First things first, read the preply by Obama's advisors Furman & Goolsbee that came out a few weeks ago:
Second, the best independent analysis of the candidates' tax plans is from the Tax Policy Center:
If you take the time to read it you'll find some excellent criticism of both sets of proposals, and comparison of their comparative effects. For those with less time, check out the following (or at least the ones I've starred):
*Table 1 (p.6)
Table R3 (p.26)
Figure 1 (p.38)
Figure 2 (p.39)
*Tables R4 & R5 (p.42-43)
*Figure 3 (p.46)
(I should note that I disagree agree with TPC's gloss on the aims of the candidates' proposals ["growth" vs "progressivity"].)
Here are links to a few commentaries I read on the column:
The following are also helpful:
I'll try to stitch together some of this into a coherent response to the column.
As the TPC analysis makes clear, McCain's tax plan would barely increase after-tax incomes for most Americans while massively increasing after-tax incomes for those at the top of the income scale, both in absolute and percentage-of-income terms. Those in the bottom three quintiles would see their after-tax incomes rise by 1% (give or take) or on average a few hundred dollars; those in the top quintile would see their after-tax rise by almost 6% or an average of over $12k. For those in the top 1%, with an average income of over $600k, McCain's plan would increase their after-tax income by an average of 8.2% or over $100k. He is offering the Bush model of tax cuts, only more so.
These tax cuts will result in a massive decrease in government revenues. Over ten years, the TPC estimates this decrease at almost $7 trillion. The figure for Obama is around $2.5 trillion. Now McCain has claimed that, despite his tax cuts and increases in spending on the military and health care etc., he will balance the budget by the end of his first term. This simply will not happen, no matter who controls congress. Balancing the budget would require cuts equivalent to slashing Social Security and Medicare by 60%, returning government spending as a percentage of GDP to what it was under *Eisenhower*. Even with realistic spending cuts, McCain's plan will result in large increases in deficit spending, far more so than under Obama's plan -- it is Obama who is the fiscal conservative in this race. McCain is offering the Bush model of deficit spending, only more so. Remember, deficit spending is just paying for current spending by borrowing from future taxpayers, e.g. us and our children.
The question, then, is whether McCain's tax cuts (primarily directed at the highest earners) will foster sufficient economic growth to justify such massive deficit spending. There are good reasons to think it will not.
First, a similar strategy, the Bush tax cuts, did not produce broad-based economic growth; despite seeing strong GDP growth, the average income of working (i.e. not retired) households has actually fallen since 2000. Growth did not trickle down. Under the Bush tax cuts, the people who received the least benefit from economic growth will be responsible for paying back a larger share (as percentage of income) of the accrued debt than those who benefitted most.
Second, while lower marginal tax rates do incentivize additional earning and growth, empirical studies have shown that the effect is less than economic theory would predict. There are surely many reasons for this. Among them is the fact that salaried employees, and hourly employees who are already working as much as they can, are not able to earn more by working more (without switching jobs), so additional gain from more work is largely irrelevant to them. (It is relevant to those working less than they can, e.g. part-timers or people able to take another job, etc.) Most working Americans are substantially insulated from the incentivizing effects of lower marginal tax rates.
Third, while lowering average tax rates does increase spending and investment, everyone does not spend or invest in ways which benefit the economy equally. Lower income earners spend a higher percentage of their incomes on domestic goods and services, and invest more at home, i.e. in their homes, educations, etc. Higher income earners spend a higher percentage of their income abroad (on foreign made luxury goods, travel, etc.) and invest more abroad as well (in foreign stockmarkets, vacation homes, etc.). McCain's tax cuts thus return money to those who are least likely to spend and invest that money in the domestic economy.
Fourth, increasing the debt raises the risk of impeding economic growth in the future when taxes have to be increased to finance repayment.
