Friday, October 03, 2014

Day-long workshop with Thomas Piketty at NYU

Just an hour ago here at NYU, we completed this year's NYU-UCLA tax policy symposium, featuring Thomas Piketty and his best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.  It felt like a success, in keeping with our high expectations.

All five of the papers, and a response by Piketty, will be featured in the Tax Law Review next year.  The first, by Wojciech Kopczuk, raised issues that have been prominent in economists’ responses to Piketty, regarding such issues as the uncertainty of whether wealth inequality has increased as much as income inequality and the difficulty of projecting future trends.

My paper, with Joe Bankman, discussed what we see as the gap between the standard tax policy literature (ranging from optimal income taxation, to welfare economics, to the fundamental tax literature, to various sectors of public economics) and the analysis in the book, and what light this gap might shed on each.  I will post my portion of our joint talk shortly, since I wrote it out in advance.

Next came a paper by Gregory Davis, discussing English data from as far back as the 1200s (!) that seem to conflict with the inheritance story that Piketty tells.  Then, a political science paper by Suzanne Mettler discussing why the U.S. political system has responded so disparately over time to redistributive policy aims.  Last, a paper by Liam Murphy discussing alternative philosophical grounds for objecting (or not) to high-end inequality, and grouping Piketty with Rawls and Dworkin, the latter for his embrace of meritocracy to the extent of thinking that people who freely choose well “deserve” to do better than those who freely choose poorly. (Hence a view of rentiers as less deserving than the self-made rich, a distinction that I wouldn't personally embrace absent consequentialist reasons for the distinction.)

Large and distinguished audience even in the afternoon, broad-based participation, full engagement from a very well-known author who chose to spend the day with us, truly inter-disciplinary dialogue.  So the thing went well.

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