way to grow the economy even in a Pareto optimal sense. If personal rates are low and corporate rates are high, you pay yourself a lot of money as CEO of WidgetMart. You use this money to buy phallic symbols that travel on air, land, and sea.

If corporate rates are low and personal rates are high, the rational CEO (who is penis fixated, but I repeat myself) pays himself a nominal wage and builds the Sears Tower.

118

Thornton Hall 09.09.14 at 9:04 pm

@107 My law school invited Rudy Guiliani to give our graduation speech in 2002. Well known lawyer that he is, he took the opportunity to talk about Al Qaeda. He did say one smart thing: being an American is not about where your born, it’s about a set of ideas.

He proceeded to lay out the set of necessary “American” ideas and required a concept of private property and contract rights that ruled Native Americans right out of being “American”

119

Roger3 09.09.14 at 9:07 pm

“I got two things out of the discussion. The first is that Rawls had some mistaken ideas about economics, logically unrelated to his difference principle, which contributed to his scepticism about progressive taxes. The intellectual atmosphere of the 1970s, which gave rise to the Laffer curve and the “tax revolt” may have had something to do with this.”

More true than you might think. In 1973 we left the commodity currency system and entered into the vastly superior fiat currency system. The implications of fiat currency are quite different than those of commodity currency.

For one, there is no tight logical connection between taxation and expenditures. None. In exactly the same way that a fractional reserve bank does not need loan income to create, ex nihlio, the funds for a new loan, a government does not need an income based on taxation to spend. Additionally, in complex industrialized economies, the amount of currency available does not seem to impact inflation much, like it would if the currency were based on a commodity. Instead, inflation is largely tied the price the government purchases energy at, usually oil. This is why inflation has remained steady despite the fact that the US has been selling bonds at a rate of about $1B/mo. for the better part of a decade (It’s not a good idea to think of this as ‘creating $1B/mo., the US only creates currency when it pays interest on the bonds, as one can plainly see that there needs to be currency in play to actually purchase the things…)

Basically, Rawls and others are concerned about a problem that doesn’t really exist. In the fiat currency world of national finance, you tax to 1. create demand for your currency, 2. to either create or destroy incentives for putting money in various market sectors (so, taxing coal-power and/or lowering the tax rate for solar-power) and 3. preventing massively disproportionate and unearned advantage (estate taxes, for example). That’s the reasoning behind taxation. For spending, the reasoning is 1. to provide money for people to use (if you ‘balance your budget’ and tax as much as you spend, or worse, ‘pay down your “debt”,’ you either fail to keep up with increasing wealth or decrease the amount of currency available for people to use to the point where at $0 “debt”, there’s $0 in your economy) 2. To purchase goods and services useful by the government itself and useful by the people it serves (armies, airports, inspectors, engineers, rocket scientists & so on) and 3. To fill the holes left by an essentially stochastic market process.

It’s interesting to note that none of these spending options has much effect on inflation: 1 is necessary to keep up with wealth creation (this is why commodity currencies fail), 2 is direct economic contribution and 3., when given to people who’s marginal utility for an extra dollar is very large is actually a huge economic driver, because unmet needs and wants are now able to be filled on a large scale. When 3. is given to the already wealthy it tends to stagnate and pool at the top of the income distribution. Money sitting and doing nothing doesn’t contribute to inflation, because inflation is a process and money that isn’t participating in the process may as well not exist.

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Thornton Hall 09.09.14 at 9:09 pm

@JQ I assume it has occurred to you that the kind of “ideal” theory that Levy is criticizing describes the vast majority of the orthodox economics discipline.

121

Plume 09.09.14 at 9:14 pm

Thornton Hall,

True. High personal tax rates on all personal income, with no escape hatches like carried interest, would do a lot to end the obscene salaries for execs. They would incentivize reinvestment in the company, instead of in speculation.

Theoretically, at least, high corporate rates along with that would do the same. Taxes are only on profits, and the tax could be structured in such a way that companies have to pour money back into rank and file hiring, benefits, quality R and D, etc. etc. . . . . instead of hoarding it or speculating.

Taxes, in our system, should encourage redistribution and dispersal of resources, not their concentration. Right now, they do the latter.

Apple, for instance, made 41 billion in profits in 2012, and increased their war chest of cash to 161 billion. Smart, effective taxation would make it hurt too much to do that.

Huge profits are a demonstration of inequality and imbalance, up and down the transaction chain. They show that some combination of this is in effect: Labor is paid too little; consumer prices are too high; reinvestment in the company, in new hires, in wages and benefits is too low; supply chains are getting screwed, etc. The closer we get to fair wages and fair trade, the lower those profits will go. If we hit truly fair wages and fair trade, there are no profits leftover — and pre-profit executive salaries are massively reduced. The just society strives to get as close to that as possible.

122

Jack King 09.09.14 at 9:16 pm

” A 100% marginal tax rate would still produce plenty of revenue.”

Former Senator Bob Packwood once asked the CBO to estimate how much revenue would be generated if the top marginal tax rate were increased to 100%. Amazingly the CBO came up with a figure around $235 billion. But here’s the problem. The math may work out, but organizations like the CBO fail to factor in economic behavior. There are probably a few individuals who will work for nothing, but most certainly no where near $235 billion worth.

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Marcus Pivato 09.09.14 at 9:19 pm

Brett Bellmore (across several messages):

Your main criticism of utilitarianism seems to be that utility and/or interpersonal comparisons of utility are meaningless. However, when taken to an extreme, this claim is evidently false. For example, if I get a paper-cut, and you get hit be a car, which one of us has suffered more? The answer is obvious. If I win a $100 million lottery, while you win a plastic toy, which of us has gained more? If you receive a desperately needed kidney transplant, while I receive a hair transplant, which of us benefits more? If I am fully satiated after eating a big meal, while you are starving to death, which one of us will benefit more from receiving a bowl of steamed rice? In all cases, the answer is obvious. (Yes of course, you can come up with some ridiculously contrived counterexample where you are anorexic or allergic to rice or something, but I’m talking about what would be true for 99% of ordinary people.) It follows, then, that if someone took the bowl of steamed rice away from a satiated me, and gave it to a starving you, then your gain would outweigh my loss.

So, it is clear that, in at least some cases, it is meaningful to say, “person A benefits more from such-and-such experience than person B does”, or “person A gains more from such-and-such transfer than person B loses”.

Indeed, we make these sorts of judgements all the time in public policy. For example, a lot of safety regulations (e.g. product safety, workplace safety, traffic laws, etc.) involve imposing a small compliance cost on a large number of people, in order to prevent a small number of people from suffering catastrophic losses. The justification is that the catastrophic loss to the small number is a greater harm than the aggregate compliance cost to the larger number.

So you cannot reasonably claim that all interpersonal comparisons are impossible. Instead, you must fall back on a weaker claim. You might argue that my examples all involved extreme contrasts, whereas real life involves much more nuance. So, while rough interpersonal comparisons were possible in these extreme cases, you might argue that in general, precise measurements of utility are impossible and precise interpersonal comparisons of utility are also impossible.

Perhaps. But utilitarianism doesn’t need precise comparisons. In many cases, approximate comparisons are perfectly sufficient to rule out a large number of suboptimal policy alternatives. It may be true that this kind of “approximate utilitarian optimality” does not single out a unique optimum, but it is much more selective than mere Pareto optimality. In particular, “approximate utilitarian optimality” provides a perfectly good argument for redistributive taxation from those with low marginal utility for wealth (i.e. the very rich) to those with high marginal utility (i.e., the very poor). (No, it won’t tell you whether somebody making $55,000/year should transfer money to somebody making $53,000/year. But last time I checked, that wasn’t a major policy debate.)

Perhaps you will argue that, while some sort of comparisons are possible, they cannot be measured on any sort of quantitative scale. But in fact, preferences (and other forms of comparison) admit quantitative representations under surprisingly weak conditions. (So your rhetorical question “Is utility a scalar or a vector?” is irrelevant. The mathematics of utility representations has been very well understood for a long time.)

Furthermore, utilitarianism is based on aggregates over large populations. And when aggregating over a large population, precise measurements aren’t necessary, because individual measurement errors will usually cancel out on average. This point was first recognized in by Lerner in 1944. So we can argue that on average, people earning $200,000 get less marginal utility from each dollar than people earning $20,000 (even if there are significant individual variations), and therefore, a wealth transfer from the former group to the latter will improve utility on average.

So, while you seem to think you have some sort of knock-down argument against utilitarianism, in fact you are fighting a straw man.

There are, of course, several good arguments against utilitarianism (e.g. those made by Bernard Williams). You just haven’t made any of them.

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J Thomas 09.09.14 at 9:27 pm

#102

“We desperately need a way to keep giant businesses from bribing or threatening individual government regulators.”

Or, from the opposite perspective, we desperately need a way to keep regulators in giant government from extorting or threatening businesses.

Yes, corrupt bureaucrats could potentially extort businesses. When I think about it, the obvious response is for the businesses to collect evidence and report them to the bureaucrats’ supervisors and see if that helps.

If it’s a corrupt bureaucrat trying to extort money you can get him in trouble. But if he’s following policy you can’t.

If it’s a matter of government policy, then you need to persuade your legislators what the policy is and why it’s bad for the economy. Or possibly it’s enough to persuade them it’s bad for you, depending on who you are.

We can’t just let businesses do whatever they want because with current technology there are way too many ways they can do far more damage than they could ever repay. So we need a way to get a lot of smart people who predict the problems and publicize them and regulate them, who are buffered from the businesses they regulate. That obviously needs a large academic component that’s free from business interference, and a large government component that’s free from business interference except through the political process.

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The Temporary Name 09.09.14 at 9:28 pm

Lord Acton’s observation is as true as ever: Power corrupts, and the more power you give to government, the more corrupt you must expect it to become.

http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2013/results/

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Plume 09.09.14 at 9:36 pm

Jack King,

If the marginal rate is 100%, they won’t be working for nothing. When it was in the 91% range, the typical effective taxation was roughly 55%.

We have hedge-fund managers making more than a billion. Even if the effective taxation reached 90%, a billion dollar income would yield 100 million for the worker. If John Galt hedge-fund manager says no to that, he or she gets zero. How many people are going to turn down 100 million dollars after taxes? Or 10 million? Or 1 million?

The foundation for the whole Galt thing is pretty rocky, obviously. The vast majority of people don’t have the luxury to not work. They can’t say that because taxes are too high, they’ll do nothing. Even wealthy CEOs can’t just quit if their lifestyle demands continuous yearly incomes of X amount. So they’re going to take a reduced amount rather than zero.

We are very, very far from reaching “taxed too much” status, even from the POV of maximizing receipts for the Treasury.

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dsquared 09.09.14 at 9:43 pm

In the real world, there is nothing to guarantee that a 30.0000001% tax rate will raise comparable revenue to a 30% tax rate. Would you like to bet against it?

In the real world, there is a whole schedule of tax rates, depreciation allowances, payment in arrears or advance, foreign tax treaties, deductions for interest paid, etc etc etc ad infinitum. IMO the stupidest thing about the Laffer Curve is the decision to put a single “tax rate” on the horizontal axis and pretend that this was a reasonable simplification of any tax system for a non toy economy (or that there was any viable change to the tax system that would make it so). It really betrays a lack of even dilettante knowledge of how tax works.

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J Thomas 09.09.14 at 9:46 pm

#106 Plume

Your point was that government goes after business. Attacks it, somehow. I’m saying our government has long coddled, pampered, protected and supported business. It doesn’t turn business into a victim.

Brett has not made this point so I will make it for him:

There might be businesses that deserve to prosper, but government persecutes them and replaces them with government’s own cronies that get special treatment they do not in any way deserve.

So to you it looks like government pampers business, because you can’t tell the difference between good businesses that deserve to be let alone versus bad businesses that don’t deserve to be pampered.

And yet it’s possible that apart from the question of who should own (and maybe manage) the businesses, you and Brett might agree completely about how good businesses would operate, and you and he might completely agree about the bad businesses that don’t deserve the unfair advantages they get.

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Jack King 09.09.14 at 9:50 pm

“When it was in the 91% range, the typical effective taxation was roughly 55%. “

Plume….good point….I was attempting to apply it to the Laffer Curve where at true 100% taxation, zero income will be coming into the federal treasury. Obviously it gets sloppy if we are factoring in the IRS code with Schedule A deductions, Schedule C depreciation schedules, exemptions, etc.

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J Thomas 09.09.14 at 9:51 pm

#111

The challenge when it comes to human institutions isn’t how to keep them from being corrupt. It’s how to design them so that they work even though they are corrupt.

You are talking about getting systems to work correctly while they are in failure mode. This cannot work in general, though you might get them to work for some specific failures.

“Fail-safe systems fail by failing to fail safe.” John Gall

131

Val 09.09.14 at 10:16 pm

@46 Brett Bellmore
These comment threads do move on fast.

Shorter BB @46 to me:
Yeah I was a smartarse and I’m going to keep on being a smartarse.

Me: which seems to have led to you missing my point entirely. Bad luck.

132

Collin Street 09.09.14 at 10:16 pm

> It really betrays a lack of even dilettante knowledge of how tax works.

Knowledge doesn’t help if the problem is cognitive.

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Plume 09.09.14 at 10:25 pm

J Thomas @127,

Can you give some specific examples of government doing this? Of this “persecution”? I’m not saying they don’t choose X company over Y company, in their contracting, say, and this obviously impacts winners and losers. And certain laws and regulations are definitely going to cause pain for this company, but not that one. Small businesses often won’t have the clout to escape these, whereas MNCs will. But can you elaborate on the idea that this is done in some sort of good (or virtuous) business versus bad (or corrupt) business way? Specifics, please.

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js. 09.09.14 at 10:27 pm

The top of the Laffer curve is the most egalitarian position consistent with Pareto optimality.

Right, but the point is that Rawlsian considerations of justice might require the choice of a Pareto suboptimal point if the most egalitarian position consistent with Pareto optimality conflicts with the provisions of the first principle of justice or the fair equality of opportunity.

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Jack King 09.09.14 at 10:27 pm

” IMO the stupidest thing about the Laffer Curve is the decision to put a single “tax rate” on the horizontal axis and pretend that this was a reasonable simplification of any tax system “

There are many tax systems around the globe, and the Laffer Curve relates to all of them. If taxes are raised, even after it has passed through esoteric deductions, it still translates into certain economic behavior which is immutable. One neat illustration of economic behavior was the Kennedy tax cut which lowered the top marginal rate from 91% to 70%. This was a 30% tax cut which was the largest in US history. The result had supply side implications. Tax revenues jumped from $115 billion to $151 billion.

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Plume 09.09.14 at 10:29 pm

Of course, left unsaid is the fact that government regulations, especially environmental, consumer and workplace regs, are woefully inadequate across the board. And if some company feels “persecuted” by our extremely business-friendly set up, they most likely have done something to deserve the extra scrutiny. IOW, I can’t think of an example when a company has been unduly hounded by government oversight. The usual state is too little oversight. It’s less than rarely too much.

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J Thomas 09.09.14 at 10:37 pm

#132

Can you give some specific examples of government doing this? Of this “persecution”?

You give general examples yourself.

I’m not saying they don’t choose X company over Y company, in their contracting, say, and this obviously impacts winners and losers. And certain laws and regulations are definitely going to cause pain for this company, but not that one.

So the question is only whether the winners deserve the advantages government gives them, and whether some of the losers would deserve not to be persecuted.

I think that Brett would say that what he thinks of as good businesses are not crony capitalists and don’t get those perqs. So you and he would appear to disagree more than you do. You figure that businesses get treated very well by government. He figures that bad unworthy crony-capitalist businesses get that treatment but good honest free-enterprise businesses do not.

Meanwhile, I think that if there are enterprises that behave the way you would want them to but that (of course) don’t get the government treatment you would want them to get, they probably suffer the same problems that Brett’s good companies would suffer.

I can’t give you details of what specific companies he thinks are good non-crony-capitalist companies, any more than I can say what existing companies you approve of.

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Plume 09.09.14 at 10:40 pm

Jack @134,

The Kennedy tax cut was actually the LBJ tax cut. It happened in 1964. And receipts for that year totaled roughly 112 billion, rising 4 billion in 1965, to 116 billion, and then jumping in 1966 to 130 billion.

So the increase was less than you state. That said, there is no way attribute all of the increase to the tax cuts. Too many variables. In order to get rid of perhaps the most important, you’d have to also cut spending, dollar for dollar with the tax cuts, so you could rule out the impact of deficit spending. As in, the tax cuts, coupled with increased spending, necessitated more borrowing, and the borrowing injected extra economic activity into the system. It’s impossible to know where the higher receipts came from — the tax cuts or the deficit spending.

Then you have to factor in increased population, business cycles, busts and booms, international events, wars, etc. etc. Too often, supply-siders ignore all other variables, intent as they are on attributing all that is good and holy on tax cuts.

That’s never held water.

139

Bruce Wilder 09.09.14 at 10:42 pm

And, the LBJ tax cut was a classic Keynesian stimulus, which helped to drive a significant increase in employment and decrease in poverty.

140

Plume 09.09.14 at 10:44 pm

J Thomas,

The word “persecution” is loaded, and hyperbole in our system. If you can’t give specific examples of the government going after virtuous, angelic capitalists, while supporting rotten apples only . . . . can you at least describe what “persecution” entails? What does it look like, specifically?

141

Plume 09.09.14 at 10:48 pm

Bruce @138,

But, again, it’s not really just the tax cut. A tax cut isn’t going to be “stimulative” if the government matches it with spending cuts. It’s a wash, at best, as far as the generation of new, extra economic activity.

Priming the pump comes from the additional borrowing made necessary by the tax cuts. If the government doesn’t increase its borrowing, and cuts its spending instead, there is no stimulus.

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2slugbaits 09.09.14 at 11:07 pm

Rawls was arguing against utilitarianism, so I’m confused by your argument.

The problem with Rawls’ “difference principle” is that it doesn’t tell us what to do if Policy “A” benefits the bottom 1%, but also makes the 10% immediately above the bottom 1% worse off. Rawls’ formulation is too simple because it assumes policies informed by the “difference principle” monotonically improve across all lower levels of income.

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John Quiggin 09.09.14 at 11:10 pm

TH @119 I did write a book on this

144

Brett Bellmore 09.09.14 at 11:35 pm

Marcus, “Your main criticism of utilitarianism seems to be that utility and/or interpersonal comparisons of utility are meaningless. “

“Metaphor” DNE “meaningless”. “My love is like a red, red rose.” is a fine thing to say, and communicates meaning. And yet, you would not do well to treat your love to well composted manure and a douse in aphid spray.

It’s perfectly fine to ask somebody, “On a scale of one to ten, how bad does your knee hurt?” That doesn’t mean you start taking natural logs, or subtract Harry’s sore knee from Josephine’s foot massage. You can reason about how you treat masses of people using “utility” as a metaphor, without thinking that this is genuinely susceptible to rigorous mathematical treatment. Again, I ask: Scalar or vector?

145

Jack King 09.09.14 at 11:48 pm

Plume @1348

“The Kennedy tax cut was actually the LBJ tax cut”

A little thing happened along the way. JFK ran into Lee Harvey Oswald. LBJ implemented Kennedy’s cuts.

“It happened in 1964. And receipts for that year totaled roughly 112 billion, rising 4 billion in 1965, to 116 billion, and then jumping in 1966 to 130 billion. “

Don’t stop there. Then by 1968 it was $151 billion. In the face of tax CUTS, revenue increased. Got it? Kennedy also cut the corporate income tax, capital gains, taxes on dividends, and increased defense spending. Amazingly he had to fight Republicans lead by Barry Goldwater! Go figure.

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Thornton Hall 09.09.14 at 11:50 pm

@135 I’m not sure what to make of a person who believes in rationality and also believes this:

If taxes are raised, even after it has passed through esoteric deductions, it still translates into certain economic behavior which is immutable.

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Thornton Hall 09.09.14 at 11:52 pm

@143 Right then. No assumption necessary. I know you know.

So much to read.

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LFC 09.10.14 at 12:26 am

2slugbaits @142
The problem with Rawls’ “difference principle” is that it doesn’t tell us what to do if Policy “A” benefits the bottom 1%, but also makes the 10% immediately above the bottom 1% worse off. Rawls’ formulation is too simple because it assumes policies informed by the “difference principle” monotonically improve across all lower levels of income.

You need to go back and read what Chris Bertram said @44:

First, what the D[ifference] P[rinciple] looks at are expectations (expressed in terms of access to some primary goods) and it injuncts the selection of the institutional structure that maximises the expectations of the least advantaged [in terms of those primary goods–LFC] (not the poorest or worst off).

In other words, the difference principle (which, remember, is only one part of one principle of justice) is about maximizing access of the least advantaged to primary goods (the most important of which, by the way, R. says is probably self-respect, not income).

Your comment, beginning with the confident statement “the problem with R’s difference principle is…,” is therefore dubious. Since you haven’t stated the DP correctly, you’re unlikely to have stated “the problem” with it correctly. Even taking yr comment on its own somewhat odd terms, I’m not sure how often one wd run into policies that benefit the bottom 1 percent and harm the 10% immediately above them (presumably in terms of income, you mean).

It’s striking that several, at least, people in this thread make confident assertions about Rawls while, to put it bluntly, not appearing to have much notion of anything that Rawls actually wrote.

149

J Thomas 09.10.14 at 12:35 am

IOW, I can’t think of an example when a company has been unduly hounded by government oversight.

I got the following from a highly partisan source, and have not checked it for accuracy.

I got it from Larry Niven, a science fiction writer who is a close friend of Jerry Pournelle, another science fiction writer who is an arch-conservative. When I have tried to track down things that Pournelle claimed, very often they were wrong or at least highly debatable.

Niven claimed that there was an attempt to start a funeral business that would send people’s ashes into space where they would gradually spread out through the solar system. The launches would have to be from Florida. But the Florida state government passed laws that the final resting place of any human ashes registered in Florida must be available for yearly inspection and must be no more than 50 feet (or was it 30 feet?) from a paved road. And that stopped that business cold. Niven thought the funeral homes must have a lock on the Florida government.

[I read that last night, before I went to bed. But just now I looked for that passage in the only paper book I could have seen it in. I could not find it again. I looked through the whole thing since the paper book has no search function. I remember the surrounding material — they had a group that was looking at uses for space travel, and they found various uses at different price points. The funeral trick was at a price that was already attainable. And now the whole thing is not there. I hate it when that happens.]

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Jack King 09.10.14 at 1:06 am

@146

It’s not that complicated. Fire destroys that which feeds it. Taxes have the effect of reducing the taxed activity. Tax policies that punish work, saving, and investing, result in less work, saving, and investing.

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MPAVictoria 09.10.14 at 1:16 am

“It’s not that complicated. Fire destroys that which feeds it. Taxes have the effect of reducing the taxed activity. Tax policies that punish work, saving, and investing, result in less work, saving, and investing.”

Then may I suggest a 100% tax on right wingers who comment on blogs?

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Jack King 09.10.14 at 1:22 am

@151

“Then may I suggest a 100% tax on right wingers who comment on blogs?”

Taxes, of course, are necessary for civilization to survive. But tax policies should always follow the dictum of “Primum Non Nocere” (First Do No Harm).

153

Plume 09.10.14 at 1:23 am

Jack @145,

Again, you can’t attribute that to the tax cuts. They didn’t happen in a vacuum. Basically, you’re saying, I opened up my umbrella and it rained. See, the umbrella caused it!!

Historically, receipts have gone up year by year, for the most part. Recessions and depressions, obviously, end those increases for a time. But it’s the norm for Treasury receipts to increase, not stay the same or decrease. When they go up, it’s illogical to immediately assume that the cause is tax cuts, because they go up without tax cuts, and with tax increases, etc. etc.

A tax cuts means a citizen discount for goods and services, and the government has to borrow to make up for the reduction in revenues — if it wants to keep spending at the same per capita rate or higher. Citizens are then getting public service goods and services for less, and that, obviously, can’t happen without borrowing and future tax increases. If the government were to cut spending to match the cut in taxes, citizens would no longer receive that discount, and they could no longer spend the extra amount on something else. They, too, would have to make up for the loss in public goods and services somewhere else. And if the government cut spending to match those tax cuts, public and private sector jobs would be lost, contracts ended, R and D cut, etc. etc. The net result would be, best case scenario, a wash.

There is no free lunch. It’s funny that conservatives love to bash “freeloaders and moochers” when it comes to things like food stamps, but they are perfectly fine with tax cuts — temporary discounts on publicly provided goods and services which require government borrowing and future tax increases on others.

Even conservative economists in the Bush administration admitted that tax cuts never pay for themselves. Mankiw admitted that, and Stockman from the Reagan administration did as well. They know tax cuts are a net loss to the Treasury. A good example in the real world was that tax receipts for Bush fell for his first three years and his last, after he cut taxes in 2001 and 2003.

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2slugbaits 09.10.14 at 1:24 am

LFC,

Rawls defines the difference principle on page 75:

“Assuming the framework of institutions required by equal liberty and fair equality of opportunity, the higher expectations of those better situated are just if and only if they work as part of a scheme which improves the expectations of the least advantaged members of society. The intuitive idea is that the social order is not to establish and secure the more attractive prospect of those better off unless doing so is to the advantage of those less fortunate.”

Rawls was answering the charge that unless society allowed the talented to enjoy unequal rewards everyone would be worse off. The difference principle was intended to allow for qualified differences in income provided those differences worked to the advantage of those at the bottom.

It is not difficult to imagine situations in which policies that advantage those at the very bottom might also work against those that are at the next to the bottom. For example, “right to work” laws benefit those at the very bottom of the economic ladder at the expense of those who are only one or two rungs above the bottom.

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Plume 09.10.14 at 1:29 am

J Thomas,

Even if that scenario were true, as described by Niven, does it constitute “persecution”? I don’t think so. Also, there is no way, with current technology, that he could actually make a go of that business. He’d have to charge outrageous fees to pay for the service. He might be able to snag a billionaire or two, but his clientele would have to be exceedingly well and quite limited.

Then, again, it wouldn’t bother me at all if the super-rich got their pockets picked in such a way. That said, the Florida rules of the road in that case, while sounding anal retentive, perhaps, don’t strike me as “persecution.” It’s also highly doubtful they had Niven in mind when they drew them up.

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Plume 09.10.14 at 1:39 am

Jack King @152,

It’s not that complicated. Fire destroys that which feeds it. Taxes have the effect of reducing the taxed activity. Tax policies that punish work, saving, and investing, result in less work, saving, and investing.

Actually, none of the above is true. The vast majority of people can’t choose not to work, or to work less, if taxes go up. Their debts, their obligations are the same. They can’t afford to go Galt out of some principle and reduce their income or zero it out. Whether they’re taxed at 35% or 91%, they’re going to have to go to work every day to meet their obligations.

Even those who are independently wealthy have a certain standard of living to pay for. Unless they’re willing to radically downsize, they”re not likely to work less or turn down the opportunity to make money over principles. It’s actually far more likely that higher tax rates would encourage them to work more, to make up for the loss. The wealthy, if they go to a higher tax rate and want to keep their standard of living are going to have to engage in more, not less economic activity.

And as already mentioned, we had our one and only middle class boom when the top rate was 91% for most of it, the corporate rate was 52% for most of it, and capital gains were taxed at double the current rate. People still went to work. Rich people still engaged in economic activity. More than they do at present, in fact.

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ZM 09.10.14 at 1:59 am

Plume,

I would advise reading Jack King’s comments on John Quiggin’s other blog on the posts on climate change and the limits to growth before commenting to him. He was alright to comment to when he was just sticking to commenting about an interesting sort of deity who doesn’t intervene in the world except to create phyla creatures every so often when there are geological events , but then he made a very offensive comment to a female commenter and got banned .

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Jack King 09.10.14 at 2:04 am

@153

“Again, you can’t attribute that to the tax cuts”

Let’s see…we have the biggest marginal tax cut in the history of the country, and the slope of the increased revenue bends up, and I can’t attribute it to cuts?! I let people keep more of their money, and it has no positive affect on the economy?

In 1977, Walter Heller, Kennedy’s chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors had this to say before Congress:

“What happened to the tax cut in 1965 is difficult to pin down, but insofar as we are able to isolate it, it did have a tremendous stimulative effect, a multiplied effect on the economy. It was the major factor that led to our running a SURPLUS before the escalation of Vietnam hit us. It was a $12 billion tax cut which would be about $34 billion today (1977). ”

Of course we know that taxing the rich is popular…they are so greedy. But perhaps it is others that are really being hurt by it. Note what Keynes has to say:

“Avarice and usury must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.” Essays In Persuasion; p. 372

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J Thomas 09.10.14 at 3:14 am

Even if that scenario were true, as described by Niven, does it constitute “persecution”?

It stops the business cold. So they never get off the ground.

I don’t think so. Also, there is no way, with current technology, that he could actually make a go of that business.

As I remember it, he thought they could do very well with launch costs of $500/pound. A whole body would be gross and heavy, but ashes in a small block of ice wouldn’t weigh all that much, and as the ice sublimated the ashes would gradually scatter.

That said, the Florida rules of the road in that case, while sounding anal retentive, perhaps, don’t strike me as “persecution.” It’s also highly doubtful they had Niven in mind when they drew them up.

I inferred that the first ads had gone out when the rules were changed. Maybe it wasn’t aimed at that venture but it had that effect. So that potentially a lot of money down the road would stay with the people who were already getting it, and not go to the space flight people that Niven wanted desperately to have a paying market of some kind.

[I remember it pretty clearly, it bothers me it might have been all a dream.]

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derrida derider 09.10.14 at 3:25 am

Lawsamighty don’t some people here blur the is/ought distinction in order to get astride their moral high horse. You’d think CTers, above all, would know better. On the Laffer curve:

1) Brett Bellmore is absolutely correct that you shouldn’t confuse assertions about the Laffer curve’s existence with assertions about the parameters of that curve. Deliberately confusing these is exactly the game Laffer and his political followers played.