Taking these four factors together, McCain's plan is unlikely to increase lasting, broad-based economic growth and, even if it does, it will not be the most efficient way to encourage that growth. We would get more bang for our buck (more growth per dollar of tax cuts) by cutting taxes on those who are most likely to save and invest in the domestic economy which, not coincidentally, is what Obama has proposed.
It's worth noting that something closer to McCain's strategy might be better in other circumstances, for example when tax rates were much higher. The top marginal rate was over 90% for many years from 1944 to 1963, peaking at 94%! Reagan cut the top rate from 69% to 50% in 1982, and again to 38.5% in 1987. The disincentive of such extremely high marginal rates undoubtedly impeded growth significantly -- overall, those were good tax cuts. But the top marginal rate today is 35%. Cutting or raising marginal tax rates from their current level would not affect incentives or economic growth nearly so much.
Finally there are broader macroeconomic forces to consider. There has been a lively debate among economist about the causes of rapidly rising income inequality since the early '80s, now equalling income inequality in the late 1920s. One prevalent explanation is that globalization has created a labor glut keeping wages of lower skilled workers from rising, while higher skill workers who do not face substantial competition from low wage countries have seen their incomes rise as their skills are in greater demand. This plausible explanation means that global economic forces are already bolstering the better off. By favoring the well off, Bush's and McCain's economic policies help those who are already experiencing heightened economic advantage. In contrast, those who globalization puts an an economic disadvantage see little help. This has fostered a constituency of lower skilled workers who oppose trade and globalization. For strong supporters of trade and globalization (like Bush and McCain; myself included) this is counterproductive. McCain's proposals only compound this problem. As Obama recognizes, for continued globalization and trade to be politically viable, some way must be found to assist those who experience the most extreme dislocations, like job loss, so everyone can continue to share that the broader benefits of globalization (cheaper goods, effective higher disposable incomes, higher growth rates, etc.). Obama's proposed tax increases on the highest earners are not a punishment for their success; rather, they eliminate the extra boost they received relative to other earners in the Bush tax cuts. Under Obama's proposals, the highest earners would still be far better off than they were in 2000, because larger economic forces, not just tax cuts, produced their rising incomes.
Now for some detailed criticism of the Feldstein/Taylor column.
While they are correct that the US corporate tax rate is the second highest in the OECD, they neglect to mention that the US has the fourth lowest amount of combined corporate income tax revenue relative to GDP. In other words, the US raises less from corporate tax (as a percentage of GDP) than most OECD countries and, on average, corporations pay less here (as a percentage of revenue) than in almost every other OECD country. There are probably many reasons for this, but among them is the fact that the US corporate tax base is narrower than elsewhere. Consequently, although the headline corporate tax rate is higher, it is unlikely that this puts the US at any disadvantage to other industrialized countries. The complexity of the tax code, which both McCain and Obama seek to improve by closing loopholes (i.e. raising taxes), is likely a larger factor.
Regarding "doubling the personal exemption to $7,000 from $3,500", this is misleading. According to the Tax Policy Center, “although this provision is sometimes described as a doubling of the personal exemption, that is true only in the first year, and then only for lower-income married couples,” leaving everyone else out. Every other family’s exemption is not fully phased in until 2016, and “because it is not refundable, it is worth nothing to poor families and little to many in the working-class.” (From http://thinkprogress.org/wonkroom/2008/09/02/wsj-all-americans/)
As for cutting taxes, the TPC analysis confirms assertions by Obama and his advisors that he offers tax cuts to 95% of taxpayers, and a net tax cut overall (give or take some trickiness to do with baselines). These are not one time rebates, as described by Feldstein/Taylor, but new refundable tax credits. Obama would raise the top marginal rates of income, dividend and capital gains tax, but only for families making over $250k ($160k for individuals? I forget). Nonetheless, Obama's proposed rates are still lower than the rates which prevailed under Clinton, and for most years under Reagan (depending on the tax in question).
