Governments impose taxes in order to raise revenue that, in turn, funds government function and services.[fn1] In designing a tax system, tax theorists generally try to create provisions that will raise revenue without significantly altering taxpayers’ economic choices. That is, ideally, taxpayers will act in approximately the same way as they would have in a world without tax.[fn2] But we can’t hit the ideal. The income tax alters people’s actions, because it alters the price calculus. One way is in our work-leisure decisions. Assume with me that I earn $10 an hour. That said, I enjoy not working, too–my leisure is worth $8/hour to me. In the absence of an income tax, if I have a choice between work and leisure, I’ll choose work. Even with a 10% tax, I’ll choose work, because I’ll bring home $9 after taxes, while my leisure is still worth only $8/hour. However, if the income tax is at a 25% rate, I’ll only bring…
Today I, with millions of other home cooks around the country, will be getting frisky in the kitchen with all manner of saturated fats and simple carbohydrates as I beget a table full of gorgeous harvest pies. I make pie once a year, the day before Thanksgiving; the rest of the year I prefer my saturated fats and simple carbohydrates in other forms. But at about 4:00 on Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by a riot of dirty dishes and family, there’s nothing in this world or out of it that tastes better. Social scientists would call my Thanksgiving palate a “framing effect”. The framing effect is an important concept in economics and psychology, describing the way in which the presentation of an object or idea in different contexts will change people’s decision-making. By swapping out one emotional frame for another—Thanksgiving Day for Easter, say—we change our perception of the object or opportunity at hand, even though it remains objectively constant. Pie…
There is a strand of progressive Mormon thinking that associates Zion with an exaltation of agrarian virtues. I am thinking here of folks like Hugh Nibley or Arthur Henry King or my friend Russell Arben Fox who argue that small scale, local economies, ideally based in large part on agriculture provide the best possible model for building Zion. At least one way of understanding this line of thinking is to see it as a kind of Mormonization of agrarian thinkers like Wendell Berry. It is striking in this regard that Leonard Arrington, whose works on nineteenth-century Mormon communitarianism provide the historical ur-texts for much of this thinking, was trained at North Carolina in a progressive economics department then much under the influence of an earlier generation of Southern agrarian thinkers. I am skeptical.
I never expected to see the day that Kate Michelman, past president of NARAL, would write, “all sorts of well-educated and progressive people are comfortable calling themselves pro-life.” Michelman’s opinion piece in the Washington Post is fascinating not only for her openly acknowledging the eroding support for her movement (she says recent polls shows 51% of Americans identify with the label “pro-life” and only 44% with “pro-choice”; the pro-life number would be a historical high), but by how hamstrung she feels defending abortion. She attributes the shift in public opinion primarily to technological progress: “[s]cience played a big role, making the fetus more visible. Today, the first picture in most baby books is the 12-week 3D ultrasound, and Grandma and Grandpa have that photo posted on the fridge.” Read that again. Michelman acknowledges that support for the pro-choice movement benefited from people’s ignorance of human development and the reality of the preborn person. This admission could scarcely be more heartening…
As we all know, the gospel is overrun with economic doctrine. On that note, I noticed a quote about free riding from President Monson (which I just saw at Mormon Times): “I am confident it is the intention of each member of the church to serve and to help those in need,” he said. “At baptism we covenanted to ‘bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.’ How many times has your heart been touched as you have witnessed the need of another? How often have you intended to be the one to help? And yet how often has day-to-day living interfered and you’ve left it for others to help, feeling that ‘Oh, surely someone will take care of that need.’” Under reasonable assumptions it is not hard to show that if people only give out of an altruistic desire to see others better off, and they have no personal gain (emotional or otherwise) from being the giver, than…
Bankruptcy rates vary alot across states. With a fairly simple statistical model, Lars Lefgren and I explain about 70% of these differences in a paper just published in the Journal of Law and Economics. For cross sectional work using survey data, where you are looking across states at a point in time, explaining 70% is pretty darn impressive.
Suppose you take a “wisdom of the crowds” approach to morality (not that you should). Well then what could be more informative than a poll telling you what actions are morally wrong and what aren’t? Enter Gallup’s recent poll… Tip: Adultery is still wrong. Polygamy also out.
I just returned from a short presentation by Mike Ransom on the Utah commuter Frontrunner rail line. It is a lesson in how to not spend money.
