On the issue of Thomas Jefferson's loathsomely anti-libertarian credentials, please read Charles Johnson. I agree with everything he says here, probably even the part about my making a series of interrelated mistakes, and definitely the titular imperative.
8 thoughts on “"Not just the signature on a series of essays"”
Thanks for this, Will. I thought of your work immediately when I was watching these guys on C-Span. I haven’t read their book because I’ve placed a moratorium on new books until I get through some old stuff, but I was hoping to see your review. This is even better; can’t wait to watch.
Isn’t it possible that you only get next to nothing of the economic value of this blog, if you get any?
It strikes me that many people in society only get next to nothing of the value they created. For example, when I was a child I was prescribed probably life-saving antibiotics. This cost my parents about $30 for the doctor’s visit and maybe $20 for the antibiotics. Okay, this was quite a few years ago, but still this money was trivial compared to what I have earned so far in my adult life, let alone the non-monetary value of my life (my parents seem to be glad I’m alive). Yet the doctor and the receptionist at the doctor clinic, and the pharmacist who handed over the medicine and the guys who delivered the medicine to the door and so forth only got paid peanuts for that particular peice of life-saving work.
And the farmers who provide the food that keeps me alive also typically get paid trivial amounts compared to the value to me of not feeling hungry.
Now the reason that I can buy food and antibiotics at such a trivial percentage of my life-time earnings is that many other people also benefit from antibiotics and food, so farmers, doctors and the shareholders of pharmaceutical companies can take advantage from economics of scale and make a comfortable living despite that they don’t get much of the consumer surplus that they create. And of course doctors and the shareholders of pharmaceutical companies benefit from farmers’ food production, and in many countries farmers can benefit from doctors and antibiotics. So society as a whole benefits far more from these surpluses.
Now this is not true of every task. If I buy a painting for $100 direct from the artist and only get $120 worth of pleasure from it, and guests to my home only get a further $20 of value, and the artist only paid $10 for the materials, the artist is clearly getting a majority of the benefit rather than society as a whole. But even in the frivolous arts and literature the creator of the work does not necessarily get a majority of the value – for example a blockbluster writer like J. K. Rowling sold millions of books, but much of the value she created went to subsidising the fixed costs of all the books publishers produce that aren’t blockblusters and a lot went to all the people who piggybacked on the pleasure she created (eg people involved in the Harry Potter movies, and subsidising all the movies made about books that don’t earn what the producers paid to the original writer, producers of official Harry Potter merchandise, and the people who created and sold the materials fans of the book use to produce their own fanwork, eg stage makeup to draw the Potter scar on your kid’s forehead), and also many of the fans of the Harry Potter works appear to get a great deal of pleasure out of them beyond the money they paid, and also whatever value society gets from the practice many kids got in reading skills.
So the idea that we only deserve a small part of the value we create implies that we should tax at a higher rate only those people who can gain the lion’s share of their value, which on the whole implies people working in areas where there aren’t significant gains to scale. Relative to existing practice, We should shift the tax burden away from the creators of easily-replicable value, such as authors and film-makers, to the creators of original non-replicated works (like theatre actors or live musicians or artists who earn large amounts of money from selling original works like Damien Hirst). We should tax people more the less valuable their efforts are to saving life or improving its quality (eg speech therapists should be taxed more than ER nurses) and the more their work depends on their individual skills compared to making use of the diverse products produced by others (eg nannies should be taxed more than aluminum refiners as aluminimum refining depends on a high level of capital and manufacturing costs so a lot of the value aluminium refiners create goes to the creators of the inputs.)
Or, going back to my original point, the more people who read your blog, the less we should tax you, as it implies that whatever gain you get is mostly going to you. The more people who read your blog this implies the more value you are creating for society, either for people who believe they gain directly from your wisdom, or for people who enjoy having their ideas challenged by an intelligent mind even if they don’t agree with you, or for people who love shooting down incredibly stupid ideas and find your blog a rich source of said ideas. Very popular bloggers are probably only getting next to nothing of the economic and non-economic value of their blogs, even if they gain vastly from it on a personal level.
As I indicated in the comments on BloggingHeads, I thought this was a pretty good diavlog. Just because you can’t say individuals deserve (by exogenous standards) a collectively generated surplus might mean “no one deserves it” rather than “it should be divided equally.”
By the end I think Lew was backing off the contention that everyone deserves an equal share of this collectively generated surplus, and retreating to the more limited claim that desert based arguments against government taxation or regulation are insufficient. I suspect both Will and Lew agree on this point.
Where I suspect they disagree is on whether there are other compelling justifications for respecting status quo wealth distributions and minimizing regulation and taxation. We never arrived at that argument however.
BTW, I think desert may well be an endogenous concept, by that I mean, if you have a “just” system than the participants in that system “deserve” what is theirs. For this insight I credit Robert Nozick because that was my first exposure to this notion. This use of the term “desert” rescues it from irrelevance (what would occur if no one deserved anything), but perhaps it is not consistent with the common understanding of the term.
What did Lew mean when he said it was a political argument rather than a philisophical argument? Sorry if this is obvious, but I am having a hard time figuring out what that actually means.
I hope I am not too late to be noticed. It takes me a while to absorb and thing on some things.
It strikes me that much of what Lew was talking about can be addressed my Locke’s provision for the proper ownership of land. You can make use of it, as long as you leave as much and as good for others. The ability of others to use what has been invented before is not limited by ones use.
DWAnderson totally nails everything I want to say about the substance of the podcast, so I don’t feel I need to say anything more about that, accept maybe to emphasize that I really don’t see how it follows from the institutionalist points Daly makes to that society deserves all my earnings. OK, and I’ll also say that “political argument” seems to mean that he wants to defeat desert-based arguments being used to argue against higher taxes, because this helps Daly satisfy his political preferences. As much as he seems to be a pretty intellectually honest person, this just seems depressingly willing to sacrifice the truth on the altar of politics.
Now to style: Will, you’re one of the best bloggers ever and one of my favorite thinkers, and I think you’re more consistently right in your views than almost anyone. And I listen to every episode of Free Will. I just have to say: You really ramble too much! Free Will would go from awesome to transcendent if you could manage to express the same (brilliant) ideas in about half the words. Part of the problem is that you frequently dart off in a new direction mid-sentence, and attach lots of extra clauses. Also, I think you ought to let your guests talk a bit more, especially if they want to interject. Often when they’re about to say something, you just keep going.
I don’t know if it would be better to post this on bloggingheads, but I figured you’d be more likely to read it here. Anyway, just some feedback from a big fan. Keep up the righteous work! 🙂
Oh, and why hasn’t there been a new episode in more than a month? I really hope you pick it up again soon.
I cannot singlehandedly prop up the entire context of wealth-enabling institutions in which I am embedded, and since taxpayers paid for the education that enabled me to read and write, I deserve next to nothing of the economic value of this blog (if it has any). Daly and Alperovitz’s view comes thrift savings plan down to the idea that, since we’re constantly enjoying and building on the positive spillovers of prior economic activity and earlier generations of wise governnance
It is very amazing.
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