Sunday, April 30, 2006

Idiot season

No matter how cynical one is about politics - and I try to set the bar high for myself - it's hard not to get trumped every day of the week. You can't keep up with these guys.

Okay, gasoline prices are way up. What do you expect when Iraq is in flames and Iran will be nuked if Karl Rove concludes that this will pay off electorally in November.

But not to worry, the Democrats have a great plan. Let's suspend the gasoline tax for six months. If the U.S. has monopsony power in the world marketplace, this amounts to saying: let's take the money out of the U.S. government's hands and make sure that foreign governments or oil companies get it instead. Or, if the price does moderate, it says: let's make sure the price signals don't get through and start changing American energy behavior. We wouldn't want to start reducing our international economic vulnerability, after all.

Senator Frist's office, whether or not stupider, is at least funnier. Our friend the timely-trading video diagnostician wants to start mailing out $100 checks to people. No need even to own a car for this one. And the deep thinking behind it is almost as rich as the proposal itself. From today's New York Times:

"David Winston, a Republican pollster who advises the Senate Republican leadership, called the rebate an intuitive way to show voters that Republicans were on their side. 'It is like putting the American family budget ahead of oil company profits, Mr. Winston said. "'How do you help the American families out? Well, give them some money.'"

Not TOO far ahead of oil company profits, however, given that American families are paying for their own checks through the increased fiscal gap. And what's more, the rebate is merely "the signature element of a broader Senate Republican leadership plan announced Thursday that included new incentives for the oil industry to increase its refining capacity and ... would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling."

At a certain point there's really nothing left to say.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Another newly posted paper of mine

"Welfare, Cash Grants, and Marginal Rates." available here. The abstract is as follows:

"Marginal rates are frequently analyzed based solely on taxes, without regard to benefit phase-outs that have exactly the same incentive and distributional effects as increasing positive taxes. This myopia reflects the notion, rooted in our current fiscal language, that “taxes” and “spending” are fundamentally different. In fact, however, the difference is purely one of labeling.

"Among the ill consequences of this confusion between substance and labels is the political unfeasibility of demogrant or negative income tax proposals. These proposals often are criticized for seemingly providing universal and unconditional cash grants. In fact, however, cash grants can be just as conditional or selective as benefits that are labeled as “welfare.” Clearer thinking about these matters would expand the realm of politically feasible policy choices, and make excessively high marginal tax rates on people who are escaping poverty easier to avoid."

This one is admittedly a bit of a rehash of past work. I have written about these issues before, but reworked and extended previous writings, while also explicitly linking it to related themes, to serve as chapter 9 of my forthcoming book with the Cambridge U Press, entitled "Taxes, Spending, and the U.S. Government's March Toward Bankruptcy." I then decided (with the Press's kind approval) to break out a revised and shortened version of the chapter to appear in a forthcoming SMU Law Review tax symposium. That, in turn, is the newly posted paper.

Upcoming NYU conference in honor of David Bradford

Coming up on Friday, May 5. This is going to be a serious academic conference, not a tribute session, consistently with what David would have preferred.

Here's the schedule, although the order of the papers still might change:

Jerry Green, Harvard University
Laurence Kotlikoff, Boston University

Daniel Shaviro, NYU
Kent Smetters, University of Pennsylvania

Roger Gordon, UC San Diego

William Andrews, Harvard University
George Zodrow, Rice University

Wallace Oates, University of Maryland

Harvey Rosen, Princeton University
Charles McLure, Hoover Institution

Alan Auerbach, UC Berkeley

Glenn Hubbard, Columbia University
Alvin Warren, Harvard University

Louis Kaplow, Harvard University

James Hines, University of Michigan
Kyle Logue, University of Michigan

David Weisbach, University of Chicago

Edward McCaffery, USC
Joel Slemrod, University of Michigan

Five of the six papers (very shortly to be all six) can be downloaded here.

UPDATE: The order of Panels 5 and 6 has been flipped to accommodate speakers' schedules.

For once I'm glad he's lying

Obviously Bush's pledge to look into "price gouging" on gasoline is a sham. Then again, it probably should be.

Of course, if he hadn't messed up so badly in the Middle East, with more insanity possibly to come, the world price would probably be lower.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A tale of three headlines

1) From today's Washington Post: "Inspectors Find More Torture at Iraqi Jails; Top General's Pledge To Protect Prisoners 'Not Being Followed'."

2) From today's New York Times: "Moves Signal Tighter Secrecy Within C.I.A." The article elaborates that Bush's handpicked CIA director (Porter Goss) is trying "to re-emphasize a culture of secrecy that has included a marked tightening of the review process for books and articles by former agency employees."

3) From today's Wall Street Journal: an opinion column by Natan Sharansky, entitled "Dissident President." Here we learn that Bush is "a man fired by a deep belief in the universal appeal of freedom, its transformative power, and its critical connection to international peace and stability .... Now that President Bush is increasingly alone in pushing for freedom, I can only hope that his dissident spirit will continue to persevere."