Regarding health care, their claims are even more suspect. McCain does offer a $5k health care tax credit for families, $2.5k for individuals. This is largely paid for by taxing as income the cost of employer provided health care. This tax increase offsets, to some extent, the gain from the tax credit. Now, Feldstein & Taylor are correct that, if everyone's coverage stays the same, everyone will come out ahead with this tax credit. But everyone's coverage won't stay the same. McCain's plan creates an incentive for employers to drop health coverage, because health coverage will no longer be a tax efficient way of providing compensation. So many employers are likely to drop coverage. Even if they increase worker salaries by the same amount as health care had cost (keeping employer costs the same), employees will see a tax increase as they are now taxed on that additional income. And the employee will now have to buy coverage individually, potentially in the more expensive non-group market. What's the bottom line? In the best case scenario (wages increase in the amount of the employer contribution to coverage, and no increase in premium), the net subsidy is about half of McCain's tax credit. Everyone else, likely most people, will fare worse, and many will see their cost of insurance (after taxes and transfers) go up; in the worst case, the increase in costs would be in the thousands. (FYI, the average cost of a family health plan is $12k; $4.5k for an individual.) And it only gets worse from there, because McCain's credits aren't indexed to anything -- not inflation, not health care cost (higher than inflation), nothing -- so the value of McCain's credits will decrease over time. (See here for more info: http://econ4obama.blogspot.com/2008/04/mccains-health-care-plan.html)
Furthermore, there's the bang-for-buck issue again. According to the TPC's preliminary analysis, Obama's plan would cost $1.6 trillion over 10 years, with McCain's plan not far behind at $1.3 trillion. But Obama's plan would reduce the number of uninsured by 34 million in 2018, while McCain's would only reduce the number of uninsured by 5 million at peak in 2013 (before the declining value of his credits causes the number to go up). McCain spends almost an much but manages to cover almost 30 million fewer people -- why? Well, a huge reason is that the value of his subsidy (after taxes and transfers) isn't all that large. Beyond that, though, he creates a high-risk pool to provide government subsidized insurance for those who cannot obtain insurance in the private market -- that is, the government is the exclusive payer for the most expensive people to insure. So instead of having the cost of their care distributed widely across an insurance pool in the private market, they will be expensively insured by the government free of all market forces. Moreover, this structure creates an incentive for private insurers to refuse to cover people, forcing them into the government's high-risk pool and further increasing costs on the taxpayer.
Obama's health plan, though not perfect, avoids these pitfalls. Insurers are prohibited from refusing coverage, but the added cost of covering high-risk people is largely balanced by covering many currently uninsured low-risk people. The government offers a health plan, but private companies compete against the government in providing coverage through the insurance exchange. This approach is similar to the MA scheme -- Adam helpfully linked to the editorial describing the broadly positive results of MA's experiment.
That's enough for now. As far as I'm concerned (and as you have probably guessed), when it comes to economic and fiscal policy, there is only one serious candidate in this race.
Have we been lying about Kant on lying?
An officer comes to the door inquiring of a servant whether the master of the house is at home. In Kant's view, if the servant intentionally answers untruthfully, allowing the master to slip away and commit a crime, then the servant is guilty of being an accomplice to the crime. In a context such as this, Kant's view is that the officer can rightfully demand that the servant answer truthfully, in the sense that the servant, and not the officer, will bear responsibility for the actions that result from the officer's believing what is said.
Kant refers to the type of answer required in this sort of quasi-legal context as, in Wood's translation, a "declaration" (Aussage, Deklaration) (p. 241). According to Wood's specification of this Kantian notion, "a declaration occurs in a context where others are warranted or authorized (befugt) in relying on the truthfulness of what is said," and a declaration can "make the speaker liable by right, and thus typically subject to criminal penalties or civil damages, if what is said is knowingly false" (p. 241 my emphasis). But, according to Wood, Kant's technical conception of a lie (Lüge, mendacium) is the conception of "an intentionally untruthful statement that is contrary to duty, especially contrary to a duty of right" (p. 240). Hence any false 'declaration' is a lie, since it will be contrary to a duty of right; and the following traditionally incendiary Kantian claim is merely an analytic proposition: All lies are contrary to duty.
