Logan Zoellner

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(Pseudo) Mathematical Realism Bad?

Initially the beings are pure minds existing in a empty universe, so there's no risk of dying or killing yourself, but plenty of driving yourself mad.  If they want a body, they have to imagine it into existence like anything else.  They reproduce by imagining other beings into existence.  I'm not really sure where the first one came from or how it learned anything, but at this point they have a thriving society and a culture for training new minds how to exist in harmony with the others.  One of the chief concerns of the beings is maintaining the norms of this culture with the worst possible punishment being ostracism for people who don't play by the rules.

Objects imagined into existence follow the laws of physics you imagine along with them, so you could have ice that melts or a perpetual motion machine if you want that instead.

It's also possible to create "planes" with more restrictive rules (sort of like spinning up a VM in a computer).

(Pseudo) Mathematical Realism Bad?

Changing the title to "pseudo mathematical realism bad?"

Libertarianism, Neoliberalism and Medicare for All?

There's a lot to get into here, maybe I will start a separate post about "ideal tax policy".  

 

I think the "ideal" reference case for non-distortionary tax policy is one with zero taxes in which all public services are provided for by a magic genie somehow.

Libertarianism, Neoliberalism and Medicare for All?

Yep.  This definitely not how it's done in the "real world".

In the "seat belts" example, this would involve replacing a law mandating seat-belts what a (presumably high) tax on selling vehicles without seatbelts set to equal the economic/social benefits of seat belts.

I think as a matter of pragmatism, there are cases where an outright ban is more/less reasonable than trying to determine the appropriate tax.  For example, I don't think anyone thinks that the "social  cost" of dumping nuclear waste into a river is something we actually want to contemplate.

Libertarianism, Neoliberalism and Medicare for All?

I think there is a good argument for a general principle in most cases of not subsidizing bad actors for stopping causing harm.

A carbon tax refunded in the from of a UBI is economically equivalent to a "low carbon subsidy" in which each citizen is paid for the amount of carbon they consume below the defined threshold.  In one case we are "penalizing bad behavior" in the other we are "subsidizing people for avoiding bad behavior".  

I agree that for the sake of optics we should "tax bad things" and "subsidize good ones" but from an economic point of view this is irrelevant.

 

But "avoiding introducing economic distortions" is, to me, not an obvious goal for a tax policy

Given two tax systems which produce the same amount of "income" for the government, we should prefer the one which leads to higher welfare overall.  This is why, for example, raising all of a government's income from tariffs is bad, because it uneconomically disadvantages imports leading to a less efficient economy overall.

A poll tax distorts in favor of the rich, a flat tax or VAT doesn't account for the declining marginal value of money to individuals (regressive in utility if not dollars)

I was suggesting a flat tax on income or consumption (VAT).  These should be identical over a lifetime.  A poll tax would be bad for obvious reasons.

I think that we should solve for "regressiveness" by doing a UBI, not by messing with the tax code.

WRT "declining marginal utility of money", I think this is over hyped.  Rich people don't consume dramatically more than those in the middle class.  To the extent that they spend their "excess" income on charity or investment, the marginal utility of those dollars is possibly higher than giving the same money to a already well-off middle class family.

I would much rather have a UBI in place than a minimum wage, if that choice were in front of me.

I think we agree here

Propinquity Cities So Far

I picked an extreme example of over regulation as a caricature, not to prove the general case.  But needless to say California has also rejected well-reasoned proposals with an ability to make a real impact.

Propinquity Cities So Far

Don't basically all cities control density pretty tightly? I know that a lot of density restriction is just nimbies defending housing scarcity, but it can't all be that, can it?

 

I think this is where the whole post goes off the rails.

In the real world there are massive economic inefficiencies created by government restrictions on density.  Suggesting that we can fix these with a more complex government system is like suggesting we can solve the "wolves eat sheep" problem with bigger wolves.

Libertarianism, Neoliberalism and Medicare for All?

In that sense, I'm not sure an unfunded mandate is any different than a tax increase on a specific activity with the goal of reducing or offsetting that activity.

 

I do agree there is an important truth here.  

A "punitive tax" and a "funded mandate" are exactly identical from a Pareto-optimum point of view.  In one case the costs show up as higher prices, in the other as higher taxes, but the net effect should be the same.  But sometimes I think we should have a funded mandate (Medicare for all) and sometimes we should have a tax (carbon tax).  

Why?

I think it partly boils down to political expediency.  Most people agree that health-care is good and so it should be subsidized.  Most people think global warming is bad, hence it should be taxed.  

I also think we should choose whichever one is simpler.

Imagine a counter-factual world where we taxed "non health insurance" and subsidized "negative carbon emitting activities".  Because everyone--presumably--needs the same type of insurance, we are creating addition work in which each individual is required to seek out and buy a product that is ultimately supposed to be identical for everyone.  

Conversely, in order to subsidize  negative carbon emissions, the government would be required to determine the carbon footprint of every individual and subsidize individuals whose footprint was lower than this amount.   This would be massively more complex than simply taxing carbon "at the source".  In fact the easiest way to implement such a subsidy would be to implement a carbon tax and then give every individual a "carbon subsidy" that they could use to pay for the tax.  This is precisely what a carbon tax+UBI rebate does anyway.

Libertarianism, Neoliberalism and Medicare for All?

First, sometimes a mandate is effectively a way to counteract already-existing externalities without needing constant legal battles that make it too inefficient for civil lawsuits to fix.

 

How is a mandate better at avoiding "constant legal battles" than e.g. a tax

 

In that sense, I'm not sure an unfunded mandate is any different than a tax increase on a specific activity with the goal of reducing or offsetting that activity.

I think this intuition is correct.  I'm just advocating that the government should explicitly acknowledge it is a tax (e.g. carbon tax) or subsidize it (e.g. medicare for all).  "Hidden"  taxes (in the form of unfunded mandates) seem like the worst possible method from an economic point of view because regulators can easily lie about their costs.

I also think costs tend to be higher overall in the "hidden tax" situation.  For example, mandating that people buy private insurance creates additional paperwork.  Similarly, imagine what a "regulatory regime" for carbon would look like.  The government would have to determine what industries were allowed to emit carbon and at what levels.  This would create a massive bureaucracy as well as an incentive to play favorites (for example by allowing cement producers to emit more than natural gas producers or vice versa).  

Aren't "taxes" in general an unfunded mandate, backed only by threat of force? 

MMT or not, the government needs to raise revenue in order to pay its debts.  MMT is just an argument about the appropriate level of taxation. I'm not aware of any MMT'ers who think the ideal level is 0, since that would inevitably lead to hyperinflation.  Ideally taxes should be as broad based as possible to avoid introducing economic distortions.  That means a VAT or a flat tax on income.

 

Suppose tomorrow the US government passes a law that abolishes the federal minimum wage, but imposes a tax on all businesses calculated to be exactly the difference between the wages paid to any employee making less than $7.25/hr and what their wage would be at $7.25/hr.

This only works if the businesses are earning more than $7.25/hr in profit per employee.  Otherwise, it drives businesses in low productivity areas into bankruptcy and forces those workers into unemployment.  This is precisely the argument against a minimum wage and in favor of a UBI.

I think your intuitions are good but don't survive contact with the average level of intelligence, sanity, and knowledge in political practice.

Alas, this is not wrong.

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