2) It may or may not be a sensible moral stance to want to be on the wrong side of the Laffer curve because you think it more important to afflict the comfortable than to raise money to comfort the afflicted – that’s what the OP is about. But that is not the same as asserting there is no Laffer curve, nor does it say anything about its real-life parameters.

3) The fact that a 100% tax may still raise some revenue from the stupid, unlucky or altruistic is totally irrelevant – for a Laffer curve to exist we need only show that a 100% tax will raise less revenue than some intermediate value between 0% and 100%.

Saez tentatively claims, on the evidence of a careful metareview of lots of empiric work by lots of people of varying personal voting tendencies and using a variety of methods, that peak revenue is historically at about 73% in the US. Your flat-earth Republican congressman knows – on the utterly convincing evidence of what it is convenient for him to believe – that peak revenue is definitely below the current top marginal tax rate. So it is not the existence of the Laffer curve that is the political issue but its parameters.

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John Quiggin 09.10.14 at 3:30 am

Jack King, please nothing more here either

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Plume 09.10.14 at 3:39 am

Again, not even conservative economists, who actually really want unicorns and Santa Claus to be real, think tax cuts even pay for themselves, much less increase revenues. They would love for voodoo to be true too, but it’s not.

I explained why. Tax cuts force governments to borrow money. The bigger the tax cut, the more they need to borrow — if they want to maintain at least present levels of spending (and there is no case in our history where the government cut spending to match tax cuts). That is where the stimulus comes from. The extra juice added to the economy through deficit spending. Tax cuts, plus deficit spending, equals having your cake and eating it to. It means there is no immediate pain after the reduction in tax revenues. Government keeps its services at the same or higher per capita levels, and citizens get a discount. A temporary free lunch.

Temporary, being the key word.

Sorry, but tax cuts, by themselves, do not stimulate the economy. Never have. Never will.

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Plume 09.10.14 at 3:40 am

ZM,

Thanks. Will remember that.

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J Thomas 09.10.14 at 5:12 am

Tax cuts force governments to borrow money. [….]

Sorry, but tax cuts, by themselves, do not stimulate the economy. Never have. Never will.

This is a reasonable argument. But how much evidence is there?

We have USA 1937. The government spent less money and the economy tanked.

How many other unambiguous examples are there? The various international examples where IMF or whoever forced austerity don’t really count — things were already bad for other reasons.

People who say they want a Laffer solution can say they want taxes down and spending down to match, not deficit spending. And they can say they got the tax cuts but the damn legislature reduced to cut spending despite their strongest efforts, it isn’t their fault, but if the spending had just been cut then we’d see how great it would be without deficits, too bad.

Do we actually have evidence to prove that’s wrong? Or has it been that somehow the government spending always stays high no matter what, and the guys who want tax cuts somehow use up all their political capital cutting taxes and have none left over to cut spending….

The demand-side reasoning makes sense to me. Like Krugman’s babysitting co-op. People feel safe when they own obligations that they can cash in, but that requires that somebody else must be in debt, somebody who will reliably pay off. Poor people are not reliable debtors and richer people don’t want to be in debt. People’s hunger to be safe creditors can only be filled by government. If government reduces spending, people who feel insecure will not increase their spending to match. So government demand drives the economy. We have so much investment funding sloshing around we can’t find adequate investments for it, but does that persuade capitalists to spend their capital on consumption? Of course not. So if government spending went down we’d have a recession.

It makes sense, but is there solid evidence that it really works that way?

Is there a possibility that the stupid self-serving Laffer argument that we could reduce government income and reduce government spending to match, and the economy would be stronger than ever — is there actual solid evidence that it can’t be true in spite of its ridiculous supporters?

165

Jack King 09.10.14 at 6:11 am

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166

Plume 09.10.14 at 7:12 am

Jack @165,

Heller never says tax cuts pay for themselves. Never. Not in that quote or anywhere else. He also resigned from office when LBJ said he would escalate in Vietnam without raising taxes. And before that, he pushed for LBJ to institute the War on Poverty programs. Yes, he was a Keynesian, and no Keynesian believes that tax cuts ever pay for themselves. They all realize that they cause deficits, and deficit spending stimulates the economy, not tax cuts. Tax cuts just force the deficit spending.

Keynesians aren’t supply-siders. They’re demand-siders, basically.

Try again.
Please don’t feed the trolls – JQ

167

Plume 09.10.14 at 7:30 am

J Thomas,

Is there a possibility that the stupid self-serving Laffer argument that we could reduce government income and reduce government spending to match, and the economy would be stronger than ever — is there actual solid evidence that it can’t be true in spite of its ridiculous supporters?

No. This is one economy, not two. The public and private sectors are part of one and the same economy. If the public sector cuts spending, spending goes down overall in the economy, and this economy is 70% consumer-based. That means job losses, directly and indirectly. The bigger the public sector cuts, the bigger the job losses, and everything that goes with those job losses.

The supply side crowd, up until the tea party took hold, realized this. They wanted tax cuts for the wealthy, but they also knew that government spending actually had to accelerate to make those tax cuts effective. It was a kind of sleight of hand. Make people think it was all about the tax cuts, while hiding the fact that the supply siders radically increased government spending and hiring, too. They were military Keynesians, in a sense.

Prior to Obama and the tea party, America had never, ever attempted to cut spending and taxes at the same time. People in charge were too smart for that. Reagan, Bush Sr. and even Dubya all radically increased government spending and hiring along with their tax cuts, so they could have their cake and eat it too. And kick the can (the bill) down the road. Along comes Obama, the supposed “liberal,” and he actually embraces a kind of vulgar supply side position. Freeze government wages and hiring, cut spending and keep the Bush tax cuts. And all of that negates the effects of the tax cuts, keeping us in the weak recovery phase — or worse.

Again, cutting government spending means cutting spending overall. If the government hands out money with one hand, but pulls back on spending with the other, it’s a wash at best. And since tax cuts can be spent on anything, including goods and services from other nations, speculation, etc. . . . it’s worse than a wash. Public sector spending has a much higher likelihood of spurring economic activity here than no-strings-attached tax cuts.

168

Plume 09.10.14 at 7:31 am

Sorry, fixed the formatting:

J Thomas,

Is there a possibility that the stupid self-serving Laffer argument that we could reduce government income and reduce government spending to match, and the economy would be stronger than ever — is there actual solid evidence that it can’t be true in spite of its ridiculous supporters?

No. This is one economy, not two. The public and private sectors are part of one and the same economy. If the public sector cuts spending, spending goes down overall in the economy, and this economy is 70% consumer-based. That means job losses, directly and indirectly. The bigger the public sector cuts, the bigger the job losses, and everything that goes with those job losses.

The supply side crowd, up until the tea party took hold, realized this. They wanted tax cuts for the wealthy, but they also knew that government spending actually had to accelerate to make those tax cuts effective. It was a kind of sleight of hand. Make people think it was all about the tax cuts, while hiding the fact that the supply siders radically increased government spending and hiring, too. They were military Keynesians, in a sense.

Prior to Obama and the tea party, America had never, ever attempted to cut spending and taxes at the same time. People in charge were too smart for that. Reagan, Bush Sr. and even Dubya all radically increased government spending and hiring along with their tax cuts, so they could have their cake and eat it too. And kick the can (the bill) down the road. Along comes Obama, the supposed “liberal,” and he actually embraces a kind of vulgar supply side position. Freeze government wages and hiring, cut spending and keep the Bush tax cuts. And all of that negates the effects of the tax cuts, keeping us in the weak recovery phase — or worse.

Again, cutting government spending means cutting spending overall. If the government hands out money with one hand, but pulls back on spending with the other, it’s a wash at best. And since tax cuts can be spent on anything, including goods and services from other nations, speculation, etc. . . . it’s worse than a wash. Public sector spending has a much higher likelihood of spurring economic activity here than no-strings-attached tax cuts.

169

Brett Bellmore 09.10.14 at 10:05 am

“There is no free lunch. It’s funny that conservatives love to bash “freeloaders and moochers” when it comes to things like food stamps, but they are perfectly fine with tax cuts — temporary discounts on publicly provided goods and services which require government borrowing and future tax increases on others.”

The reasoning isn’t all that hard to follow. Suppose you’ve long been the beneficiary of a requirement that I pay for your lunch and my own. There’s justice in my complaint that you’re a freeloader and moocher.

I get the rule repealed, so that we both pay for our own lunches. This doesn’t constitute me becoming a freeloader, so long as I still pay for my own lunch.

If I’m routinely mugged by somebody taking my wallet, and one day manage to snatch back half the loot, I have not robbed my mugger, and become a criminal. I’m just being wronged less.

Democrats are extremely fond of tax schemes under which most people carry less than their full load, and a minority are compelled to carry many times their full load. Where most people don’t pay for what they get from government, and a few pay for many times what they get. You claim it’s justice, I think it’s robbing Peter to pay for Paul and Herbert’s votes.

But it does create a class of people who it is absurd to accuse of freeloading if they can get their taxes cut.

170

cohenite 09.10.14 at 10:33 am

Economists often fall into “physical law” like talk when it comes to the rich and powerful. The “laffer curve” is no exception. A more progressive tax “will lead to” less total tax revenue, they say. “will lead to” here means: many human individuals who have more money, more power and more stimulating jobs than their fellow citizens could only dream of ever having will choose to react negatively to policies that would result in them, the rich stratum, having a little less money/power (but still vastly more than everyone else). They will react with tax-evasion, choosing to work less and by banking political campaigns and think tanks aimed at shooting down or obstructing the progressive tax policy. Those people individually and as groups choose that unjust, anti-social, bastardly behaviour even though they had the full power to choose differently. As long as there are people who act like that the society is unjust.

171

Limericky Dicky 09.10.14 at 10:35 am

A marginal rate of 100% needn’t make CEOs ‘work’ any less (as if they can trade pay for more ‘recreation’).

Still, business would see it as money ill-spent, and thus, I suppose, would retain the excess (we then just place levies on that corporation).

But revenue isn’t taxation’s sole purpose. Think of deterrence (see: hemp – but not musketry!) – as that works, though , there’s pro tanto less income.

The CEO’s tax is applied to a surplus – it can raise revenue and be confiscatory. (Taxing a windfall is clearly fair dinkum.)

172

ZM 09.10.14 at 10:50 am

I think work must have gotten much more unenjoyable over the last century and a bit, if the only argument for high wages and low taxes is that so many people dislike their jobs so much that no-one would do any jobs at all otherwise – or else Brett Bellmore thinks people would much prefer to live like shepherds or hunter gatherers and only by great bribery and under propertarian force will people agree to live in a modern sort of way…

Major C H “Douglas is not remembered for his affinity to such ideas; he was a rather cold, remote technocrat, whose writing style was often strangely obtuse and incomprehensible. However, one passage illustrates his detestation of ‘wage slavery’, and possibly also the influence of Orage on his expression of it:

There is absolutely no concrete difference between work and play … No one would contend that it is inherently more interesting or more pleasurable to endeavour to place a small ball in an inadequate hole with inappropriate instruments, than to assist in the construction of the Quebec Bridge, or the harnessing or Niagara. But for one object men will travel long distances at their own expense, while for the other they require payment and considerable incentive to remain at work.
C.H. Douglas, Economic Democracy, 1919, p.88.

The Douglas / New Age texts traced all the phenomena listed in the first paragraph of this review to the system by which credit (and debt) were – and still are – created by banks. Douglas pointed out that money was not a neutral ‘numeraire’, as neo-classical economic theory claimed, but a commodity that is traded like any other. The difference is that the banks are licensed to create it out of nothing, and to charge an interest rate for lending it to firms and individuals.”

173

rea 09.10.14 at 12:01 pm

Democrats are extremely fond of tax schemes under which most people carry less than their full load, and a minority are compelled to carry many times their full load. Where most people don’t pay for what they get from government, and a few pay for many times what they get. You claim it’s justice, I think it’s robbing Peter to pay for Paul and Herbert’s votes

People who make this argument never want to acknowledge (a) the amount of physical and social infrastructure on which their money-making ability depends (you didn’t build that), and (b) the extent they depend on the state’s monopoly of violence power to avoid having peons with pitchforks come take their stuff away.

174

J Thomas 09.10.14 at 12:06 pm

“Is there a possibility that the stupid self-serving Laffer argument that we could reduce government income and reduce government spending to match, and the economy would be stronger than ever — is there actual solid evidence that it can’t be true in spite of its ridiculous supporters?”

No. This is one economy, not two. [….]

You make reasonable arguments, but imagine that there might be something important about it that nobody has noticed. Something that would make them right in spite of themselves, even though their arguments are not very good. How can we be sure there isn’t something like that?

Prior to Obama and the tea party, America had never, ever attempted to cut spending and taxes at the same time.

There were claims that Hoover tried to do that at the start of the Depression. I’ve seen other claims that he did not do that, but just didn’t deficit-spend *enough*. And then there was 1937. And you say now with Obama is the third try.

Do those three examples give us enough actual evidence? Are there other examples in other countries that apply well enough? Is there enough evidence to show that it actually works that way in reality, beyond the clear fact that the *arguments* that it ought to be that way are better than the silly arguments that tax cuts plus spending cuts ought to have a good result?

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J Thomas 09.10.14 at 12:59 pm

#172 Rea

“Democrats are extremely fond of tax schemes under which most people carry less than their full load, and a minority are compelled to carry many times their full load. Where most people don’t pay for what they get from government, and a few pay for many times what they get. You claim it’s justice, I think it’s robbing Peter to pay for Paul and Herbert’s votes”

People who make this argument never want to acknowledge (a) the amount of physical and social infrastructure on which their money-making ability depends (you didn’t build that), and (b) the extent they depend on the state’s monopoly of violence power to avoid having peons with pitchforks come take their stuff away.

On both sides it is presented as a moral argument. You get X, so you owe Y. Brett wants to argue that some rich people don’t get nearly enough to justify their taxes while others get much more. You point out that they do get a lot.

As a moral argument, I want to point out that every rich American who did not get his wealth illegally, is a crony capitalist who got his wealth from the government. If you are wealthy it is because the government has made you wealthy. (and your own efforts may have had something to do with it also — when you have a chance at the public trough and you don’t jostle your way in to take that chance, you won’t get your share). At a minimum, the government has created the economy that you have found a way to tap, and if the government had created it differently then there’s a strong chance it would be somebody else tapping it in your place — somebody better suited to that economy.

If you don’t like the opportunities the government has provided for you to succeed, in the USA it is legal for you to leave and start over elsewhere. But as a matter of common courtesy you should leave your money behind and start over elsewhere from scratch.

Morality aside, one of the functions of Congress is to provide tax loopholes to those who’re willing to pay for them. This is open to everybody who has sufficient money. After you have paid for your personal loopholes you might as well go ahead and argue publicly that you pay too much tax, because if you tell people that you think you are getting about the right amount of tax they will wonder what’s wrong with you. And if you announce in public that you are paying no tax because of your loopholes lots of people will be jealous.

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Brett Bellmore 09.10.14 at 2:00 pm

“If you are wealthy it is because the government has made you wealthy. “

Yes, that essentially is the argument on the left. It’s total hooey, but it is the argument.

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Brett Bellmore 09.10.14 at 2:15 pm

And, by total hooey, I mean, the governmen has made all this infrastructure available to the entire population, and a tiny fraction of the population end up wealthy, and from this you conclude that the difference between the wealthy and everybody else is… government infrastructure?

“You didn’t build that” rightly got Obama contempt. Go ahead, dig that hole deeper.

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MPAVictoria 09.10.14 at 2:18 pm

““You didn’t build that” rightly got Obama contempt. Go ahead, dig that hole deeper.”

Well Brett prove us wrong. Go off to some secluded desert island and see how much wealth you can build for yourself without the government keeping you down. Be sure to write.

179

Brett Bellmore 09.10.14 at 2:49 pm

Hm, would the only thing I’d be lacking on a deserted island be government? I’d also be lacking medical care. You can’t get rich if you’re dead, maybe the wealthy are wealthy because doctors made them that way. You can’t get rich if you’re drowning in garbage, maybe it’s the garbage collector that makes the wealthy wealthy.

Single factor theories are nuts. You can’t attribute all of a vast fortune to cobblers, even if the guy wouldn’t have gotten rich if he’d been barefoot. You have to look at what is different between the rich guy and the poor guy, they’ve both got government.

180

Bruce Wilder 09.10.14 at 2:51 pm

They’ve both got hold of the stick — just different ends of the stick, Brett.

181

Brett Bellmore 09.10.14 at 2:55 pm

You just don’t like admitting that people with money earned it, because you want to take it from them, and it’s easier to justify that if you pretend it wasn’t their’s to begin with.

182

MPAVictoria 09.10.14 at 2:59 pm

“You just don’t like admitting that people with money earned it, because you want to take it from them, and it’s easier to justify that if you pretend it wasn’t their’s to begin with”

This is know as the “just desserts fallacy”.

http://www.demos.org/blog/just-deserts-do-1-percent-deserve-their-wealth

183

MPAVictoria 09.10.14 at 3:03 pm

“Single factor theories are nuts”

“You just don’t like admitting that people with money earned it,”

Posted without comment.

184

Limericky Dicky 09.10.14 at 3:26 pm

185

J Thomas 09.10.14 at 3:28 pm

I mean, the government has made all this infrastructure available to the entire population, and a tiny fraction of the population end up wealthy, and from this you conclude that the difference between the wealthy and everybody else is… government infrastructure?

No, of course not. That’s the moral argument that I put aside. It claims the wealthy get fine value for their tax money in the form of infrastructure that benefits them more, that lets them make more money than they would otherwise.

I say the difference between the wealthy and everybody else is that the wealthy have connections. And government connections are a big part of that.

Like, I had an aunt who ran a small loan company. One of her brothers did some stuff to help out a Republican state candidate and she berated him for it. “You let people see you standing up on that stage with Robins? What do you think Robins can do for us? If somebody wants to start a fifth small loan company here can Robins deny them the charter?”

If Robins was going to win and could help her, she’d have supported him just fine. If she had happened to live in a place the Republicans controlled, it would have been Republicans who stopped new small loan companies from getting the right to compete.

My father told me why it was right. People who lived paycheck-to-paycheck sometimes needed loans. Like if they got sick or whatever, they had sudden expenses they couldn’t pay. Without small loan companies they would have to get their loans at mafia rates. The small loan companies were regulated to provide better rates. They borrowed money from the bank at 6%, and loaned it at 12%. (He didn’t explain that they paid 12% on the total over the length of the loan, and half the money was returned in half the time, so that it was like a simple-interest 24%.) The people who needed cash were better off this way. It was a public service, and the lenders deserved some profit. But if there were too many of them they wouldn’t get enough business and all of them would suffer.

The small loan officers had to look at each borrower and decide whether he was trustworthy, because there was no collateral — people signed their name and got the money, and if they didn’t pay it back then it was gone. They each had ways to guess at that. One loan officer told me that he never lent money to a man who wore a pinky ring. If somebody stiffed one small loan company, they could send out a report to blacklist him with the other companies. But they might prefer that the other companies lose too…. Choosing who to lend to was a highly skilled job.

That was profitable for a good while. But then there was a credit crunch. Interest rates charged to small loan companies by banks were higher than the interest rate they could legally charge. The government did nothing to help them.

Later the credit card companies mostly drove them out of business. The credit card company doesn’t have to use a lot of skill to decide whether to give you credit. If there isn’t something obvious they give you a low limit, and if you don’t pay them then they destroy your credit rating. If you look reliable they raise your limit. With bad credit it’s hard to get a rental car, it’s hard to get a job — it isn’t their problem to guess whether you’ll pay them back, it’s your problem to make sure you at least keep up the minimum payments indefinitely. It’s altogether a better business plan, if the credit card company is big enough and powerful enough.

Some time after my aunt retired my father told me that every year, the board of directors tried to raise her salary and she told them not to. She was making enough money. Sometimes they did it over her objections. It turned out that with each loan the debtor was required to pay debt insurance. And the insurance company she chose gave her personally gratuities that amounted to three times her official pay.

But the family story was that she made most of her money on the stock market. When I was young she got an insider tip, and she put $10,000 on a company that was building a plant in her town. It was a good tip, and resulted in her first million.

——————-

Government *can* force whole industries to be profitable. Like gasohol, which probably could not be profitable if there were no laws forbidding regular gasoline to be sold.

If you have a small business which potentially can be profitable in the right environment, state government can create that environment or prevent it. State government also can create competition that you cannot legally beat, or prevent that competition. You cannot win against somebody who has better connections than you do.

If you have a large US business, individual states can hinder you some and the US government can make you profitable or prevent your profits. They can create competition you cannot legally beat, or prevent that competition. You cannot win against somebody who has better connections than you do.

If you have an international business, the US government can destroy your US components if they choose to, or guarantee their profits. But you have a lot more leverage.

Because of this, almost all US capitalism is crony capitalism. If you don’t have connections you must keep your business inconspicuous enough that no successful crony wants to take it away from you.

Am I wrong?

186

Jack King 09.10.14 at 3:56 pm

Plume@166

“Keynesians aren’t supply-siders. They’re demand-siders, basically”

Agreed. But if you read my post, for the economy to really thrive, in a downturn we need to affect BOTH supply and demand. As far as the demand side, Keynes NEVER advocated that it be used as a long term policy. He was a deflation hawk, and once deflation was quelled, he recommended to policy makers that they return to classical macro theory….for the unwashed that means a balanced budget. (see Collective Writings, Vol 21, p. 385)

P.S. Looks like the moderator is doing a virtual “book burning” by scrambling my posts. If you don’t want your mind polluted by other ideas, wait for it to be scrambled.

187

Jack King 09.10.14 at 4:13 pm

@172

“People who make this argument never want to acknowledge (a) the amount of physical and social infrastructure on which their money-making ability depends (you didn’t build that), “

This is a silly argument. So Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple which started out of his garage? No one I know on any side of the political spectrum doesn’t realize the importance of a government with stable laws, and just maintaining civilization. Try and start a business in sub-Sahara Africa where there are continual tribal wars and corruption. The “you didn’t build that” mantra is an emotional phrase used to illicit a political response.

188

Plume 09.10.14 at 4:21 pm

Brett @169,

Democrats are extremely fond of tax schemes under which most people carry less than their full load, and a minority are compelled to carry many times their full load. Where most people don’t pay for what they get from government, and a few pay for many times what they get. You claim it’s justice, I think it’s robbing Peter to pay for Paul and Herbert’s votes.

First of all, I’m not a Democrat. I can’t stand either party. Second, no one in America, including billionaires, pays for what they receive in public goods and services. Every American receives more in goods, services and legacy than their taxes cover, and rich people receive far more than the middle class or the poor. This is the case because of the way taxes are collected, generationally and spatially. We share in the results, and the results are geared toward protecting wealth and privilege. Our individual contributions are a fraction of the cost.

And, again, a tax cut is a further discount on goods and services that aren’t being reduced. That’s freeloading. As much as I despise the tea party, they at least have the courage of their convictions in one matter. They’re asking that government services be reduced to match their desired tax cuts. This, of course, is economic and social suicide. But it’s at least consistent with their desire for tax cuts. They’re generally not asking for further discounts on goods and services received. They’re asking — on behalf of everyone, whether they like it or not — to receive fewer goods and services from the government, which will reduce the standard of living for most Americans in the process.

189

Plume 09.10.14 at 4:27 pm

Jack,

Jobs couldn’t have built an organization or made his fortune without his workers. Without the people making 70 cents an hour, for instance, toiling away in disgusting conditions, he wouldn’t have made his massive profits. Without government R and D he’s shit up the creek. The public sector invented the Internet, the computer, GPS, satellite tech and touch screen tech, for starters, and the public sector lent him money to get things off the ground from that garage status.

Where did his workers go to school? Where did he go to school? He and they utilized the public system for that, for libraries, for museums and, yes, for infrastructure. It’s actually preposterous for any one human being to claim they built their own business beyond a Ma and Pa stage.

“You didn’t build that” isn’t some emotional bumper sticker. It’s the absolute truth. To borrow another phrase, hated by the right, it really does “take a village.” And in the modern age of vast interconnectivity, it takes a world.

190

Plume 09.10.14 at 4:38 pm

Some individuals have done that, but I never would. However, we are also seeing more corporations doing it, and now the government is all pissed off and trying to figure out legislation to punish them. It never seems to occur to them what is there about the domestic environment that is driving them away in the first place.

It never seems to occur to conservatives that the economy crashed under Bush, under a conservative. And now, today, under Obama, corporate profits have never been higher, the stock market has nearly tripled, executive pay has hit record heights and the ruling class is flush with trillions of dollars. The domestic environment for business, at least as far as ownership’s take, has never been better.

Obama bailed capitalism out, saved its sorry, undeserving ass, turned a blind eye to its transgressions, saying we all need to move forward, blah blah blah. Trillions of tax payer dollars went to bringing capitalism back from the dead, and now, people like you have the nerve to say there is some legitimate reason for corporations to cut and run? There is no legitimate reason for them to run now, other than pure greed and the desire to avoid their obligations to taxpayers. They obviously have selective amnesia, because they’ve completely forgotten who saved them from total collapse, and if they seek to skate on their taxes, they’re no better than thieves in the night.

Actually, they’re sociopaths.

191

rea 09.10.14 at 4:45 pm

It’s like Grey’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Some mute, inglorious Walton is herding goats in Niger right now, far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, when had he been born in other circumstances, he would have built a mighty retail empire.

192

The Temporary Name 09.10.14 at 4:46 pm

Try and start a business in sub-Sahara Africa where there are continual tribal wars and corruption.

Um, exactly. In more blessed countries resourced are confiscated from earnings – confiscated I tell you! – to build bridges and schools and water reservoirs, and used to give the citizenry a shot at doing what they like. That confiscation results in freedom.

193

The Temporary Name 09.10.14 at 4:48 pm

Now if I could write English and read all would be well.

194

engels 09.10.14 at 4:48 pm

You have to look at what is different between the rich guy and the poor guy, they’ve both got government.

I think Ernest Hemingway answered this one.

195

engels 09.10.14 at 4:51 pm

Some people are better looking than others. Some people just simply work harder than others. In a country that let’s people exploit their differences, inequality will increase.

Please. Read. Picketty.

196

MPAVictoria 09.10.14 at 4:55 pm

” As much as I despise the tea party, they at least have the courage of their convictions in one matter. They’re asking that government services be reduced to match their desired tax cuts. This, of course, is economic and social suicide. But it’s at least consistent with their desire for tax cuts. They’re generally not asking for further discounts on goods and services received. They’re asking — on behalf of everyone, whether they like it or not — to receive fewer goods and services from the government, which will reduce the standard of living for most Americans in the process.”

You have this wrong Plume. Most of them love the gov’t services that they get. What most of them want to cut is the services that the “undeserving” get.

197

MPAVictoria 09.10.14 at 4:58 pm

And Plume you might want to stop responding to Jack. All of his posts will disappear or be scrambled anyway. Besides anyone who would be so rude as to come into someone else’s space uninvited and then refuse to leave when ask is not worth engaging with anyway.

198

Jack King 09.10.14 at 4:59 pm

Plm@190

“t nvr sms t ccr t cnsrvtvs tht th cnmy crshd ndr Bsh, ndr cnsrvtv”

f crs t “ccrs” t s….ll w hv bn hrng fr th pst 6 yrs whn smthng gs wrng s tht “t ws Bshs’ flt”. Th rcssn hppnd n Bsh’s wtch, s h gts blmd fr t. Strngly ngh, hwvr, whn th dt.cm crsh ccrrd, n n pntd th fngr t Clntn.

Bt snc y brght t p, lt’s lk clsr. Bck n 2003 Bsh sw prblm brwng n hsng, nd h snt th hd f th trsry dprtmnt Jhn Snw t Cngrss t stblsh nw rgltry gncy vr GSs (lk Frddy nd Fnny) t brng thm ndr cntrl. Thr ws sch ld hwl prtst tht t nvr gt ff th grnd. Thn n 2005 ln Grnspn wnt bfr Cngrss nd sd th prblm wth GSs ws “systmc” nd cntrls ndd t b mplmntd. Tht trggrd th fms “chckn lttl” spch by Brny Frnk, nd r ft ws sld:

199

Plume 09.10.14 at 5:11 pm

MPAV,

Good point. The tea party folks at those town hells did (famously) scream out that the government needs to keep its hands off their medicare.

They don’t want cuts in services they receive. They want cuts in services others receive, the folks they see as moochers, the so-called 47%. Which is always in flux, made up of people who once paid those taxes or will pay them. Retirees, vets, college students, the handicapped, the impoverished. It also includes people who would gladly pay income taxes if their full time job paid them enough to qualify. Etc.

So, yeah. Point taken, and I have to all but retract what I said.

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MPAVictoria 09.10.14 at 5:19 pm

” It also includes people who would gladly pay income taxes if their full time job paid them enough to qualify. Etc.”

Indeed!

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TM 09.10.14 at 5:34 pm

“Kennedy” tax cut, re Jack 134 and Plume 138:

Nominal GDP increased from 640 billion in 1963 to 744 billion in 1965. The average annual increase during the 1960s was 10% (it doubled).

Federal tax receipts increased roughly in line with GDP overall but initially they declined as a share of GDP from 17.4% in 1963 to 16.2% in 1965, then increased to 17% in 1967 and further up to 18.8% in 1969. (Data according to BEA, NIPA tables 1.1.5 and 3.2). I don’t know the details of how the tax regime changed in that time. The fact that tax receipts didn’t go down after the 1964 tax cut (as they did after the 2001 Bush tax cut) might be chalked up as a success but it seems far-fetched to credit it with an actual increase in revenue. Worth noting that the category that increased most was FICA taxes, which almost tripled during the 1960s and increased 8 billion in 1966 alone.

