Tax The Tall

The New York Times Magazine "Year In Ideas" issue is great again.  One of the 70 ideas covered is Mankiw & Weinzierl’s proposal, floated in April, to tax the tall

Should we tax tall workers at a higher rate than their shorter peers? The answer – yes – "follows inexorably" from reigning academic theories of taxation, argues Greg Mankiw. … Using optimal-taxation formulas, Mankiw and Weinzierl crunch the numbers and come up with a "tall tax" amounting to 7 percent of a tall person’s income. Short people would receive a 13 percent rebate.

Do Mankiw and Weinzierl actually endorse such a system? Far from it. Rather, they argue, the proposed tax clarifies our thinking about taxation in general. They say that height is a "justly acquired endowment" … By the same logic, they imply … the government has no right to force someone with the "justly acquired endowment" of entrepreneurial genius to pay a higher tax rate.  Peter Diamond, an economist at M.I.T., says the paper’s basic mistake is the notion "that if you can draw a silly inference from an approach, then that discredits a model."

To which Mankiw replies:

If economic theorists are allowed to embrace inferences from a model that they like and cavalierly reject those that they consider "silly," what is the point of theory? That discretion gives the theorist the freedom to always confirm his priors.

Browsing blog commentary on the tall tax for an hour, I was stunned that I could not find a single supporting post (just two comments), even among economists!  We economists work out all this elaborate theory, rejecting submitted papers without elaborate enough calculations, and refusing to hire those who cannot do them.  But then we throw it all out the window the moment theory suggests a slightly eyebrow-raising policy?

I could sympathize if the proposal seemed to violate a fundamental moral principle, defended by ethicists for generations.  But we are not talking about endorsing rape, slavery, murder, or baby eating here.  We are talking about adding height as one more factor considered by a complex system of taxation and subsidizes that already considers hundreds of details, including age, marriage, children, job, hours worked, ethnicity, nation, city, housing type, kinds of products purchased, types of investment made, and roads used.  How the #@$! is it a sacred moral principle that a tax system weighing all these details shall not also consider height – so sacred that even relatively-amoral economists dare not question it? 

Elite academics, including economists, seem to me to display a huge status-quo bias.  All policies outside a certain range of familiar possibilities seem "silly" to ordinary people.  So no matter how strong the supporting arguments, elite academics feel they must reject such proposals, so as not to seem silly themselves.  Thus basically only eccentric academics, resigned to never becoming more elite, endorse such proposals. 

Since that describes me, let me state loudly and clearly: the economic theory is solid, so I support a revenue-neutral height tax as improving the status quo.  (For complexity-neutrality also, in addition cut some other minor factor now considered.)   I would also follow theory if it similarly supported taxing weight, beauty, IQ, leisure hours, or multi-year income variance.  (I’m 6’0", 200lb, high IQ, and not pretty.)

Added: Mankiw says I "must be an unabashed Utilitarian", but I’ll bet he wouldn’t make the same comment about a supporter of a typical policy supported by standard economic theory.  Why is this policy so different?  Talking about "justly acquired" just begs the question of what is justly acquired.   

Chris Dillow, Karl Smith, and Not Sneaky support it, while Megan McArdle takes a towering stand against.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,
Trackback URL:
  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    I’m sure this is a beginner’s question, but why would you tax someone on something that correlates with higher income, rather than directly taxing them on the higher income? Aren’t we already taxing the tall to exactly the right extent, since they are on average earning more?

    I’m 5’7″ btw :-)

  • gutzperson

    If you add race or gender into this then you are in big trouble.

  • Luis Enrique

    As Paul points out (and if he is making a mistake, then I am making it too) the conclusion they draw looks shaky to me:

    “they imply … the government has no right to force someone with the “justly acquired endowment” of entrepreneurial genius to pay a higher tax rate”

    We don’t tax entrepreneurial geniuses at a higher rate when they are working in Burger King, just when they start making pots of money. We also tax cretins more when they start making pots of money, not when they work in Burger King. However, a height tax would fall on tall Burger King workers and help short movie moguls. So isn’t there something silly here?

  • Luis Enrique

    That is to say, we do not tax the endowment, we tax the income / wealth (which may or may not result from the use of an endowment) and mixing the two up is silly. There is no sacred moral principle here, just a category error.

    It is not clear that estate inheritance qualifies as justly acquired, either.

