Thursday, September 10, 2015

Battle of the downloads

In our biz, download numbers often are used to a degree in rankings, whereas if you have a content-based view of quality you might view things differently. Chasing downloads can also distort incentives that relate to quality, subject matter choice, etcetera, in much the same way that general readership blogs can become less interesting because they are looking for clickbait.

So it is easy to take a dim view of the download-counting phenomenon, even though  it is of course true that writing things that interest people and that they want to read is surely a good thing, all else equal.

Taking a dim view is one thing, not caring is another. Plenty of us (including me) look at our download counts even if we might pretend to be above it. And I know people who will refuse to send you a PDF of their paper or let you post it for a seminar, insisting instead that every reader download it to pad the count.

And then of course there's the problem with complaining about it. You sound like a whiner, which is fair enough since, if you're bothering to complain, you probably are in fact being a whiner.

But every now and then one gets a clean shot without whining (or at least without as much whining), so I'm going to take mine.  Let's do Shaviro versus Shaviro,  The other day, I posted two new SSRN links, one to a short NTJ book review of Ed Kleinbard's recent book, and the other to an article for an edited volume on timing and legislation, called "The More It Changes, the More It Stays the Same? Automatic Indexing and Current Policy."   Let's call these "Shaviro 1" and "Shaviro 2."

So far, in the download war, Shaviro 1 (no doubt aided by a Tax Prof link) is beating Shaviro 2 by 71-9. Now admittedly, if I were someone other than myself but in the same biz, I would be considerably more likely to read Shaviro 1 than Shaviro 2, For example, while Shaviro 1 isn't an ad hominem piece, it has potential ad hominem interest to the prospective downloader, in that it reviews a book written by a prominent peer. And what fun for the readership (though not for either Kleinbard or me) if, say, it attacked the book rather than praising it, started a feud, etcetera.

But I do consider Shaviro 2 more than 9/71 as worthy of a readership as Shaviro 1. Now, I did it no favors, in the earlier posting, by initially forgetting to include the subtitle after the colon, which perhaps made it sound a bit too Delphic.  So why don't I try again here, by "teasing" the first 3 paragraphs (minus footnotes):


            The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously remarked that you cannot step into the same river twice, to which a disciple supposedly replied that you cannot do so even once. Both remarks may shed light on the problem of specifying how legislation should apply over a period of years, in relation to the aim of keeping what I will call “current policy” constant as time moves forward.  Heraclitus reminds us of the difficulty of truly being in the same place at different times, if everything is continually changing around oneself.  The disciple could be viewed as casting doubt on the notion that there is such a thing as a well-defined place, even the first time around.
            Despite these warnings from the ancient world, two simple ideas about policy across time may initially seem uncontroversial.  The first is that, if (and insofar as) two different years are relevantly the same, the policies that apply to them should be the same.  The second is that, in order for the policies applying in different years to be the same, their nominal terms may need to differ. The classic, and seemingly no-brainer, illustration of both ideas is indexing the dollar amounts in particular statutes for inflation.  Annual inflation indexing has been in place since 1981 for the marginal rate brackets in the U.S. federal income tax, and since 1972 for U.S. Social Security benefits.  Obviously, or at least apparently obviously, it results in keeping income tax and Social Security policy substantively the same across time.  Absent inflation indexing, Congress would frequently have to amend the law – changing nominal dollar amounts in the statutes – in order to keep the actual policy the same.
            We will see, however, that keeping current policy the same is more complicated and perplexing than it may initially seem.  Indeed, a closer look even just at inflation indexing in the income tax and Social Security reveals broader issues, pertaining to both motivation and implementation. The dissonance only widens when one turns to other actual or possible types of automatic indexing in the income tax and Social Security.

UPDATE (9/15/15)
After a Tax Prof link to "Shaviro 2," the score is 76 to 29.

1 comment:

Edward Kleinbard said...

The contest would be more like 9-8 if you controlled for my mother's downloads.

Ed Kleinbard