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TM 09.10.14 at 5:46 pm

159: Even if the story were true, it would be an exceedingly silly example of “business persecution”. It isn’t in fact true and it struck me immediately as a typical urban legend.

“In Florida, there are no state laws that restrict where you may keep or scatter ashes.”
http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/burial-cremation-laws-florida.html#7

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Plume 09.10.14 at 5:54 pm

TM,

Good points.

But the tax cuts happened under LBJ, not Kennedy. And tax receipts almost always go up in our history anyway. That’s the norm. Year to year increases in revenue, with recessions or depressions knocking that off kilter. This is the case, historically, with or without tax cuts.

Math and logic tell us that a tax cut can never, ever increase revenue. It’s actually impossible. It’s physically impossible. It’s like saying that if you ask your boss to reduce your salary, your paychecks are then bigger. What tax cuts do is to force the government to borrow to make up for the loss in revenue, which then acts as a stimulus for the economy. In a sense, it’s a doubling of the cash flow/investment loop — for the amount of money in question, at least. The government cuts taxes, keeps per capita spending the same or increases it, which means having one’s cake and eating it too.

As mentioned, there is zero stimulus if the government cuts taxes and matches that with spending cuts. The net amount of cash flowing immediately through the system hasn’t changed. The government gives with one hand, and takes away with the other. At best, a wash.

But it’s actually worse than a wash, because government spending is mostly targeted on production, and pretty much all done here. Tax cuts without strings attached means atomized, scatter-shot, individual purchases of goods and services anywhere — including overseas. There are no guarantees of spending that money in this economy, productively, to provoke economic growth.

It’s Santa Claus and voodoo to even suggest that tax cuts pay for themselves, much less that they increase revenues.

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Plume 09.10.14 at 6:00 pm

TM @ 203,

Thanks for that. Virtually every time I bump into some claim made by conservatives, it ends up being bogus. Their track record is horrendously awful. Dealing with this for several decades now, the evidence is overwhelming that conservatives are indifferent to evidence. For the most part, with very few exceptions, they just make shit up. Their worldview seems to be based on email forwards, and they dominate in America.

A national tragedy.

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Thornton Hall 09.10.14 at 6:07 pm

For fuck’s sake. If some moron wants to think that Steve Jobs wasn’t educated at public schools and that he and Woz (who apparently also wasn’t educated at public schools) spent their days stealing phone calls from AT&T because they’d already “earned” the money to feed themselves while dicking around in the garage, and that the AT&T network they were tapping into was generated by a government created monopoly, I mean, for fuck’s sake, what’s the point?

206

Thornton Hall 09.10.14 at 6:08 pm

He’s “Jack King Off”, get it?

207

Thornton Hall 09.10.14 at 6:15 pm

Meanwhile, there are real people whose names aren’t clever references to masturbation who do believe things like “without financial incentive people would not work”. While the just desserts fallacy is a simple matter of obvious cognitive bias, the notion that we are strictly financially motivated beings does not have the same obvious pedigree. It’s more obviously false, however.

So how does an obviously false claim that is not the direct result of a known cognitive bias come to be held by (approx) 27% of the Anglosphere population?

My answer: the failure of standard economic methodology to have an empirical check on claims and the growth of the professional objective press. For the role of the press in legitimating extreme right-wing claims in the post-war period, see Rick Perstein’s answer here: http://www.samefacts.com/2014/09/everything-else/a-conversation-with-rick-perlstein-the-bootleg-tapes/

Another difference is that the mainstream media has become professionalized in a way that legitimizes any planting of a flag by a right-wing politician as a poll in the debate. As they plant their flag further and further to the right, not only the media, but also Barack Obama, legitimate it as a responsible negotiating position. Which means that the center goes further and further to the right, as ratified by the forces of the establishment. That’s a big difference.

The John Birch Society was coming out in 1961 and saying pretty much the same things the National Review saying now, even though the John Birch Society was kicked out of the pages of the National Review. In the early 60′s, the John Birch Society was considered this quasi-fascist formation that was a danger to the continued civic health of the country.

There was a cover story on the John Birch Society in Time magazine, which basically treated its positions as illegitimate. I compared them in one of my essays to Time magazine’s cover profile of Glenn Beck, which followed one a couple years earlier about Ann Coulter. It wasn’t: “These people are tearing apart the fabric of America,” it was, “Wow. Look at these interesting people. Aren’t they interesting?”

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Plume 09.10.14 at 6:21 pm

Bush cut taxes in 2001 and 2003. Revenue fell for his first three years and his last. Again, Treasury receipts fell for his first three years and his last. They didn’t even surpass Clinton levels until 2005. I looked at the historical tables and couldn’t find a more abysmal record than that.

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Roger3 09.10.14 at 6:25 pm

Plume @ 162

“I explained why. Tax cuts force governments to borrow money. The bigger the tax cut, the more they need to borrow — if they want to maintain at least present levels of spending (and there is no case in our history where the government cut spending to match tax cuts). That is where the stimulus comes from. The extra juice added to the economy through deficit spending. Tax cuts, plus deficit spending, equals having your cake and eating it to. It means there is no immediate pain after the reduction in tax revenues. Government keeps its services at the same or higher per capita levels, and citizens get a discount. A temporary free lunch.”

In modern economies, this is only true for down-level governments like States, Provinces, Cities, Towns & Households. The US does not borrow money anymore than a bank borrows money to make loans. It pays interest on bonds with newly minted money.

So, say the US offers a 1 year, $100,000 bond at 3% interest. In one year, the US returns the $100K (the money returns to the economy) +$3K in interest. Where did that $3K come from? The Fed. Who did the Fed have to purchase the money from? Nobody. They just create it out of thin air. Won’t this hurt the economy? Nope. For TWO reasons: 1. Inflation is tied to energy prices in fiat economies, not aggregate amounts of money and 2. The purchasing power of the money + the interest in Y1 as it was in Y0, when the bond was purchased. There’s a reason why people call bonds a ‘hedge against inflation’. This is why. Bond prices track inflation remarkably well. You’re no richer at the end of the day than you were when you purchased the bond, but you’re not poorer either, whereas you would be if you used your own mattress instead of the one provided by the US.

Additionally, bonds perform another important service: they let the market decide how much extra money the US government needs to print to keep up with private economic activities. Public-sector economic activity is determined by budgets for expenditures and tax policy for both expenditures and in-come (I hyphenated the word because the US does not, and hasn’t since 1973, depended on money from taxation to fund itself). Ref. post 119 for a further explanation of why modern economies are not like the economies envisioned by Rawls (or even Hayek, Buchanan, Nozick and the rest).

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Plume 09.10.14 at 6:31 pm

Thornton Hall,

Thanks. Perlstein is typically excellent.

To me, there are basically two possibilities. Either Obama is an all too weak president who caves under right-wing pressure at the drop of a hat . . . or he actually sides with them, perhaps secretly. I think it’s mostly the latter. Regardless, the Overton Window keeps moving to the right, and the media, which tilt right, enables that.

Smart negotiation works something like this: You want a million acres of wilderness protected, so you ask for two million. Haggle haggle debate debate. You “settle” for one million, feigning your reluctance.

Obama and the Dems pre-negotiate everything, so they would look for some place that the GOP might find acceptable, which would be, oh, say, 50,000 acres, which would push the GOP to move the goal posts further to the right. Both parties would then agree to 10,000 acres of wilderness, with the proviso that it all could be exploited by extraction industries.

The way our politics have played out for the last thirty or so years, the Democrats all too often end up giving the GOP a better deal than it even asked for initially, and then the media call this “compromise” and want more of it. It’s actually abject capitulation.

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LFC 09.10.14 at 6:35 pm

2slugbaits @154

I’m not sure about the specific example of right-to-work laws, but your general point may be a valid criticism and/or may identify a problem w/ application of the DP. However, to continue this conversation I’d first want to look at relevant parts of Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (2001) (in particular, e.g., a section which I see in the online table of contents called “Who are the Least Advantaged?”). As the book’s title suggests, this was basically R’s final word on, and in some respects reformulation of, the theory. But I don’t have a copy of the book to hand and most of it appears not to be accessible via Google Books (and presumably the same is true of Amazon LookInside).

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LFC 09.10.14 at 6:50 pm

P.s. I did glance at Leif Wenar’s entry on Rawls at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, but it appears not to address this particular issue or set of issues, or if it does I missed it. (Not criticizing L. Wenar; he had a lot of ground to cover and a limited amount of space to do it in.)

Btw, it’s somewhat regrettable that the people who participated in J. Quiggin’s linked Facebook discussion, such as Jacob Levy and Jon Mandle (the latter being both the author of a book on Rawls and a member of the CT blogger collective) did not participate in this thread. I guess they figured they’d had their say on Facebook.

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Plume 09.10.14 at 7:03 pm

LFC,

Thanks for the cite (and site) on Rawls. Taking a gander at that now. It looks to have plenty of additional material to expand understanding of his main ideas, etc.

214

TM 09.10.14 at 7:25 pm

Plume: “Math and logic tell us that a tax cut can never, ever increase revenue. It’s actually impossible. It’s physically impossible.”

That claim is far too strong. It is possible, although rarely if ever for the reasons claimed by right-wingers. The real reason why tax cuts might sometimes attract more revenue (and tax hikes might have the opposite effect) is the idiotic competition for tax-payers between jurisdictions.

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Dudimus Prime 09.10.14 at 7:37 pm

I haven’t read all the comments so hopefully this is still on topic – Martin O’Neill has posted a draft of a short entry on “Taxation” for the forthcoming Rawls Lexicon that may be relevant: https://www.academia.edu/8259956/_Taxation_with_Thad_Williamson_forthcoming_in_Mandle_and_Reidy_eds._The_Rawls_Lexicon_CUP_forthcoming_2014_draft_version_

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Plume 09.10.14 at 7:45 pm

TM,

But that’s just one state beggaring another — isn’t it? Is there any increase in overall tax receipts nationwide from that tax cut in that particular state (or jurisdiction)? No. As in, one state’s gain is another’s loss. And I was speaking in terms of Federal taxes.

And even with that, there are all too many cases of this netting out in the negative for the state which does the beggaring. The company may well end up leaving anyway, laying off its workers, as these deals generally don’t have explicit strings attached, and it takes time to make back the lost revenues for the “tax free” zones. The state still has to provide government services, regardless.

(New York seems to be highly aggressive about this right now, and I see that backfiring for them. And the South has long been trying to entice companies away from other states, with a combination of low to no taxes for businesses, and “right to fire at will” laws, etc.)

I may have overstated the claim by saying it’s “impossible,” as bizarre, crazy things do happen in the capitalist system from time to time. But I don’t think I’m too far out on a limb. If not “impossible,” it’s certainly extraordinarily rare . . . . and it is illogical to assume that tax cuts do increase revenues. Again, the vast majority of people have to work regardless of tax increases. Their productive behavior is just not going to be altered enough to matter.

217

Trader Joe 09.10.14 at 7:50 pm

Plume and TM @217

Agree with TM’s point and would add, that if a tax cut is thought to be or assumed to be temporary (which most are not) it can create an increase in tax revenues as companies and individuals reposition various shelters and avoidance strategies to take advantage of what amounts to a “sale” in tax payments. There was evidence of this in the various foreign tax holiday that allowed companies to repatriate foreign earnings and again in response to multiplechanges in estate tax laws during 2008-2011….the citations aren’t hard to find.

This doesn’t invalidate any of the prior made points, but would agree with TM that “never” is too strong, there are cases and examples and its not physically impossible.

218

Plume 09.10.14 at 7:55 pm

Quick example:

A broker has a chance to make 10 million in commission on a deal at current tax rates. Taxes shoot up like never before and cut that commission in half. Who in their right mind would choose zero over 5 million? And that’s an extreme case of a huge tax increase. Typically, we see very small increases if they happen at all. The more usual change would be something like 10 million being reduced to 9.5 million, give or take.

How many people are going to say no to all of the money, because their take is slightly reduced?

219

Plume 09.10.14 at 8:02 pm

Trader Joe,

But aren’t you describing, in effect, a partial return of a much larger obligation? In other words, the Treasury is actually owed X amount, and it agrees to a reduction. Some companies — and it is only some — agree to bring some money home that they were slated to pay anyway. The government is actually taking a loss. The IRS estimates that it loses well over 300 billion a year in tax collections, and most of this is from corporations and the rich, off-shoring it, hiding it, etc. etc.

In a sense it’s like saying that a thief who stole 1 million from a bank, but brings back 200K of that when granted amnesty, adds money to the bank’s bottom line.

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Trader Joe 09.10.14 at 8:22 pm

@219
You could look at it that way, but that’s not the way the government accounting runs, nor is it the way companies tend to look at their tax obligation. Its really only “losing” if its assumed repatriation is mandatory. Since its not (as tax inversion strategies amply demonstrate), it could also be viewed as compelling a company towards a decision that is advantageous to them and to the government.

To sharpen your example, the treasury is owed X – if repatriated, they collect zero, if not repatriated. At the current tax rate R, a company is obviously not repatriating. At R-something they would repatriate some amount. If they thought the “discount” was available forever via a permaent reduction in rate, they’d be in no hurry. If it was a limited window, as these things are constructed, they’d decide an amount and take advantage.

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J Thomas 09.10.14 at 8:26 pm

#202 TM

It isn’t in fact true and it struck me immediately as a typical urban legend.

“In Florida, there are no state laws that restrict where you may keep or scatter ashes.”

Thank you. I suspected this one already, I’m glad to see it settled.

An example of government favoritism of one business over another — traditionally banks could not legally bank except with a state charter, and states gave charters only to bankers they liked. However, we’ve switched to letting quasi-banks do a lot of banking functions without much regulation, and that has if anything worked even worse.

222

LFC 09.10.14 at 8:50 pm

D. Prime @215
Thanks for the info re that draft. [Martin O’Neill mentioned the forthcoming piece in the linked (by J. Quiggin in the OP) Facebook thread.]

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Bruce Wilder 09.10.14 at 8:57 pm

Roger3 @ 209

Thanks for interjecting that. Plume seems like an unlikely spokesperson for hydraulic Keynesianism, but there it is.

Whether a particular policy, including deficit-financed stimulus spending, has an effect on the general level of economic activity, resource employment, or incomes depends on many circumstantial details, the degree to which monetary policy accommodates the stimulus is only one.

Why, or in what respects, the economy seems stuck, and could benefit from stimulus spending would encompass many other details, which a stimulus policy might address. Spending on (or investment in) particular public goods could remove a bottleneck. Forced savings associated with government borrowing could change the distribution of wealth and / or the stability of the financial sector. Changing the distribution of income might be a key strategic variable.

Even if the government increased spending and taxation in tandem, seemingly withdrawing as much with additional taxes as it injected with additional spending, there are circumstances in which the so-called balanced budget multiplier would result in an expansion of economic activity.

There are a lot of moving parts. I can think of circumstances in which a policy of austerity actually might result in an expansion of economic activity. The problem is not that policy is

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Plume 09.10.14 at 9:16 pm

I’m not being a spokesperson for any kind of Keynesian policy, though I do see it as preferable to our existing neoliberal ways. As you know, I’d prefer to dump the whole capitalist thing — the baby and the bathwater. But we fight with the army we have, not the one we want, or something to that Rumsfeldian effect.

Btw, in the previous thread, the claim that corporate communication with supply chains and various networks equals proof that they don’t withhold information is obviously false. It’s both/and, not either/or. They communicate when necessary, and the amount necessary, and they withhold information that might give them competitive advantages or keep them from lawsuits and legal hot water. Anyone who has ever been in a corporate meeting, or read corporate memos, training manuals, reports, etc. etc. knows full well that there are strict “confidentiality” guidelines involved/required — directly stated or implicit. Capitalist businesses do not function transparently. Yes, they communicate on a need to know basis, but they also withhold a great deal of data.

As mentioned, this increases inefficiencies via the system itself.

225

Mdc 09.10.14 at 9:46 pm

Roger3:
I don’t see that whether or not we have a fiat monetary system has anything to do with Rawls’ theory. It’s not clear to me that either system is required or ruled out by the principles of justice. That is, he would claim that the principles of justice and their priority are the same in either economic context.

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John Quiggin 09.10.14 at 10:14 pm

@215 Thanks. Martin mentioned this on FB, but the thread died before he got to linking it. It looks as if my view, that Rawls taxation policy preferences aren’t actually those that would be implied by the difference principle, is fairly widely shared.

227

Bruce Wilder 09.10.14 at 10:15 pm

Whether the principles of justice transcend the details of any society’s institutional structure does not solve the problem of applying the principles to particular details of a particular structure.

228

William Timberman 09.10.14 at 10:54 pm

The goalposts do keep shifting, as does the players’ perception of what game it is that they’re actually playing. Rawls, with his veil of ignorance, and his difference principle, has always seemed to me to have in mind making idealism respectable again in the rubble left behind by the grim, supposedly scientific isms of recent history, principally by making it credible as a tool for mundane use. If so, I’d say that he hasn’t succeeded, although his failure, as I see it, isn’t an altogether miserable one. There’s much to be said for clarity about what it is we’re trying to achieve when we’re blathering on about a just society, not to mention clarity about why we want it, and what we’d be willing to pay to achieve it.

Still, for me Rawls’ reasoning, given the idealism of its postulates, is in the end too arid to be of much use. Once out of their pews and back in the streets, most people don’t actually seem to want want a just society, not if it’s likely to inconvenience them. Convincing them that we’d all be better off in a just society — themselves included — involves a lot of mud-wrestling, if not cudgels, and any reasoning which can’t be carried out in medias res, while under duress from morally unsavory characters, is hard to take entirely seriously.

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mdc 09.10.14 at 11:00 pm

“Convincing them that we’d all be better off in a just society”

Rawls doesn’t think that’s true.

“in the end too arid to be of much use”

As Aristotle said, the highest knowledge is the most useless.

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Thornton Hall 09.10.14 at 11:12 pm

@228 I couldn’t disagree more. I think that Rawls stands with David Hume (on induction, but also more generally) as a philosopher who got something right. That’s damn near impossible, and I think he did it.

Like Hume, the magic of Rawls is in the comprehensiveness of the new perspective he offers. So many of our debates turn into Wittgensteinian failures to use the same language precisely because we fail to notice how our views subtly favor someone in our position in the world.

The veil of ignorance is a concept that reveals over and over again how our moral principles turn out to be rationalizations of our moral particulars.

Is it “idealism” or “ideal theory” and in some sense not directly applicable to the world at hand? Yes. But while that critique should utterly destroy the careers of many an economist, it doesn’t have the same power in the realm of political philosophy. That’s because the “veil of ignorance” describes a method which can be repeated. Indeed, it can be repeated by people other than Rawls to show the flaws of Rawls own thinking about taxation.

Imagine being able to say that about, say, Eugene Fama? That he had established a methodology that was repeatable in a way that could call into question his particular claims about taxation. Indeed, it’s just the opposite. His claims about taxation are what causes his views about methodology.

That’s the worst thing you could say about an intellectual endeavor, and yet it is endemic to economics.

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orgest_anome 09.11.14 at 3:33 am

@9
higher marginal rates that depress income do serve a function; they
reduce the power of the wealthy (ie, b gates no longer dictates education policy in a nondemocratic manner)
open jobs by inducing people to leisure (u may have noticed, we need more employment…)
I don’t know much about rawls, but if he though prog income tax was bad he didn’t have

the general principal is that if someone has to much money, they become harmful; my fav story is the group of very very poor people who make a living picking rags at the main dump in mexico city; everynow and then US dogooders send a train of US rags down to be distributed; the native rag pickers starve, cause who wants mexican rags when you can get the far superior yanqui ones…

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William Timberman 09.11.14 at 4:29 am

mdc @ 229

As Aristotle said, the highest knowledge is the most useless.

True enough, I suppose, although I’d qualify my agreement by noting that characterizing knowledge in terms of high and low is, as often as not, the first step on the path toward making an utter fool of yourself. I’m not against abstraction for the sake of a certain clarity, but I do think that sometimes claims are made for it — as I think Rawls comes perilously close to doing, despite his disclaimers — which aren’t justifiable irrespective of whether or not it has any immediate application.

And no, it doesn’t seem to me either that Rawls thinks that all of us would be better off in a just society, or at least he doesn’t seem to think that the privileged among us would consider themselves better off. What obliges us go through the exercise with him is a sense of moral obligation, which is somewhat mysteriously present when we begin, but is never satisfactorily explained by what follows. Fine with me, if it works, but I’m not persuaded that Rawls’ castles aren’t built on the same sand we’ve been pitching our tents on all along.

233

LFC 09.11.14 at 4:51 am

The following passage is from a blog post by Brad Baranowski, a grad student in history at U. of Wisconsin who is writing a dissertation on Rawls; the post was published in July at the U.S. Intellectual History blog. I think it’s a pretty good one-paragraph summary of what Rawls was up to. As Baranowski notes, Rawls assumed most people have certain notions of fairness, and he saw his theory of ‘justice as fairness’ as, in large part, an effort to systematize (or generalize) those notions, draw out their implications, and provide persuasive arguments for them. Focusing too much on the ‘rational choice’ drapery of Rawls’s theory, i.e. the hypothetical decision situation of the original position, sometimes can lead people, I think, to overlook the points that Baranowski brings out here:

An instant classic in political philosophy, A Theory of Justice laid out principles that should guide a society’s basic institutions in order for it to be just. While [Rawls] spent the bulk of his career after his opus’s publication defending and elaborating on these principles, this effort was part of a larger project dedicated to showing how ethics, morals, and politics could be grounded in shared reasons—that is, justifications that “reasonable”individuals would agree to upon their discussion and reflection. Value judgments were not merely long shadows that the powerful cast over the weak to keep them in the dark. Nor were they personal preferences disguised as universal doctrines. In Rawls’s language, morals were guided by a sense of reasonableness, one that was based in shared moral senses like empathy and shame. Justice, for example, ultimately rested on a collective feeling of fairness. While based on moral psychology and not the precise postulates of logical, theological, or metaphysical systems, Rawls thought these moral senses no less objective and, thus, generalizable.

I would have a minor quibble or two w this: I think the word “collective” in “collective feeling of fairness” is perhaps misleading (“shared,” used in the previous sentence, would probably have been a better word). But mostly I think this is well said. The passage has a couple of endnotes that I’ve omitted here, one of which concerns Rawls’s interest in moral psychology. (I’ll give a link to the full post in the next box.)

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LFC 09.11.14 at 4:59 am

235

Brett Bellmore 09.11.14 at 10:40 am

“So many of our debates turn into Wittgensteinian failures to use the same language precisely because we fail to notice how our views subtly favor someone in our position in the world.

The veil of ignorance is a concept that reveals over and over again how our moral principles turn out to be rationalizations of our moral particulars.”

The veil of ignorance is a demonstration of the principle you refer to in the first quoted paragraph: It subtly biases the discussion away from any moral theory based on deserts, by urging people to consider things as though they were randomly assigned the role of muggee or mugger, hard working, responsible person, or lazy layabout.

It urges us not to consider the extent to which people create their own circumstances, by abstracting away consideration of how people got where they are, and whether you, the person doing the consideration, would have acted differently.

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J Thomas 09.11.14 at 10:44 am

#227 Bruce Wilder

Whether the principles of justice transcend the details of any society’s institutional structure does not solve the problem of applying the principles to particular details of a particular structure.

What is the purpose of applying principles of justice to particular details of a particular structure?

It appears to me that our social structures have evolved out of a mix of culture and habits. People modify their habits enough to avoid trouble for themselves, and institutions develop ways to train professionals in the habits they will need to be successful in those institutions.

An outsider (or an insider for that matter) can reason out that some of those habits are unusually good at promoting justice, or unusually unjust, but where do we go from there? If you try to push the system, the system will push back. Like the old joke goes, “In USSR, system reforms *you*”.

I think the pragmatic approach is, if a social or government structure is working adequately, try not to mess with it at all. And if it fails more than is acceptable, then dismantle it and replace it with something so different that it’s obvious the old habits do not apply.

In that context the question is not how fair it is. The question becomes how many people find it unacceptable.

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J Thomas 09.11.14 at 11:32 am

It subtly biases the discussion away from any moral theory based on deserts, by urging people to consider things as though they were randomly assigned the role of muggee or mugger, hard working, responsible person, or lazy layabout.

It doesn’t have to. People who think of human beings as passive entities that things happen to might use the ideas that way, but these ideas don’t make people think like that.

It urges us not to consider the extent to which people create their own circumstances, by abstracting away consideration of how people got where they are, and whether you, the person doing the consideration, would have acted differently.

Well, no.

Imagine you had the chance to design the sort of society you want to live in. You will try to design in rewards for people who take initiative and do the sort of things you think are good. I’m pretty sure you would not want to positively reward muggers, and while there’s a time and place for laziness I doubt you’d want big rewards for it.

So, somebody takes initiative and does good things and you reward him. Would you want those rewards to include the chance to reduce or eliminate the rewards for other people who take initiative and do good things? How much of the reward for good action should include the right to dominate other people?

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William Timberman 09.11.14 at 2:34 pm

Brett Bellmore @ 235

Yes, that’s been your reasoning in all of the arguments that you’ve involved yourself in here at CT. However subtly presented — and that’s never as subtly as you seem to think — that reasoning goes something like this:

You should get your just deserts. I, on the other hand should be allowed to keep all I can carry, no matter how I got it.

It’s an obvious argument from authority, and therefore easily discounted, especially since you never explicitly name the authority behind this judging of who deserves and who doesn’t. Like Moses come down from the mountain with the tablets, you don’t got to show us no steenking badges — the glory of the Lord shone all around you, etc., etc.

It’s nice work if you can get it. On the other hand, it makes you an employee, one who doesn’t even appear to know who he’s working for. Small wonder you have a hard time persuading anyone.

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Thornton Hall 09.11.14 at 3:30 pm

@235 Brett Bellmore, you write:

It subtly biases the discussion away from any moral theory based on deserts, by urging people to consider things as though they were randomly assigned the role of muggee or mugger, hard working, responsible person, or lazy layabout.

This is your chance to demonstrate that you are not a mediocrity. It is human and natural and thoroughly common to be unable to change your perspective. Are you common? Or can you imagine what Brett Bellmore would think looking at the world from behind the veil of ignorance? Can you engage with the exercise, even if you reach different conclusions? Why would Brett Bellmore, behind the veil of ignorance, choose a society that handed out massive “just desserts” for… well, whatever intrinsic thing it is that you think makes people deserve more?

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Plume 09.11.14 at 5:22 pm

To oversimplify:

A blue-eyed person would design a society that would privilege people with blue eyes. The Rawls thought experiment asks us to step away from our own eye color, make that completely irrelevant, and design a society that wouldn’t privilege any particular eye color.

Or vocation. Or geographical location. Or age. Gender. Race. Or political affinities. It asks for the kind of detachment T.S. Elliot talks about necessary to make great art. And more. It asks us to think in terms of how the design would impact everyone, regardless of their class, ethnicity, looks, height, skill levels, motivations, motives, etc. etc.

The PoMod critique — again, simplified — says we can’t ever do this. That we are always coming from a particular perspective, and our own personal story and everything that goes into it will always shape our thoughts and actions. The more subtle part of that being that it is our own perspective that judges the various categories we would have to escape from under the Rawlsian Veil.

For someone like Brett, he would likely view certain people as being lazy and totally lacking in motivation, if they struggled . . . whereas others might point to environmental factors, abuse, racism, lead in their system, etc. etc. They wouldn’t even be working from the same set of categories.

The idea of being able think in terms of the broadest possible moral compass is beautiful. In practice, it runs into a horrible head wind. But it’s still worth striving for — while ridding ourselves of the prejudices that can cripple it.

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Thornton Hall 09.11.14 at 5:23 pm

@Plume 162 and 168
J Thomas already alluded to this point, but let me be explicit:

You have social democratic preferences about policy, but the reasoning about what necessarily “has” to happen in response to policy shifts is the mother of all zombie economics. It seems like we can reason it out, but we can’t. The set of variables that influences the result is infinitely more complex than our brains can comprehend. The only way to figure it out is to look at the world.

Imagine we were studying another social animal, bees, and someone told you that if you move the flowers further from the hive, by definition the queen will do such and such. “By definition?” you’d say, “the definition of ‘bee?’, you’re crazy!” And yet that is exactly what comment 162 claims.

242

MPAVictoria 09.11.14 at 5:27 pm

We should all be very grateful that pretty much none of us get what we truly deserve…..

243

mattski 09.11.14 at 5:34 pm

[Utility] is a metaphor. Try to remember that.

Says the man who has trouble remembering that “free market” is a metaphor. As is the idea of “deserts.”

Yes, people are responsible for their behavior. (Or if they aren’t, it still makes sense to assume they are for practical purposes.) But people aren’t responsible for many other factors that influence their outcomes such as who their parents are, where they were raised and under what conditions and also pure random chance, for example.

I find the following a useful rule of thumb: Lefties tend to be too trusting of human nature, while Righties tend to be too suspicious of human nature. People of Brett’s persuasion seem unimpressed with the idea of offering a helping hand to their fellows. Why waste effort on a lost cause?

244

Plume 09.11.14 at 5:39 pm

Thornton,

Actually, those social democratic preferences are just a fall back position for me. I’m a Marxist, though non-doctrinaire and non-orthodox. More in line with Richard D. Wolff and David Harvey, among other. Plus, Green Marxism, egalitarian, small and local is beautiful, a hopeful return to artisanship, craftpersonship, as close a relationship as possible between producer and customer, producer and village, and we all own the means of production, together. Basically, the democratic village as locus, instead of the corporate board room.

