Monday, January 30, 2012

How a Progressive Consumption Tax Works

Yesterday Gary Becker proposed switching to a consumption tax, one which could be made progressive. Since a progressive tax has higher rates for higher incomes, it's a bit hard to think how this is possible. If I buy milk, how will the government (or the store for that matter) know how much I make?

A progressive sales tax is progressive in an indirect way. We know that wealthy people tend to buy certain goods (superior good), middle-class people buy certain goods (normal goods), and poor people buy certain goods (inferior goods). Note in this case, an inferior good is not a good of poor quality. It's just one where people buy more of it when their income falls. College is an example (few wealthy people go to college).

Under progressive consumption taxes, restaurant food should be at a high tax rate, fast food at a moderate level, and little-to-no tax on food bought in a grocery store. Concerts should have a high tax and board games a low rate. The internet should be moderately taxed or not taxed at all.

The only issue with this kind of tax is its implementation. As you can guess, cataloging all these different goods would be incredibly time consuming. It's tempting to divide goods into large segments but selecting something as broad as "cars" becomes problematic. There are luxury cars and basic cars. In some places (e.g. NYC), many low income people don't have cars since public transportation is sufficient to meet their needs. In rural areas or in western states, this is less the case. It gets even more complicated considering some low income people need their car to operate a small business, regardless where they live.

Of course, we will have to accept some imperfections in a progressive consumption tax system. Imperfections are inevitable. But it's worth thinking about how it might work in practice.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Everyone Fires People. Every Day.

Mitt Romney's been under criticism for talking about his love of firing people:
At a breakfast event in Nashua, Romney told an audience that his health care plan would allow them to dismiss insurers and health care providers. "If you don't like what they do, you can fire them," he said. "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."
Why is this so controversial? Because his critics use it to paint him as a Gatsby-like 1%er, firing his maid or butler just to watch them cry. But he's actually describing how average he is.

We fire people all the time. We do it so much, we don't even think about it. Today I went to Cakelove and had a cupcake. It cost over $3, but it was not worth $3, so I fired them: I won't go there again.

Then I fired the local AFI movie theater. I was going to go see Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy there but I kept reading reviews about how confusing it was if you haven't read the books. Not for me. I'll get it on Netflix so I can re-watch scenes, thank you very much.

For lunch I fired Einstein Bagels and Panera Bread. I usually grab something to eat at either of those places but I've grown tired of the limited number of things I like on their menu. Craving something new, I went to Baja Fresh. Will I fire them tomorrow? Probably; I'm thinking about making lunch in-house.

How many times have you fired someone today?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

In Praise of AP Credit

Prof. Michael Mendillo doesn't like that high school AP classes can count to general requirements for college.
Lost to these nonscience students is an exposure to cutting-edge science and the methods of science taught by professors active on a daily basis in their exploration of nature. In how many AP classes in high school does the physics instructor say, "At the last American Physical Society meeting, one of my students presented a paper on this very topic"? Or, in an astronomy class, "My upcoming observations using the Hubble Space Telescope will address this dark-energy issue"? Identical scenarios exist, of course, for science and engineering students who miss out on university-level introductions to the humanities and social sciences taught by active scholars in those areas.
From what I remember of all of my introductory courses in college, there was very little "cutting edge" research discussed. And thank goodness for that! It's an introductory course. When I teaching introductory econ I rarely mention any new research and if I do, it is illustrative of some larger point (say an empirical paper on a price control). You don't want to overwhelm the students and, precisely because it's advanced, they probably won't understand it anyway. Imagine having a long discussion of the Higgs boson in Physics 101 when you're still trying to wrap your mind around Newton's Three Laws of Motion.

OK so you stick to offhanded references, not in depth discussions. Big deal. Admittedly, mentioning something cutting edge is cool to do and it can get your students interested in the introductory topic or illustrate where the puzzles in your discipline remain. Disallowing AP credit for college would generate these additional benefits but they are small. They come at a cost of the student not taking a course that's completely new or paying tuition for the semester that can no longer be avoided.

I had a student in introductory econ who didn't have to take my class: he had AP credit. He took it anyway since he'll be taking future courses from me, but I can't help but think that it was largely a waste of his time.

Fall 2010 Grade Distribution

Finally got around to do this. It's a distribution of all grades I handed out in the Fall of 2010, treating pluses and minuses as one category of the same grade. I'm 99% sure I removed all the students who dropped. N=64

Grades followed a rough normal distribution, but the low number of Bs is notable. I'm not yet sure what to make of this: could be random, could be that my assessment material is decisive, could be the ability of Bethany students is bimodal and that's reflected here. But the graph is interesting nontheless.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Quote of the Day

Alastair Smith on political tyranny:

But what if you really are trying to work for the common good? Is there no way of doing that?

None. If you’re working for the common good you didn’t come to power in the first place. If you’re not willing to cheat, steal, murder and bribe then you don’t come to power.
Read the whole thing; short and sweet.