Thursday, October 14, 2010

 Greg Mankiw writes:
 I don’t want to move to a bigger house or buy that Ferrari, but I hope to put some money aside for my three children. They will never lead lives of leisure, but I hope they won’t have to struggle to find down payments to buy their own homes or to send their kids to college.
Various commentators have written about Mankiw's piece. Tyler Cowen seems to agree with the key point, as he writes:
I also see that if a person runs a successful small business, has a long time horizon, has a strong bequest motive, and can earn eight percent nominal a year (make it reinvestment in a private business if you don't buy the equity premium story), that person faces a very high marginal tax rate.  In one of Greg's examples it's about ninety percent.
But Tyler (and everybody else I've read) misses the critical factor: the ability to give money to your children, tax free, right now, means that Greg Manki (and anyone similarly situated) can avoid the estate tax portion of his calculation. As such, his marginal tax rate will not approach 90%, at least not until long, long after he has assured that his children will, indeed, live lives of leisure.

Professor Mankiw: you can give money to your children, tax free, every year. How much? $13,000 per year from you and another $13,000 per year from your wife. To each of your children. If your children are married, then that's another $26,000 you can give to their spouse. Every year

Let's say you give $26,000 per year to each of your children, starting at birth, who then invest it. Let's say they get 4% real return annually and you continue the gifts for 30 years. At the end of 30 years, each of your children will have well over $1.4 million.

The Census Bureau (2007) lists median household income for the US at just over $50,000. So if Greg's kids want to live comfortably (at the median household income) for the rest of their lives without ever working a day after their 30th birthday, they'll have to earn 3.5 percent (+/-) on their fortune.

Then once Greg dies, he can leave them another $3.5 million tax free in his estate. Say he has 3 kids, that's an extra $1.167 million per kid. Now let's say each of those kids takes that $1.167 million (which they don't need! They're already living a life of leisure without doing a day of work!) and invests it at a 4% real return annually for 40 years. That throws off $47,000 per year during their lifetimes ... which they can then turn around and give $23,500 per year to each of their two kids. Who will, in turn, never have to work a day past their 30th birthdays either. And then they can divide the $1.167 million between their kids, who can pass it on to their kids....

Never working a day after your 30th birthday: sounds like a "life of leisure" to me. Not only for your kids, but for your grandkids. And all of that on money that has not been touched by the estate tax.

Tyler Cowen writes (same piece):
I am more struck by the possibility that such marginal rates are morally wrong and I wonder if that is not his view too.
But a 90% marginal tax rate only applies to people who are trying to give money to their children beyond the point at which their children can already live lives of leisure. I don't see any moral problem with that, at all.

If you have so much money that the estate tax is going to take a bite, why not plan ahead and, I don't know, maybe give some of your money to somebody else. Don't you have any nephews or nieces you're fond of? What about friends of your children? Children of your friends? What about deserving folks you run across in other walks of your life? Former students who through no fault of their own fall on hard times? Start throwing $26,000 per year, every year, at those folks. Maybe even consider donating to some charities. Your marginal tax rate will never approach 90%, and you just might make a difference in the world that would do more good than giving your children more money than they will ever need.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Glenn's latest post on Obama's embrace and extension of Bush II's anti-terror policies, as usual on this topic, is depressingly accurate. In particular, at stake is the claim that the President can, at will, assassinate anyone suspected of being a terrorist -- and, by extension, that the President can literally have anyone on the planet murdered, detained, tortured, or anything else he feels like.

I'm starting to wonder whether a case can be made that liberals should support the Republican nominee for President in 2012.

Crazy? Probably. Let's see some objections.

"No matter how bad Obama is, the Republican nominee will undoubtedly be worse." True!

"Obama has been a pretty solid president on most issues." True!

So why the angst over this one issue? In the first place, because it's not just one issue; it's the key question of ... well, of whether we are actually a free people. Overstatement? Maybe! But think about the implications of the doctrine that the President can unilaterally kill anyone on the planet, at will, by invoking the word "terrorist."

(1) The term "terrorist" is deeply ambiguous and can be applied to a range of people.

(1a) Because the President is doing the application, by his own judgment and subject to no external check, the word can extend well beyond its current meaning (which is already pretty ambiguous).

(2) Think about what happens when the demonizing word of the day is no longer "terrorist." What if it goes back to being "Communist"?

(2a) Think about McCarthy for a moment -- for liberals, he's one of American history's greatest monsters, right? Did he ever advocate for the right to assassinate suspected Commuinsts? If you were a left-leaning filmmaker in the 1950's, would you rather be blackballed or murdered?
All of a sudden, Obama makes McCarthy look like a moderate. How depressing is that?

(2b) What if the demonization word becomes "bourgeois"? Or "counter-revolutionary"? Or, more generally, "enemy of the state"?