Social Democratic policy (my fall back position) just seems like the furthest left of the possible in America right now, even though the American Dems push primarily for conservative policies, trying to hide that under the cover of social liberalism. Cuomo is a good example of that in action. Obama, IMO, has governed like this as well.

But on the subject of taxation, I just don’t see the possibility of tax cuts, themselves, bringing in increased revenues. It’s all but impossible without other variables in place and clicking. As mentioned. For instance, I could all but guarantee it that if our government cut X amount in taxes and cut the same X amount in spending, there would be zero stimulus, and we would in fact lose jobs and growth would fall. The tax cuts themselves are useless as a tool for stimulus if it also means the government “pays for” those tax cuts with reduced spending. That will always, always negate the effect, at best. Best case scenario for the economy, it would be a wash. More likely, it would cause a recession.

Tax cuts can only be stimulative if government spending remains the same at least, or goes up.

245

Trader Joe 09.11.14 at 5:44 pm

@240 Plume
Credit where due. At least as I understood it, I think your over simplification @240 was extremely helpful to my understanding about how to imagine Rawl’s veil. After some consideration I find myself on the side of the critique inasmuch as I’m not sure I have the ability to void my mind of all possible prejudices in imagining a solution to matters such as justice or freedom….but that’s a thing worth knowing too. Equally, if others think they can, I can’t say how I’d invalidate that apart from catching them in contradiction.

Credit also to LFC for many fine posts on this thread.

Thanks for the help in thinking about it.

246

Plume 09.11.14 at 5:47 pm

Mattski,

Thanks again for the video the other day. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

I find the following a useful rule of thumb: Lefties tend to be too trusting of human nature, while Righties tend to be too suspicious of human nature. People of Brett’s persuasion seem unimpressed with the idea of offering a helping hand to their fellows. Why waste effort on a lost cause?

I agree with the above, with a little caveat. Conservatives are suspicious of human nature — to a point. They seem, however, to drop their skepticism meter entirely when it comes to business owners, evangelical leaders, their own media personalities, and people they see as fighting against “scientific hoaxes” like climate change. And if that human is a member of their tribe, they all too often offer them blind allegiance.

This same dynamic applies to propertarians, especially those who worship Ron Paul. In the same sentence, you can hear them blast “Obamabots” and endlessly defend Paul against slam dunk evidence of his racism and high quackery overall.

Point taken. But I think they have their blind spots, too — as do we all, moi included.

247

Plume 09.11.14 at 5:49 pm

Sorry, again, messed up the formatting.

Mattski,

Thanks again for the video the other day. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

I find the following a useful rule of thumb: Lefties tend to be too trusting of human nature, while Righties tend to be too suspicious of human nature. People of Brett’s persuasion seem unimpressed with the idea of offering a helping hand to their fellows. Why waste effort on a lost cause?

I agree with the above, with a little caveat. Conservatives are suspicious of human nature — to a point. They seem, however, to drop their skepticism meter entirely when it comes to business owners, evangelical leaders, their own media personalities, and people they see as fighting against “scientific hoaxes” like climate change. And if that human is a member of their tribe, they all too often offer them blind allegiance.

This same dynamic applies to propertarians, especially those who worship Ron Paul. In the same sentence, you can hear them blast “Obamabots” and endlessly defend Paul against slam dunk evidence of his racism and high quackery overall.

Point taken. But I think they have their blind spots, too — as do we all, moi included.

248

J Thomas 09.11.14 at 6:28 pm

#244 Plume

I just don’t see the possibility of tax cuts, themselves, bringing in increased revenues. It’s all but impossible without other variables in place and clicking.

I’m ready to go along with Bruce Wilder on this. There are a whole lot of variables and there are probably some combinations of values for some variables that would result in a tax cut without deficit spending bringing in increased revenues. I wouldn’t expect it to happen with any consistency, but I’m not ready to say it could never happen.

I can imagine a circumstance that I think would do it. Imagine government spending as 90% of GDP. There are lots of investment opportunities to produce more, but it’s very hard to scrape up investment money because the whole population under rationing is on the edge of starvation. People who would normally invest their profits instead spend them on the black market for food.

If the government were to reduce its taxes and its consumption both, say to 80%, that might more than double the amount of investment available and tax revenues could actually go up.

When I think about how a nation could get into such strange circumstances, the obvious thought is losing a war. The government analyzes what they have to take to hold on and not surrender, and they take that much, and it’s too much. If only they could take less and defend the borders cheaper, then the economy could recover. But of course they can’t.

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Plume 09.11.14 at 6:41 pm

J Thomas,

I’d have to reread it, but I think Bruce was talking about a different scenario. Not tax cuts without deficit spending. He was saying tax increases with spending increases. Kinda the opposite.

As for your percentages. No developed nation on earth has that much GDP going to government. Not even close. The Scandinavian countries are in the 50% range, I believe, and they’ve all been moving to the right in recent times. No one is higher, outside the state capitalist systems of North Korea and China, etc.

Interesting article on the upcoming Swedish elections from Jacobin, Sweden Without Illusions.

That said, yeah. I could see a case where if we started from an extremely high percentage of GDP, with near 100% tax rates, and then dropped them and opened up the private sector . . . . yes, it might be possible. But in our present system, we kind of have the opposite deal going. Our private sector is massive and getting bigger. Our public sector is shrinking. We have one million fewer Federal employees, for instance, than we had in 1962, even though we’ve added 140 million new citizens.

Our taxes have been slashed, almost non-stop, since 1964. The variables just aren’t in place for that kind of one in a million chance.

250

Brett Bellmore 09.11.14 at 6:48 pm

“People of Brett’s persuasion seem unimpressed with the idea of offering a helping hand to their fellows. Why waste effort on a lost cause?”

People of Brett’s persuasion like to offer a helping hand to their fellows personally, rather than delegate it to large organizations to do with other people’s money, and have it be perverted into an effort to buy political loyalty on the part of the recipients.

I’ve got a poor family in the Philippines I support, to the tune of a couple hundred dollars a month. I’ve put several of their kids through vocational school, last month I bought them a well. But it didn’t buy the Democratic party any votes, so I guess it doesn’t count.

251

Plume 09.11.14 at 6:59 pm

Brett,

If you didn’t send that family the money directly, and it went through some charitable organization, then they received a certain fraction of your support, not all of it. A high number of those organizations pay executives sweet salaries in the six, even seven figure range. And, if it’s a church organization, there are theological strings attached.

OTOH, if we just enacted a 10% tax on the richest 1%, which made roughly 2.5 trillion last year, that would yield 250 billion dollars, which could go to helping tens of millions of families like the one you help — with far less overhead and no religious proselytizing involved.

252

Tyrone Slothrop 09.11.14 at 7:04 pm

MPAVictoria @242: We should all be very grateful that pretty much none of us get what we truly deserve…..

Amen. The wisest words so far written in this thread…

253

The Temporary Name 09.11.14 at 7:05 pm

A pat on the back to Brett.

254

Brett Bellmore 09.11.14 at 7:06 pm

I sent it via Xoom.com. They’re people I know from the last time I was in the Philippines.

This is one of those differences between conservatives and liberals: Conservatives, when they say, “charity”, mean voluntarily taking some of their own money, and giving it to somebody in need. Liberals mean by the same word, coercively taking some of somebody else’s money, and giving it to people in need.

Which is probably why I literally gave more money to charity last year than Joe Biden, back in 2008, when his taxes got released, despite earning much, much less. He figures he’s got it covered by taxing somebody else.

255

Brett Dunbar 09.11.14 at 7:10 pm

There are a few circumstances where cutting a tax raises revenue. The abolition of the dog licence in Great Britain in 1987 for example. The difficulty of enforcement, low compliance and the low rate of the tax (37p) meant that it was costing about seven times as much to administer as it raised in revenue. The tax had been set at 37½p in 1971, a direct conversion from 7/6 (seven shillings and sixpence). It was cut in 1984 when the ½p was abolished.

256

MPAVictoria 09.11.14 at 7:29 pm

Brett:
http://www.democracyjournal.org/32/the-voluntarism-fantasy.php?page=all

Of course you don’t want the government to handle charity. You want to be able to dispense your favors to the “deserving” few like a feudal lord.

257

Plume 09.11.14 at 7:30 pm

Brett,

I’m not a liberal. I’m waaay to the left of liberal.

That said, you’ve just written a cartoon version of how liberals look at charity.

There are no stats regarding breakdown for charitable giving according to political affiliations, so your version is just urban myth, right-wing email forward nonsense. Yes, a certain conservative (Arthur Brooks) did write a book claiming that conservatives give more, but all he had was anecdotal information, cherry-picked to make his case.

Charities don’t ask for political affiliations, and they obviously don’t keep records of something they don’t ask for. They don’t care if you’re a Dem, a Republican, A Green, a Marxist, a tea partier, etc. etc. and they don’t ask you for that info. They take your money, gladly. But that’s it.

258

LFC 09.11.14 at 9:09 pm

Trader Joe @245
Thanks for the kind words.

259

William Berry 09.11.14 at 9:12 pm

Thornton Hall @239:

“Why would Brett Bellmore, behind the veil of ignorance, choose a society that handed out massive “just desserts” for… well, whatever intrinsic thing it is that you think makes people deserve more?”

There it is. You will never get an honest answer to this question from any right-wing gibbertarian.

And without such an answer, with its prerequisite minimal degree of self-consciouness, any meaningful dialogue is literally impossible.

260

Collin Street 09.11.14 at 9:20 pm

> It is human and natural and thoroughly common to be unable to change your perspective.

No, it’s a symptom of autism.

261

The Temporary Name 09.11.14 at 9:50 pm

No, it’s a symptom of autism.

The new “retard”. Please cut it out.

262

Brett Bellmore 09.11.14 at 10:28 pm

“Why would Brett Bellmore, behind the veil of ignorance, choose a society that handed out massive “just desserts” for… well, whatever intrinsic thing it is that you think makes people deserve more?”

I want a free society. If you have a preconceived notion of how things ought to be distributed, real life is never going to match it while people are free. You’ll have to take stuff away from some people, and give it to others. And they, directing those resources you’ve given them, will again diverge from the distribution you prefer. And you’ll have to redistribute again. And again. And again.

And what is the person who gets to say where something goes? Its owner. The demand that things be distributed the way YOU want is essentially a belief that they are your’s to distribute. Its characteristic of people who, during their early development, never quite accepted that other people’s stuff was OTHER people’s stuff, and those other people were entitled to dispense it the way THEY want.

I don’t want a society that “hands out” stuff based on ANY principle, because you’ve got to take the stuff before you can hand it out. I want a society where each person gets to dictate the disposition of what is their’s, without being compelled to conform to some overarching principle of distribution.

263

Thornton Hall 09.11.14 at 10:37 pm

@262 Brett, can you explain how the following is not totally incoherent?

I want a free society. If you have a preconceived notion of how things ought to be distributed, real life is never going to match it while people are free.

Are you against “preconceived notion[s]”? Because you’ve got a whopper right there: “free society”!

Is freedom some sort of self-defining first principle?

264

Thornton Hall 09.11.14 at 10:45 pm

@244 Plume
I wasn’t trying to paint you as something you’re not. And it occurs to me that maybe the point I’m making is really a criticism of how a Marxist approach to public policy questions really just strengthens the Neoliberal assumptions that run through our public discourse.

The assumption I’m pointing at here is that there is a way to mechanically predict the economic consequences of policy shifts. You may use the process to get the Marxist result that “tax cuts cannot possibly cause economic growth” but your embrace of the a priori method of economic analysis gives the game away to Laffer and the rest of the psychopaths. The biggest and best weapon we have against the economic royalists is the empirical fact that they are wrong about how the world works. But your method takes empirical reality right out of the debate.

265

The Temporary Name 09.11.14 at 10:46 pm

I don’t want a society that “hands out” stuff based on ANY principle, because you’ve got to take the stuff before you can hand it out. I want a society where each person gets to dictate the disposition of what is their’s, without being compelled to conform to some overarching principle of distribution.

That’s simply antithetical to freedom.

266

Thornton Hall 09.11.14 at 10:51 pm

@260 I don’t think it’s autism. My father demonstrates qualities not unlike Brett. And yet he’s a good and decent man who believes his hard work is what put him in the very comfortable position he now occupies. I look at his life and I think: in 1963 he was a white man, president of his fraternity getting ready to graduate with no student debt in exchange for a few years stationed in Brooklyn with the US Navy (for which he was also paid a good wage). It was more or less impossible for him to end up anywhere except the upper middle class, especially since the genetic predisposition to substance abuse landed on his siblings and not him. The fact that he takes credit for a life that was hard to fuck up doesn’t make him autistic. It does sometimes make him annoying.

267

William Berry 09.11.14 at 10:56 pm

“That’s simply antithetical to freedom.”

Exactly.

Also, too, “theirs” does not require an apostrophe. It is already possessive.

Okay, now I am going to watch the Blu-Ray of Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Carry on.

268

J Thomas 09.11.14 at 11:24 pm

#262 BB

I want a free society. If you have a preconceived notion of how things ought to be distributed, real life is never going to match it while people are free. You’ll have to take stuff away from some people, and give it to others

That sounds good to me. But we will want to restrict freedom some, still. We don want to bring back slavery. We don’t want muggers to be free to take whatever they want from whoever they want.

Once we agree to set up rules about who can take stuff from other people, then it’s only a short step to rules about what you can take from other people when you’ve cornered the market in some necessity.

And there’s a difference between making rules about what people can take from each other, versus taking stuff from people and deciding who gets it instead. The latter is just more taking. It might be for a good cause, or some other way good taking instead of bad taking, but there’s that fundamental sameness to it that we can hope the goodness modifies. The former is something else.

269

Collin Street 09.11.14 at 11:27 pm

> It does sometimes make him annoying.

Does he have poor language skills with particular difficulty in understanding messages communicated through implication rather than outright statement?

270

mattski 09.12.14 at 12:10 am

Brett,

But it didn’t buy the Democratic party any votes, so I guess it doesn’t count.

Nonsense. Of course it counts! That’s great to hear, and congratulations on your generosity. But…

Why do you look at institutional forms of altruism as nothing more than vote-buying? Could it possibly be that democratically derived laws mandating some degree of redistribution leads to measurably better lives for everyone? Is this some violation of elementary logic?

I want a free society. If you have a preconceived notion of how things ought to be distributed, real life is never going to match it while people are free. You’ll have to take stuff away from some people, and give it to others.

So, you DON’T have a preconceived idea about how society should be organized?! Are you serious? And why do you just ignore, for example, my point about “deserts” being unattainable? Your mind is every bit as occluded with preconceived ideas as anyones. It’s just that the average liberal is more aligned than you are with ideas like these:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

271

mattski 09.12.14 at 12:16 am

@ 269

Department of Unsolicited Advice:

I used to be in the habit, in discussion threads such as these, of questioning the mental health of people whose views I found repugnant. I try not to do this nowadays because I don’t think it reflects well on the person doing it.

272

mattski 09.12.14 at 12:26 am

Plume,

Conservatives are suspicious of human nature — to a point. They seem, however, to drop their skepticism meter entirely when it comes to business owners, evangelical leaders, their own media personalities, and people they see as fighting against “scientific hoaxes” like climate change.

Well, I still think these are manifestations of a lack of faith in humanity. Conservatives see successful business owners as “winners” who stand out from the pack on account of their virtue and acumen. Therefore, they deserve their “deserts” in Brett Bellmore’s phrase. And oftentimes there is some merit to this idea, but the exceptions to this idea are also abundant. Similarly, the skepticism about science–when it threatens the status quo–has more to do with doubting the capacity of human kind to see deeply into complicated matters like evolution and climate change than anything else, ISTM.

273

Plume 09.12.14 at 3:03 am

Brett,

And what is the person who gets to say where something goes? Its owner. The demand that things be distributed the way YOU want is essentially a belief that they are your’s to distribute. Its characteristic of people who, during their early development, never quite accepted that other people’s stuff was OTHER people’s stuff, and those other people were entitled to dispense it the way THEY want.

It’s interesting that you use a kind of sandbox metaphor. Cuz when I read you, and other conservatives, I can’t help thinking of the arrested development of certain folks who never got past the “It’s mine!!!” stage. They never could understand how interconnected we all are, how no one “built that” all on their own, and that society protects your property rights through a massive web of interconnected redistribution of goods and resources. And that costs money. That takes taxes. Courts, police, EMT, disaster relief, trade agreements, currency and currency agreements, the military to keep the shipping lanes open, R and D and endless bailouts of capitalism, funding by taxpayers. The list goes on.

And, of course, school systems, virtual and physical infrastructure, etc. etc. — without which no one could run a business to get their “stuff.”

And we can go back further. How did people original come by their “property” in America? If it’s land, it was through theft, stealing from Native peoples. And for centuries many of our goods were produced by slaves, and then workers who were treated like slaves. And our food? In America food prices are ultra low due to the obscenely low wages for migrant workers and small farmers in general, along with taxpayer supports.

Your “stuff” really isn’t your stuff alone, if you add up all the different people (and generations) involved in making it, or making it possible for you to have it. It really did and does take a village. You’re not Daniel Boone. You didn’t go out and shoot ya a bar for yer dinner. We’re all connected, Brett, whether you like it or not.

But, I have a proposal for you. If I had the power to grant this to you, I would in a heart beat. I agree to wipe out all of your taxes if you agree to the following:

Stay away from any and all public goods and services. Don’t use any public infrastructure, or interface with any public official. Get off any and all public grids — and that would include the Internet, which the government really did invent.

274

Plume 09.12.14 at 3:06 am

Mattski,

All good points. Makes sense. No faith in humanity. But I do think they have faith in strongmen “leaders.” And their god. Perhaps it’s that religious thing that prevents them from having faith in humanity. Does it nag at them, at least subconsciously? Like if they believed in humanity, at least to a certain degree, they would be dissing their god somehow?

275

Collin Street 09.12.14 at 3:28 am

I see a lot of “I can’t do this, so clearly noone else can” in “doubting the capacity of human kind to see deeply into complicated matters like evolution and climate change”, tbh.

I mean, they don’t doubt the existence of digital TV and that’s vastly more complex than either.

276

Limericky Dicky 09.12.14 at 8:33 am

277

Brett Bellmore 09.12.14 at 10:17 am

I think we can see quite deeply into matters like climate change. Doesn’t mean we have, yet. If we were already “seeing deeply”, the argument wouldn’t be, “natural cycles are masking the warming”, it would be, “our models predicted this hiatus, remember?”

278

mattski 09.12.14 at 11:08 am

Brett,

Let’s cut to the chase. You’re as attached to unattainable fantasies–deserts!–as the people you come here to snark at.

QED

279

J Thomas 09.12.14 at 11:15 am

#277 BB

If we were already “seeing deeply”, the argument wouldn’t be, “natural cycles are masking the warming”, it would be, “our models predicted this hiatus, remember?”

We’ve been over that. Economics is in even worse shape. If economics was for real they would have predicted the 2008 crisis at least to the month. But the timing caught everybody by surprise. Tens of thousands of economists later said they had predicted it, but none of them got the date right.

Austrian economists had been predicting the crisis for years, but they were wrong every single time until 2008. Terrible track record.

Then they started predicting hyperinflation, but they don’t say when. They’ve been wrong on that one so far, but if we ever do get hyperinflation they’ll say they predicted it.

If there was a mainstream economics that did significantly better, the Austrian travesty would get no more respect than astrology. But mainstream economics fails so badly that lots of people don’t mind that the Austrian version fails even worse.

Maybe someday we’ll get an economics that does as well as climate science.

280

ZM 09.12.14 at 11:58 am

Brett Bellmore,

“the argument wouldn’t be, “natural cycles are masking the warming”, it would be, “our models predicted this hiatus, remember?””

Climate change science (which means knowledge, sapience meaning wisdom) is growing – knowledge quite often works like this you will find upon investigation. That is why there is the saying “standing on the shoulders of giants”. Would you really prefer they just stuck to the state of knowledge in one arbitrary period – say climate science as of 1982 – and wouldn’t budge despite new information and research and thoughts? That is not even being conservative – that is just being plain silly.

281

Brett Bellmore 09.12.14 at 12:33 pm

No, I would rather they didn’t claim they’ve planted a flag on the top of Everest when they’re still working their way up the foothills. I’m quite confident we will eventually understand climate well enough to predict the broad trends, and even provide useful warnings. (As opposed to predicting whether it will rain next week, which is a radically different proposition.)

But we’re not there yet, and noticing we’re not is actually kind of critical to making further progress.

282

ZM 09.12.14 at 1:04 pm

Except where we are with the science about climate says we are having a negative (for humans animals and plants – rocks likely don’t mind) impact on the climate through our activities which emit green house gasses. Likely the science will continue to grow – but it’s best to take notice of the knowledge we already have right now and stop damaging the climate through high ghg emissions ASAP.

Better safe than sorry. There is a plate of Blake’s illustration of the Inferno of all the souls who repent only at death – it is best to mend our ways before damaging the climate too much and stop human activities emitting ghg and drawdown past emissions through reforestation and other proven practicable methods. Not to ask for a pardon like Prospero at the end of The Tempest.

283

Barry 09.12.14 at 1:15 pm

Brett: “No, I would rather they didn’t claim they’ve planted a flag on the top of Everest when they’re still working their way up the foothills. “

Right now, they’re far, far higher up the mountain than the deniers, who said that there was no global warming, no global warming, no global warming, no global warming, no global warming, – oh, there is, but it’s ended.

284

Brett Bellmore 09.12.14 at 1:53 pm

Right now they’ve rigged the topographical maps to lower the foothills, is what’s going on. I still don’t know that there was global warming to any significant extent. Basic principles suggest there has to have been at least a little, but the data for the previous century have now been massaged to the point where who knows anymore what really happened? The 1930’s have retroactively been “cooled” to make today look unusually hot.

Remember that the next time you hear “hottest year on record”: They lowered the previous records to be able to say that.

285

L.M. Dorsey 09.12.14 at 2:00 pm

“We should all be very grateful that pretty much none of us get what we truly deserve…”
My Jansenist inner child agrees wholeheartedly. But I suspect the little creep may just be breathing a sigh of relief that so few in fact get what they deserve, that justice is so rare.

286

ZM 09.12.14 at 2:15 pm

I pondered for a moment about why your climate scientists would alter topographical maps…

The basic principles in terms of co2 (I’m unsure about other ghg ) were worked out in the 19th c – but (likely due to human greed and people being very selfish) there was not a lot of research into ghg and climate science – and more research went into coal and gas power stations and electrifying things and motor car development etc. there are gaps in the data – but this is the fault of people researching electrification and motor cars etc instead of doing proper research on the possible impacts of ghg through any potential using of fossil fuels in engines, deforestation, having too much animal farming, and using nitrous oxide emitting artificial fertilisers etc

. If they had properly researched potential impacts of inventions before researching and implementing the inventions themselves then we would have lots of data – but they did not do that.

You must agree – since you are concerned about not having as much data as you would like about ghg impact on the climate – that all inventions need very thorough research done on them over many years as to their potential impacts before they are ever considered for implementation. You would agree then we need quite a sizeable government to coordinate and achieve this :)

287

J Thomas 09.12.14 at 2:18 pm

The take-home lesson here is that these guys never ever give up. Here’s Brett in 2014, and he’s still arguing that the scientists have falsified the data. Still acting like the important thing is a single number that can be extracted from the data in a simple unambiguous way that is being done wrong, and that single number if calculated correctly would not be definitive.

If anybody is ever tempted to discuss something with Brett under the illusion that under some circumstance he might change his mind about something, remember this day.

288

Brett Bellmore 09.12.14 at 2:37 pm

“Here’s Brett in 2014, and he’s still arguing that the scientists have falsified the data. “

Yes, here’s Brett in 2014, and still noticing that they went back and lowered the temperature records for the early part of the last century. Still noticing that weather stations out in the middle of nowhere are having their readings altered to agree with stations subject to the urban heat island effect.

I have a very high opinion of science. That just makes me more pissed off when people do it wrong.

289

MPAVictoria 09.12.14 at 2:41 pm

“Yes, here’s Brett in 2014, and still noticing that they went back and lowered the temperature records for the early part of the last century. Still noticing that weather stations out in the middle of nowhere are having their readings altered to agree with stations subject to the urban heat island effect.

I have a very high opinion of science. That just makes me more pissed off when people do it wrong.”

I just love the sheer ego on you man. The best scientists in the world say we have a big problem on our hands and you, some shumck on the interwebs, think that you understand the science better than people who have studied it their whole lives. Incredible.

290

Brett Bellmore 09.12.14 at 2:42 pm

Feh, the argument from authority, in all its glory.

291

J Thomas 09.12.14 at 2:51 pm

Still noticing that weather stations out in the middle of nowhere are having their readings altered to agree with stations subject to the urban heat island effect.

Brett, how did you learn about this problem? How did you find out it was being done wrong?

Did you figure it out all by yourself, or did you hear it from somebody else? Who?

292

MPAVictoria 09.12.14 at 2:51 pm

“Feh, the argument from authority, in all its glory.”

As opposed to what? The argument from ignorance? When my car is broken I take it to a mechanic and when I am sick I go to the doctor. What do you do? Try and cure yourself using common household ingredients?

293

Thornton Hall 09.12.14 at 3:36 pm

@288, 289 BB and MPAVictoria

On one level, I want to agree with BB. 10,000 Frenchmen can be wrong. There were plenty of scientists who helped design a food pyramid that said eat as many grains as you want but stay away from eggs because they cause heart disease. The fact that there was consensus doesn’t make any difference. They were wrong.

Could it be the same with climate change?

The thing is, when you dig into the science of nutrition you find the remarkable fact that there was no evidence that dietary fat and cholesterol had anything to do with the stuff that clogs your arteries. What they had was a theory and certain evidence that suggested that the theory might be correct. In fact, the public health people actually admitted at the time that the problem was “too important” to wait for the data to come in before taking action. Here’s the invaluable Gary Taubes:

Back in the 1960s, when researchers first took seriously the idea that dietary fat caused heart disease, they acknowledged that such trials were necessary and studied the feasibility for years. Eventually the leadership at the National Institutes of Health concluded that the trials would be too expensive — perhaps a billion dollars — and might get the wrong answer anyway. They might botch the study and never know it. They certainly couldn’t afford to do two such studies, even though replication is a core principle of the scientific method. Since then, advice to restrict fat or avoid saturated fat has been based on suppositions about what would have happened had such trials been done, not on the studies themselves.

If the language about the inability to do experiments sound familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same process that led to the disaster of mainstream economic thinking. The fact that two groups of experts have both got it totally wrong is frustrating. But the fact that we can see patterns in why they got it wrong is cause for optimism.

Brett might jump on this and say, “well, we can’t do experiments with global climate change, either, therefore ‘climate science’ is likely to be wrong in the same way.” And he’d be half right. The inability to run experiments is a giant red flag that tells us to look closely for signs of hubris.

And here’s the crucial part: it’s not ego to be a non-scientist and claim the scientists are doing it wrong, if you follow the process necessary for making such judgments. But when you follow that process you find out that, contrary to the public health crowd or the economics profession, climate scientists have been extraordinarily cautious in making pronouncements. Even though the suggestion of a problem was revealed at least as early as the 70s, scientists spent decades testing their ideas for flaws before beginning to tell people that we have to change our behavior. And this testing was done in a rigorous way that started with the assumption that the climate change hypothesis was false. It’s not egotistical for a smart liberal arts graduate to claim to understand science well enough to accurately call “bullshit.”

Nonetheless, Brett is totally wrong to call “bullshit” on climate science. His comments demonstrate that he doesn’t understand what he reads well enough to identify problems if they exist. I imagine he’s old enough such that this will not change.

294

Thornton Hall 09.12.14 at 3:37 pm

295

MPAVictoria 09.12.14 at 3:43 pm

“It’s not egotistical for a smart liberal arts graduate to claim to understand science well enough to accurately call “bullshit.””

It actually kind of is. Would you try to preform open heart surgery? Or build a safe nuclear reactor?

296

MPAVictoria 09.12.14 at 3:44 pm

Everyone always thinks they can do someone else’s job.

297

Thornton Hall 09.12.14 at 4:11 pm

Good lawyers have to understand the difference between correctly done open heart surgery and incorrectly done all the time. And they do. I have no doubt that I understand DNA evidence well enough to correct a lab technician. The belief that there is some magic to what some occupations do is very successfully used as a tool of oppression.

298

Thornton Hall 09.12.14 at 4:13 pm

Doctors despise the Internet not because of the false information (there is soon, see “nutritional supplements”) but because all the true information suggests that it’s not nearly as complicated as they’d like us to believe.

299

J Thomas 09.12.14 at 4:21 pm

#295 MPAVictoria

“It’s not egotistical for a smart liberal arts graduate to claim to understand science well enough to accurately call “bullshit.””

It actually kind of is. Would you try to preform open heart surgery? Or build a safe nuclear reactor?

No, it isn’t. Scientific method isn’t some big mystery. It’s quite possible to do it so obviously wrong that almost any smart liberal arts graduate can tell it’s done wrong.

It’s also possible to have errors that are so subtle that almost every trained scientist misses them. And then it takes a lot of discussion before they can see the problem after it’s pointed out.

Scientists tend to have more faith in results that have been independently replicated in multiple ways. Like, at one point some physicists were thinking that if there was a Big Bang, it should have left behind specific sorts of physical evidence. And at the same time another group was detecting microwave radiation from all directions and wondering what could have caused it.
When they got together they felt like they vindicated each other.

If a biologist is trying to understand a biochemical pathway, and he has an idea how it works, and then he gets mutants that behave consistent with his theory, and radioactive substrates behave consistently, and the isolated enzymes fit, and somebody else gets similar results for an entirely different species, he starts to feel more confident. There could be something wrong with one line of investigation but probably not with all of them.

