?

Log in

No account? Create an account

April 7th, 2017

They are not posts I've had sitting around written -- they are posts I've been thinking about for a while, and they are on a to do list. I'm in the mood to clear the to do list, so I'm going to just grind some of these out. I wish that I were in the mood to do a thorough job on each of these, but it is increasingly clear that isn't going to happen -- and I'd rather have the possibility of hearing what my friends think about these things than no.
There are a variety of ways to divvy up the political parties in our system. Here are a few that are directly relevant to the tax code, its complexity and any chance it has of being simplified.

Democrats want to do some redistribution (have the rich pay more, and then send it off to those with less income/more demands on their resources to even out the inevitable unfairness of our political system). Republicans have a horror of redistribution.

Democrats kind of like the idea of having government being all orderly and with the structure matching the function: an agency for each category of activity, regulations on a per agency basis, etc. This is complicated, so on balance, they try to simplify by moving more up to the federal level instead of doing it at the state level. But life is full of unpleasant compromises, and they'd rather make their own state(s) have the right kind of rules than wait until the feds can be convinced to do it right.

Republicans kind of like the idea of government being small, and running as much of government functionality through a common system as possible. On balance, they would prefer the federal government to do as little as possible, and anything complicated that needs to be done, they'd like to push down to the smallest unit of social organization that it possibly can. In practice, that means to the state level. The more ideological members would just as soon everything was handled at some nuclear family level. But life is full of unpleasant compromises, so if we are going to have to distribute money to people -- people with kids, people who need health insurance, etc. -- and it is going to be done at the federal level, they'd like it done as cheaply as possible, which means, tax credits. They also like it when the feds do the redistribution _FROM_ the general tax revenue _TO_ states, to do what they like with (block grants). They'd rather make their own states have the right kind of rules than wait until the feds can be convinced to do it right.

In practice, this means things like: even when everyone agrees that we should implement some kind of program, we probably can't agree or by happy with how we decide to implement that program. Democrats want the feds to send money or money-equivalents to individuals around the country who meet rule defined criteria. Republicans want states to get that money to make their own rules for who should benefit from federal largesse. You can be cynical about either or both perspectives -- the phenomenon, however, is real.

Everyone agrees, periodically, that the tax code has become unfair somehow and that it has become onerously complex and difficult to comply with. Republicans tend to focus on how this makes it hard to do business, hire employees, compete with other countries. Democrats tend to focus on how the tax code contributes to increasing inequality and that it should be made more progressive to reduce inequality. Republicans want a simple code that gets a bunch of its simplicity by having a "flat" tax -- the same percentage taken from everyone regardless of income. Democrats want a simple tax code with a steep curve after some point taking more and more of greater and greater amounts of income. Occasionally, you'll get some oddball come along and suggest a wealth tax (Piketty); in practice, outside of things like property taxes, we don't do wealth taxes in the US, and for very good reasons (administering wealth taxes is _hard_ and honestly somewhat expensive).

The two parties are unlikely to ever happily agree to the basic structure of the tax code (ignoring a true flat tax, even the number of brackets and the rates for each bracket tends to be controversial). But it is difficult to make progress towards simplification. For example, getting rid of AMT would simplify the tax code -- it would also make it a lot less progressive. Getting rid of the AMT is a pure-play Republican thing. What about the mortgage interest rate deduction? It's pretty simple to show that the mortgage interest rate deduction increases wealth inequality over time and is probably regressive. It is also one of the few items that pushes households over the line into claiming itemized deductions vs. claiming the standard deduction. With Democrats liking getting rid of a regressive and/or wealth inequality increasing thing, and Republicans wanting a simpler tax code, you would _think_ this would be a thing they could agree to change.

But only if you forget that while people vote Republican or Democrat -- quite consistently -- people who own homes and have mortgages vote at much higher rates than people who don't. And that interest deduction is kind of a big deal.