By contrast, an untruthful statement that does not amount to a 'declaration,' is merely a falsiloquium -- merely a "falsification" (p. 240). While many of the details of Wood's discussion of lying remain (regarding especially what a proper Kantian response should be to the different case of a murderer at the door) it should certainly be enough here just to include a passage from Kant's ethical lectures that I, at least, had never seen (nor seen anyone mention) before I read this book. (The citation is Ak 27:447.) Regarding the general topic of committing a falsiloquium, of saying something intentionally untrue when there is no 'declaration' in play, Kant says that:I can also commit a falsiloquium when my intent is to hide my intentions from the other, and he can also presume that I shall do so, since his own purpose is to make a wrongful use of the truth. If an enemy, for example, takes me by the throat and demands to know where my money is kept, I can hide the information here, since he means to misuse the truth. That is still no mendacium.What this means is that if someone shows up at the door with murderous intent, and if, in addition to that, she is not in a position to demand a 'declaration' from me, then I can indeed, on Kant's view, tell her something intentionally untruthful. As Kant understands this technical notion, that is still no lie.
Hawaii Trip Photos
In US public policy, all roads lead to healthcare. Remorseless pressure on public spending? Blame Medicare. Economic insecurity? Fear of losing health benefits is a chief cause. Stagnant wages and worsening inequality? Look to the cost of employer-provided insurance. This failing system is a national scandal not just in its own right, but because of its proliferating fiscal, economic and political implications.This is the first I've heard of this proposal. I find it quite interesting and would like to see informed reactions to it. Emanuel's proposal immediately calls to mind similar proposals for implementing school vouchers while ensuring the universal availability of publicly funded education. One concern that occurs to me is how regulatory capture of the National Health Board—charged with setting reimbursement rates to insurers under the plan—by the insurance industry would be avoided. This proposal has the advantage of clearly indicating how cost savings would be achieved, which remains uncertain under the other plans on offer (including Obama's, which I tend to favor).
For many workers without employer-provided insurance, the cost of cover is now prohibitive. The average cost for a family is $12,000 (€7,700, £6,100) a year (roughly a quarter of median household income before tax) and rising handsomely in real terms. If you have cover provided by your employer, losing your job means losing your insurance. The unluckiest – especially those with a dreaded “pre-existing condition” – may then face ruin. This vastly amplifies the anxieties colouring the election and driving the US towards an increasingly strident anti-business, anti-trade outlook.
Even those with employer-provided insurance and no fear of losing it are unhappy, because the cost is eating up their wages. It is so high and rising so fast that many workers can expect pay rises or continued coverage, but not both. If you add the cost of insurance to wages, the pay of low- and middle-income workers has not in fact been stagnant. Concerns about living standards and widening inequality are linked to health policy.
[Ezekiel Emanuel] points to employer-provided insurance as a critical defect in the US system. Inequities, inefficiencies and avoidable insecurity all flow from this model, which itself is a result of the $200bn tax break lavished on employers. In this he agrees with Senator John McCain who wants to give everybody tax relief for health insurance, regardless of who buys it. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama rely on employer-provided insurance and suggest ways of compelling or encouraging it.
Mr Emanuel also wants truly universal coverage. Here he parts with all three presidential candidates. Mr McCain’s plan is feeble: a subsidy to the low-paid (in the form of a refundable tax credit), but no clear solution to the pervasive problem of uninsurable “bad risks”. Mrs Clinton’s subsidies-plus-mandate is better, but would fall short of universal coverage (witness Massachusetts, which has tried a variant of her scheme); Mr Obama’s subsidies-without-mandate has the same defect, only more so.