Understanding somebody else’s reasoning is not so much like building an nuclear reactor or performing open heart surgery yourself.

If a particular kind of open heart surgery has patients feeling much better a month afterward, after they’ve recovered from the surgery itself, but then they tend to die 3 years later far more often than similar people who didn’t get the surgery, it might not take fancy statistics to notice that. If it’s a real close thing then the statistics can tell you something. (But then, if open-heart surgery comes real close to having no effect on time of death, that says something right there.) But it can be obvious enough you don’t need that.

(Build a safe nuclear reactor? So far we have no evidence there is any such thing.)

300

Plume 09.12.14 at 4:26 pm

J Thomas,

Actually, the Austrians have been predicting hyperinflation for several decades. They didn’t just start that recently. And one of the first, Hayek, predicted that Britain’s shift to Labor policies in 1944 would lead to a Fascist takeover.

They’ve been cranks from the start, and their second and third generations have been worse than the first iteration. Closely connected to the John Birchers, too.

301

Brett Bellmore 09.12.14 at 4:32 pm

“Would you try to preform open heart surgery? Or build a safe nuclear reactor?”

Well, I might not try to perform open heart surgery, or expect to build a safe nuclear reactor by myself. But, as an engineer whose second major was human biology, it isn’t insane for me to have opinions on these subjects.

Don’t ask me to critique a work of art, though.

If you look here, you’ll see that there are some well sited stations, and some flatly awful ones, and you can’t really tell them apart without visiting them.

And if you look at a comparision of urban and rural sites, raw and adjusted, you’ll see that the adjustment dramatically increases ‘warming’ in the rural sites, while hardly touching the rate in the urban. I ask you, how much sense does it make to adjust the temperatures of sites located in rural areas, where conditions are largely static, by reference to sites in urban areas, where conditions around the sensors are subject to radical change?

It really does look like most of the warming is an artificact of the adjustments, and the adjustments keep getting bigger all the time.

302

Plume 09.12.14 at 4:40 pm

The food pyramid errors. First of all, it’s not as if they got the big scientific guns out to formulate that. Dieticians, largely. And the rigor required for that is not on the same plain as that needed for climate science. Not close. It was also all too linked to food industry hopes and dreams.

Climate science and pollution monitoring also has the major benefit of actual footage. We see the icecaps melting. Videos show us the progression. NASA shows us the changes to the Ozone and topographies. Oceanographers have footage of the corral reefs disappearing, the massive amounts of plastic and oil in our seas, the dying off of 90% of our fish stocks in less than 50 years.

One of the tricks of the denialists is to talk about errors in modeling for future events. F that. We have the present right in front of it, and the record of the past. We can see with our own two eyes the devastation of the planet, and can actually count the species and ecosystems destroyed via pollution. One of the problems with this concentration on global warming and climate change is that it gives the denialists a backdoor way of avoiding the even larger problem of pollution — pollution which causes the global warming/climate change and a hell of a lot more.

Talking about the future also makes it easier to forget all about the here and now. Right now, at this very second, millions of humans die each year due to pollution, and millions go hungry or thirsty due to the loss of habitat, fish stocks, clean water, arable land. Right now, species are dying at the fastest rate in thousands of years. Right now, farmers and vintners and coffee growers have had to spend fortunes moving their crops to higher ground. Right now, we have far more severe storms, droughts, hot and cold snaps, etc. etc. due to already existing levels of pollution. Right now. Not in the future.

Logic tells us it’s going to get worse. We don’t need computer models for that. More people, higher levels of consumption and waste, more individual and corporate pollution within a structure of grow or die. Common sense, folks. Common sense. The planet can’t handle this.

303

engels 09.12.14 at 4:48 pm

Doctors despise the Internet not because of the false information (there is soon, see “nutritional supplements”) but because all the true information suggests that it’s not nearly as complicated as they’d like us to believe.

Yes, because prior to WWW doctors learned their art from locked tomes written in Latin held in a basement in the General Medical Council fortress.

304

J Thomas 09.12.14 at 4:49 pm

#301 BB

If you look here, you’ll see that there are some well sited stations, and some flatly awful ones, and you can’t really tell them apart without visiting them.

And if you look at a comparision of urban and rural sites, raw and adjusted, you’ll see that the adjustment dramatically increases ‘warming’ in the rural sites, while hardly touching the rate in the urban. I ask you, how much sense does it make to adjust the temperatures of sites located in rural areas, where conditions are largely static, by reference to sites in urban areas, where conditions around the sensors are subject to radical change?

Thank you for showing me which authorities you chose to believe. I’ll look at what they say and get back to you.

305

Brett Bellmore 09.12.14 at 4:51 pm

Well, and you’ve got me on board for burning atoms instead of coal. Justifying that doesn’t require “we’re all going to burn!” hysteria, it just requires not liking polution.

Not so much for erecting giant cuisenarts. Which apparently get a pass on chopping up birds, much as solar towers get a pass on toasting them.

306

Plume 09.12.14 at 5:22 pm

Brett @305,

Wind power kills a tiny fraction of the number of birds killed in collisions with buildings.

A basic rundown:

http://www.vawind.org/assets/nrc/nrc_wind_report_050307.pdf

Collisions with buildings kill 97 to 976 million birds annually; collisions with high-tension lines kill at least 130 million birds, perhaps more than one billion; collisions with communications towers kill between 4 and 5 million based on “conservative estimates,” but could be as high as 50 million; cars may kill 80 million birds per year; and collisions with wind turbines killed an estimated at 20,000 to 37,000 birds per year in 2003, with all but 9,200 of those deaths occurring in California. Toxic chemicals, including pesticides, kill more than 72 million birds each year, while domestic cats are estimated to kill hundreds of millions of songbirds and other species each year. Erickson et al. (2005) estimate that total cumulative bird mortality in the United States “may easily approach 1 billion birds per year.”

Clearly, bird deaths caused by wind turbines are a minute fraction of the total anthropogenic bird deaths–less than 0.003% in 2003 based on the estimates of Erickson et al. (2005). [National Research Council, May 2007]

307

MPAVictoria 09.12.14 at 5:27 pm

“Good lawyers have to understand the difference between correctly done open heart surgery and incorrectly done all the time. And they do”

On the advice of their own expert witnesses yes. Specialization is important. And forgive me if I take the advice of people who spent their lives studying the topic of a right wing crank.

308

Plume 09.12.14 at 5:31 pm

Another source says it’s roughly 2.19 bird deaths per turbine per year. And rates have gone down as the technology, size and placement have evolved.

http://www.treehugger.com/renewable-energy/common-eco-myth-wind-turbines-kill-birds.html

309

Plume 09.12.14 at 5:37 pm

MPAV,

Very true. And the bitter end-timers baffle me for another reason. They’re only cutting their own throats. We have one planet. That’s it. We all live here. And it’s a bit like Pascal’s wager.

If we listen to the climate scientists and take steps to reduce pollution, but it turns out they were wrong, what is the worst case scenario? We have a cleaner, safer, healthier planet and everyone’s health is improved.

If they’re right, we get that plus extended time on this planet.

If we listen to the climate denialists and do nothing, and it turns out they’re wrong? Most of the life on this planet ends — much sooner than it should. If we listen to the climate denialists and do nothing, and they’re right? We still have a degraded, increasingly unhealthy environment, with species dying at alarming rates, eco-systems collapsing and dying, etc. etc.

In short, there is no “upside” to the denialist position. And there is nothing but upside with the environmentalist position.

310

MPAVictoria 09.12.14 at 5:45 pm

“In short, there is no “upside” to the denialist position. And there is nothing but upside with the environmentalist position.”

Exactly! Whats the downside to burning less fossil fuels besides smaller profits for a few rich corporations?

311

Plume 09.12.14 at 5:51 pm

MPAV,

And there is even an upside to those lower profits. Less concentration of wealth and power. Reduced reasons for going to war again and again and again over oil. Hundreds of thousands of lives saved, at least. Millions of people who won’t be in exile, etc..

And those profits are going to end, anyway, whether we do something or not. The oil itself will run out. It’s even better for those companies that they’re forced to move in other directions, diversify.

Even if folks are acting in aggressive self-interest, there is no logic in the conservative position.

312

Bruce Wilder 09.12.14 at 5:56 pm

engels @ 303 Yes, because prior to WWW doctors learned their art from locked tomes written in Latin held in a basement in the General Medical Council fortress.

For many centuries, medical practice was organized around the theory of humours. I can remember my father being treated for a stomach ulcer, and being prescribed a “bland” diet, where the classification of what foods he should eat or not eat had more to do with the legacy of humorism than any investigation or genuine understanding. The discovery that many chronic stomach ulcers were the consequence of a bacterial infection is relatively recent, and coming after a wave of pharmaceutical investments in treatments for stomach ulcers that focused on moderating stomach acids, was resisted.

313

TM 09.12.14 at 5:58 pm

mattski 272: “Similarly, the skepticism about science–when it threatens the status quo–has more to do with doubting the capacity of human kind to see deeply into complicated matters like evolution and climate change than anything else, ISTM.”

That is completely wrong. If right-wingers had these deep-seated doubts about the capacity of the human mind, those doubts wouldn’t surface precisely when the status quo is threatened. Raise your hand if you remember actually having witnessed a right-winger express genuine epistemological humility. Humility about, say, the validity of the Laffer curve (but maybe the economy isn’t all that complicated – the invisible hand provides just deserts, end of story).

Although the more refined climate skeptics try to capitalize on that complexity issue (which honest scientists take seriously but they do not), the mass of sheep don’t care the least bit about it. They don’t think climate science or evolution are complicated at all – they are convinced (genuinely) that they understand them better than the experts.

314

science_nerdist 09.12.14 at 6:02 pm

urban heat island at 301
but
http://www.skepticalscience.com/urban-heat-island-effect.htm
and
http://grist.org/article/warming-is-due-to-the-urban-heat-island-effect/

“Answer: Urban Heat Island Effect has been examined quite thoroughly (PDF) and found to have a negligible effect on temperature trends. Real Climate has a detailed discussion of this here. What’s more, NASA GISS takes explicit steps in their analysis to remove any such spurious signal by normalizing urban station data trends to the surrounding rural stations. It is a real phenomenon, but it is one climate scientists are well aware of and have taken any required steps to remove its influence from the raw data.”

your position is inherently insane:
you are saying about a relatively simple technical measurement, known for years, that a whole group of scientists and engineers and comp sci jocks havn’t done basic sanity checks ????????????????????????????
it is not like acid causes ulcers vs helicobacter at all: that wasn’t known, wherase this is known (and, you may know, the science establ quickly bowed to reason and adopted pylori….)

315

Plume 09.12.14 at 6:09 pm

What is all of this nonsense about “just deserts”? Why would anyone receive a desert for their efforts? I mean, who really wants to live in the desert? Other than prairie dogs, Peter O’Toole and assorted cacti?

Signed, Emily Litella.

316

J Thomas 09.12.14 at 6:19 pm

Whats the downside to burning less fossil fuels besides smaller profits for a few rich corporations?

Wait, there are some risks.

A long time ago we started building nuclear power plants. They looked like the future. But then there were giant cost overruns while building the plants. And they turned out to be expensive to operate. The electric companies that did it had to pass the costs on to their users, and that increased the cost of living in whole big areas of the USA which contributed to businesses moving out of those areas. Some of the nuclear plants got shut down, while others continued despite the high costs because they would have the cost of decommissioning the plants while producing nothing.

The nuclear power industry got stopped cold and they had to wait for a whole generation of power-company executives to retire before they could try again with new people who didn’t know better.

Look at what happened to gasohol. We wound up using a lot of land and fertilizer and even a lot of oil to grow corn and ferment it into alcohol that wound up having a very very low EROEI. Maybe negative EROEI. It was a giant mistake.

If we invest too heavily in alternate energy before it works, the way we did with nuclear power and gasohol, we would be making another giant mistake. I think we’ve been very deliberate about that and it isn’t going to happen. But it’s a reasonable concern. Anybody who knows about the history of nuclear power in the USA will be cautious about making that kind of mistake again. If we did it wrong, we would waste a whole lot of resources including a lot of oil and coal, and get nothing worth having from doing it. We would have to do it all over again later after we got it right, and it will cause more suffering the second time around, when we will have that much less to work with.

317

MPAVictoria 09.12.14 at 6:22 pm

“If we invest too heavily in alternate energy before it works, the way we did with nuclear power and gasohol, we would be making another giant mistake. I think we’ve been very deliberate about that and it isn’t going to happen. But it’s a reasonable concern”

This is a ridiculous argument. We are no where close to “over” investing in renewable energy.

318

Brett Bellmore 09.12.14 at 6:37 pm

“The discovery that many chronic stomach ulcers were the consequence of a bacterial infection is relatively recent, and coming after a wave of pharmaceutical investments in treatments for stomach ulcers that focused on moderating stomach acids, was resisted.”

Note that we may be in the middle of a similar revolution with regards to arteriosclerosis; Stop blaming bacon, and start blaming bacteria.

319

Bruce Wilder 09.12.14 at 6:45 pm

Arguments from authority and arguments from esoteric obscurity, for and against whatever the issue, are inevitably part of politics. We cannot escape them.

It isn’t just about science, per se. Many people — perhaps most people on many subjects — are fools. They have bad judgment and bad taste, are badly educated and ignorant and reactionary and resentful. Sometimes, they may have some sense of their own limits, but there’s no guarantee — sometimes people know so little about a subject, that they vastly overestimate their own capabilities.

Rawls’ “veil of ignorance” — his technique of imagination for overcoming the fixation of selfishness on concrete details of personal circumstance in order to reveal a common moral intuition — doesn’t overcome actual ignorance or lack of imagination, let alone bad taste, or the powerful evil instinct apparently inherent in humans, which leads them to tendentious denialism. Nor does it overcome the tribalisms and fashions that sweep thru groups of people.

We are not all going to agree about anything — a variety of points of view, incorporating self-interest inevitably — will persist through any political agreement on policy. At best, we are going to arrive at agreements about doing things.

The finer particulars of the case for expecting a rise in temperatures over the next decade or two need not detain us. Increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere and in the oceans is not disputed. Even if temperatures were to rise modestly, increasing acidity of the oceans will become a serious problem.

Peak oil is a serious problem, quite independently of the climate and ecological effects. And, peak oil is only one of several fairly serious resource limits looming on the horizon.

The assimilative capacity of the earth’s environment is being tested by the sheer scale of economic production and population. Whatever energy sources we use, the scale of our energy use, and the scale of production, has consequences. Solar, wind, hydro, nuclear — they all have consequences.

Some of the resistance is simply temperamental resistance to alarmism or the enthusiasms of those committed to particular counter-cultures: competing tribalisms and fashions.

But, this is not a problem of separating a single signal from noise, or interpretations differing with the cultural milieu. There are a lot of signals from differing phenomena — climate change, ocean ecology collapse, peak oil, environmental degradation, etc — and they are singing a friggin’ chorus, crescendo.

320

Thornton Hall 09.12.14 at 6:55 pm

@302 My potted history of the university was all wrong in a different thread. Your potted history of nutrition science is totally false. Scientists led the charge, one in particular from the University of Minnesota (what is it with that place?) and then a whole cadre of folks at Harvard who kept interpreting the famous Harvard Nurses Study as if it generated “results” as opposed to hypothesies.

321

Thornton Hall 09.12.14 at 7:04 pm

@302
Plume wrote:

It was also all too linked to food industry hopes and dreams.

This argument from anti-authority is exactly the same sort of terrible reasoning that Brett uses to argue against climate science. Not surprisingly, it is obviously false. “The food industry” includes a very large number of cattle ranchers and egg producers who all have paid lobbyists. They lost the fight in Congress (Senator McGovern was a well-meaning cause of horrible unforeseen consequences, again) and with the FDA. Truth was on their side and they lost.

322

J Thomas 09.12.14 at 7:05 pm

#316

We are no where close to “over” investing in renewable energy.

Agreed. We aren’t. But it’s a reasonable concern that we might. We want to be reasonably sure that we actually have stuff that will work on a large scale before we invest in them on a large scale.

323

J Thomas 09.12.14 at 7:10 pm

This argument from anti-authority is exactly the same sort of terrible reasoning that Brett uses to argue against climate science. Not surprisingly, it is obviously false. “The food industry” includes a very large number of cattle ranchers and egg producers who all have paid lobbyists.

Yes. Tame authorities on both sides, supporting the lobbyists for opposing groups who have money and influence. One side wins more or less at random, or the one with the most clout.

I ran into that about butter versus margarine. British scientists published a balanced piece that found people who ate more butter got more heart attacks, while people who ate more margarine got more cancer. I had a friend who wanted to argue that butter was better because she’d rather die of a heart attack than cancer, but my conclusion was to eat less of both….

324

Plume 09.12.14 at 7:12 pm

Thornton,

It wasn’t an attempt at “history.” I went from what I read about the overall lack of rigor in the old standards. Will try to find the relevant sources regarding that.

. . . .

Some of the resistance is simply temperamental resistance to alarmism or the enthusiasms of those committed to particular counter-cultures: competing tribalisms and fashions.

The alarmism, of course, works both ways. Conservatives try to paint this picture of economic Armageddon if we do our best to reduce pollution. Theirs is a decidedly alarmist reaction to change which would likely improve our economy, not hurt it. They do this, of course, when it comes to pretty much any attempt to improve quality of life from the bottom up, as Corey Robin showed in his Reactionary Mind. Minimum wages will wreck the economy!! Ending child labor will wreck the economy!! Raising the minimum wage (or taxes on the rich) will wreck the economy!! Obamacare will destroy western civilization as we know it!! etc. etc.

The track record for right wing freakouts is not very good. In fact, I can’t think of a single example where they got things right after all was said and done. If it is “alarmist” to call for immediate reductions in pollution — and it’s not — I’ll take the left’s version 8 days a week.

325

Thornton Hall 09.12.14 at 7:14 pm

@Bruce 312
Ulcers, like nutrition, is a fantastic lesson in how scientists get things wrong. I wonder if there is any connection with both doctors and economists getting questions from the press where they are put into the position of public intellectuals? Climate science and biology are two fields that haven’t witnessed the same sorts of errors, maybe because they never got calls from the Washington Post looking for something to provide “balance” for the facts?

326

The Temporary Name 09.12.14 at 7:19 pm

Ulcers, like nutrition, is a fantastic lesson in how scientists get things wrong.

It’s more like a lesson in how people don’t do science until pressed. An assumption sticks until the science makes it untenable.

327

Plume 09.12.14 at 7:20 pm

J Thomas,

This confuses me a bit:

Agreed. We aren’t. But it’s a reasonable concern that we might. We want to be reasonably sure that we actually have stuff that will work on a large scale before we invest in them on a large scale.

Every day, someone brings some useless piece of crap to market, and countless companies go belly up. That’s the nature of capitalism and the “free market.” Shoot first, ask questions later at the autopsy. Why is it that Green innovations are supposed to be held to a much higher standard/level of “can’t miss” than 99.9% of the rest of capitalist production? Why do we constantly hear that we need “more study” when it comes to Green, Eco-Friendly products and services?

328

Thornton Hall 09.12.14 at 7:20 pm

@303 engles

It takes a special kind of person to claim the following is false:
The Internet has made specialized knowledge much more accessible to the general public.

329

Brett Bellmore 09.12.14 at 7:24 pm

“Even if temperatures were to rise modestly, increasing acidity of the oceans will become a serious problem.

Peak oil is a serious problem, quite independently of the climate and ecological effects. And, peak oil is only one of several fairly serious resource limits looming on the horizon.”

See, we can actually agree about some things. I kind of like coral. Coal is an environmental abomination. Fossil fuels are eventually going to run out. There are excellent reasons to get away from burning carbon, even aside from climate.

I think you’ve just gotten so fixated on climate as an excuse not to burn coal, that you think anyone who finds your climate arguments to be overblown must be a coal booster, who objects to abandoning it. Not me. I just don’t think windmills and solar panels are any substitute for reliable, high EROI baseline power.

330

Plume 09.12.14 at 7:38 pm

Brett,

As of 2012, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Denmark were at the 10% to 30% level for energy generated by just wind and solar. It’s doable. Right now. And this is in the face of very stiff resistance from the respective oxes being gored in the process. Without that resistance, we could easily take that to another level of implementation.

331

MPAVictoria 09.12.14 at 7:39 pm

“But it’s a reasonable concern that we might.”

No. No it isn’t and it is absurd to say so.

332

Brett Bellmore 09.12.14 at 7:56 pm

“No. No it isn’t and it is absurd to say so.”

Really? Did we, or did we not, get saddled with an ethanol mandate that has driven up fuel AND food costs, while doing nothing for the environment? With an EROI so low it’s just carbon laundering?

333

Rob in CT 09.12.14 at 8:01 pm

Actually, people have pointed out that burning coal is godawful for us even absent global warming, and that hasn’t gotten us very far either. I *always* make that argument. The response is the same: it’ll cost too much to get off coal, I hate the free market, blah blah blah.

I’m not a climate scientist, though I have a moderate degree of trust in the consensus right now. What I *am* is an insurance guy who works on pollution claims, and sees the aftereffects of pollution every day. I always make the pollution argument. It isn’t very effective.

I just don’t think windmills and solar panels are any substitute for reliable, high EROI baseline power.

At least at this point, no, they’re not. For that we either need nuclear (which has serious problems of its own, unfortunately), natural gas (which is better than coal but still bad if you are worried about carbon emissions, and I am), or a breakthrough that makes wind/solar more viable for baseload power. Or something else unforeseen, of course. Natural gas has been going like gangbusters, so yay I guess. Better than more coal. But if the climate scientists are right, it’s not nearly good enough. I’m generally pretty techno-optimistic, but things don’t look good to me.

334

Rob in CT 09.12.14 at 8:03 pm

Gotta agree with those who point out it is indeed possible to mis-allocate resources in response to a problem.

If corn ethanol doesn’t work for you, you could go further afield and have a gander at the War on Terror…

335

MPAVictoria 09.12.14 at 8:05 pm

“Gotta agree with those who point out it is indeed possible to mis-allocate resources in response to a problem.

If corn ethanol doesn’t work for you, you could go further afield and have a gander at the War on Terror…”

Sure but it is absurd to worry that we are in any danger at all of over allocating resources to solar and wind energy.

336

Plume 09.12.14 at 8:08 pm

Rob,

Natural gas has other repercussions, and they’re very dangerous. Fracking pollutes water sources, and, if done near fault lines, increases the chances of earthquakes. Some scientists are now saying, point blank, fracking can actually cause them.

Thanks largely to our trade secrets laws, and the impotence of the EPA, we don’t even know what chemicals are being used in fracking, and it’s currently illegal to find out. I put zero trust in natural gas companies to do the right thing in that regard. I have no doubt that they’re poisoning the areas they frack.

It won’t be long before the next real crisis is water, not oil. And to get to the oil, we’re destroying drinkable water. Wind and solar don’t. And they don’t cause earthquakes. Natural gas isn’t the answer, either.

337

Bruce Wilder 09.12.14 at 8:11 pm

Brett Bellmore @ 332

Oddly, the proponents of corn ethanol as a renewable do not seem to suffer under the denialist libel, though the science weighs heavily against the practice.

Plume @ 330

Yeah, and Germany mining lignite! It’s hard to be very optimistic.

338

Plume 09.12.14 at 8:22 pm

Sounds very inefficient.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lignite

Germany gets roughly 25% of its energy from that. Not good. There is no such thing as “clean coal,” but lignite sounds like it’s among the dirtiest, and the least efficient.

Overall, oil, coal, fossil fuels in general, are highly susceptible to massive waste, leakage, loss and disasters, etc. The arguments on their behalf often center on their supposedly higher levels of efficiency and bang for the buck, but those involve rose-colored glasses and then some. They’ve never been efficient, and have always involved danger in transport, maintenance, leakage from infrastructure, etc. etc.

Wind and solar just don’t have the same negative issues.

339

engels 09.12.14 at 8:26 pm

The Internet has made specialized knowledge much more accessible to the general public.

Just out of interest, which medical journals are you reading on a regular basis, Thornton?

340

The Temporary Name 09.12.14 at 8:27 pm

But…

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/10/lusatia-lignite-mining-germany-lake-district

I get the impression that lignite was a GDR mainstay and is falling off.

341

MPAVictoria 09.12.14 at 8:31 pm

“Just out of interest, which medical journals are you reading on a regular basis, Thornton?”

+1!

342

john c. halasz 09.12.14 at 8:41 pm

@338:

“They’ve never been efficient, and have always involved danger in transport, maintenance, leakage from infrastructure, etc. etc. “

Oh, come on. 60-70 years ago, the EREOI for conventional petroleum was 100 to 1; Nowadays it’s between 15 and 20 to 1 and declining steadily. Coal is still plentiful, though declining in quality, and still has an EROEI of 40 to one, which is part of the problem. What is true is that thermal methods of electricity generation aren’t very efficient and should be adjusted downward accordingly for comparisons on that front. And that ICEs are only around 1/3 as efficient as electrical engines.

343

Plume 09.12.14 at 8:48 pm

@342,

Oh, come on, yourself. We lose massive amounts of energy through transport and pipelines, ships, trucks, railroad and rig disasters. Massive amounts of leakage occurs on a daily basis, even once the oil/gas/coal is in place and herded toward the consumer in the form of final energy. And you have to factor in pollution along with all of that. Your EREOI numbers don’t. They don’t deal with externals.

344

Bruce Wilder 09.12.14 at 8:50 pm

Thornton Hall @ 325

I don’t know much about the science of nutrition. I actually looked into the science behind the recommendation to restrict dietary cholesterol back in the 1970s, when I was still in college. I didn’t think that what was known then about metabolism and the body’s regulatory mechanisms, which controlled the production of cholesterol and use of cholesterol in structures, supported an intuition in favor of a hypothesis that dietary intake would be a factor in sclerosis. I can’t reproduce the reasoning now — the half-life of that kind of thing has passed several times since. But, the memory serves me, at least, as a warning that there’s sometimes a big gap between the science and the policy recommendation, and in between there can be several stages of distillation, as the complex understandings of a specialist are refined into the theory and intuitions of a generalist.

In economics, one of the serious problems is that there’s a barricade across the gap between the specialist doing serious research and the expert generalist responsible for the managing of a broad understanding, the kind of broad understanding necessary to doing policy or teaching undergraduates.

In economics, the generalists stick with a broad framework, which is in the intro textbooks, and which is imbued thickly with ideology, and which, because of the aforementioned barricade, must be taught in a doctrinaire fashion. That framework — the vision of self-regulating competitive market economy — supplies an intuition, which is applied in policy economics to make recommendations and identify virtues and vice, in narrative analyses.

Criticism of economics is easy, because the vision of a competitive market economy is a crock, in several fundamental ways — a pack of lies and ignorance. It is wrong, even on its own logical deductivist terms. But, economics within this frame is also easy, and an economics that accepted the critiques wouldn’t be so easy. A hard economics might not yield simple policy recommendations so readily, nor produce assured judgments about who is being naughty and nice.

345

TM 09.12.14 at 9:01 pm

“Did we, or did we not, get saddled with an ethanol mandate that has driven up fuel AND food costs, while doing nothing for the environment?”

The main justification given for why we need to keep the mandate, despite massive criticism *by environmentalists and scientists*, is actually that it allegedly reduces gas prices.

346

Plume 09.12.14 at 9:15 pm

TM,

Tis true. Environmentalists were against ethanol, and noted before hand that it would likely increase food prices for poor people. The left pushed that fact aggressively. It wasn’t for the mandate.

Revisionist history says it was all a “progressive” plot, etc. etc. More likely, a corn crop ownership plot. And in America, corn crop owners seem to have immense power. It is — generally in the form of syrup — in everything!

347

Brett Bellmore 09.12.14 at 9:27 pm

“Criticism of economics is easy, because the vision of a competitive market economy is a crock, in several fundamental ways —”

But, to keep this in perspective, the vision of a benign government regulating for the benefit of the people as a whole is a crock, too.

348

Bruce Wilder 09.12.14 at 9:36 pm

not so much a crock as a strawman.

349

The Temporary Name 09.12.14 at 9:37 pm

But, to keep this in perspective, the vision of a benign government regulating for the benefit of the people as a whole is a crock, too.

The vision of perfection is a crock. The vision of benefit is obviously true.

350

Plume 09.12.14 at 9:44 pm

Brett @347,

But, to keep this in perspective, the vision of a benign government regulating for the benefit of the people as a whole is a crock, too.

Thing is, conservatives actually do tout the wonders of the “free market,” whereas you’d be hardpressed to find a lefty who claim the government is benign full stop. Ironically, it’s conservatives again who do that, when they give their cartoon version of what the left supposedly — but doesn’t — believe.

The left, in general, has a huge advantage in this kind of back and forth discussion. We can go to the video tape, transcripts, pull up the relevant articles of conservatives actually saying what we claim they say. The right pretty much never can do the same from their perch. They make claims without support, based upon their fever swamp vision of the left, not reality.

To make it even more ironic, conservatives are, traditionally, the supporters of Church and State. Big Government plus Big Religion. The left has been, traditionally, anti-state, because it’s seen the state as the protector of privilege, wealth and power for the few. It wasn’t that long ago that “libertarian” meant left-wing, not right wing, and outside of America, it still means mostly that. Chomsky’s libertarian socialism is an example of the much longer tradition of left-libertarian thought, for example . . . .

351

TM 09.12.14 at 10:17 pm

BB, next you’ll remind us how the left invented the theory of the Invisible Hand of Government. But please don’t forget to provide the quotes from all the leftist thinkers (from Marx to Chomsky to whoever) making the case that the government should always be trusted.

352

Thornton Hall 09.12.14 at 10:43 pm

@Bruce Wilder 344
Thanks. It’s interesting how the pedagogical requirements end up impacting the policy recommendations. By the by, my hypothesis that PK is undergoing a paradigm shift in his head is looking pretty bad today as he says some fairly ridiculous stuff in response to Lars Syll on the awesomeness of IS/LM.

