Day Job and Life Coming Back to Normal

Brother and SisterI went down to see my sister last week. I had planned just to stay there for a day, but it didn’t work out like that. I find it very difficult to change my living arrangements. It wasn’t that I was doing anything different there than I would have been doing here. But I went down there Thursday night and didn’t manage to come back until Tuesday morning. But I’m never as productive when I’m away. That’s especially true here at Frankly Curious. With my day job, the work is more concrete.

But I did get a little reminder that I have to be careful what I say here about my day job. It’s not too hard for people to figure out who I’m complaining about when I’m complaining. It makes me want to start a new blog where no one knows who I am. Because even though I understand the need for professionalism, I also don’t much like being constrained here. Not that I think any of my writers read what I have to say here. That’s the thing about the modern world: everyone is doing their own things. It’s not like I read the blogs that my writers have — not much anyway.

For the first time, I have a bit of sympathy for anonymous bloggers, though. Although I have to admit that I don’t know what they are worried about. I don’t just write about my day job here. This is a very personal blog. One of the first articles I wrote was, Getting to the Bottom of Things. Now if you are thinking that this is about the best way to keep your anus clean, you are right. Of course, in keeping with my nature, roughly half of it is about François Rabelais’ first Gargantua and Pantagruel novel, where Gargantua discusses the 57 different objects he used to wipe him bottom.

But as usual, money doesn’t just change everything; it ruins everything. I like my job. And one of the reasons I have the job is that I do have some political sense. It’s hard to find people who can both write and who know about computer technology. So I can’t go around chasing writers away. I’ve been really clear that our people are really good. But that doesn’t mean that they are perfect. What I really need is to find a website where editors go to bitch about their jobs.

That’s an interesting thing about editing as a day job. It all seems pretty obvious to the editor. For example, I sent out an email to all my writers alerting them to our new style for capitalizing titles. I say “new” but the truth is that we haven’t had one. And as a result, I never bugged my writers about their often colorful attempts at capitalization. But then I found this great tool, Title Cap. You enter your title and it changes it to the Chicago style. It’s really great!

So I emailed the link to my writers and updated our inhouse style guide. And I waited. Only one of my writers was excited by it. That surprised me, because this is so great! (Although I wasn’t at all surprised at which writer was excited — we are kindred spirits in these matters.) But they don’t need to get excited. They are freelancers; they can do whatever they want. (As long as they eventually figure out how to capitalize titles properly.) But it is disappointing.

It is indicative of my blessed life that I can get away with writing this article and still keep my day job, however. Also: I can go away on a quasi-vacation and still manage to work at about 60% of my normal. In fact, I was thinking that I could take my father on vacation to the Azores and still not miss much work. I have an odd life though. Frankly Curious would suffer. I think this is the first day out of the last week that I’ve published the standard two articles in a day.

Now that I’m back home and rested, I expect to get back to my normal schedule. But we’ll see. It’s supposed to be 90° for the next week, so I may just be passed out on the couch.

Economic Growth: The Fantasy to Justify Low Taxes

Mark Thoma - Economic GrowthMark Thoma wrote an article that is inspiring in its bluntness, Tax Hikes on the Wealthy: Good or Bad for Growth? He goes through all the justifications for keeping taxes low on the wealthy and shows in his mild and careful way that they don’t add up. High taxes on the rich do not hurt economic growth.

Here are the myths:

  • Increasing taxes on the wealthy will harm economic growth;
  • Increasing taxes on the wealthy won’t solve the income inequality problem;
  • Tax increases will blunt the incentive to invest in new businesses;
  • The wealthy will move to other countries to avoid the tax increase;
  • Increasing taxes on the wealthy won’t increase tax revenue;
  • Less will be donated to private charities;
  • The wealthy deserve what they earn;
  • It’s a tax on small businesses.

You should read the whole article. Some of it is very funny. For example, all those charities that the rich give to? Mostly concert halls and universities. There’s very little that they give to help the actually needy. But here’s the kicker: the rich gave twice as much of their money to charity back when the top tax bracket was 70% than they were in the aughts when the top tax bracket was 35%. Funny that! Could it be that when people know they are going to be taxed a lot, they give more money to charity? Talk about rational expectations!

Problems with High and Low Taxes

There are few things I’m as certain of as this kind of basic economics. We just have so much data. It’s clear that having extremely high taxes is bad and having extremely low taxes is bad. Extremely high taxes will cause people to do things to avoid them and de-incentivize work. But we certainly haven’t seen that in my lifetime. What we have seen in my lifetime is the opposite. Taxes get too low and the wealthy have a much greater incentive to pay themselves more. And with greater wealth comes greater political power to get not just their taxes lower but to get other policies they want that are bad for society.

Based upon history, the top tax bracket should be around 70-75%. Of course, the idea of a top tax rate that high is so far outside the Overton window that people giggle about it when you bring it up. (Just like they did when you brought up Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee nine months ago.)

Economic Growth Isn’t the Issue

But what bothers me even more than this is that no one knows for sure. So I ask myself, “What if I’m wrong?” And my answer is that I don’t care. “Economic Growth” is a religion among policy elites. And you can see why. Traditionally, increases in productivity were broadly shared. But they aren’t anymore.

I’m always amused when people bring up the dot-com bubble and note that wages went up during it. Yeah, that’s true. That’s because we had a heterodox economist in charge of the Fed who let the unemployment get below 4%. So what these people are really saying is that if economic growth gets high enough, then the rest of us will get a taste. But the idea that 90% of us ought to get even 10% of the growth under normal times is just considered ridiculous.

Conservatives Don’t Care About Economic Growth

Now let’s look at the other side of the economic growth debate. Would conservatives be in favor of raising taxes if it meant that economic growth would increase? The answer is no. That’s because they don’t care about economic growth. They care about the tax rates that rich people pay. And this is a real problem because it means that conservatives are disingenuous. They aren’t for low taxes for the reasons they claim.

So I don’t care about economic growth — not in the current system where all the growth goes to the same people. In a sane political-economic system where economic growth was shared (even if it wasn’t completely fair), I would be for policies that would increase economic growth. But as it is, I don’t see any reason to be for them.

But in this country, it is so much worse because we’ve been told that the same conservative policies will increase economic growth. But they haven’t. Economic growth just gets lower and lower. But the policies have increased inequality, which I believe was the point all along.