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July 26, 2010



Suppose I were to propose a specific tax proposal. This, of course, is a strange hypothetical. I am not an economist nor a tax lawyer nor any other kind of expert on tax policy. Putting out a detailed proposal, with bracket boundaries and rates defined, would be odd at best and arrogant at worst.

I think you're being too hard on your hypothetical self. You're a citizen in democracy, which means it's your right, and some would say your responsibility, to formulate and express opinions about complex phenomena which you necessarily have an amateur's understanding of.


I mean, I understand that the point of this post is that you can take steps to mitigate that amateur standing, and I think you make some good points about how Grief failed to do so. But I think even taking your concerns, it's too harsh on the citizenry. There isn't time enough in the day. One thing that concerns me about the state of online discussion is that there is an assumption that everyone is permanently plugged into the Internet and has the time to perform that kind of research. Most people in America, still, don't go online everyday.

I suppose that's a bit weird to say about Grief, right, but I have developed a deep sensitivity to a growing preference for technocracy and expertise which is frankly incompatible with democracy, which necessarily involves leaving large decisions in the hands of people who are functionally unqualified to make them.

Greg Kuperberg

This is a really great blog post, Dylan. You express much wisdom. A measure of mathematical common sense and a willingness to listen to experts both go a long way.

There later comes a more insidious problem: Cherry-picking expert assessments in order to confirm a prior opinion. This is not to accuse you; we are all guilty of it to some degree and I have in mind certain extreme examples from local politics in Davis. Even so, it is a way to parry your advice without really getting it. As in, "He demands that I consult experts, so I'll tack that on at the end." Or even, "If the demand to consult experts was effective against me as a debate tactic, I plan to use it myself against others."

Anyway, there are general economic problems with having any fixed maximum income: since reported income would be confiscated in full, the limit would inevitably be evaded. There is another weird side to this, which is that by modern standards $100K is quite low. A lot of people have a weird non-mathematical gut reaction in which they are almost as jealous of a $100K or $200K salary as they are of $20 million. The extra zeroes at the end only barely register. Of course, in reality there is an enormous difference between a CEO who makes $1 million and a CEO who makes $10 million.

Sam Barr

Dylan, Max Novendstern has a response to this up on the HPRgument. http://hpronline.org/hprgument/how-not-to-write-about-policy-a-response-to-dylan-matthews/

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