353

Thornton Hall 09.12.14 at 10:47 pm

@344 The role of dietary fat and cholesterol was a very viable hypothesis, but, in my reading of the history, it never made it past that point. To the extent that anyone gets nutrition advice from my blog comments, they should know that oxygenated fat in the diet does look like a serious problem. Those include trans fats and more ordinary oils if they are used at very high temperatures (e.g., deep frying).

354

Thornton Hall 09.12.14 at 10:54 pm

@339 Why? Is there a recent article that contradicts what I’m saying?

355

J Thomas 09.12.14 at 11:42 pm

#327 Plume

Every day, someone brings some useless piece of crap to market, and countless companies go belly up. That’s the nature of capitalism and the “free market.” Shoot first, ask questions later at the autopsy. Why is it that Green innovations are supposed to be held to a much higher standard/level of “can’t miss” than 99.9% of the rest of capitalist production? Why do we constantly hear that we need “more study” when it comes to Green, Eco-Friendly products and services?

Lots of green innovations are working just fine on a small scale. We can ramp them up gradually. If something stops working then we can figure out how to fix it and then ramp up some more.

Can we ramp up production as fast as we need to, so we’ll have adequate energy when we need to phase out fossil fuels? I dunno. I hope so.

Compare to nuclear. Nuclear power plants need to be big. A bigger volume needs shielding over a bigger area, cube to square. If you need to protect nearby people, that’s in a circle around it — cube to linear. Security is hardly any easier for a small plant than a big one. If you try to make a small nuclear power plant the diseconomies of small scale will eat you alive. Nuclear power plants have to be big except on Navy ships where cost doesn’t matter.

So if we need enough nuclear not only to replace all our electricity but also our other fossil fuel use, that’s around 20 times the nuclear we have now. It takes a long time to design and build big nuclear power plants, so we have to start right away. We don’t have time for a lot of testing to see if the mistakes have been patched up. We have to hope they work right. If we find out about design flaws after they’re already running, we can’t just shut them down — instead we’ll have to fix them while they’re hot.

If they have the same accident rate current nuclear plants do, we’ll get a big accident every year or two. If they’re twice as good, every two to four years.

Other alternate energy does not need so much advanced planning, and it isn’t so dangerous. It’s potentially much cheaper — and we need it to be cheap. For nuclear we have to decide whether to buy the pig in the poke. It’s so slow to build that if we choose to depend on it we have to trust it without the testing we need. But solar, for example, is far safer and more modular. We can do it without a crash program that’s likely to fail.

So I think we ought to do it without the wasteful crash program.

356

ZM 09.12.14 at 11:48 pm

Re: nutritionism

Georgy Scrinis has written a book and articles on nutritional reductionism eg. http://gyorgyscrinis.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/GS-Ideology-of-Nutritionism-Gastronomica.pdf

Eating so many animal products as Thornton Hall always recommends is not only cruel to animals (taking baby animals away , killing animals, hormones etc) but is very bad for the environment and poor people – releasing methane casing climate change, using up lots of lands, decreasing soil quality by having too many hooves on the land because no body wanders place to place with a crook and a flock of sheep anymore, and taking grains for animals only raised for food that could go to poor people or the land used to grow grains for animals could grow pleasant fruit and vegetables for poor people.

Gary Taubes is not a doctor or medical researcher at all – he studied physics but did not pursue it instead studying journalism then going into writing articles and books

“although calling Gary “critical” is like calling Donald Trump “self-confident.” No journalist whacks scientists with more gusto than Gary, whom I’ve known for 15 years. Gary, who earned his degree in physics and was briefly—and tellingly—an amateur boxer, began his career thumping physicists. … Gary’s career really took off when he switched his focus from physics to a topic that the masses actually care about: diet. In a lengthy article published in 1998 in Science (for which he has long been a correspondent) Gary raised doubts about the claim that low-salt diets are healthy.

So, when Gary divides diets into two basic categories—the Atkins diet, which is good, and all other diets, which are bad—he’s oversimplifying and distorting reality.

Reviewing Why We Get Fat in The New York Times, Abigail Zuger, a physician, notes that “in virtually all head-to-head comparisons of various diet plans, the average long-term results have invariably been quite similar—mediocre all around.” Given the “remarkable diversity of the human organism,” she adds, “it is foolish to expect a single diet to serve all comers.””
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2011/05/16/thin-body-of-evidence-why-i-have-doubts-about-gary-taubess-why-we-get-fat/

357

john c. halasz 09.12.14 at 11:53 pm

@343:

Accuracy, veracity, does really count. There is a most meaningful difference between mere opinionating and informed judgment. Somehow, I don’t think you’ve grasped that distinction. So, no, I don’t fail to grasp the various defaults of fossil fuels. But I do realize that there are defaults and difficulties in any human/social/technical system. And there is a “pick your poison” dimension, together with immense co-ordination and realization problems, to any effective proposal or program. So maybe quit your self-righteous complaining mode and your vagueness, and wrestle, in an informed way, with the problems involved, to the greater edification of the rest of us hoi polloi.

Otherwise, one might be tempted to conclude that you’re an idiot(as).

358

ZM 09.12.14 at 11:56 pm

Re: ethanol

This policy was made for the benefit of corn growers – they like corn to be more expensive – so they like corn syrup and ethanol, and do not like exporting their corn to poor people in poor countries to eat

Re: renewable energy and baseload

Baseload is outdated energy thinking. The up to date energy thinking is variable load and flexible load – variable is your normal load from wind and solar – flexible is your supplemental load from say bio-gas turbines. This is a simplified take from my memory – read Mark Diesendorf’s Sustainable Energy Solutions book for a detailed version.

Also – people use such an extravagant amount of energy nowdays in many countries that use can easily be cut down by conservative use instead of extravagant use, plus increased efficiencies.

359

engels 09.13.14 at 12:07 am

conservatives are, traditionally, the supporters of Church and State

Recent example:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/08/19/im-a-cop-if-you-dont-want-to-get-hurt-dont-challenge-me/

360

john c. halasz 09.13.14 at 12:14 am

@358:

Corn ethanol is a boondoggle that that benefits grain processors and other associated corporate entities, in their rent-extractions, both domestic and foreign. It has no other reason for existence than that. (Ethanol is a low intensity fuel, which often can cause damage to ICEs. But if it’s produced from agricultural waste, as with Brazilian cane ethanol, then the damage is far less). Probably the only worse instance is palm oil for bio-diesel. In either case, I’m surprised that, given, among other things, the need to feed the 700+bn people in “our” world, that the boondoggle doesn’t attract more opposition from environmentalists, as opposed to issues like fracking, which aren’t themselves merely secondary.

361

J Thomas 09.13.14 at 12:52 am

#344 Bruce Wilder

I actually looked into the science behind the recommendation to restrict dietary cholesterol back in the 1970s, when I was still in college. I didn’t think that what was known then about metabolism and the body’s regulatory mechanisms, which controlled the production of cholesterol and use of cholesterol in structures, supported an intuition in favor of a hypothesis that dietary intake would be a factor in sclerosis. I can’t reproduce the reasoning now — the half-life of that kind of thing has passed several times since.

Here’s what I remember of it. MDs looked at the plaques that partly or nearly-completely blocked off major blood vessels in heart disease, and found they had a lot of cholesterol in them. So it was only natural to think of it like the gunk that gets in engine oil. Get too much gunk in your oil and it gets deposited in the narrowest passages in the engine.

Your own body makes some cholesterol and you eat more. To my way of thinking it’s plausible that maybe your body regulates cholesterol and makes less when there’s plenty in circulation. But maybe not. If we assume not, then whatever cholesterol you eat is added to the normal amount and winds up gunking up your pipes. Then the Framingham study found that people with more cholesterol in their blood had more heart attacks.

They jumped to several conclusions, but under the circumstances it must have seemed reasonable.

362

ZM 09.13.14 at 1:32 am

We had this same science controversy about the causes and preventions of heart disease in Australia some months back now. It came to prominence because a science TV show called Catalyst on the ABC aired two episodes on the matter – the first on fats and the second on statins. It was very controversial .

This is a response by an academic on The Conversation website

“On the past two Thursdays, the ABC’s Catalyst program set off a chain reaction of protest from sections of the medical community, aghast that the non-medical media would question the accepted wisdom that dietary saturated fats kill people and statins – medication to lower cholesterol – save lives.

Professor Emily Banks, chair of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Medicines, warned the ABC to pull the second program. Yet the show went on: as befits a catalyst, it remained unaffected by the reaction it had produced. Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton claimed the programs “gave extraordinary weight to an opinion that is a minority view,” while his predecessor Professor Kerryn Phelps put her weight behind the minority view, tweeting “Time for Australian therapeutic guidelines on cholesterol and statins to be revisited.”

…so what is a non-expert to make of it?

Surprisingly, the two Catalyst programs scored almost polar opposites on the sceptometer.

The first program starts with a fellow called Dr Jonny Bowden saying: “I think it’s a huge misconception that saturated fat and cholesterol are the demons in the diet, and it is 100% wrong.” At the phrase 100%, my sceptometer already gives a twitch. Just who is this confident expert? … Jonny describes himself as the Rogue Nutritionist to promote his 14 diet books. His website contains 20 pages of online shopping…

Next up, cardiologist Dr Stephen Sinatra … [but] it doesn’t bode well that the home page of his website serves as a shop front to sell his own personalised brand of vitamin pills. …
The next expert is US diet-book author and infomercial developer Dr Michael Eades. His website suggests that your weight loss solution is Metabosol™ Ultimate Success Pack, full of Diet Aid natural ingredients….

Honestly, even at this early point, I give up. The sceptometer has blown a fuse.

For now, I’ll stick with the 2012 Cochrane Review that suggested a modest (14%) reduction in heart attacks when participants tried to lower their saturated fat intake, although no conclusion could be drawn on overall risk of death. Certainly no reason to change mainstream dietary advice.

I awaited the second Catalyst on statins, but to my pleasant surprise, the first commentator is respected academic Professor Rita Redberg, who prefers editing JAMA Internal Medicine to selling vitamin cure-alls.
..
It’s hard to quibble with…her opening gambit: “The marketing concentrates on the fact that you can lower your cholesterol as if that was the end in itself, which it is not. Cholesterol’s just a lab number. Who cares about lowering cholesterol unless it actually translates into a benefit to patients?” The crucial question, then, comes down to mortality data in randomised control trials… : “One or two people in a hundred will benefit from taking a statin….that means the other 98 will get no benefit at all.” … the science behind the claim that we overprescribe statins — the world’s most profitable drug class ever — has been steadily building for years.

Catalyst pointed out that eight out of nine of the 2004 US guideline panel members had a direct conflict of interest after declaring financial ties to the companies that manufactured statins…. According to a September 2013 BMJ report: “… widespread financial conflicts of interest among the authors and sponsors of clinical practice guidelines have turned many guidelines into marketing tools of industry. Financial conflicts are pervasive, under-reported, influential in marketing, and uncurbed over time.”

This second Catalyst episode goes on to mention publication bias, pharmaceutical sponsorship potentiating biased reporting of outcomes, withheld trial data (see the AllTrials campaign) and the distasteful phenomenon of Key Opinion Leaders. These are specialist doctors identified and sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry to educate other doctors about diseases for which there is a branded treatment.

So was Catalyst wrong to air a program which, as National Heart Foundation CEO Dr Lyn Roberts pointed out, might encourage some people to stop taking their statins without consulting their GP? No; the more likely effect is that people will start raising the issue with their GP, which is a good thing. Although I can understand the NHF’s concern after suffering through the snake-oil salesmen in the first program…”

http://theconversation.com/viewing-catalysts-cholesterol-programs-through-the-sceptometer-19817

363

Plume 09.13.14 at 1:40 am

john c. halasz @357,

Save your lectures for someone who cares. I’ve already concluded that you’re a pompous ass, and your opinion of me is less than meaningless.

As the young kids used to say, whatever.

364

mattski 09.13.14 at 1:52 am

TM @ 313

Raise your hand if you remember actually having witnessed a right-winger express genuine epistemological humility.

I didn’t claim that right-wing skepticism about human capacity was conscious. In the exceptional case it IS conscious, such as when Plato has Socrates ridicule democracy on the grounds that people are generally an unthinking herd and should defer to “the one’s who know.”

They don’t think climate science or evolution are complicated at all – they are convinced (genuinely) that they understand them better than the experts.

Do you have a cite for this, Einstein?

365

Plume 09.13.14 at 2:19 am

One of the smartest voices on the subject is George Monbiot. Interesting article from him regarding peak oil. He goes against conventional wisdom, saying it’s not happening any time soon.

And his latest from the Guardian:

This is how environmental diplomacy works. Governments gather to discuss an urgent problem and propose everything except the obvious solution – legislation. The last thing our self-hating states will contemplate is what they are empowered to do: govern. They will launch endless talks and commissions, devise elaborate market mechanisms, even offer massive subsidies to encourage better behaviour, rather than simply say “we’re stopping this”.

This is what’s happening with climate change caused by humans. The obvious solution, in fact the only real and lasting solution, is to decide that most fossil fuel reserves will be left in the ground, while alternative energy sources are rapidly developed to fill the gap. Everything else is talk. But not only will governments not contemplate this step, they won’t even discuss it. They would rather risk mortal injury than open the gate.

The same applies to biodiversity, fisheries, neonicotinoid pesticides and a host of other issues affecting the living planet: negotiators have tried to work their way under, over and through the gate, while ensuring that the barrier remains in place.

It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when they took their hands out of their pockets.

366

MPAVictoria 09.13.14 at 2:40 am

“They don’t think climate science or evolution are complicated at all – they are convinced (genuinely) that they understand them better than the experts.”

How about Brett in this very thread. Or you could just go to any right wing blog. Check our Red State.

367

john c. halasz 09.13.14 at 2:56 am

@362:

Maybe you should comment less and think and learn some more. That might clutter the comment boxes less, and allow for clearer, more informed debate.

368

MPAVictoria 09.13.14 at 3:04 am

Eh. I say keep on keeping on Plume. I find your posts invaluable and If there is space on these threads for Brett, Roy and so on there should be space for you.

369

Plume 09.13.14 at 3:16 am

@366,

Learn about EREOI? Been there, done that. I’ve read and learned plenty about so-called energy efficiency, as touted by industry without taking into account pollution and its other costs. We’re waaay beyond that point now. But if you want to throw around completely irrelevant numbers, fine by me. I’ll just ignore your posts. And rather than lash out of mine, you might want to ignore them as well. When you take the time to bash them, you’re cluttering up the comment box, not me, and I’ve yet to see any “clarity” in your posts. Just a lot of self-important windbaggery.

Fuck off.

370

john c. halasz 09.13.14 at 3:38 am

@368:

Just to leave off, what makes you think I am unaware or uninformed about pollution issues or other environmental or ecological damages or limits? On the other hand, having read enough of your palaverings on economics, it’s clear to me that you have no idea about the realization and coordination problems for investment, which are at the core of the field, including how to deal with AGW. Just because you have an iron whim, it doesn’t mean that you have provided any advancement of understanding of the issues involved. Your left-libertarian POV is little better than Brett Bellmore’s right-libertarian POV. Both involve over-riding any actual problems, conflicts and limits in the name of individualistic self-conceit.

So ditto!

371

Peter T 09.13.14 at 3:49 am

One understands the actual social distribution of wealth rather better if you understand that entitlement is linked to one’s place in a production system (or, secondarily, to one’s link to someone with a place in a production system). Production systems are, for the most part, deliberately designed to minimise differences in performance: the assembly line moves at the same speed for all, and doesn’t care whether you tighten the bolts (or assemble the hamburgers) with enthusiasm or apathy. But they are hierarchical, and so have only a certain number of slots at each level. Not everybody can be a manager. The distribution of the output of any given system is therefore political, and not given by any individual contribution (noting that “political” does not mean arbitrary. Why we tell fables to the opposite effect, and then argue over the interpretation of the fables, is a mystery to me.

372

ZM 09.13.14 at 4:05 am

I have a comment stuck in moderation for some reason on the debate on the causes and prevention of heart disease. We had this debate some months ago in Australia because the ABC aired two episodes on the science TV show Catalyst – the first on the role of fats, the second on the prescription of statins. It was very controversial.

I quoted more from this article in the comment in moderation – the whole article is worth reading

http://theconversation.com/viewing-catalysts-cholesterol-programs-through-the-sceptometer-19817

“This second Catalyst episode goes on to mention publication bias, pharmaceutical sponsorship potentiating biased reporting of outcomes, withheld trial data (see the AllTrials campaign) and the distasteful phenomenon of Key Opinion Leaders. These are specialist doctors identified and sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry to educate other doctors about diseases for which there is a branded treatment.

So was Catalyst wrong to air a program which, as National Heart Foundation CEO Dr Lyn Roberts pointed out, might encourage some people to stop taking their statins without consulting their GP?

No; the more likely effect is that people will start raising the issue with their GP, which is a good thing.

Although I can understand the NHF’s concern after suffering through the snake-oil salesmen in the first program, I think the second chapter effectively introduced an important debate — and certainly everybody is now talking about it.

So in the end, I’m glad I sat down for the sequel, despite my overheated sceptometer warning against it.

I did have to watch the dial anxiously when Jonny the Rogue Nutritionist [from episode 1] returned to plug his Coenzyme-Q10 pills. But then, I’d also watch the dial if I ever attended a GP educational session and discovered that the specialist talking was a Key Opinion Leader and his topic was statins.”

373

Plume 09.13.14 at 4:08 am

@369,

“Advancement of understanding?” Hmm. You’re waaay all too full of yourself if you think you offer that to the board. If you actually believe you’ve ever offered that to this board.

You haven’t. And people don’t generally come to bulletin boards for that, if they’re smart. They do in-depth research on their own, read good books, attend lectures, seek out experts in various fields, etc. They don’t try to get their enlightenment from anonymous posters in comment sections, especially when the medium calls for short and sweet.

We’re throwing out our opinions here, in fragments, quickly — you included. Our opinions. No minds are being changed. And you’re really deluded if you think your generally long-winded, self-important digressions are doing that.

In short, you take yourself too seriously, and the medium too, and the more often you go out of your way to give me unwanted and unsolicited advice about my posting habits, the more you “clutter up the comment section.” Got it?

374

Thornton Hall 09.13.14 at 4:12 am

@356 You complain that Gary Taubes is not a doctor or a researcher but your link is to an essay written by a social historian. Buried under the postmodern claptrap is the claim that nature is good and more than the sum of its biochemical parts.

Which is beautiful.

He adds a little: corporations are evil. But that’s well established.

You can add all the “cultural context” you want into your recipe for nutrition. It doesn’t change the role of insulin in the regulation of blood chemistry one iota.

The science will eventually become conventional wisdom. Already one new addition the the NYT Well Blog has got religion. In the meantime we can both be kind to animals.

375

ZM 09.13.14 at 4:27 am

The author of the quotes about Gary Taubes is a science journalist. I don’t see how this makes Gary Taubes a nutrition scientist?

Gyorgy Scrinis has a BSc, DipEd, BAHons, and PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science, and Social Theory. Which is more than Gary Taubes.

I did not make any sort of claim about insulin – I pointed out the environmental and social costs of animal farming for food. Please reply to my actual statements – not to some imagined claims about insulin levels you somehow manage to attribute to me :/

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Thornton Hall 09.13.14 at 4:38 am

@373 You also are quite selective in your quotation from the scientific American piece which heaps praise on Taubes and criticizes not what he wrote but his personal diet which is extreme Atkins. It also explains why Taubes is on an extreme diet: he used to be quite overweight.

I’m not saying my expert is better than yours. They are both commentators. I don’t get my science info direct from research publications and neither do you. I was pointing out the hypocrisy of your argument against Taubes as a source.

My point about the insulin is that what matters is the underlying science. If that’s upsetting…

In any case, I don’t endorse the extreme diet described in the criticism of the science writer who wrote about the science I am interested in (and do endorse).

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john c. halasz 09.13.14 at 4:40 am

@371:

Look at comment 108 here:

http://crookedtimber.org/2014/08/22/how-can-we-convince-rightwingers-to-accept-climate-science/#comments

That’s how it’s done: substantive, informative, and with relevant supporting links. Which has some hope of advancing the discussion, yes, given the limitations of the medium.

Self-righteous, emotive, empty, and non-responsive reactions won’t do.

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Plume 09.13.14 at 4:43 am

@369,

Oh, and I’ll add a little unsolicited advice of my own for you. Next time you want a fellow poster to listen to you and make the changes you suggest, don’t insult them first. It’s a deal breaker. Of course, your unwanted lectures were never written with the intention of actually altering the way I post — now were they? They were done to make you feel better about yourself, superior in your own sad little mind, because you’re insecure enough to actually need to use bulletin boards to do that. Hence the insults to start things off.

I didn’t address you prior to that and saw no need. But I will respond in kind. So, it’s up to you. You can end this back and forth right now. Or we can continue. Given your delusion that you “advance understanding” here with your amazingly original comments, one would think you’d rather end it.

Again, whatever.

379

Plume 09.13.14 at 4:48 am

@375,

Wow. You really think waaay too highly of yourself. Citing your own post as an example of the right way to do things?

Honestly. Just get over yourself. You’re a self-important windbag, not an example of someone to emulate.

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john c. halasz 09.13.14 at 5:05 am

@377:

No, it’s not about me, nor about you; it’s about what’s actually out there in the world and struggling to understand those matters. The way you respond in an entirely projective manner is the problem: that’s just conducive to “flame wars”, which produce a large volume of comments, but little common understanding and less invitation to its pursuit.

Study the chart. A lot can be gleaned from it. But it’s just a flow chart. EROEI is a stock concept.

381

Bruce Wilder 09.13.14 at 5:27 am

Peter T @ 370

Quite apart from, and perhaps in opposition to conventional economics, I imagine the common-sense intuition is that the output of goods is distributed as income as an incentive and reward for actually producing the output. Income equals production, as a matter of national accounting convention, but income pays for resources used in production, in the common-sense understanding. Wages pay for the worker’s contribution of labor to the production process. The return on capital pays for the investment in organization and capital equipments. Rent pays for the use of the business location. And so on.

The distribution of income is political. It is an exercise of political power to get the job of production done. Carrot and stick.

The distribution of wealth, where wealth is financial claims on income, adds potentially interesting complications.

382

ZM 09.13.14 at 5:30 am

Thornton Hall,

” I don’t get my science info direct from research publications and neither do you. “

It depends how lazy I am feeling , if I want to check something I log into to the journal databases. If I am just making a quick comment I just use google, unless I’m pressed to find a better source – then I log into databases.

I think my quotes were accurate – the writer knows Taubes, but thinks he’s taking the fight too far on this issue.

I never made any sort of claim whatsoever about insulin – I don’t know why you keep seeming to think I made any point about insulin here? My point was about the environmental and social costs of animal farming for food.

383

Plume 09.13.14 at 6:11 am

@378,

You could have avoided this whole thing by pointing to that chart, without the insults. If you really wanted me to read it, and your TLDNR post, you would have done that.

Again, just admit it. It wasn’t your intention in the first place to try to “advance understanding” here. If that had been your intention, you would have offered up the info in a polite, if not friendly, manner, sans the condescending lecture. You would have attempted to communicate something without arrogance, pomposity and self-importance. And if someone disagreed with your findings, you would have, perhaps, shortened the form and tried again.

Instead, you pounced and threw the first stone or two or three.

It’s rather amazing that you’re so tone deaf, you still can’t see how ineffective that posting style is, as you lecture me about mine.

G’night, all.

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Val 09.13.14 at 6:36 am

I’m interested in Plume’s ideas too, though I don’t usually read all of these very long threads.

And that stuff – this is something different from conventional wisdom so it’s ok to just mock and patronise the person saying it – that halasz and others do, it’s ridiculous. How can we possibly have change without imagining it?

This is all just – oh well the only way we could possibly change is by switching to something like nuclear that will fit into our existing systems so we can just go on living our privileged lives without really having to think about it . Just time wasting head in the sand stuff.

385

ZM 09.13.14 at 7:49 am

Thornton Hall,

In case you are very concerned about your health and insulin resistance if you decided not to eat meat, dairy, eggs etc (or it was banned or taxed so high that you could no longer afford it by a sensible sort of government) to reduce negative environmental and social impacts, I have now looked up 3 scientific studies to address your grave concerns and reassure you of the wonderful health benefits that would follow on :)

“Veganism and its relationship with insulin resistance and intramyocellular lipid” (2004)
“Objective: To test the hypothesis that dietary factors in the vegan diet lead to improved insulin sensitivity and lower intramyocellular lipid (IMCL) storage.
Results: There was no difference between the groups in sex, age, BMI, waist measurement, percentage body fat, activity levels and energy intake. Vegans had a significantly lower systolic blood pressure (-11.0 mmHg, CI -20.6 to -1.3, P=0.027) and higher dietary intake of carbohydrate (10.7%, CI 6.8–14.5, P<0.001), nonstarch polysaccharides (20.7 g, CI 15.8–25.6, P<0.001) and polyunsaturated fat (2.8%, CI 1.0–4.6, P=0.003), with a significantly lower glycaemic index (-3.7, CI -6.7 to -0.7, P=0.01). Also, vegans had lower fasting plasma triacylglycerol (-0.7 mmol/l, CI -0.9 to -0.4, P<0.001) and glucose (-0.4 mmol/l, CI -0.7 to -0.09, P=0.05) concentrations. There was no significant difference in HOMA %S but there was with HOMA %B (32.1%, CI 10.3–53.9, P=0.005), while IMCL levels were significantly lower in the soleus muscle (-9.7, CI -16.2 to -3.3, P=0.01).

Conclusion: Vegans have a food intake and a biochemical profile that will be expected to be cardioprotective, with lower IMCL accumulation and beta-cell protective."

Higher insulin sensitivity in vegans is not associated with higher mitochondrial density (2013)
"BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVES: Vegans have a lower incidence of insulin resistance (IR)-associated diseases and a higher insulin sensitivity (IS) compared with omnivores. The aim of this study was to examine whether the higher IS in vegans relates to markers of mitochondrial biogenesis and to intramyocellular lipid (IMCL) content.
Conclusions: Vegans have a higher IS, but comparable mitochondrial density and IMCL content with omnivores. This suggests that a decrease in whole-body glucose disposal may precede muscle lipid accumulation and mitochondrial dysfunction in IR development."

Vegan proteins may reduce risk of cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular disease by promoting increased glucagon activity (1999)
"No diet or regimen can be expected to be free of any drawback. The fact that a low-fat, fiber-rich vegan diet is likely to reduce risk for most types of cancer, ischemic heart disease and its complications, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, gallstones, renal stones, appendicitis, diverticulitis, hiatal hernia, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and possibly the chief meta- bolic complications of pregnancy – disorders which collectively are responsible for the majority of the deaths and hospitalizations in Western society – should be sufficient to recommend it. "
http://img2.timg.co.il/forums/1_155647027.pdf

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J Thomas 09.13.14 at 1:22 pm

#383 ZM

Conclusion: Vegans have a food intake and a biochemical profile that will be expected to be cardioprotective, with lower IMCL accumulation and beta-cell protective.”

This was not a prospective study. So it compares people who chose a vegan lifestyle and did not drop it, versus people who did not. The groups are different and those differences may be what’s responsible for the outcomes, mixed in with whatever differences come from being vegan.

Here’s an extreme example: Imagine that only people who are in great health choose to become vegan. They do OK for awhile and then find they don’t like it and they quit before it damages their health. If that was the case (I don’t say it is, it probably isn’t, this is just an extreme example of the sort of problems that can arise) then vegans would test well but it wouldn’t be because of the vegan thing at all.

If you are an MD who is screening people for cancer, heart disease, etc then you might use this data to decide not to focus on vegans. However they got to be vegans and however they got to be healthy, they probably are reasonably healthy. Practicing vegans are probably healthier than average. But it does not say that you would get healthier if you tried to be vegan.

That aside, it demonstrates that some people do very well with a vegan diet. I would not mind using it as an argument for reduced subsidies for cornfed beef. If some people need lots of beef to be healthy (while others don’t), maybe they should pay for it themselves.

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J Thomas 09.13.14 at 1:28 pm

#376 Plume

Oh, and I’ll add a little unsolicited advice of my own for you. Next time you want a fellow poster to listen to you and make the changes you suggest, don’t insult them first. It’s a deal breaker.

This is good advice for all of us. Yourself included.

How much of our posting is intended to persuade the people we argue against? How much of it is intended to confirm our identities? “I am this kind of person, you are that kind. We disagree and that makes it completely clear what kind of people we are.” An argument where both players win, because by arguing we reaffirm the boundaries between us and establish what kind of people we are. More valuable than persuading the other guy of something that — once most people agree — looks like it should have been obvious all along.

388

Brett Bellmore 09.13.14 at 1:47 pm

“Baseload is outdated energy thinking. The up to date energy thinking is variable load and flexible load – variable is your normal load from wind and solar – flexible is your supplemental load from say bio-gas turbines. This is a simplified take from my memory – read Mark Diesendorf’s Sustainable Energy Solutions book for a detailed version.”

Look, I work in a factory, as a tooling engineer. We have to schedule production runs weeks in advance, sometimes months. We need to know that our machines will run when we flip the switch. We need to run 3 shifts, so as to distribute the fixed cost of machines and building over as much production as possible.

You tell me I need to plan for the plant shutting down if the wind decides not to blow, to give up two of my three shifts? I’m telling you you’re stark raving, you have no ideal just how much you’re proposing to increase costs of essentially everything, how much you’re proposing to reduce productivity.

You want to ruin industrial society, that’s the bottom line.