A friend of mine suggested a few months ago that ward Elder’s Quorums should stop helping members move. Why, he asks, should we be competing with businesses in our area?
Suppose that we had a base 8 system instead of base 10, perhaps because, in this hypothetical world, we had 8 fingers rather than 10. Would we pay 1/8 our increase, or do you think it would still be one tenth? Or, to reverse causality, what are the chances we have ten fingers so that we’d develop a base 10 system that would make it easier to count out our tithing?
One of the things people find odd about Mormons is our claim to be led by a prophet.
This is just a post about Keynesian mulitpliers with no particular religious content. You have been warned and forewarned.
A thoughtful reader asked me if there were any economic tools that could be brought to bear in valuing a fetus. Of course there are! And in fewer than a 1000 words, no less!
Yesterday’s discussion got me thinking about debt, in particular the political uses of debt. Here, I think that the experience of the American Revolution and the failure of the Confederacy may have something to tell us about Mormon history.
Iâ€™m very happy to see this yearâ€™s Nobel Prize in economics going to Paul Krugman, whose columns in the New York Times helped me see the importance of the discipline of economics as nothing else ever had. I think Mormon scholarship could use more scholars like Paul Krugman (quite apart from the Nobel and the weekly NYT column)
Given all that might be said of Mormonism, it should not come as a surprise that a lot of interesting topics sit pretty much neglected. One of these, I would argue, is the Mormon contribution to building settlements in the United States.
I think we can all agree that, from a risk analysis perspective, global warming and gay marriage share a lot of characteristics.
Bloomberg reports the following from McCain about economists who criticized his (lunatic) summer gas plan:
For those hoping to find more economics in their scripture study…
With the recent spike in food prices, a three year old post demands new life. Here it is: Clearly, were there to be a famine, a one year food supply in the basement would look really good. What may be slightly less obvious is that the presence of food storage, even if nobody ever uses any of it for an emergency, can stop a famine from ever actually happening.
Estimates suggest that, on average, Americans behave as if they value a year of their life at, more or less, $100,000. This would put an average American life at a “revealed preferred” value of somewhere around $7 million.
Diminishing Returns: Once things start going downhill, bail. Increasing Returns: It can only get better.
With fair regularity, one hears someone talking of efforts to buy less of some commercial product, either out of a desire for global conservation or because he doesn’t like how it is produced or whatever. Invariably, he comments that his own effect on the market is small, but he wishes to “send a message” or help along some broader movement. Within a plausible model of markets. there are easily understood conditions under which this small effect is actually zero, and remains zero even if he is joined by many like-minded individuals. At which point one wonders if the “message” being sent is “I don’t understand how markets work”.
It seems pretty clear that we are heading for a hike in the minimum wage. For the many of us who care about poverty reduction, which would be basically all of us, this could be a big deal. The problems with the minimum wage are that it:
In this excellent post, Rosalynde talks about the gender differences in subject material among Deseret Book writers. This renews the discussion brought up by Taryn Nelson-Seawright on the same difference existing in other Mormon outlets. Explanations abound for this phenomena, ranging from differing preferences to piggy discrimination, but most of them are sort of boring. Here’s one that is at least slightly more interesting:
It is a well established fact that Europeans perform vastly less formal market work than Americans. A less known fact is that this is a recent development— in the late 50s, Europeans worked about 10% more hours, but this has been in steady decline for 40 years, until now they work about 30% fewer hours than Americans.
Rich people who pay tithing are, by all accounts, still losers compared to the poor. Or, anyway, though their ten percent is a lot more money, it is money that had little effect on their life and so is not a very impressive sacrifice. Thus their salvation is put in jeapardy by diminishing marginal returns! How does the Kingdom deal with this?
A growing body of research (mine own included) in various social sciences finds that people report higher happiness levels when they do better than the people around them.
The Mormon Social Science Association, under the direction of editors John Hoffman, Cardell Jacobsen, and Tim Heaton of BYU’s Department of Sociology, is currently putting together a volume of essays that retrospectively assess O’Dea’s 1957 classic The Mormons.
Thomas F. O’Dea’s The Mormons (1957) is a classic text in Mormon studies. So much that the Mormon Social Science Association is currently putting together an edited volume