... Okay, enough with the deadpan. Somewhere, Andre Sakhorov is vomiting at the thought that the term "dissident" could be so inverted and debased.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Another year done at the NYU Tax Policy Colloquium

We're already gearing up for next year, when my co-convenors (?) will be Alan Auerbach for 7 weeks and Rosanne Altshuler for 7 weeks.

New Fiery Furnaces album

Okay, I was on the fence about buying it, and did so partly to fill out my $25 minimum free delivery from without losing same-day Manhattan delivery for the Star Wars books one of my kids wanted.

And this same individual scored undeniable points this morning when he heard me playing it and asked: "What exactly do you like about this, Dad?" I threatened him with Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, and that was that.

True as well, the album sounds a lot of the time like the pretentious arty kids in high school trying to make grand philosophical statements.

But it is on the whole enjoyable and often very much so. Albeit not one of those things that would get one through exercising at the health club. (For that, "EP" is the Fiery Furnaces' best bet.)

Also good (and probably on the whole better) first impressions for the Islands' Return to the Sea, this being the first release by former members of the Unicorns.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Overheated sentence of the day

From today's New York Times article about the possibility of a further White House staff "shake-up," here involving "moving Harriet E. Miers from her job as President Bush's counsel" [to a different White House job?]:

"Mr. Bolten's thinking about Ms. Miers, however tentative, provided an insight into the scale of his ambitions for overhauling the White House staff and, should he proceed, could amount to a test of how far he would be able to go in bringing about change."

Wow, the ambition here is simply breathtaking.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Is sports journalism better than other journalism?

While at the health club this morning, I noticed that ESPN is devoting a lot of lead coverage to the Duke lacrosse players rape charges. From one perspective, this is journalism as usual, focusing on sensationalistic stories about crimes. On the other hand, though, this is sports not national or world news, and from that perspective their spending a lot of time on this story may verge on being admirable. Somehow I don't think of the ESPN viewership base as dying to see this story, but it dramatizes an important message about the distorted culture of professional, or at least male professional, sports (counting big-time college sports as professional).

What a surprise

Bush's new budget chief, replacing Josh Bolton who became chief of staff, is Rob Portman, previously the trade rep. Portman's # 2 moves up to be the new trade rep.

Budget expert Stan Collender's first two points in discussing the Portman appointment were as follows:

"1. Not much budget experience

2. Loyalty to the president may be his biggest asset."

How unusual for this Administration.

I'd add, that Bush sure has a way of getting fresh blood into the Administration, doesn't he. It's a shame that the line about the deck chairs at the Titanic has become such an overused cliche.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

My latest paper draft

ABSTRACT: One of the main advantages of consumption taxation that its advocates, including me, have claimed is simplification. However, the extent to which simplification actually would result from a major consumption-based tax reform would depend not only on the compliance and administrative issues raised by the structure of the hypothetical new system, but also by the politics of enactment. This paper, commissioned for a conference concerning consumption-based reform, asks the inevitably speculative question of how the politics of such a reform, if it occurred, would affect (or impair) the end product. The conclusions reached are not very optimistic.

You can download it here.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Prediction (with promise to fess up later if I'm proven wrong)

The U.S. is going to attack Iran this year. The timing will be set for maximum impact on the 2006 U.S. Congressional elections.

For extra credit: not a prediction, but I wouldn't be surprised by the use of tactical battlefield nukes. One important advantage is that this may help to smoke out Democratic opposition, or in the alternative make them more complicit.

Final point to keep in mind: this would lead to much greater protests than invading Iraq (potentially another advantage). Bush claims unlimited Commander in Chief powers to act domestically as he sees fit to prevent harm to the war effort.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Musical update

At first I wasn't enormously enthralled with the new eponymous album (aka the "Gun Album") by the Minus 5 (mainly Scott McCaughey/Peter Buck). The style is just extremely familiar from McCaughey's earlier work and from its roots in late 60s influences. Bur after a few listens I have come to like it. Gap between the relatively cheery sound and the mordant (to put it mildly) lyrics is especially enjoyable.

The best defense of Bush's leaking

The newspapers have been all over the Administration's incessant leaking for political reasons, while any or all disclosure of information by anyone else, including where it exposes crimes, is deemed a treacherous blow to our national security.

Bush has of course the definitional defense - if leaking is defined as anything not by him, then of course he is never guilty of it. But he also has a stronger defense against the claim of having harmed our national security for crass political reasons.

In the latest Libby imbroglio, it turns out that the information the Administration leaked to discredit Wilson was already known to be false.

There you have it. Surely the Administration is safe from any charge of damaging national security through leaks when it is careful to leak only false information (as it did throughout the Iraq war controversy).

But is there anything else wrong with suppressing accurate information while leaking lots of false information? Gee, I'll have to think this over a bit more.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Radio silence

I've been silent for a while due to a death in the family, but plan to resume posting soon.