Monday, January 17, 2011

So Close, and Yet....

Matt Yglesias comes tantalizingly close to making sense for some of these, and then flitters away like a butterfly.

His list of "Things I Support for Policy"

— More redistribution of money from the top to the bottom.
— A less paternalistic welfare state that puts more money directly in the hands of the recipients of social services.

If these were taken as a couplet, I could sort of go along. The first by itself is nonsense; it's not wrong, it's impossible. But if we were to take all the money now spent on welfare and social services for the poor, and split it 80% to the poor, 20% tax rebates for the rest of us, AND PUT ALL THE 80% INTO A NEGATIVE INCOME TAX...then W. Pareto would smile. This is pretty much the argument I make in a paper forthcoming in Basic Income Studies. The point being we don't need more redistribution from top to bottom. What we need to do is make sure some of it actually makes it to the bottom, by preventing Robin Hood's Merry Men in Washington from drinking it all up and spending it on hookers.

— Macroeconomic stabilization policy that seriously aims for full employment.
— Curb the regulatory privileges of incumbent landowners.

I literally have no idea what the first one means. And the second one is clear, but terrifying. Good God, man, have you no shame? Have you no shame, sir? "Curb regulatory privileges" is just a straightforward taking, only without all that expensive (but Constitutionally-mandated) compensation.

— Roll back subsidies implicit in our current automobile/housing-oriented industrial policy.
— Break the licensing cartels that deny opportunity to the unskilled.

Jeez. Wot hoppint? These not only make sense, they are essential pieces of the libertarian economic program. And they are both well and precisely stated. I find it surprising that Matt Y actually believes the second. *I* certainly think the second is a huge problem, Matt: much proper respect and love. This is good work, here.

— Much greater equalization of opportunities in K-12 education.

Put "public" and I'm with you. I don't see a reason to cap how good private schools can be (necessary to "equalize"), but I don't see why there should be such enormous disparities in public education, even in the same state. Of course, the way to do this is vouchers and charter schools. It would be fast and effective. Not sure Matt would go that far, though, 'cause he believes in government PROVISION of education, where I would go no further than government FUNDING of education, and even there I have some worries.

— Reduction of the rents assembled by privileged intellectual property owners.

Sure, yes. Don't feed the trolls. Patents and copyrights need reformed.

— Throughout the public sector, concerted reform aimed at ensuring public services are public services and not jobs programs.

Holy smokes! Not sure how this squares with the "full employment" thing, but if this be reform, give me more of it! In fact, the more I read this one the happier it makes me. Focusing on public service means you might be able to judge if it is a public good, and if it is worth something. Focusing on "jobs" means that evaluations go like this: (1) Do you have a budget? Yes. GOOD! (2) Did you spend it? Yes. VERY GOOD! Evaluation: Excellent program.

— Taxation of polluters (and resource-extractors more generally) rather than current de facto subsidization of resource extraction

Absolutely. AB. SO. LUTE. LY. Stop feeding the oil pigs, the coal pigs who rip the tops off mountains, stop subsidizing extraction with foreign wars that waste our young people and our taxes. If oil and coal were charged out at anything like their true prices, we would not need to subsidize "green" alternatives. Gas would (and should be) $5 a gallon, and coal would be expensive enough that we would find other ways to generate power. Instead, just as Matt Y says, we subsidize the pigs, and then we subsidize the "alternative" fuels. Since all we have to do is STOP spending tax money on coal, oil, ethanol, and so on, this should be doable. Sure, energy prices would go up, but they should go up. And if we had an effective basic income scheme, poor people could still afford the energy.

Overall: well done. Very solid on the list; counting 1/2 's I would say I am with him on 6 of these. I'm pretty confident that there are zero Republicans politicians that would get a 6/10 from me. So, Matt Yglesias for President!


Jacob T. Levy said...

I think you're being obtuse about the "curb regulatory privileges." Matt writes about this all the time, and it's entirely market-friendly. Incumbent landowners exercise all kinds of regulatory vetoes over what newcomers and would-be newcomers do with *their* property through zoning and licensing, e.g. prevent high-density urban development in order to suppress local housing supply and support local property values. Depriving me of a veto over whether my neighbor can sell to a developer and what the developer can put there is *not* a "taking" from me.

John Thacker said...

I think you're being obtuse as to our supposed "current automobile/housing-oriented industrial policy." I know that Matt is. Of course, much like subsidizing cheese and then subsidizing advertising against eating fat, the government subsidies in opposing directions often. Still, on the net the government subsidies transit and against automobiles much more than it subsidizes in favor of them, particularly when you look at anything like the amount of subsidy per the amount used. Some of the zoning in large cities that pushes people out to rural areas is pro-automobile in effect, and of course it's exasperating to see people in cities both demand subsidized transit and demand zoning that prevents that transit from being sustainable.

The same thing is true about oil and coal versus other energy. You can come up with ways that oil and coal are subsidized more in total than other forms of energy, but certainly nothing close in terms of per unit energy. The biggest "subsidy" that people complain about is allowing multinational US companies to deduct from their income extraction charges from foreign governments-- but those charges are really like taxes, and it's no different from the foreign tax credit that you and I can take anyway. If we went to a territorial-based tax system like most countries, then that supposed "subsidy" would go away anyway since we wouldn't be trying to tax it in the first place.

If oil and coal were charged anything like their true prices... then we still would be using primarily oil and coal. Sure, we'd do research to find other ways to generate power eventually, but in the near and short term, we'd still be using fossil fuels.

Don't get me wrong, I'd like to see all those subsidies eliminated. But pretending that no subsidies would cause us to massively change our behavior strikes me like supposing that without any farm subsidies we'd go back from large farms to small yeoman farms employing most Americans.

I think that a lot of libertarians make the mistake of assuming (or pretending to others) that "I don't like X, X is subsidized, therefore without subsidies X wouldn't exist." The subsidies are wrong and a waste of money, but don't overestimate the transformative effect of eliminating them.

Mungowitz said...

What, you think I'm being obese? Why, I oughta...Oh, obtuse. Yes, I'm sure that's true.

Anonymous said...

You think it is impossible to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, but think that we can equalize opportunities in K-12 education? I don’t see how we can do the later (and agree that we can’t do the former). The best districts have parents who have power and dictate what they want from the school. I don’t see how government can fix this one without radically changing the status quo (which, of course, I’m for)…

The Outsider said...

Gas "should" be $5/gallon? Huh? In my state (Washington), taxes already comprise about fifty percent of the price of gasoline. Are you sure that doesn't counteract any subsidies already?

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