  • Acheman

    Having read the article, it sounds as if it has nothing to do with ‘justice’. The point is that we cannot tax the rich as much as we might want to without at some point dissuading them from doing things which make them richer, thus reducing their consumption and investment. But if the tall were taxed at a higher rate – so short movie stars would still be paying more, because it wouldn’t replace income tax, just affect the level it was calculated at – we’d be taxing richer people, but they wouldn’t be able to become ‘less tall’ because of it. There’s a certain overlap with ideas about justice, because we tend to think it juster to tax people on things they haven’t ‘earned’ through voluntary behavioural change, but it isn’t exact. As to whether entrepeneurship is taxed specifically, that would depend on whether people had to pay more capital gains tax for selling a company than for other sources of gain, and other such niceties, which I’m not familiar with. But I rather suspect it isn’t.

  • Ben Jones

    I think the key part of the article is the one that tries to *explain* the height-wage correlation – better nourishment, more confidence etc. Should we not pin down the reason why taller people earn more and tax that instead? Surely ‘being-tall’ and ‘earning-more’ are both effects, rather than a cause and an effect. Find the causes, tax those instead. The problem here being that delving deep enough takes you to a genetic level. Try writing that proposal.

    That said, it’s tough to argue with the thrust – what are our motives for taxing some people more than others, and how do we decide this?

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    I think it’s plausible that in this instance correlation *is* causation – that being taller directly causes you to be richer, as a result of height leading to greater respect from those you meet.

    We tax some more than others for two reasons which pull in different directions: because we want to shape an incentive structure, and because all other things being equal a rich man suffers less for being a dollar down than a poor man does. I’m curious to know if the model that advocates taxing the rich takes the latter into account as well as the former.

  • steven

    “I’m sure this is a beginner’s question, but why would you tax someone on something that correlates with higher income, rather than directly taxing them on the higher income?”

    Taxing income is an incentive against higher incomes, taxing height is not.

  • Alan Gunn

    It would be interesting to know how lawyers have responded to the Diamond criticism (“the paper’s basic mistake is the notion that if you can draw a silly inference from an approach, then that discredits a model”). The heart of “thinking like a lawyer” is to examine a legal authority, see what “rule” it seems to reflect, then test that rule against various hypothetical cases. If the result is absurdity, you’ve gotten the rule wrong, so you try again. Mankiw sometimes says he wasn’t a terrific law student, but he certainly seems to have caught on to the fundamentals of legal thinking.

    Maybe it’s me own legal background speaking, but isn’t Diamond’s argument just plain wrong? (As opposed to arguing that the inference isn’t silly.)

  • Matthew

    Shall we also tax different racial groups with different tax rates?

  • Acheman

    I do wonder whether the racial groups thing mightn’t be rather a good idea – it certainly looks like an instance of ‘proper revenue-maximising incentive structure’ and ‘justice’ coinciding somewhat. The best argument you could make against it would be that it would be likely to forment racial resentment amongst those who don’t understand basic economics.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Paul and Luis, Acheman and steven are right – the idea is that taxed income will reduce effort to create income, while taxed height will not.

    Gutz and Matthew, I’d have no problem with taxing gender or race, if economic theory similarly supported it. (Some economists do argue for taxing women less.) I could understand if those didn’t actually happen because they are politically charged categories. But how politically charged is height?

  • Rip

    All of mainstream science is frozen with status-quo bias.

  • http://elidourado.wordpress.com/2007/12/12/optimal-taxation-a-modester-proposal/ Eli Dourado

    Optimal Taxation: A ModesterProposal

    Mankiw and Weinzierl have been making waves with their working paper, The Optimal Taxation of Height: A Case Study of Utilitarian Income Redistribution. The basic idea is this: the government taxes income, but people can always avoid par…

  • Carl Shulman

    When I first saw a reference to the Mankiw paper I hoped it would be at least semi-serious (describing the case for a height tax and then drawing back from actually endorsing it, but not rejecting it either). But not a strong hope, given that so many economists and philosophers are ready to support the status quo ban on organ sales, which obviously and directly results in thousands of needless deaths, while the benefits of more efficient taxation are indirect and invisible.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2030/
    Steve Landsburg wrote about this (and more controversial taxes, e.g. on race) back in 1996, citing Mark Bils. The biggest problem with the policy in my view is that it’s difficult to demonize the tall and attractive enough to impose tough new taxes on them, for a reason that probably explains part of their earning premium…they’re just so darn likable! An unusually sensible politician would probably do more good by expending his or her political levying a revenue-neutral carbon tax and using it to cut corporate income taxes, or by cutting healthcare spending and investing the savings in medical research and development.