It seems to me that if this precedent stands, something absolutely fundamental about America has been destroyed. Arguments about the details of economic policy, say, seem distinctly secondary. We've survived crappy economic policy before; we'll survive it again. But we've never seen this radical Orwell-esque power grab by the government before.

Next objection: the Republicans, of all people, will never rescind this executive power grab.
Response: True. But at least somebody will be opposing them: the Democrats. Liberals. At least we will fight against it again. Republican rule will prove itself disastrous again, and we'll elect another Democrat. And when we do, we will make damned sure that he will end and repudiate these anti-terrorism policies.

Final objection: But Obama said he would fight against it, and then he embraced it. How will we know the next Democratic president will be any better?
Response: True, he did. And ... we won't know.

God, I'm depressed.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sully links to this post by Rod Dreher and quotes this bit:

[M]y alarm goes off when [Anonymous Liberal] writes about "those [of] us left in the empirical world." Really? You really do think you live in the empirical world? Mind you, everybody believes that he sees the world as it really is, but I am struck by how confident people are that they can't possibly be missing something, that they and their tribe have all the answers, and don't have to consider how their own biases distort reality. Put another way, I'd be interested to know what counts for "empirical" in Anonymous Liberal's world.
Well, in the first place, on any possible meaning whatever "empirical" does not mean "seeing the world as it really is," let alone "hav[ing] all the answers" or not considering how "biases distort reality." That's just stupid.

But Sully should have known not to take Dreher's post seriously after sentence one:

There has been a lot of commentary on the political blogs around the concept of "epistemic closure," which is a fancy way of saying "closed-mindedness."
 As the originator of the phrase w/r/t this discussion, Julian Sanchez, has been very clear, "epistemic closure" precisely does not mean "closed-mindedness." It is something else entirely. I'll quote Sanchez. His most recent post:

What I had meant to describe specifically was the construction of a full-blown alternative media ecosystem, which has been become more self-sufficient and self-contained as it’s become more interconnected.
 And his original post:

Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!)  This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile. Think of the complete panic China’s rulers feel about any breaks in their Internet firewall: The more successfully external sources of information have been excluded to date, the more unpredictable the effects of a breach become. Internal criticism is then especially problematic, because it threatens the hermetic seal. It’s not just that any particular criticism might have to be taken seriously coming from a fellow conservative. Rather, it’s that anything that breaks down the tacit equivalence between “critic of conservatives and “wicked liberal smear artist” undermines the effectiveness of the entire information filter.  If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely—maybe even when it comes from the New York Times. And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation.
Dreher goes on to talk about Alasdair MacIntyre's concept of tradition-based rationality (although Dreher, for once, doesn't identify it as such within the confines of this post). But MacIntyre would agree with Sanchez here, not Dreher. In order to be rational, for MacIntyre, a tradition needs to consider the best arguments offered by other traditions. Not to get this ... to invoke MacIntyre in support of "everybody is closed-minded" (let alone everybody is epistemically closed) ... is simply pathetic. I wish there were a nicer way to say that.

This is just a bad post. It doesn't get into any of the specifics of the bill at all, or explain why they would be bad. It just consists of a bunch of hand-waving and 'boo government bad.' It's just dreadful.

For instance,

In the left-liberal imagination, health care reform means getting the greedy bad guys in private enterprise out of health care delivery and securing the “right” to health care with a “single payer” system. That euphemism, like most verbal obfuscations, is a tacit admission that there’s nothing remotely close to public consensus about changing health care delivery. In the free-market conservative imagination, reform would mean buying health care in the same way we purchase milk, whiskey, or a new Lexus, linking consideration of price to unlimited desire for stuff.

precisely misses Obama's concept, which is neither left nor right, by these definitions. This is not a single-payer bill, but it also doesn't succumb to the delusion that health care is a good like any other.

The author of this piece doesn't know the first thing about Obama's health care bill. The piece is an embarrassment.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rafael Yglesias, A Happy Marriage

Joshua Ferris, The Unnamed

Both highly recommended. I'm still recovering from the latter, which I just finished this afternoon. They remind me of each other.

Both books are emotionally powerful (painful!) meditations on the nature of embodiment (as our bodies, by going badly awry, break through our preferred notion of ourselves as self-possessed) ... and how the realization that self-possession is a lie affects our deepest relationships.

I cried at the end of Yglesias' book. I just said "Oof" at the end of Ferris'. I think maybe that means I like Yglesias' just a tiny bit better. But I'll have to let Ferris' book sit with me a while to be sure.