389

ZM 09.13.14 at 2:00 pm

J Thomas,

There might be better studies, I did not do a thorough literature review on medical articles on veganism and insulin and health , so you could research further if you were so inclined. Thornton Hall was concerned about insulin, so i just thought I would do a brief search of literature on the subject of veganism and insulin, and health . Insulin sensitivity seems positively affected by veganism afaict with my brief search.

One article mentioned a thorough study in China – that might have more detail, and a long term view. I think studies on groups of people are always difficult to determine if your factor of interest is the key determining factor, or one among others. Corned beef should not be subsidised – it causes climate change. Subsidies could go to canelini beans or chick peas instead.

390

ZM 09.13.14 at 2:13 pm

Brett Bellmore,

Your factory can increase its flexibility to match the available energy. I do keep mentioning to John Quiggin that we might have bankruptcies and a recession , he assures us that a price on ghg emissions will get the required change in a timely manner without bankruptcies and a recession. I am quite dubious of this – I think a war-time-mobilisation-style economy would get the job done without a recession that could ruin the necessary timeliness of the transition.

So, I thought of a compromise solution – Plan A a price on ghg emissions – if this fails to meet our staged KPIs to get to zero then negative emissions in a timely fashion – we implement Plan B a war-time-mobilisation-style-economy (except without war and destruction and no CIA annoyances and very fair and enjoyable).

The only thing is , now that we have very limited time left to try Plan A, it might be best just to go to Plan B. Skipping the Plan A stage would be the fault of business owners who have steadfastly refused to support the implementation of Plan A for over 20 years now in Australia and the USA and elsewhere.

The EU already tried Plan A, it has not worked (they just offshored their production and consumed as much as before or more, and don’t count air travel emissions or their emissins on holidays abroad) so they may as well start Plan B right away and it would assist with their great problem of high Youth Unemployment at the moment.

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horsesenseinnyc 09.13.14 at 2:21 pm

I don’t know anything about Rawls, other then what I read here and on sources like wiki, but surely there is an entire literature of people who would gamble , behind the veil, and ask or choose a society where they could be world dictator (very low chance) or a slave (high chance ?)
not to mention, most people are, by inspection partly psychopathic at least some of the time ?

392

J Thomas 09.13.14 at 2:22 pm

#301 BB

First I looked at the 2010 paper you cited.

I did not understand his rationale for what he did. Apparently he took a previous study that used temperature measurements in a grid based on latitude and longitude lines, and decided to do something similar. He arbitrarily chose to use two measurements per state, and he used the actual temperature numbers from the stations he chose without any fudge factors. He chose which two stations to accept. He got results different from the original paper.

I didn’t look at the original work he was comparing to, but it seems obviously flawed. Why use measurements from roughly a square grid and throw away everything else? Why not use everything you have and do a finite-element analysis on that?

And his own work was badly flawed. Why did he compound the errors of the original and do the same thing over even worse?

He objected to adjustments on the other guys’ data. They explained their adjustments and he quoted them.
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/faq/temperature-monitoring.php

The biggest correction they made came because many human-operated stations changed the time they recorded temperature from afternoon to morning. Between 1970 and 2000 about 30% of stations switched from afternoon readings to morning readings. If you are going to compare those numbers, you have to guess what the afternoon reading would have been from the morning reading plus whatever other data you have, or you have to guess what the morning reading would have been given the afternoon reading etc.

It plain does not work to compare afternoon readings in 1950 to morning readings in 1980. You will get a wrong answer.

A second correction — they started gradually replacing readings done by humans and glass thermometers, with electronic readings that recorded high and low temperatures. The results are not directly comparable, and they had to guess at how they relate. You can argue about their guess if you read how they did it, but it makes no sense to use uncorrected data.

A denier website that the paper you cited itself sited as a source, listed a deeper explanation about the adjustments. So this explanation was available to Long.
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/ushcn/ushcn.html

They had a six-step process.

#1. They threw out individual numbers that were very, very unlikely. This was less than one data point in ten thousand. That sort of thing is likely from people dropping decimal points etc.

#2. They adjusted for time of day. You can argue with how they did that if you study the details, but they had to do it.

#3. They adjusted for MMTS in place of glass thermometers. Again if you don’t like the details of their method you can argue for a better method.

#4. They adjusted for discontinuities. It’s like this — say the data used to fit a particular pattern, and suddenly it fits the same pattern plus on offset. Probably there was some sudden change in methodology which caused the offset, and they adjust for that. This is defensible, but I think it may be better not to do it when the results will be used politically. People will argue that it caused bias instead of removed bias. Maybe better to do it both ways and see what difference it makes.

#5. They fill in missing data by interpolating from existing data. I consider this a mistake. It makes it easier to do statistics, but it biases the statistics toward greater certainty. (Though it does not bias the actual outcome. Better to go to the trouble of performing your statistics with missing data.

#6. They adjust for urban warming bias. You could argue that they adjust wrong. Long attempted a crude adjustment by choosing 50 “rural” sites and 50 “urban” sites and comparing them.

Long’s attempt is obviously inadequate. His criticism of NCDC by comparing their results with his own deeply flawed results is useless. It might be possible to make a worthwhile criticism of their methods of adjusting the data, though. You might look at the details of how they do it, and come up with better alternatives.

393

J Thomas 09.13.14 at 2:30 pm

Thornton Hall was concerned about insulin, so i just thought I would do a brief search of literature on the subject of veganism and insulin, and health . Insulin sensitivity seems positively affected by veganism afaict with my brief search.

I didn’t mean to criticise you. This is just a very common problem. It’s tremendously tempting and easy to draw conclusions from scientific work that don’t follow from the work. Pretty much everybody does it. This just looked like an example that was easy to explain.

394

L.M. Dorsey 09.13.14 at 2:37 pm

You want to ruin industrial society, that’s the bottom line.

Thank you. My sense that this thesis has been a crimson thread in US politics since, well…, probably the 1930s, but certainly since the polarizations that began in the 60s. And I take it that the insult larded on the injury is the fact that the “left” will never admit that this is what is really the agenda in everything they do.

Is that right? And if so, may I ask how are you so sure?

395

science_nerdist 09.13.14 at 3:59 pm

MPA @196
do you actually know anything about what tea party people, an extremely heterogeneous group, actually think ?
do you have citations to surveys and polls ?
do you know to what extent these views are standins for other ideas (eg, the large number median income white males who have lost ground in the last 30years and are angry, but have views on that anger CT dis agrees with ?)

I talk to some TParty people, and they are concerned about the $17,000,000,000,000.00 deficit
it is not entirely their fault that their leaders continually lie to them about this number and what it means

I would also ask, respectfully, how old you are, and how your parents are doing.
when you get into your 80s your perspectives *really* change, as you confront medical and nursing cost induced poverty; not sayin this is right or wrong, but it is powerful.

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mattski 09.13.14 at 4:02 pm

MPAV @ 365,

Your point is well taken. And BTW, @ 363 I should have written,

I didn’t claim that right-wing skepticism about human capacity was necessarily conscious.

But I would like to add, as far as TM’s claim,

[Many rightwingers] don’t think climate science or evolution are complicated at all – they are convinced (genuinely) that they understand them better than the experts.

I don’t think this really cuts against my point that skepticism about human nature underlies quite a bit of the rightward impulse. Take a religious conservative who scoffs at evolution and claims that the truth is quite simple and in his possession. “God made the earth just as it is for man!” You could interpret this sentiment along the lines TM mentions, or you could interpret it as a form of wishful thinking papering over a fear of the unknown and a despair of ever knowing it. It is essentially a refusal to engage with the science which is quite analogous, I think, to a refusal to join the ballgame due to a lack of confidence in ones playing skills.

397

Plume 09.13.14 at 5:19 pm

J Thomas @385,

That’s a very good insight. Yes. Establishing boundaries, rather than attempting to persuade. I think most of us probably do this, consciously or not. The thing is not to kid ourselves that we’re engaging in some earth-shattering public policy conference here, in the comment section, or that we’re defending our dissertations. We’re not. This isn’t the place for that. It’s not the right medium.

A few here choose to write mini-dissertations and then get all bent out of shape if someone posts a comment that doesn’t meet their own bizarre idea of the proper use of a comments section. IMO, those mini-dissertations are better placed in one’s own blog, and the defense of them should be in the real world, at a university, or conference, or possibly a public planning board. Perhaps an exchange of letters. Perhaps an exchange of blog posts. Not here. A comments section is for much more informal exchange.

Two recent examples highlight this. I made the uncontroversial and absolutely correct comment that corporations withhold information, which makes the economic system more inefficient. This is self-evident, not open for debate, at least not from people who have ever worked for a corporation. They. Withhold. Information. But that comment provoked insults and verbal jeers from a poster who tends to write those mini-dissertations. The more recent was in this thread, in which I made another uncontroversial and absolutely correct comment that fossil fuel extraction was not efficient, due to leakage, transport issues, disasters during transport and afterward, and once in place — plus pollution. That provoked insults in yet another poster who tends to write mini-dissertations.

Bottom line: These posters need to chill, as the young people used to say. The medium doesn’t suit their message, or their attempts to control the way other people post.

398

J Thomas 09.13.14 at 10:02 pm

#386 BB

“Baseload is outdated energy thinking. The up to date energy thinking is variable load and flexible load – variable is your normal load from wind and solar – flexible is your supplemental load from say bio-gas turbines.”

Look, I work in a factory, as a tooling engineer. We have to schedule production runs weeks in advance, sometimes months. We need to know that our machines will run when we flip the switch. We need to run 3 shifts, so as to distribute the fixed cost of machines and building over as much production as possible.

There are solutions. First, there will be some energy available at night etc. If your need for three shifts is great enough, then you can pay whatever it costs to get that energy.

Consumers will mostly not be willing to pay that much. They will go to bed at night, and have extra-thick insulation on their refrigerators and freezers so they won’t need much electricity during peak demand, etc. They will get used to the idea of scheduling their electricity use to times of low demand relative to supply, because they can’t afford not to. Until we get more balanced production or better storage and then they will gladly forget that.

If you can’t afford to run three shifts, maybe as your expensive machines depreciate out you will replace them with cheaper machines and use more skilled labor that can all work during one shift. Or maybe you can sell your products for enough to pay for what you need.

In times of technological change some things go obsolescent — if your shop does then don’t complain, instead learn the skills you need to survive.

It’s common for people to think that the way they do things now is the only possible way and if they have to change it means the ruin of technological society. They have been wrong each time so far.

399

Thornton Hall 09.13.14 at 10:34 pm

@ZM I can’t believe we wandered down this strange insulin path. I brought it up as a rhetorical maneuver in response to the article you had linked to. You may not have re-read it before you put the link in, so my comment may have seemed out of left field. But Greorgy Scrinis’s piece makes the rather extraordinary claim that nutrition science goes wrong because it does not consider the cultural context of food. This was part of his larger attack on the “reductionist” approach that he labels “nutritionist.” What he is calling “reductionist” most people call “chemistry.” So I picked an important fact from chemistry as an example of how Scrinis obscures some fairly well established facts with a lot of postmodern handwaving.

Your reaction makes me think you have put me in a box labeled “bad meat eater” and so my comment about insulin was taken as an argument that people should eat meat, or something.

But then, while down this rabbit hole, you then linked to a quoted an observational study that tracked some vegans and non-vegans over time and then compared health outcomes. This is exactly the same type of study as the Harvard Nurses Study that I referred to in #320.

You then proceeded to demonstrate the exact failure of reasoning that I described in comment #320, namely, failing to realized that, at most, observational studies generate hypothesies that need to be tested. There is a code word that scientists use in this context and it seems innocuous. The word is “may”. And there it is in the title of the article you link to “A Vegan Diet MAY… blah… blah… blah”

One does not need to be a scientist to understand that there are no conclusions to draw from an observational study of this kind.

400

Thornton Hall 09.13.14 at 10:44 pm

@ZM Finally we get to the nut. Veganism is not about science. It is a religion. Which is fine. Some days I’m Catholic. But discussing it in a comment thread is not my idea of a good time.

401

Brett Bellmore 09.13.14 at 10:54 pm

“In times of technological change some things go obsolescent — if your shop does then don’t complain, instead learn the skills you need to survive.”

I don’t dislike technological change. I dislike technological regression. Going from power that’s available 24/7 at the flip of a switch, to power that’s only available when it feels like being available, is not a step forward. It’s a deliberate, imposed, step backwards.

“Renewable” energy appears to me to be as much a religion as veganism. Sorry, I’m not going to join that sect, and make the obligatory sacrifices. Don’t think many other people will, either.

402

Collin Street 09.13.14 at 11:25 pm

We need to know that our machines will run when we flip the switch.

No you don’t, Brett. “Need” is “or people will die”. Hospitals, for example… but grid power already isn’t reliable enough for hospitals, and hospitals have backup power installed at non-trivial capital and ongoing cost. Because they actually-genuinely-100% need electricity 100% of the time.

“It’ll make my job vastly easier” is not “need”. It’s a trade-off: 100% power costs money, and dealing with the consequences of less than 100% power availability also costs money. Not a lot of money, either: even as low as a 50% duty cycle just doubles the plant cost, pretty much. [there’s some other changes: increase in per-hour labour and management on account of increased work force working shorter hours, but they’re pretty minor effects.]

See? Not “need”, is it. Can be worked around: makes your job harder, but that’s what you get paid for.

403

J Thomas 09.13.14 at 11:36 pm

396 BB

I don’t dislike technological change. I dislike technological regression. Going from power that’s available 24/7 at the flip of a switch, to power that’s only available when it feels like being available, is not a step forward. It’s a deliberate, imposed, step backwards.

Well see, we started using a whole lot of coal with no thought for what we’d do when it ran out. We may be stuck with a step backward, or maybe not. It depends on how well we arrange the transition to something else.

“Renewable” energy appears to me to be as much a religion as veganism.

Belief that nonrenewable energy will run out is not religion, it’s built into the name.

So you get to pick your religion. If you believe in climate change denial then you can figure it’s OK to keep using the coal until it’s all gone. Or you can believe there will immediately be safe, not-absurdly-expensive nuclear power that we will start building right now so we can have lots and lots of it when we need it. Or believe you can get a better alternative energy.

Or accept using less.

That last looks to me like the choice that’s least dependent on faith in things unknown. Except it isn’t pleasant so people prefer to believe in something else.

Don’t pretend that your own religion is free of giant sacrifices.

404

Brett Bellmore 09.13.14 at 11:43 pm

Belief that wind counts as “renewable”, and nuclear doesn’t, when nuclear will last until the Sun moves off the main sequence, is in the nature of a religious doctrine. Insisting that people just have to get used to the power being unreliable, rather than using an available, reliable source of power, ditto.

The same people who complain about CO2, largely, are the people who’ve made nuclear anathema, and in so doing, have assured the coal will be burned.

405

Thornton Hall 09.14.14 at 12:17 am

@399 I can’t help myself. BB, why do you say things that are obviously false? Why?

The same people who complain about CO2, largely, are the people who’ve made nuclear anathema, and in so doing, have assured the coal will be burned.

So the people in Japan and Germany reacting to Fukishima, those are the same people who don’t like nuclear in the US? And they are also the same people who complain about CO2? Were they the same people during WWII? Did they hold a conference in the 1960s and agree to be anti-nuclear together?

406

J Thomas 09.14.14 at 12:39 am

#399 BB

Belief that wind counts as “renewable”, and nuclear doesn’t, when nuclear will last until the Sun moves off the main sequence, is in the nature of a religious doctrine. Insisting that people just have to get used to the power being unreliable, rather than using an available, reliable source of power, ditto.

See, this is you trying to spread the nuclear religion.

Nuclear has a track record already. It is extremely slow and expensive to build nuclear power plants. It is expensive to operate them. It is expensive to shut them down. And the inevitable accidents are extremely expensive. Plus there are known extreme short-term health risks, and both known and unknown longterm health risks.

Of course you argue that none of those will matter in the future. We can build nuclear reactors quickly if we give up on the silly safety regulations which also add to the expense. We can run them cheaply and risk-free if we give up on the regulation stuff, free enterprise will both minimize costs and prevent accidents. Free enterprise optimises every constraint at the same time. Anyway, nuclear radiation is good for your health. There are really no risks, radiation can’t hurt you. Nuclear energy will give us everything we ever wanted cheap and easy and risk-free. Coal is terrible, worse than nuclear could ever be, but we’ll burn every last bit of coal we can get, as fast as we can, unless we can get nuclear (and nothing else) to replace it.

The central problem with spreading your religion, though, is that you want to use nukes. And people won’t forget about Fukushima before the next big accident. You have tremendous barriers to overcome. It would be a lot easier if there was no experience with nukes. Then you could say anything you wanted and people wouldn’t know any better.

There’s no proof that alternate energy will be unreliable. And we know from experience that nuclear power is not reliable. So that argument fails on both sides.

407

ZM 09.14.14 at 12:47 am

Thornton Hall,

“I can’t believe we wandered down this strange insulin path. I brought it up as a rhetorical maneuver in response to the article you had linked to. “

I did suspect that you might have brought it up as a rhetorical device :/

I suspected this As you mentioned insulin twice as if I had brought it up, when I had not mentioned it at all. What I had mentioned was the environmental and social costs of animal farming .

You did not respond to my point about environmental and social costs of farming – you just brought up insulin, now you say as a ploy.

Having a slight hope you were not being craftily rhetorical , but instead might have grave concerns for your insulin sensitivity and health, should you stop eating animals and their milk and eggs – I very kindly went out of my way to provide you with 3 scientific articles on vegan diets, insulin, and health. Insulin sensitivity seems to improve with a non-animal diet.

Veganism is definitely not a science, if it was it would have a different ending – like veganology, or veganistry, or veghics etc – it is also not a religion – there are no churches or ceremonial rites etc – it is a diet that does not include eating animals .

If you like – now having agreed your interest in insulin was only a rhetorical interest – we can return to my interest in the social and environmental costs of animal farming?

408

Plume 09.14.14 at 1:04 am

Brett,

Wind power doesn’t leave a negative residue, much less a half life. It’s the epitome of “renewable.” Nuclear power, OTOH, leaves a massive wake of pollution that stays with us for generations. Just one small aspect of the whole picture:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_waste

Legacy waste

Due to historic activities typically related to radium industry, uranium mining, and military programs, there are numerous sites that contain or are contaminated with radioactivity. In the United States alone, the Department of Energy states there are “millions of gallons of radioactive waste” as well as “thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel and material” and also “huge quantities of contaminated soil and water.”[18] Despite copious quantities of waste, the DOE has stated a goal of cleaning all presently contaminated sites successfully by 2025.[18] The Fernald, Ohio site for example had “31 million pounds of uranium product”, “2.5 billion pounds of waste”, “2.75 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and debris”, and a “223 acre portion of the underlying Great Miami Aquifer had uranium levels above drinking standards.”[18] The United States has at least 108 sites designated as areas that are contaminated and unusable, sometimes many thousands of acres.[18][19] DOE wishes to clean or mitigate many or all by 2025, using the recently developed method of geomelting,[citation needed] however the task can be difficult and it acknowledges that some may never be completely remediated. In just one of these 108 larger designations, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, there were for example at least “167 known contaminant release sites” in one of the three subdivisions of the 37,000-acre (150 km2) site.[18] Some of the U.S. sites were smaller in nature, however, cleanup issues were simpler to address, and DOE has successfully completed cleanup, or at least closure, of several sites.[18]

409

Plume 09.14.14 at 1:05 am

And another:

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/nuclear/safety-and-security/radioactive-waste/

Radioactive Waste
Nuclear Reactors Create Radioactive Waste That Will Remain Hazardous For 240,000 Years

More than 50 years after splitting the first atom, science has yet to devise a method for adequately handling long lived radioactive wastes. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission separates wastes into two broad classifications: high-level and low-level waste.

High-level radioactive waste is the uranium fuel that fires the nuclear reactor. Once removed from the reactor, the irradiated fuel is considered high-level radioactive waste. Whether in the reactor or in the large pools adjacent, high-level radioactive waste must be cooled by water to prevent it from melting down.

Only after spending more than five years cooling in the fuel pool can the radioactive fuel rods be placed in large dry casks at the reactor site. High-level radioactive waste produced by nuclear power plants accounts for 95% of the radioactivity generated in the last 50 years from all sources, including nuclear weapons production. High-level wastes are hazardous because of their high radiation levels that are capable of producing fatal doses within moments of exposure. Once the uranium atoms begin to split, neutrons are given off and absorbed by fuel which produces plutonium and other long lived radioactive wastes.

Plutonium 239 has a half-life of approximately 24,000 years. That means that after 24,000 years half of the radioactivity contained in the plutonium will have decayed. However, the hazardous life of radioactive waste is at least ten times the half-life, therefore these wastes will have to be isolated from the environment for 240,000.

Nuclear power isn’t the answer.

410

ZM 09.14.14 at 1:17 am

Brett Bellmore,

“Renewable” energy appears to me to be as much a religion as veganism. Sorry, I’m not going to join that sect, and make the obligatory sacrifices.”

I have already pointed out above – veganism is a diet, not a science or religion. I do not know why Thornton Hall thought it was a science in the first place – but it is quite possible he never thought it was a science but brought this in as another rhetorical manoeuvre?

Renewable energy technologies – are technologies! Obviously.

The renewable energy itself comes from the sun(this is unlikely to be eternally renewable – but for such a very long time that it does not warrant worrying about when the sun dies), the wind, the waves etc. also geothermal (I worry if we use too many geothermal technologies we might contribute to cooling the earth’s centre, but when I’ve asked would this be possible the answer I have had was you would need a huge amount of geothermal technology to cool the earth’s centre – it might be good for someone to number crunch this I think)

The technology is the machines people build to generate electricity from the renewable energy sources. Eg, wind mills , solar panels , wind turbines, etc. there is also hydro and also biogas – the latter for long grey weeks in winter etc.

As renewable energy technology is not a religion but a set of technologies – no one would like you to try to join some imaginary sect you have come up with, and certainly I myself would not be encouraging you to engage in developing sacrificial rites based around RET – this would be very odd (I am picturing you doing this as a character from a Richard Brautigan book engaged in rituals as you are All Looked Over by Machines of Loving Grace).

On the other hand , you do point to it being a great moral imperative to stop contributing to climate change with coal and gas energy technologies (and other ghg emitting activities), so that children and future generations can have the possibility of a happy future, not one wreaked by climate change and related warring.

So – to do this (to keep everyone alive , which would be a big problem if someone implemented a halt to electricity et al all together , even though we now have such a great population and many people living in electrified cities that would not cope if we just abandoned electricity et al altogether ) we have a pleasant solution of renewable energy technology to implement (as well as land use and waste management changes etc).

Val pointed out yesterday that Thomas Edison was an early proponent of renewable energy technologies – you would not want to be one of those people who ‘all laughed when Edison recorded sound’?

411

Bruce Wilder 09.14.14 at 1:22 am

I’m reminded of the old Paul Simon song:

Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland
But I think it’s all overdone
Exaggerating this, exaggerating that
They don’t have no fun

I don’t believe what I read in the papers
They’re just out to capture my dime
I ain’t worrying
And I ain’t scurrying
I’m having a good time

Maybe I’m laughing my way to disaster
Maybe my race has been run
Maybe I’m blind
To the fate of mankind
But what can be done?

So God bless the goods we was given
And God bless the U. S. of A.
And God bless the standard of livin’
Let’s keep it that way
And we’ll all have a good time

412

Thornton Hall 09.14.14 at 2:01 am

@402 I don’t think we can have a productive conversation about the social and environmental costs of animal farming.

I don’t subscribe to an ontology where “the social and environmental costs of animal farming” is a separate and distinct thing that exists in the world. The concept makes no sense to me. There is not one head of cattle alive today but for animal farming. What are the costs to that cow? What does 20 minus non-existence equal?

And in the counterfactual, the whole world is going to decide we like disgusting foods like tofu? Am I morally wrong to find it disgusting? Am I in the minority? Is it a choice?

It doesn’t feel like a choice. It feels like my sexual orientation. What’s the social and environmental cost of heterosexuality? It’s huge, right? All the damage humans have done? And civilization has advanced far enough that reproduction is clearly a choice. How dare we continue?

The ontological question put another way: who is keeping score? Where do these costs get recorded? This is when I come back to human suffering and you accuse me of not really caring about poor people.

But I don’t know another scale. And “animal farming” is not the necessary and sufficient cause of any human suffering. Every instance you point to involves an infinite web of interactions. And there are millions of those other necessary causes that either:
A. Are far easier to fix than the problem of getting people to not eat meat; or
B. Involve moral actors (people) acting in a willful way to cause harm.

So we could do my thing: try to get people to stop choosing to hurt other people.
Or
We could do your thing: try to get people to stop choosing to eat animals.

Do I have to offer reasons why mine makes more sense?

413

ZM 09.14.14 at 2:38 am

Thornton Hall,

You don’t seem to think about that one cow’s sadness at non-existence when you want to eat it :/ That is a very inconsistent argument indeed!

Tofu can be prepared and cooked in a number of ways – you would have to try every way before declaring it disgusting. In any case the soy bean is not the only bean.

Disliking or liking flavours is not a moral argument – environmental and social costs of animal farming are moral arguments. Flavour does not come into it – you can try interesting recipes from books or the internet – you are sure to find some you like.

I have never heard the argument that eating animals is like being heterosexual or homosexual. This is quite an odd argument . Anyway – the best you could make of this argument would be that:
1. Your desire to eat animals is so strong as your desire for your object of desire
2. You should be able to marry your object of desire, and it would be heartless to stop you
BUT – you have forgotten the step – What if your object of desire does not wish to marry you?
To go on with your argument you would have to argue either
3a. Objects of desire should be forced into marriage as animals are forced into being eaten
or 3b, You will only eat animals who agree to your proposal of eating them, as you would only marry someone who agreed to you marrying them

In any case, animals agreeing to be eaten would not help the environmental and social costs –

I will finish the rest of this comment later

414

john c. halasz 09.14.14 at 2:43 am

@407: OMG really 407!

“And in the counterfactual, the whole world is going to decide we like disgusting foods like tofu? Am I morally wrong to find it disgusting? Am I in the minority? Is it a choice?”

Why is tofu disgusting? It’s fairly flavorless, like talapia. And little different from “cottage cheese”. Everything then depends on the spicing or additional ingredients. But then why should your entirely subjective “choices” determine global issues?

So maybe a whole lot of people here (and elsewhere), should familiarise themselves with Robert Brandom’s notion of “de-ontic score-keeping”.

It might make these threads run somewhat better.

Here’s a tofu taste:

http://inferential.wordpress.com/2006/06/27/deontic-scorekeeping-and-interpretation/

415

Thornton Hall 09.14.14 at 3:42 am

@409 OMG! Cottage cheese? Barf! You need to get out more. There’s a large minority of people like me who are disgusted by certain food textures.

And I feel like I should not acknowledge your comments at all. I mean, I ignore the dog when he behaves the way you did up thread.

But I am curious, so I’ll click your link.

In the meantime, make the threads “run better”? Better at what?

416

Thornton Hall 09.14.14 at 3:51 am

@409 Dude. I was an undergrad philosophy major 20 years ago and you try to “educate”me by linking to a highly technical and totally mystifying (without context that obviously exists but that I, as you well know, have no way of learning) two paragraph discussion about Donald(? Right, like I said, 20 years ago) Davidson’s theory of meaning (maybe?)?

Combined with your antics above with Plume? Dude, you have a diagnosable personality disorder. Seriously.

417

Thornton Hall 09.14.14 at 3:55 am

@409 And your reading of my position is totally backasswards. I’m not choosing anything. I’m normal. I eat what people eat. ZM wants the who world to change their diet to fit his/her morality. Where am I making any policy here? Seriously, dude, you maybe need to take a day off.

418

The Temporary Name 09.14.14 at 4:05 am

I do enjoy that Brett boosting nukes is essentially a buy-in to a political process he wants nothing to do with. They require massive planning, political buy-in, funding, regulation, and waste-disposal operations along with with reliable cost overruns. It’s the best toehold for government short of war.

419

ZM 09.14.14 at 4:46 am

Thornton Hall,

“I’m not choosing anything. I’m normal. I eat what people eat”

You do choose what you eat,unless you are such an invalid that someone chooses for you. I am fairly sure you are not that much of an invalid. Everybody who is a person eats what people eat – if we started to eat like plants from primary sources of earth, water, and sun – we would not live very long. I do not advocate people eating what plants eat.

There are a wide range of things people can and do eat – this is why there are so many different recipes and cuisines to cook.

You still do not say anything about the environmental and social costs of animal farming.

Finishing my previous comment –

You write ‘who is keeping score’ (john c halasz linked to something about deontological score keeping in response I think) – lots of people have kept records and investigated the matter of the environmental and social costs of animal farming. So there has been much scored down – the environmental and social costs are quite high according to the people who have undertook research and scoring.

‘This is when I come back to human suffering and you accuse me of not really caring about poor people’ – poor people bear most of the social cost of animal farming. Rich people use their money so they do not bear the costs – they distribute costs to poor people or externalise them to the environment.

You attribute to yourself the position
A. try to get people to stop hurting other people

and to me you ascribe the position
B. try to get people to stop choosing to eat animals

And then ask “Do I have to give reasons as to why my position A makes more sense”

But this is because you ascribe to me position B – whereas I would choose A+B if you actually asked me instead of just making up an imaginary position for me that furthered your own argument. As well as ascribing to yourself Position A even though you really don’t care about the evident social costs of animal farming to poor people – or how the environmental costs such as climate change will harm future generations of people

A and B together make more sense

420

Thornton Hall 09.14.14 at 5:05 am

@414 I did say something on your preferred topic, namely, that I don’t think it productive to discuss. Did you ever see the Seinfeld where George tries to break up with a woman who refuses to go along?