  • Paul

    I’d be fine with varying taxes by height if the evidence were overwhelming that height really does consistently give individuals an economic advantage. The “overwhelming” is critical. I would want the evidence so persuasive that virtually all citizens agree that the advantage is real.

    I’m sure that very few people believe this connection today. Ask anybody responsible for hiring or promotion whether tall people have an advantage because they are tall, and you will get a resounding “Not from me! I decide on merit, and merit isn’t determined by height.”

    I think there is a marginal gain in utility in shifting taxes from hard work to an inherited characteristic. However, this gain would be very small today compared to the utility lost due to the perception of “unfair” that would result if some group could push this through without the overwhelming evidence I’d require.

  • Ben Marx

    I was glad to see this post because I had the same reaction to the article. Call me an “eccentric academic,” but why would we reject a height tax outright? Most people oppose free trade. Does that make it a “silly” idea that economists should abandon?

  • Phil

    “We are talking about adding height as one more factor considered by a complex system of taxation and subsidizes that already considers hundreds of details, including age, marriage, children, job, hours worked, ethnicity, nation, city, housing type, kinds of products purchased, types of investment made, and roads used. How the #@$! is it a sacred moral principle that a tax system weighing all these details shall not also consider height – so sacred that even relatively-amoral economists dare not question it?”

    The obvious difference is that all those other criteria are *chosen*, while height is not. Isn’t this the actual *reason* to consider height, that a height tax is not an incentive to become shorter? The question answers itself. Is it a troll?

    And I would argue that in the United States today, it IS a sacred moral principle that you don’t disriminate on unchosen attributes. (Hell, sometimes you can’t even discriminate on *chosen* ones.)

  • Matthew

    Robin,

    It appears to me that almost all taxes are imposed based on acquired attributes rather than innate ones. It seems like an uphill battle attempting to sell in the political marketplace penalties on people for who they are, rather than what they do, and some pretty straightforward psychological reasons why most people object to such schemes. Personally, I’d much prefer to see economists arguing for other controversial ideas with a much better chance of being approved and (IMO) much greater payoffs for social welfare, like ending the drug war, allowing payments for transplant donors, etc.

  • Anonymous

    You know, people with the name Robin Hanson have a higher income than average. Obviously, we need to institute a Robin Hanson tax.

  • Luis Enrique

    Are you sure about that? You don’t think a height tax would reduce effort to create income on the part of tall people?

    And besides, dubious assertions about the behavioral responses to these two types of taxation do not refute the point that we do not tax people on the basis of ‘justly acquired endowments’, so the “if we tax this one, how come we won’t contemplate taxing that one?” argument being made is hogwash.

    How much empirical support does the idea that raising taxes causes people to work less have?

  • Nick Tarleton

    The best argument you could make against it would be that it would be likely to foment … resentment amongst those who don’t understand basic economics.

    This is a very good point.

    And I would argue that in the United States today, it IS a sacred moral principle that you don’t disriminate on unchosen attributes.

    Well, the discrimination (on height, beauty, athleticism, social skills, initiative, intelligence, …) is already happening, and probably unavoidable – especially in the last two cases. (Another word for discrimination on initiative and intelligence is “meritocracy”.)

  • Larry D’Anna

    Leaving aside the issue of whether it makes economic sense to have a “tall-tax”, there is a moral and legal issue here that trumps any economic argument you could make. It is wrong to attach legal import to unchosen attributes, unless they are *directly* relevant. It is wrong to judge people based on attributes that correlate with relevant ones, even if the correlation is real and strong.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    All, see my “added” above.

    Carl, Landsburg does discuss these proposals, but rejects them.

    Paul, no current tax/subsidy policy could meet your requirement for overwhelming evidence.

    Phil and Matthew, people do not choose their location of birth (city or nation) nor their disability level, nor their tastes for many products, yet lifetime taxes/subsidies depend on these.

  • David

    “And I would argue that in the United States today, it IS a sacred moral principle that you don’t disriminate on unchosen attributes. (Hell, sometimes you can’t even discriminate on *chosen* ones.)”