I'm not saying it will never go away. Things happen. The world changes. But the tax code retains its complexity for very good reasons.

Here is why it is likely to get worse. With Republicans in charge, with their preference for helping people via the tax code vs. creating/increasing the scope of agencies and "entitlements", if the current administration is going to make good on its various campaign promises to help people caring for children, disabled family members or aging family members (remember -- Republicans want to push that kind of task as far down the social structure as they can), it will be via tax credits. That's exactly what was promised in the last campaign season. And that will NOT lead to a simpler tax code.

I vote Democratic. That's not likely to change, at least, not until we live in a world where both parties are really, really, really clear on the right of women to decide what happens to their own bodies. Which is a world which keeps receding further, and further into the future. But I can see the appeal of delivering money through the tax code -- even while I can clearly envision a number of problems with doing so. But whatever I might think of the _merits_, I think it is fairly safe to say that the tax code does not look like it is going to get a lot simpler any time soon. Unless by simpler, you mean, even more complicated.

Oh, and I argued all that without even getting into the weeds of the costs of implementing a program with an agency vs. through the tax code.

Demographic Projections

This is really long, but really excellent:

http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2017/04/lawler-updated-population-projections.html

Have a little teaser:

"Unfortunately, the last official Census population projection available to the public was released in late 2014 (and its “starting point” was the “vintage 2013” population estimate), and since then (1) “actual” population growth has been significantly lower than these projections, and (2) the outlook for population growth has changed drastically. As such, the latest available “official” Census population projections are not very useful to analysts or policymakers, and any economic/housing/other forecasts based on these outdated population projections is of little use as well."

Lawler looks at the Census 2014 projections as a definitely wrong "base case" and then does a "seat of the pants" projection of a "Sorta Trumpy" scenario and a "Really Trumpy" scenario -- the latter is remarkable for how little the labor force grows in a "Really Trumpy" scenario, and household formation is significantly impacted as well.

I really enjoyed reading this post, and look forward to more along the same lines which I anticipate will show up at Calculated Risk in the future. A "Really Trumpy" scenario would imply -- to me, anyway -- incredibly slow growth for the indefinite future.
I have social communication problems (<-- understatement). Here are two, I'll give the simple and (I believe) unfixable one first, and the more complex and possibly mitigatable one second.

In the first instance, I am telling a story that is ABOUT ME. I am not using "you" as a generic pronoun. I am not thinking about whether the person I am telling the story to might have at some point in their past had a similar story, or if I did, I assume that my conversational partner has basically made whatever peace they might need to make with their story and can thus better understand mind and maybe make sympathetic noises, laugh with a bit of dark humor, perhaps give some helpful advice on how to deal with the situation, etc. Instead -- this doesn't happen all the time, and I really suck at predicting when it does happen -- the person connects whatever I am saying to something that happened to them in the past that they very much HAVE NOT made peace with, and the next thing I know, they are having a powerful emotional reaction to those events gone by, which I actually don't know anything about because it's sort of like I was talking about me and a movie started in front of their eyes and I've been completely forgotten. Very disorienting. I don't think it's something I can fix, altho when I notice it happening, I do try my best to make sympathetic noises, get them to talk through whatever it was hijacked the conversation, etc. etc. You know, be a supportive friend stuff.

Here is the more complex and hopefully more amenable to improvement problem. I am telling a story. The person is periodically reflecting back to me what they heard or what they understand me to have said, or where they think I am going next in the story. But they get it wrong in a way that I think matters. So I make a little adjustment. And I continue with my story. Again, they reflect back. Again, distortion that matters to me. Again, I try to continue. Sometimes I stop, because I think, you know, they are not in a place where listening is possible for them. Maybe they need to do some talking instead. Sometimes I give up on the story, and try a different story. And then sometimes, it happens with that story, too. It is a very frustrating dynamic, and while I've had it happen on occasion with nearly everyone I've had long and interesting conversations with, it happens a lot more with some people than with other. Obviously, it isn't any fun listening to a story, making what one thinks is a relevant remark, and being corrected for it. Repeatedly. Other than, give up on the story, give up on telling any story to the person in question, I'm trying to figure out how to deal with the persistent misunderstanding problem. I _feel_ like there ought to be more things to try. But I'm not having a lot of luck with them. It may be that most people have the sense to abandon any conversational gambit which generates more than two irrelevant/distorted responses, and I just need to internalize that rule.

