Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I am my parents' child

I am having a really hard time with this TAP piece by Robert H. Frank. Not because there's anything wrong with what he's saying--it all seems fine (so far--haven't finished yet). Nope, my problem is he's taken all the economics terminology out of it and all the terms are beating at my skull to get out and in between the words where they belong.

This is in many ways the only vocabulary I know for such discussions, and it's one of the most natural of the vocabularies I have--I use it metaphorically all the time. So I read:

Taxes do more than pay for public services. Taxing any activity both generates revenue and discourages the activity. Our current system taxes mostly useful activities, such as savings and job creation. Perversely, it also encourages us to build larger houses and drive oversize vehicles. Instead, we could switch to a system that taxes only activities that generate harmful side effects. That step alone would generate more than enough revenue to pay for President Barack Obama's ambitious proposals without requiring difficult sacrifices from anyone. [...]

One important form of private waste is caused by garden-variety market failures like congestion and pollution. This type of waste yields easily to simple disincentives like carbon taxes, gasoline taxes, and congestion fees.

Some corner of my brain is jumping up and down and screaming about internalizing externalities. I won't even get into the parts that had it yelling about zero-sum games, game theory, et. al.

Of course, later in the piece the reason I'm having a hard time with it is not so much its (actually laudable) lack of jargon but rather the fact that its proposal--a very steeply progressive consumption tax--seems like quite the pipe dream. I'm not sure I'd be in favor of it, but it doesn't matter because it will never, ever happen.

No comments:

Post a Comment