421

ZM 09.14.14 at 5:23 am

I cannot recall the episode. I did not like the show all that much.

You were the person who brought up topic of animals in the human diet which implies animal farming – I did not introduce the topic.

You brought up animals in the human diet particularly as proposed by Gary Taubes to argue that the food pyramid was illustrative of scientists making mistakes in their work, which related to Brett Bellmores claims that climate scientists do not yet fully and absolutely understand the intricacies of the climate – and therefore Brett Bellmore would not like to change anything in his life to avert anthropogenic climate change.

Upon the bringing up of the topic of eating animals, I brought up the topic of the social and environmental costs of eating animals, etc etc etc

Feel free not to bring up the topic of eating animals if you do not want anyone else to bring up the related topic of the environmental and social costs of farming animals.

422

J Thomas 09.14.14 at 7:53 am

It’s hard for me to think about the morality of food animals. First what do we owe to the animals? If we owe them any sort of fairness, then it’s wrong for us to domesticate them. Rather than breeding them into stupid animals that are easy to herd, we should let them breed themselves back into aurochs that run around freely in an environment they can survive well in.

If we had sufficient energy, we could do that. We could live underground with a full natural ecosystem living over our heads that we didn’t affect much except for our waste heat. But of course we don’t have that.

If we don’t owe them that, then what do we owe them? A death without too much terror and pain?

Putting aside animal rights, our current meat industry costs us a lot. It might be practical to keep ruminant meat animals to eat cellulose which we can’t eat ourselves. It doesn’t make as much sense to feed them food we can eat. On the other hand it might be more practical to raise termites and eat them.

It might make sense to raise something like pigs, feeding them whatever surplus food we don’t want, and slaughter the excess pigs whenever the surplus runs low.

Inevitably as we get poorer we will eat less meat. Beef is gradually getting priced higher than the middle class can afford. Eggs have doubled in price in my fairly-recent memory, milk has close to doubled. People will eat less meat and they will eat it with soy extenders etc. This is not a moral issue, it’s just the middle class losing purchasing power. But chinese people are eating more meat than they used to. We export more agricultural products to china than to any other nation, a big share of the 50 million tons of soybeans they import, and more than half a million tons of corn for chicken feed etc.

As for Thornton Hall’s provincial food attitudes, nobody changes their habits or their morals just because people they’ve never met on the internet scorn them. Cannibals don’t give up eating people from foreign disapproval, unless it involves armed police who punish infractions. Let’s approach this from a stand of respecting cultural diversity. Morals vary, and that is not entirely a bad thing.

423

ZM 09.14.14 at 8:51 am

J Thomas,

Once land is reforested that is now used for grazing, to draw down our too high GHG emissions, there will be a lot more forested land for animals to live in. You can grow more trees in cities , this is good to reduce heat, for people’s wellbeing, for small animals like possums who get trapped in neighborhood parks now, and birds. You can daylight streams that were piped – and have more running waterways in cities which is good for people, frogs, and water birds, and yabbies. There are many other pleasant sort of improvements to make.

Methane emissions from farmed animals are very high, this needs to be addressed in any zero-emissions + drawdown policy.

Grazing also affects soil. Factory farming affects runoff. That is just off the top of my head. Poor people being hungry or not having a sufficiently varied diet for healthiness can be remedied by using appropriate grazing land to grown grains, beans, fruit and vegetables. – and make sure they are distributed to poor people instead of exported to rich countries. Also, currently a great amount of farmed crops go to feed animals – this land can be diverted for growing food crops for poor people. I am sure I have left many other things out too.

I did not scorn Thornton Hall’s food attitudes – I just recommended he try a wider range of tofu dishes, or other legumes.

424

Bruce Wilder 09.14.14 at 9:54 am

Also, we could simply reduce the number of people.

425

Brett Bellmore 09.14.14 at 11:16 am

“(I worry if we use too many geothermal technologies we might contribute to cooling the earth’s centre, but when I’ve asked would this be possible the answer I have had was you would need a huge amount of geothermal technology to cool the earth’s centre – it might be good for someone to number crunch this I think)”

The limit is not cooling the Earth’s core. The limit is the low thermal conductivity of rock, and how deep you can drill. When you put in a geothermal plant, you start cooling the rock you’re extracting heat from. More heat enters that rock from surrounding rock, but does so at an extremely low pace. So, unless you operate at an extremely low extraction rate, or are practically on top of the magma, after a few years your power production starts dropping off.

Think of hot rock that can be reached by drilling as a resource which is only very gradually renewed over a period of centuries, which the geothermal power plant can easily use up in a space of years.

Unless, of course, you have a site where you can drill right up to the magma. Which means that geothermal IS a “renewable” energy source, but only in relatively unusual places. Most places it’s non-renewable on a human timeframe.

Plume, note that nuclear ‘waste’ consists of two classes of isotopes: The first have extremely short half-lives, are intensely radioactive, and are what make the ‘waste’ dangerous. Having short half-lives, they’re gone fairly quickly.

The second have extremely LONG half-lives, have accordingly low levels of radioactivity, and are what is used to claim the ‘waste’ is radioactive for a long, long time. They are also, not at all incidentally, better described as “fuel”, and only remain mixed with the waste because reprocessing has been blocked.

You are being taken in by a propaganda technique which relies on your lack of technical knowledge.

426

Matt 09.14.14 at 12:19 pm

The long lived fission products, technetium 99 foremost among them, are not potential fuels and last into deep time. The low limits for Tc-99 in groundwater were established in the early 1960s in the US, before you could possibly claim the process was driven by environmental activism.

For the record, I am in favor of nuclear power over fossil power. The atmospheric effects of excess CO2 will last into deep time too. It’s a lot easier to capture and monitor nuclear wastes than the CO2 from an energy-equivalent quantity of fossil fuel. I live near a nuclear plant and I think it’s a much better neighbor than a coal plant. But let’s be clear that nuclear energy does have its own unique problems and historical problems that can’t just be wished away.

In the USA at least there are locations near the middle of the country where the instantaneous generation cost of wind power is already less than nuclear power. Yes, I’m accounting for the artificially low prices enabled by the federal Production Tax Credit. Solar PV is within shouting distance of that same achievement in sunnier areas. The expensive part of intermittent renewables is storing energy that can’t be used instantaneously, which is basically a negligible expense at low penetration rates but comes to dominate at high penetration. Is it too much to hope that at least diurnal storage will become practical by the end of the decade? Battery technology feels to me today like solar PV tech 10 years ago. It’s technically good enough for stationary applications, it just isn’t cheap enough. PV pricing fell dramatically without any one big silver bullet change in technology. Most modules are still built using mechanically wafered crystalline silicon, but there have been thousands of small changes up and down the production chain to make the final module more efficient and much less expensive. It seems to me that the same could happen with batteries: no revolution in chemistry, just increased manufacturing scale and continuous small improvements.

There I go, trying to wish away problems myself.

427

Collin Street 09.14.14 at 12:24 pm

(without context that obviously exists but that I, as you well know, have no way of learning)

Bwahahaha.

[what john c. halasz linked you to was an approach to analysing the process of forming a shared context. Or — amusingly enough — that’s how I’d put it, because I have a linguistics background: john, from memory, is a philosopher, and would say the same thing [re: latin “thing, object, matter”] in different words [dicta: latin “word, statement”]]

428

Thornton Hall 09.14.14 at 2:45 pm

@422 Thanks. I do find this stuff interesting and can follow it when I’m given a way in. But the experience of clicking on that link was like walking into a room full of professors who are shouting words I’ve never heard.

429

Thornton Hall 09.14.14 at 2:50 pm

The Strongbox

George, drinking tea in his apartment with his girlfriend: “I-I’ve given this
a lot of thought. I’m sorry, but we, uh, we have to break up.”
Maura: “No.”
George, after hesitating: “What’s that?”
Maura: “We’re not breaking up.”
George, after hesitating: “We’re not?”
Maura: “No.”
George, after hesitating even longer: “All right.”

Jerry, with George at Monk’s: “She said no?”
George: “She said no.”
Jerry: “What did you do?”
George: “What could I do? We fooled around and went to a movie.”
Jerry: “George, both parties don’t have to consent to a breakup. It’s not
like you’re launching missiles from a submarine and you both have to turn
your keys. Obviously, you didn’t make a convincing case. Let me hear your
arguments.”
George: “Well, I don’t really like her.”
Jerry: “That’s good.”
George: “I don’t find her attractive.”
Jerry: “Solid.”
George: “I’d like to sleep with a lot of other women.”
Jerry: “Always popular.”
George: “Sometimes at restaurants she talks to her food. ‘Oh, Mr. Mashed
Potatoes, you are so good.'”
Jerry: “You have an airtight case.”
George: “And in bed–“
Jerry: “I’m afraid we’re out of time.”
Jerry, pulling out a jewelry case: “Hey.”
George: “What?”
Jerry: “Check these out. These are Jerry Lewis’ old cufflinks that he
actually wore in the movie Cinderfella. I got ’em at an auction.”
George: “I got some cufflinks I could’ve loaned you.”
Jerry: “No, Jerry Lewis is gonna be at this Friar’s Club roast I’m goin’ to
next week. Now I have an in to strike up a conversation with him.”
George: “You already have an in. You have the same first name. Jerry.”
Jerry: “Oh, that’ll intrigue him.”
George: “Well, it worked when I met George Peppard last week.”
Jerry: “George Peppard has been dead for years.”
George: “Well, whoever he was, he knew a lot about The A-Team.”

430

Plume 09.14.14 at 5:16 pm

No, Brett,

It’s not propaganda. It’s a cry for sanity. You, on the other hand, have been taken in by “free market” propaganda that says, Don’t worry. Be happy. The invisible hand will fix everything.

It won’t. It can’t. It’s actually the cause of most of this. Grow of die. As with health care, it’s crazy to try to get the cause to be the solution. The cause being for-profit health care insurance and delivery.

So much of our politics is based on that. Using leeches to cure anemia caused by the use of leeches.

431

Plume 09.14.14 at 5:31 pm

Collin,

halasz is a self-professed autodidact on the subject. And though he may play a philosopher on TV, he’s no more so than you are, or anyone else this forum. According to his own claims, he took classes in college a long time ago, as did most of us here.

It’s generally rare for CT forumites to have serious, in-depth, “professional” expertise in the subjects we discuss. Some exceptions, of course. But for the most part, folks are talking outside their areas on the vast majority of subjects. Which fits the general nod toward the lack of broad-based, thorough, catholic, eclectic, “renaissance-style” education. We’re all herded into specialties, and our respective depth in one comes at the cost of breadth overall.

In a related topic, it seems that high school elites are being herded in a different manner. Not to in-depth specialty, necessarily, or serious, broad-based, renaissance learning. But to a surface, jack of all trades, teach for the test middle ground of sorts, in order to get into the Ivies. Excellent Sheep is the book that tries makes this case.

432

J Thomas 09.14.14 at 6:23 pm

#420 BB

Plume, note that nuclear ‘waste’ consists of two classes of isotopes: The first have extremely short half-lives, are intensely radioactive, and are what make the ‘waste’ dangerous. Having short half-lives, they’re gone fairly quickly.

The second have extremely LONG half-lives, have accordingly low levels of radioactivity,

Ouch. Your ignorance and panglossian tendencies have once again let malicious people deceive you. There are a lot of things which are in the middle ground here. It isn’t all extremely short half-lives or extremely long halflives. The ones in the middle cause a whole lot of trouble.

They are also, not at all incidentally, better described as “fuel”, and only remain mixed with the waste because reprocessing has been blocked.

No, only the ones that are useful for fission are at all plausible for “fuel”. The others are only radioactive.

You write with such confidence that sometimes I forget that you’re only parroting things you received from others you consider authorities. I get tempted to think you’re a liar yourself and not just one of the many people who’ve heard lies they wanted to believe.

433

Plume 09.14.14 at 6:51 pm

J Thomas,

In reality, conservatives who rail about the supposed propaganda coming from environmentalists betray at least this much:

Disingenuous and/or malicious intent, or ignorance. They have zero credibility on the matter. The money pressures, the power, the great PR nexus is on their side, not on the side of the environmentalists. One need only follow the money.

The Exxons, Monsantos, Koch brothers, Saudi royals, et al, have ginormous incentives to deceive the public. Their money flow depends upon that. But environmentalists, most of whom make modest, middle class wages? Their incentives are to tell the truth, or they generally don’t keep their jobs very long, and their reputations as scientists are destroyed.

Conservatives have done an all too effective job “teaching the controversy” across the board, especially in the last thirty years or so. They’ve made their gains primarily due to the gullibility of the populace, who seems often to lack the ability to tell the difference between science and corporate propaganda. And, indirectly, with the aid of PoMo theories, which have seeped, unfiltered, into the culture through the back door, teaching that controversy adds to the general, inchoate skepticism which infects the body politic.

Skepticism of authority is healthy. Question everything. But the conservative dance really doesn’t do that, as conservatives don’t seem to questions their own tribal sources. It’s question “the pinheads,” that they’re after. Listen to good old fashioned religious and business leaders. They’ll set ya right. America is falling further and further behind because of this misuse of otherwise healthy skepticisms. And it’s all too selective in nature.

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ZM 09.14.14 at 9:20 pm

Thornton Hall,

In an argument , it is better to stick to making an argument that supports your case, rather than failing to make an argument and instead trying to offend or humiliate female commenters that disagree with you by quoting irrelevant Seinfeld episodes about break-ups. :/

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ZM 09.14.14 at 9:33 pm

As your comment was both sexist and insulting – I will point out the relevant part from the comments policy

“If your comments are blatantly racist, sexist or homophobic we will delete them and ban you from the site. The same goes for comments which are personally defamatory or insulting or which seek to derail a thread through provocation of one kind or another. “

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js. 09.14.14 at 11:06 pm

And in the counterfactual, the whole world is going to decide we like disgusting foods like tofu? Am I morally wrong to find it disgusting? Am I in the minority? Is it a choice?

It doesn’t feel like a choice. It feels like my sexual orientation.

I almost feel bad piling on, but this is a hilariously bad argument. (N.B.: I love me some beef (also, bacon, mmmmm…), and on the rare occasions I see a cow, my first thought is how good it would taste for dinner. Point is, I have no personal vested interest in defending vegetarianism.) But a couple of points:

1. Just as one example, hardcore vegetarians in India have managed without meat or tofu for, umm, centuries. Why you think not eating the first would require you to eat the second remains deeply unclear.

2. The analogy with sexuality is deeply misguided not because food in unlike sex somehow, but because—obviously—one always chooses to have sex! The desire, or the particular objects of desire, may or may not be outside one’s volitional control in one or both cases, but that’s irrelevant. But acting on the desire is of course always a choice. Just to make this painfully clear: I smoke. And I could make a damn good case that the desire for cigarettes is outside my volitional control. (It really feels that way!) Are you going to accept the proposition that my smoking cigarettes is not a choice?

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Thornton Hall 09.15.14 at 12:27 am

@ZM I thought you were a man, but wasn’t sure. I apologize for offending you.

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Thornton Hall 09.15.14 at 12:36 am

@431 I seem to cause problems when I write things that aren’t arguments and aren’t in the form of arguments, but are nonetheless read as arguments. I was describing why I can’t get my head around the notion of “the costs of animal farming”. I don’t really have an argument for that… More like a story of how it happened in my head.

As for smoking, it was very, very difficult for me to quit. It is a fantastic example of how “choice” is much more a matter of degree than is commonly imagined.

That said, this just seems wrong:

The desire, or the particular objects of desire, may or may not be outside one’s volitional control in one or both cases, but that’s irrelevant.

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js. 09.15.14 at 1:36 am

Well, if it’s just “like a story of what happened in [your] head”, why should the rest of us care? It seemed like you were presenting a position—eating meat is defensible—and some reasons for it. Now it seems like you weren’t doing that at all. (For what it’s worth, I do think eating meat is defensible, but I wouldn’t just present a story in my head if I wanted to defend the position.)

And frankly, “the notion of ‘the costs of animal farming'” is not that hard to get one’s head around. Animal farming has costs. What’s so hard about that? Maybe you think not much follows from those costs, but again, you’d have to present some reasons for that. (I feel like I’m back teaching Intro Phil, weirdly.)

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Thornton Hall 09.15.14 at 2:41 am

I don’t remember a discussion of economic cost during a Into Phil. But maybe it’s my writing style that is the problem. I did this tricky thing where the first sentence of my comment was my topic or thesis sentence. Crazy, I know! And here’s the thing: it suggests that what followed was not an argument for omnivore choices.

@402 I don’t think we can have a productive conversation about the social and environmental costs of animal farming.

Should you care? Probably not. It was a message to ZM and my goal was not persuasion.

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ZM 09.15.14 at 7:34 am

“Should you care? Probably not. It was a message to ZM and my goal was not persuasion.”

No , your message was not to persuade, it was more like – should anyone try to question your advocacy of a high animal content diet in social justice threads – you will behave exceptionally offensively towards them , in a gendered way, rather than looking at the social and environmental costs of animal farming.

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J Thomas 09.15.14 at 8:22 am

#440 Thornton Hall

I did this tricky thing where the first sentence of my comment was my topic or thesis sentence.

@402 I don’t think we can have a productive conversation about the social and environmental costs of animal farming.

Proof by example.

But I don’t want to be too mean when you’ve painted yourself into a corner this once. You’ve often made interesting and useful contributions.

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Thornton Hall 09.15.14 at 10:25 am

In between my honest description of my moral intuitions on the subject, I did say this:

But I don’t know another scale. And “animal farming” is not the necessary and sufficient cause of any human suffering. Every instance you point to involves an infinite web of interactions. And there are millions of those other necessary causes that either:
A. Are far easier to fix than the problem of getting people to not eat meat; or
B. Involve moral actors (people) acting in a willful way to cause harm.

Does that actually strike people as a “hilariously bad” argument?

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J Thomas 09.15.14 at 12:29 pm

#443 Thornton Hall

But I don’t know another scale. And “animal farming” is not the necessary and sufficient cause of any human suffering. Every instance you point to involves an infinite web of interactions. And there are millions of those other necessary causes that either:
A. Are far easier to fix than the problem of getting people to not eat meat; or
B. Involve moral actors (people) acting in a willful way to cause harm.

Does that actually strike people as a “hilariously bad” argument?

To my way of thinking, all moral arguments boil down to “This is what I like and I’m right so there”. Yours is no worse than usual.

You appear to start with the assumption that human suffering is the important thing. This both ignores animal suffering, and also assumes that human suffering is the important thing where from my point of view humans create suffering as if they feel it’s a necessary part of their brain function. I’ve seen a rich woman agonize over the seating placement at her banquet worse than someone else would under stringent interrogation.

Then you point out that every effect has lots of causes and we can quit other causes easier than we can give up eating meat. This is par for the course.

Like, say somebody drives an SUV, and he says “My SUV gets 14 mpg, better than most. I like it and I can afford it. So all this global warming stuff is just a crock, people want to make me give up my car. But I earned the money to buy the SUV and the gas for it. I work in advertising, and my ads increased the market share of my clients’ SUVs from 20% to 27%. I’m good at my job so I get to spend my earnings however I want. If global warming turns out to be a problem there are easier ways to fix it than give up gasoline. Like, we could launch giant mirrors to cut down on the sunlight. Or particulate aerosols, less sunlight coming in means less heat getting trapped. Or we can just get used to warmer temperatures. There are lots of better ways than making me give up my SUV.”

It’s one of the standard approaches when other people say that what you’re doing is immoral.

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john c. halasz 09.15.14 at 6:17 pm

J Thomas @444:

“To my way of thinking, all moral arguments boil down to “This is what I like and I’m right so there”. Yours is no worse than usual.”

Oh, dear! This is a terribly out-moded positivist way of thinking. The sort of thinking on the matter that some might might have still claimed in the 1950’s, but scarcely anyone would take seriously nowadays. Just because arguments about morality don’t seem to be readily resolvable and result in universal agreement, in the way that seems to occur in natural science, it doesn’t follow that there is no matter at issue and no stakes involved. And that seeming endlessness to such arguments doesn’t “justify” an attitude of skeptical or eliminationist reductionism toward the matter, nor an “ethics” of solipsistic self-assertion. That’s a cure that is worse than the sickness itself. You might consult Stanley Cavell’s “The Claim To Reason”, where in a middle chapter he takes on a philosopher asserting such views and thoroughly confutes them.

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J Thomas 09.15.14 at 6:33 pm

#445

“To my way of thinking, all moral arguments boil down to “This is what I like and I’m right so there”. Yours is no worse than usual.”

Just because arguments about morality don’t seem to be readily resolvable and result in universal agreement, in the way that seems to occur in natural science, it doesn’t follow that there is no matter at issue and no stakes involved.

You have taken it farther than I would. Of course there are stakes involved! I have a right to try to get what I like! If I fail at that I won’t like it! And that’s important.

And that seeming endlessness to such arguments doesn’t “justify” an attitude of skeptical or eliminationist reductionism toward the matter, nor an “ethics” of solipsistic self-assertion.

I don’t see that those attitudes need to be justified, if somebody wants to express them. If somebody wants to deride them, that doesn’t need to be justified either. Everybody gets to work toward their own goals. And that’s how it ought to be. I don’t see that I ought to get to shut people up just because I think I know they’re wrong. At least, not unless it’s vitally important because I’m sure we’ll have awful results if they are allowed to speak.

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Thornton Hall 09.15.14 at 6:37 pm

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Thornton Hall 09.15.14 at 6:43 pm

@444 Mine may not be the all time greatest argument, but I’m pretty sure you’re saying that John Rawls (remember him) is an immoral self-centered asshole because he puts people behind the veil of ignorance and doesn’t ask what society a porpoise would desire.

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J Thomas 09.15.14 at 7:16 pm

#448

@444 Mine may not be the all time greatest argument, but I’m pretty sure you’re saying that John Rawls (remember him) is an immoral self-centered asshole because he puts people behind the veil of ignorance and doesn’t ask what society a porpoise would desire.

No, I’m not saying that. Anyway, in principle people could put porpoises behind the veil of ignorance too. Imagine building a society and you don’t know whether or not you will be a porpoise that must interact with it. Right now of course we don’t know how to transfer a human consciousness to a porpoise body, so it’s kind of theoretical, but then in practice rich people don’t design societies and then have a lottery to decide whether they will be poor and homeless, either. Or at least if they do that they don’t know they’re doing it.

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john c. halasz 09.15.14 at 10:47 pm

J Thomas @446:

Among the commenters who comment too much and too adventitiously, you at least seem to have some solid background in a “technical” field, science or engineering. (Unlike Thornton Hall wants to repeatedly criticize, or, more exactly, denounce “neo-classical economics”, but seems to have little understanding of what economics in general is about, even something so fundamental as the concept of “cost”. Or Plume, who prolongs and derails threads by provoking numerous other commenters to respond to his naive speculations). But I have a little trouble dealing with someone who wants to argue, outside of his areas of concentration, but has no apparent understanding of what “rational justification” is about, thus what arguments are for or what their limits are: ya know, supporting your claims with reasons, evidences, conceptual clarifications. Because, whatever else “reason” might be, it is an offering of accounts, a game of giving and taking reasons, which itself contains an embedded ethical dimension, accountability.

So not only is the domain of ethics/morality not simply about getting what you like or want, but your standpoint seems simply to underwrite a lot of bad, ignorant, self-confuting, or sheerly sophistical argument, cluttering these threads. Which renders the process pointless and noisome. Nobody appointed me hall monitor, nor is it a role I would want to play, (which is why I pointed to Brandom’s notion of “de-ontic score-keeping”, where the “scorekeeper” isn’t any individual “I”, but rather the collective of players in the game). But it is a matter of preserving the value of this venue (for learning or understanding the POVs of others) for the over-all “community” of commenters. Saying that the medium of comment threads on blogs doesn’t allow for such a thing, so whatever, is only to contribute to the degrading of that medium.

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Plume 09.15.14 at 11:27 pm

@450

“Numerous other posters” generally means two. You and BW.

Forty plus years of study and observation make that speculation far from “naive,” son.

BTW, what, exactly do you do for a living, and what, exactly is your educational background? Judging from your incredibly (be)labored prose style, I know you’re not a writer. And with all the faux-jargon you use to hide an empty core, I’m also guessing you have no experience in any of the topics you endlessly pontificate about. Lots of sound and fury, signifying nothing, etc.

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J Thomas 09.15.14 at 11:56 pm

#450

But I have a little trouble dealing with someone who wants to argue, outside of his areas of concentration, but has no apparent understanding of what “rational justification” is about, thus what arguments are for or what their limits are: ya know, supporting your claims with reasons, evidences, conceptual clarifications. Because, whatever else “reason” might be, it is an offering of accounts, a game of giving and taking reasons, which itself contains an embedded ethical dimension, accountability.

My interpretation of what you’re saying, is that you want to invite us all to play an interesting game with interesting rules. We will try to explain our ethical stands based on some sort of axioms, and show the logic, and we will assist each other find internal contradictions in our reasoning, etc.

That sounds like kind of a fun game and I’d like to play at least part of the time. I’m a little concerned that something like Godel’s theorem might apply — I might need an infinite number of ethical axioms to define my stands. But I can’t actually ever be forced to describe an infinite number of them — I refuse. I’d die first. So that’s OK.

It kind of sounds like you think of this as more than a gun fame, as an ethical obligation that people should be required to live up to. I don’t see that you have the right to require it of people, but if you want to tell them you require it that’s your choice. When it comes to actual enforcement, I’m kind of dubious but I guess if you want to put out the effort, then I’ll decide whether I want to make an effort to oppose you or not.

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MPAVictoria 09.16.14 at 12:03 am

@450
No need to be a jerk man. Both of those posters are obviously here in good faith and provide useful comments.

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Tyrone Slothrop 09.16.14 at 12:36 am

Personally, I find the abutment of egos, and their corresponding mask-slips—however imperceptible those last—to be an integral part of the process of blog-lurkerdom; hence, I shall counter with jerk away, halasz dude.

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john c. halasz 09.16.14 at 12:39 am

@450:

No, you got me all wrong, in your attributions. I don’t believe that any systematic formally rational prescriptive ethics is possible, (with probably the last august classical attempt being Kant). And I think that conflicts between incommensurable norms and values are ripely possible and evident, (which doesn’t vitiate the matter). Since the topic of the OP was Rawls, (and I didn’t bother to participate til the thread had degenerated), I don’t think it’s generally appreciated how much Rawls’ initial approach has motivated by an attempt at a “rational choice” axiomatic approach to derive his ethico-political theory, and, once he realized that would fail, how he switched gears to obfuscate his motive. At any rate, I don’t think that a social order can be deduced from “first principles” and that norms can be explicated without attending to how they are actually generated and enforced through social processes. So the whole topic of “normative political philosophy” in the manner initiated by Rawls strikes me as uninteresting and pointless.

I am not trying to enforce anything. I’m simply recommending. As a matter of maintaining a quite contentious discursive Tubz community, highly imperfect as it may be, as an option for a very diverse readership, though generally educated and well-informed, to attend to. ‘Cause, like it or not, CT has established network effects, and amounts to a “brand”, which people can recognize. And it’s up to the “membership” to maintain whatever residual value remains in that “brand”, however erroneous the principals may be. (BTW I’ve been threatened with banning here at least 2 or 3 times).

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Collin Street 09.16.14 at 12:49 am

Both of those posters are obviously here in good faith and provide useful comments.

Enh.

Good faith, yes, but you have to remember “utility” depends on what you already have. Things that are useful to you might not be useful to other people. Most of what Plume writes, for example, is already known to me and has been for many years.

[and being given content-that-is-not-useful-to-you is not neutral but actually negative, because there’s no upside and disposing of it takes effort. Scrolling through Plume’s missives or ZM’s crazy-scottish-gibberish takes the time of scrolling and also the effort of looking for names of people-who-say-interesting-things…]

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MPAVictoria 09.16.14 at 12:58 am

“Things that are useful to you might not be useful to other people. Most of what Plume writes, for example, is already known to me and has been for many years”

Well luckily for me Colin the comments at this blog are not curated specifically for you….

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Plume 09.16.14 at 2:04 am

Collin @456,

Ha! There seems to be a real pattern here. The posters who like to take (unprovoked) potshots at others for somehow “failing to advance understanding” are singularly lacking in said ability. Do you think your posts, Collin, are presenting anything I didn’t already know? Or that they’re stunningly original? Sorry, to burst your bubble. But, no. You haven’t presented anything new, and you’re not at all original in these comment sections. Perhaps somewhere else, but not here.

I find it really weird that some expect original mini-dissertations, on some peer-reviewed plane of being here, rather than comments in the comments section. And, again, those who complain about the lack thereof don’t practice what they preach. Obviously.

I feel sorry for you and others deluded enough to think you really are writing deathless, wondrously original prose in CT comments. Get some help with your massively inflated egos, please. It’s almost always a sign of major insecurities.

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J Thomas 09.16.14 at 2:46 am

I am not trying to enforce anything. I’m simply recommending. As a matter of maintaining a quite contentious discursive Tubz community, highly imperfect as it may be, as an option for a very diverse readership, though generally educated and well-informed, to attend to.

OK! I like your recommendation and I will try to follow it, at least most of the time.

I don’t see any necessity to do that, I just like it. If other commenters who don’t do that annoy me too much I might chastise them, or maybe not. Pretty often that only provokes them to comment more about their preferences.

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Plume 09.16.14 at 3:01 am

It strikes me as kind of funny, in an unfunny kind of way. A couple of people here repeatedly say they have a problem with the threads getting derailed. They repeatedly take unprovoked pot shots at other posters which — drum roll please!!! — derails the threads. If they really wanted the threads to stay on topic, they’d STFU about other posters and direct their comments solely at the OP.

This isn’t rocket science and I shouldn’t have to explain this to them.

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