Tags:

Urban Vs Rural and Broadband

We've been talking a lot post-election about the urban/rural divide. And every single time I hear about that, I think, really, what we need is Broadband Everywhere (and honestly, I'm pretty agnostic about the details on how that is delivered, altho I'm prepared to get into the weeds about what qualifies as broadband). There are a lot of people who moved from one part of the country to a coastal city for a better job market -- and a lot of those people miss where they come from, and where a lot of their family still resides. They miss the food. They miss the people, obviously. They miss the climate, the terrain, the places they went when they were kids, the restaurants they loved, the way people talk. It's a little different for everyone, but missing where one came from -- even if you never intend to go back -- is a remarkably common phenomenon. If the thing stopping you from going back is because there are Jobs and Restaurants and Music and Cultural Experiences where you live now, and there is an opioid epidemic and some scary, homophobic, racist people where you come from, it's kind of not even a choice. Even if the scary, homophobic, racist people are the people you love.

This is an important thing to notice. Because the way values evolve is by seeing how people we love have changed, admiring that change, and emulating it. If people with education and jobs get the opportunity to take their small business or even just their telecommutable job back to wherever they came from, their income and education and age and experience will almost instantly cause them to be a pillar of the community, which will initially be a little bit of a shock to everyone involved because they probably weren't when they left for college as a teenager who might have been a bit of a hellion when younger.

So. Broadband means Our Future Economy Today can go anywhere ... that Broadband is, for suitable definition of Broadband. Which would let everyone move _back_ to the places they love and be around the people they love. This would be great for the people who get the much lower cost of living in an amenable environment. And it would be even better for the people who never left, to have their loved one back ... and the money they spend in the local restaurants and so forth. And it would be really amazeballs for our country, to have the further mixing occur that moves us all gently forward into the future, rather than painfully, by forcing more people to move to already very expensive cities that are not so much to the liking to the people who have remained persistently rural.

ETA: I hope it is obvious that none of this is about me, since I am from Shoreline, a city immediately north of Seattle, and thus not lacking for broadband now or ... ever, since the invention of broadband. But I've sure heard about it from other people who moved to Seattle, and who missed where they came from.

Midterms: encouraging indications

I was really pleased to read this:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/05/upshot/democrats-are-bad-at-midterm-turnout-that-seems-ready-to-change.html

While the party Out of Power tends to do better in the next midterm, it is by no means a sure thing, and Republicans have seemed to outperformed Democrats in this respect, probably in part because midterm turnout favors older and whiter which, well, you can finish this sentence.

Special elections and off year elections such as Virginia can give some indications about what to expect for turnout in the midterms. And I am finding those indications encouraging.

Tags:

Planet Gymnastics did their kids night out, and my kids and the B. family's kids all attended and stayed to the very end! We didn't really believe this would happen. The four adults went to Red Raven for a really wonderful meal, great service, lovely food and obviously excellent company. We dropped in on the kids at 7:30 or thereabouts, but no one wanted to leave. So they went off to the liquor store to find some Antica. R. and I went home and walked around the block.

Speaking of walks, a mile with R., a mile with M., the big loop (3 miles) with R., and then that last mile with R. 6 miles! I haven't done that many in a day in months. So that was really great.

A. and I made banana bread. She had wanted that, but I made banana muffins so this rectified the lapse.

ETA: How could I forget!?! I had a great conversation with K.