Mr Emanuel proposes a universal healthcare voucher, entitling every citizen to privately-provided insurance, with standard benefits equal to those enjoyed by members of Congress. Insurers would be forbidden to deny coverage to any citizen, regardless of pre-existing conditions. They would be reimbursed by the government with a risk-adjusted premium for every enrolee – taking account of age, sex, pre-existing conditions and other factors using a formula to be determined by a new National Health Board. The system would start by covering the uninsured and those covered by their employers; in due course it would absorb Medicaid and Medicare.
This is not a single-payer plan: competition among insurers and health plans would be crucial to its success. But competition would revolve not around denying coverage by excluding bad risks, but around providing good results. To that end, companies would have to report detailed information on their performance and quality of service.
This is not a new idea. France’s mostly excellent system has similarities. But the presentation of the case has never been so concise or clear. Why then will it get nowhere? Because Mr Emanuel wants his scheme to be financed through a value added tax of 10 per cent, dedicated exclusively to the purpose. This instantly consigns the idea to the realm of the politically impossible...
Good news for CUNY Philosophy
Prinz from North Carolina to CUNY Grad CenterI, for one, and looking forward to riding the rising tide of our rankings.
Jesse Prinz (philosophy of mind, cognitive science, moral psychology), one of the leading figures working at the intersection of philosophy and cognitive science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has accepted appointment as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he will start in January 2009. With Prinz and David Rosenthal, among others, CUNY will be a major center for philosophy and cognitive science.
In addition, Jeffrey Blustein (bioethics) at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine has accepted a senior position at City College, and will also be appointed at the Graduate Center, where he will teach a seminar once every year or so.
It is probably worth pointing out, for the benefit of prospective students, that CUNY has in the last few years seen a dramatic improvement in its financial aid packages for PhD students, such that they are now highly competitive with the best private universities. For a long time, relatively weak financial aid was an obstacle for many students in considering CUNY, but that has now changed. With the recent success in faculty recruitment--besides Prinz, also Noel Carroll and Graham Priest just recently, as well as Alan Berger, Saul Kripke, Stephen Neale, and Catherine Wilson in the last few years--on top of longtime faculty strengths (in areas like logic, philosophy of language and mind, and applied ethics), CUNY is poised to be competitive at the top ranks of U.S. philosophy programs. (The program will surely rank in the top 20 in the fall PGR surveys, and perhaps higher.
So, it depends on where you are, but I think it's fair to say that the places where we are going to have to do the most work are the places where people are most cynical about government. The people are mis-appre...they're misunderstanding why the demographics in our, in this contest have broken out as they are. Because everybody just ascribes it to 'white working-class don't wanna work -- don't wanna vote for the black guy.' That's...there were intimations of that in an article in the Sunday New York Times today - kind of implies that it's sort of a race thing.
Here's how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long. They feel so betrayed by government that when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn't buy it. And when it's delivered by -- it's true that when it's delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama, then that adds another layer of skepticism.
But -- so the questions you're most likely to get about me, 'Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What is the concrete thing?' What they wanna hear is so we'll give you talking points about what we're proposing -- to close tax loopholes, uh you know uh roll back the tax cuts for the top 1%, Obama's gonna give tax breaks to uh middle-class folks and we're gonna provide healthcare for every American.
But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
Um, now these are in some communities, you know. I think what you'll find is, is that people of every background -- there are gonna be a mix of people, you can go in the toughest neighborhoods, you know working-class lunch-pail folks, you'll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you think I'd be very strong and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you're doing what you're doing.
Obama subsequently clarified his intent speaking in Indiana:
People don't vote on economic issues because they don't expect anybody is going to help them. So people end up voting on issues like guns and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. They take refuge in their faith and their community, and their family, and the things they can count on. But they don't believe they can count on Washington.