    And yet the government regularly discriminates based on age (not to mention the many other metrics Robin mentioned, but age is the most “not chosen” one). Do you think that, say, Social Security violates this moral principle?

    And Robin, we appreciate your modesty, but of course you’re pretty.

  • Ben Jones

    I don’t think the supposed status quo bias throughout science is a terrible thing. The beauty of the scientific method is that if It is true, It will shine forth and all deniers will be brought round eventually. See Copernicus, Einstein, continental drift, quantum theory, the Big Bang etc. There is a status quo because drastic new theories like the above are such large paradigm shifts the whole world has to readjust its thinking. However, the other end of the spectrum is that we make the latest trend part of our scientific bedrock without due process. String/M-theory gets a lot of column inches for something that makes pretty much no (currently) observable predictions.

    There is not much wiggling room between science’s ‘status quo bias’ and a tradition of strict skepticism about drastic, far-reaching new theories. Remember – if it’s scientifically true, there should be observable evidence. If there is, test, test and test again. As Eliezer says, if all the evidence suddenly began telling you 2+2=3, you’d test the hell out of it before you believed it. That’s not a bias, that’s the first virtue.

  • conchis

    The relevant responses have already been made, but for what it’s worth, I’ll add my voice to the chorus in favour of the tax in principle.

    The theory is sound. Objections that we do not penalize people on the basis of unchosen attributes strike me as so ridiculous as to make me wonder whether people actually seriously thought about it before they posted. As a society and as individuals we do it all the time. Objections that we should not penalize people for unchosen characteristics actually favour the height tax: people should not be worse off just because they were born shorter, or with less ability; this proposal would actual redress existing differentials on this front.

    I do think there would be real issues implementing such a proposal. Height is partially endogenous (via the effect of nutrition etc.) and there is a possibility that a tax on height could therefore elicit a behavioural response. (If the effect of height were purely an “intimidation” effect, that might not be a problem, but given that it’s probably partially an ability effect such behavoiural responses would be problematic.) Enforcement would be hell. It’s politically infeasible in any event. However, none of these should lead us to question the fundamental assumptions underlying the analytical approach as Mankiw and Weinzierl seem to suggest.

  • conchis

    crap. forgot to close the italics tags. should have previewed. sorry.

  • http://www.satisfice.com/blog James Bach

    The simple reason not to tax height is that if you were a politician, and you tried to do that, you would be cast out of office. You’d be a laughing stock. Taxing the tall is practically indistinguishable from racism (by which I mean arguments that it is not racist will seem disingenuous doublespeak, regardless of their technical merit).

    Imagine making people pay $50,000 for the right to have a child. That would be a reasonable tax. But does reason matter?

    Taxation is a very emotional issue. Feelings about taxation were a catalyst for the birth of the United States, as well as the English civil war and the end of absolute monarchy in that nation.

    Part of overcoming bias, it seems to me, is to learn to respect the feelings that actually do control our actions. You don’t overcome bias by ignoring them.

    For instance, I think a rational argument could be made for legalizing the retroactive abortion of any infant under, say, 6 months in age. I don’t see how cutting an umbilical cord should suddenly make a fetus incredibly valuable if it wasn’t valuable in the womb. There are analogs in nature for retroactive abortion, too. But no argument or reason matters in this issue, because the driving factors are purely emotional.

  • George Weinberg

    From the NYT link:
    Optimal-tax theory is an area of economics that deals with such questions as whether the I.R.S. should treat capital gains and wages the same. Its larger aim is to design ways to raise money for public use without distorting economic choices.

    I think most people would like to believe there’s some moral basis for who pays how much taxes beyond how much can be squeezed out of each individual. A tax policy explicitly based on optimal-tax theory such as a height tax would force people to confront the fact that there isn’t.

  • http://www.acceleratingfuture.com/tom Tom McCabe

    This was proposed as a *parody* a number of years back, in defense of libertarianism and as an argument for simplifying the tax code. See http://www.hawaiireporter.com/list.aspx?The+Jonathan+Gullible+Series, chp. 6.

  • http://www.econ.canterbury.ac.nz/eric Eric Crampton

    My wife is 8 months pregnant. Anticipating a height tax on our offspring, ought I encourage Susan to start smoking? She has never been a smoker, but it seems as though some mechanisms that can stunt height in utero might be in the child’s interest. Hmm.

