Thursday, March 25, 2010

My very trivial turn at "standing athwart history yelling 'Stop!'"

Old William F. Buckley quote, of course. I thought of it recently in the very trivial setting of what name one attaches to the canonical "economic income" definition. It used to be called "Haig-Simons income." But there's been a recent tendency in the literature to call it, instead, "Schanz-Haig-Simons income."

This is where I feel compelled to stand athwart history, yelling "Stop!" Do we really need the extra name? Schanz was a late 19th century German economist who apparently described something approaching the now-standard economic definition of income (market value of consumption plus change in net worth during the relevant period) before Haig and Simons did so in the U.K. and U.S., respectively, a few decades later.

Okay, fine. People don't always get all the credit that they arguably deserve. But do we really need the extra name whenever we trot out the concept? To start doing this now, more than one hundred years after the fact, strikes me as pretentious, unduly long-winded, and over-scrupulous.

Has Schanz's family been complaining? Has he been detected spinning angrily in his grave?

But perhaps I should try instead the opposite approach. Does "Schanz-Haig Simons income" go far enough? Luckily, one can do research really fast on Google these days, and about 30 seconds there persuaded me (via the link here) that we can do even better than S-H-S, if "better" is to be defined this way. If we are trying to be entirely scrupulous, there is a case to be made for calling the concept Smith-Malthus-Sax-Garelli-Schanz-Seligman-Haig-Simons income. Or, for short, S-M-S-G-S-S-H-S income.

This is only a placeholder, of course. Surely an ancient Roman must have hit upon it as well. Severus Pontificus, perhaps? Or Saevius Nicanor?

But pending that final expansion (? - there's always ancient Babylonia to consider), what do you think, you advocates (I know you're out there) of using the term Schanz-Haig-Simons income? Have you gone nearly far enough? I'm prepared to consider taking the next logical step if you will.

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