Monday, April 12, 2010

John Cleese gets it right.
Cheney and Ratzinger

So this story charges that Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Powell, and others knew that most of the detainees at Guantanamo were innocent. Yes, it's amazing that this story is not being significantly covered in the USA so far. One thing I haven't seen mentioned so far is this aspect:

He also claimed that one reason Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld did not want the innocent detainees released was because “the detention efforts would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were”. This was “not acceptable to the Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at DoD [Mr Rumsfeld at the Defence Department]”.
Looks to me like

Guantanamo : Bush Adminstration :: Molestation of children : Vatican

The same sick preference for the reputation of the institution over the real lives of actual humans. Absolutely disgusting.
The most disturbing thing you'll read today (I hope)

I don't think it's common knowledge just how long the Catholic Church has been teaching a thoroughly misguided view of sexuality. St. Thomas Aquinas is the most important theologian of the Middle Ages. He discusses sexuality (and pretty much every other question of theology and ethics) in his Summa Theologiae. The sex bits come at IIa.IIa3.Q94, or you can just follow the link here.

Go down to #11, where Aquinas talks about "the unnatural vice." There are 4 kinds of unnatural vice: homosexuality, bestiality, masturbation, and (if I'm reading him correctly) getting off in weird ways.
This may happen in several ways. First, by procuring pollution, without any copulation, for the sake of venereal pleasure: this pertains to the sin of "uncleanness" which some call "effeminacy." Secondly, by copulation with a thing of undue species, and this is called "bestiality." Thirdly, by copulation with an undue sex, male with male, or female with female, as the Apostle states (Romans 1:27): and this is called the "vice of sodomy." Fourthly, by not observing the natural manner of copulation, either as to undue means, or as to other monstrous and bestial manners of copulation.
Now go down to #12, "Whether the unnatural vice is the greatest sin among the species of lust?" Aquinas answers: Yes. Yes, it is. Homosexuality and masturbation are worse than adultery. Worse than incest. Worse than rape. Why?
Wherefore just as in speculative matters the most grievous and shameful error is that which is about things the knowledge of which is naturally bestowed on man, so in matters of action it is most grave and shameful to act against things as determined by nature. Therefore, since by the unnatural vices man transgresses that which has been determined by nature with regard to the use of venereal actions, it follows that in this matter this sin is gravest of all.
It's contrary to nature "with regard to the use of venereal actions," that's why! The penis isn't going where it's supposed to be going! Compared to the proper mutual arrangement of the genitals, matters such as the consent of the parties involved or the sacred bond of marriage are relatively minor matters.

If you read Objection 1 and then the reply to Objection 1 in #12, you'll see that Aquinas considers, and explicitly rejects, the notion that adultery and rape are worse than masturbation and homosexual behavior. His reply to the objection is that rape is only a sin against charity (love), while masturbation is a sin against nature, and hence a sin against God, "the author of nature" -- and sins against God are worse than sins against love. (Duh.)

The reasoning here is so clear and obvious! Once you take the premises as a given, it all follows. Being unnatural is worse than being unloving. And the definition of sexual nature is all about genital placement. All done!

It only falls apart if you step back and think for one second about your conclusion. And then, I suppose, it only falls apart if you have any experience whatever of what it means to be in a committed, loving, sexual relationship.

Imagine a priest who took this seriously. "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I raped my daughter." "This is a very serious sin. But what about the important question: have you stopped masturbating?" And yet this is the official position of probably the single most important theologian (along with Augustine) who has shaped Catholic theology and ethics.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ross Douthat takes a page from Dick Cheney's rhetorical playbook in his latest.

Has Benedict done enough to clean house and show contrition? Alas, no. Has his Vatican responded to the latest swirl of scandal with retrenchment, resentment, and an un-Christian dose of self-pity? Absolutely. Can this pontiff regain the kind of trust and admiration, for himself and for his office, that John Paul II enjoyed? Not a chance

There needs to be a word for this particular rhetorical strategy. You ask a series of questions that appear to be at least moderately difficult and probing, all the while dancing around the actual tough questions.

Let's try asking some tougher questions. Was Benedict directly responsible for covering up the rapes of children? Has he shown more concern for the reputation of the church than the lives of parishioners? Is there any evidence that he has learned from his mistakes and would do anything differently if he had it all to do over? If this had happened within any institution in the western world outside of the Catholic Church, would those who covered this up be facing criminal prosecution? On what charges? What would be the likely jail time, if convicted? Are we holding members of the Catholic hierarchy to a lower moral and legal standard than others?

I don't even care how you answer those questions. But ask them, please. Those are the questions that matter.

So, the Pope. Ratzinger. The latest story is a bit of a doozy. Check out Sullivan's wrap-up if you haven't already. (Andrew's having a tough time taking weekends off, isn't he?)

I don't even know what to say. There but for the grace of God? No, not really. I can't even imagine seeing a case like that and having my first thought be "We must protect the church."

"Nothing human is alien to me": those of us with pretensions to suavity or world-weariness would love to be able to say that. Well, Ratzinger's response to this case -- and the church's response to all these cases -- kicks that right out of me. A lot of types of evil make sense to me. This one, not so much.