Thursday, April 28, 2005

Ewww... taxes.

I'm really beginning to like Coyote Blog. Here's an example of why:
Many people have worked hard to pay off their mortgage, thinking they could settle down into their retirement in a paid off house. Unfortunately, they may find that their home has increased in value so much that their property taxes at retirement are actually much higher than their original payment on the house. Take the case of a couple who bought their house in an urban area for $25,000 and find its now worth $375,000 forty years later (this is an average urban price increase over the last 40 years). For simplicity, we will assume the effective tax rate has stayed at $1.50 per $100 for these forty years (though its more likely to have gone up). In 1965, they paid $375 a year in taxes. Today, they have to pay $5,625. In other words, their property taxes today are over 22.5% a year of the original price they paid for the house. Now, this is all fine if the couple strove to work up the corporate ladder and get promotions and grow their income proportionately. But what if they didn't want to? What if they just wanted to buy that house, pay it off, and live modestly selling driftwood sculptures at farmers markets, or whatever. The answer is, because of property taxes, they can't. Likely they will have to sell this house, give up the urban life they wanted, and either move to an urban dump they can afford the property taxes on, or they move out to the country... It is ironic that a tax initially invented for populist reasons to cut back on wealth accumulation hurts the lower income brackets and those trying to step off of the capitalist treadmill the most. In fact, it was the poor in the Great Depression who typically lobbied for laws to put moratoriums on property tax collections.
In other words, property taxes contribute to materialism. The only way to keep your lifestyle is to make sure that you're climbing the financial ladder. Thrift and simplicity won't scale in this environment.

Taxes, Bad!

Friday, April 22, 2005

Let's eat!

This is an interesting article. (Which came by way of Marginal Revolution. The part that I find most interesting is this quote:
The latest study had another surprising finding: People who are modestly overweight but not obese have a lower risk of death than people of normal weight. Indeed, the fewer deaths from being modestly overweight partially canceled out the deaths from obesity.
Whoa! Does that mean that the BMI scales are wrong? Does that mean that people who work are to get their BMI index down to w/in "normal" are actually lowering their overall health? For me to hit the upper limit of BMI requires that I lose approximately 20 lbs. I can't wait to tell my wife that it would be detrimental to my health if I did that!
Katherine Flegal, a CDC scientist who led work on the study while a visiting scholar at the UC Berkeley's Center for Weight and Health, said she hoped the findings don't take away from the importance of focusing on obesity as a public health problem.

"Our numbers suggest that weight-related mortality is not as great as previously thought," she said. "But our study just looks at part of the picture. We didn't look at issues such as quality of life. These results shouldn't be overinterpreted to mean that we can all rest easy."
Aw, crap!

Monday, April 18, 2005


There's a battle royale between the two heavy weights that power Econlog. On the one side is Arnold Kling who favors behaviorism. On the other side is Bryan Caplan who believes that behaviorism is dead.

As someone who tends to think that actions speak louder than words, I tend to fall on the bahviorist side. At the same time, you can't discount the words of people to color their behavior. Unfortunately, I don't really understand the argument in the language of the two fighters. The third party commentary, however, is where I started to get a better understanding.

It comes down to this: do we believe what people actually do or do we believe what they say about what they do? And the example paradox is happiness research as related to salaries. There's lots of research that says that people who earn $50,000 per year are not much happier than those who earn $20,000 per year. Which means that the additional $30,000 doesn't provide much happiness. This is good news for a Christian. However, it conflicts with the fact that even though people say that the additional money doesn't provide much additional happiness, they universally seek it. If we're to believe what they say (that it won't provide much additional happiness) then why do they pursue it as if they think it will? Aren't they either lying or deluded? And if those are the only two choices, how much trust can you place on what people say in comparison to what they do?

That is, of course, the behaviorist argument. It's the only one that I understand. I'd like to present the other side, but I don't really understand it enough to present it. That being said, if the behaviorist argument is that you can *only* use behavior, then I'm not convinced. If the non-behaviorist argument tries to integrate what is said as data to color what is done, then I'd fall in the non-behaviorist camp. However, I'd need to understand what the rules are when words and actions conflict.

Just a question from an economics wannabe.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


This is a great book. And now it's available online, in it's entirety, for free.

No more tomes?

Hah! I'm just into short and sweet today. This is a fantastic quote:
Wealth comes not from labor or capital or resources - wealth comes from the mind, and as such requires a rule of law where the mind is free not only to imagine new ideas but to pursue and reap the fruits of these ideas.
- Coyote Blog

Slow news day

What have we become when we're analyzing the president's playlist:
Also on the iPod is the 1979 song "My Sharona" by the Knack, about a man pursuing a much younger woman.

One of that song's lyrics, "Such a dirty mind. Always get it up for the touch of the younger kind," prompted Spin magazine editor Dave Itzkoff to comment: "This wouldn't be consistent with Bush's image as protector of conservative values."


Sunday, April 10, 2005

Terri Schiavo

Orson Scott Card is the author of one my favorite books: Ender's Game. He writes a regular column that I enjoy reading. In a recent entry, he worries about the impact that the Terri Schiavo story will have on us as a society.

The part of this whole story that has confused me the most is this: why, in the face of a family that is more than willing to care for her, would her husband refuse such care? In other words, I don't understand the position of Michael Schiavo. I understand if he's no longer willing or able to care for her. I understand if the toll of constantly caring for has brought him to the end of his rope and he wishes to be done with it. But that's not what he wanted. He didn't just want this particular part of his life to be over so that he can move on, he wanted her dead. And he got his wish. Steve Landsburg says something similar.

I find this to be truly distasteful. I find it refreshing to have read Orson Scott Card's view. My own view is that none of us should be playing God. It was not the responsibility of Michael Schiavo to determine when Terri's life should end. Nor, for that matter, was it the responsibility of Terri Schiavo to decide when her life was complete (*). That decision is for God alone, and when we pretend that we can make it, we are pretending to be God. This is the same reason I am opposed to abortion and the death penalty. I'd rather God's will be done. I'd rather that we all stop pretending to be God, and instead let God be God.

(*) That we can't effectively prevent someone from committing suicide does not mean that people are doing a God endorsed action when they commit it.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Is it just me?

I recommended an article that I really enjoyed to a friend of mine. Oil Econ 101 by Arnold Kling. I like this friend. He's a smart guy. And he hated the article. Not because he disagreed with the conclusion, but because he thought that the presentation of the argument was very imprecise. He specifically did not like the lack of mathematical precision that he likes. He has a Ph.D in math, so this isn't surprising. But he found that the argument was just muddled and invaluable.

What's surprising to me is that he found it so confusing while I found it to be crystal clear. And it makes me wonder if the reason I find it be clear is because I've been reading a lot of economics lately. Is it clear to me because I have started to build my background in econ? If so, then Arnold is in trouble. Because this is a chapter in his book Learning Economics. This is supposed to be a book that explains economics to the economically illiterate. But if it requires some base level of economic understanding in order to make sense, then it will struggle to achieve its goal.

Or maybe it's not me and my (ridiculously small) predisposition to economics that allows me to see clarity where my friend sees confusion. Maybe my friend is just easily confused. Or maybe he's got some other bias that makes it hard for him to perceive this clearly. Or maybe I've got a bias that allows me see clarity where there is actually none. I really hope that it's not the last part. But if it is, I also really hope that I can find someone to straighten me out.