What should be clear from these quotes is that Obama was saying that "working-class white voters" are rational, just not in the way many expected. Obama recognizes that this demographic has often voted on values rather than on economic issues. Rather than explaining their behavior in a way that makes it out to be irrational -- by attributing it to religious persuasion, intellectual deficit, or (in this election) racial bias -- Obama explains their behavior on the basis of a pessimistic induction about politician's campaign promises: "Many times before politicians have made campaign promises to improve our economic situation but have not delivered, so when a politician next makes a campaign promise to improve our economic situation we will not expect them to be upheld and consequently will not vote on the basis of that expectation; rather we will vote on the basis of a candidates values which we have better reason to think will be maintained." Much like behavioral economists, with whose work he is reported to be familiar, Obama is seeking rational explanations for seemingly irrational behavior, and attempting to transform those rational explanations into concrete (electoral) gains.
So there you have it, according to his opponents and many in the media, Obama has "insulted" voters by making them out to be rational!
Double Taxation & the NY "Amazon" Tax
It is not yet known how Amazon will respond to this move. There are two obvious options: (1) to challenge NY's law in court as a violation of the Supreme Court's 1992 decision Quill vs. North Dakota; (2) to terminate sales affiliate relationships based in NY. The first option may not prove successful as the 1992 decision was based on the premise that complying with myriad local tax obligations across the country would put an undue burden on interstate commerce; today, however, IT has made compliance far easier, certainly for the likes of Amazon. (A more promising route, I believe, would be to challenge the law's $10,000 threshold; but, assuming an alternative test can be found, it is hard to imagine how Amazon would not meet it.) Should Amazon lose or choose not to pursue the first option, the second will be short-term only as other states are likely to quickly follow NY's lead.
As a consumer, though, my primary complaint with the new law is double taxation. Like most states, NY requires residents to pay a "use tax" on purchases made outside the state. NY includes a line on its standard tax forms for this tax and requires it be filled in. While doubtless many do not pay this tax, failing to do so puts the (non-)taxpayer at significant risk should she be audited. For those that do pay the tax, there are two methods: either to tediously calculate the actual tax owed on each and every out of state purchase, or to pay an estimated amount based on income, which is obviously the popular option. Here is where the double taxation concern comes in: under the new law the "use tax" has not been repealed -- nor, so far as I know, have the amounts used for the estimation method been adjusted -- so the honest taxpayer will continue to pay the "use tax", but her income (on the basis of which the amount of tax is estimated) is not diminished by those out of state purchases on which she did pay tax. Effectively she will be taxed twice on the same purchases. (This was already the case previously when purchasing from out of state retailers that do charge tax on items shipped to NY.)
The estimation method of paying the "use tax" also creates a perverse incentive: honest taxpayers reduce their marginal rate of taxation (for a given income) on out of state purchases by making more such purchases! For anyone who, like most NY residents, makes a substantial number of out of state purchases and uses the estimation method, the "use tax" regime actually encourages increased out of state purchasing, rather than establishing a level playing field for NY retailers. This effect is reduced as sales tax is levied by more out of state retailers, however the double taxation is then magnified.
Given these considerations, NY should either keep the "use tax" (at least for purchases over a suitably high threshold) and not require retailers to levy sales tax on purchases by NY residents, or the reverse. What the legislature should not do is, of course, exactly what they have done, maintain the "use tax" in full while extending the levy of sales tax by out of state retailers.
FOLLOWUP -- A nice article on related developments: Tax-free Internet shopping days could be numbered - CNET News.com
More on typography and design
I think the real story here is less about typography than it is about discipline. Political campaigns are the Brigadoon of branding. There’s a compressed amount of time to tell a candidate’s story before the race is over and the campaign vanishes. During that window, the campaign must make sure that everything it produces — everything it touches — delivers the candidate’s message in a meaningful way. No opportunity to amplify that story should be missed. The Obama people have used design to take that discipline to a whole new level.
On another note, the H&FJ blog points out the stunning new designs for British coinage:
Be sure to read their sad but humorous comparison with the new US five dollar notes.