    Probability of a height tax sufficiently low that I won’t encourage her to start smoking.

    I wish some country would implement a height tax so we could test effects on average height over a sufficient period of time. There’s always a margin for behavioural response….

  • Silas

    Robin_Hanson: I’m surprised you didn’t mention your “fitness-based morality intuition” theory. This seems like another example of it: rejecting a theoretically sound tax because it inhibits someone with good genes. Then again, people would react the same to a tax on the short, I suppose.

    Steven_Landsburg has argued elsewhere on tax policy that it would be a “good idea” to put a one time ~$500,000 tax on people statistically likely to be successful, ignoring that this could kill the hope that would lead them to be successful.

  • Floccina

    Height is partially endogenous (via the effect of nutrition etc.) and there is a possibility that a tax on height could therefore elicit a behavioural response.

    Not as long as the tax amount is understood to be below the average income differential produced by the height.

  • michael vassar

    James Bach is right, but he should distinguish between economic analysis, which should endorse a “tall tax” when public misunderstanding and irrationality are ignored, and policy analysis, which should reject such a tax because such factors cannot be ignored in setting policy.

  • http://metaandmeta.typepad.com Drake

    “the idea is that taxed income will reduce effort to create income”

    Granted there is no conventional incentive relation between a tax on height (say) and income. But that doesn’t mean that such a tax wouldn’t have a depressive effect on income. In fact it’s easy to imagine that such taxes would have all kinds of psychological effects that negatively impact earning potential. Without considerable empirical work, then, it seems entirely speculative to say that such a tax would have a less depressive effect on income than a tax on income.

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Mankiw: If economic theorists are allowed to embrace inferences from a model that they like and cavalierly reject those that they consider “silly,” what is the point of theory?

    This is the really disturbing part.

    Suppose I have a new hypothesis about gravity – gravity is the work of little aliens. My theory yields exceptionally good experimental predictions, because I peek at the real physicists’ experimental predictions and use those. This proves that gravity is the result of little aliens.

    I have a new theory of moral duties. We should do whatever leads to the greatest number of paperclips being created. Unless the result conflicts with utilitarianism, in which case we should use the advice of utilitarianism instead.

    Here’s an ingenious notion: Let’s build a Friendly AI whose simple goal is to maximize human happiness, except whenever common sense says that wouldn’t be a good idea.

    Closely related to Fake Justification, it’s the Hidden Advisor!

  • Caledonian

    nor their tastes for many products, yet lifetime taxes/subsidies depend on these.

    People are not taxed on their tastes. They are taxed on their purchases.

  • Gary

    A height tax would indeed reduce incentives for working. Any tax reduces incentives for working, not just progressive ones.

    Consider a 100% flat tax on being a human – nobody could change their humanness (the elasticity of being human is zero), but that doesn’t imply that everyone would continue to work, undeterred.

  • Douglas Knight

    I’m surprised not to see a comment that being tall isn’t “justly acquired,” eg, by the standards of Rawls.

    Of course, this is irrelevant to the economic analysis.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/ TGGP

    It sounds like Karl Smith is willing to reject his gut feeling and endorse the height tax. I guess that makes two.

  • http://www.chrisjeffords.blogspot.com/ Chris Jeffords

    Perhaps there might be a link between how hairy a man’s chest and back are to the amount of income he makes. If so, and the findings suggest that the hairier a man you are the more income you earn, then given the “justly acquired endowment” framework, we might find that we should tax the hairy and give rebates to the hairless.

    Then after we skew the tax system (some more) such that tall hairy people are getting the (you know what) taxed out of them, these people might find a way to be bequest the short, hairless genes to their offspring.

    I can see it now… My grandchildren are in high school reading an economics/history textbook and they come to the year 2009. The (average height) teacher turns and says, “2009, the year the tall started paying for their sins. And I don’t just mean wide receivers and basketball players either, but even you Timmy (not my grandson) – just for being tall (sinister laugh)! Now, just wait until you have fully hit puberty and they get you for being hairy too!” Of course, this teacher forgot to mention the connection with the income side of the story; he was simply trying to shock the class.

  • http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~cook/movabletype/archives/2007/12/justly_acquired.html Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science

    “Justly acquired endowment”??? Taxing as punishment or as a way to raise money

    Tall political scientist David Park and tall economist Robin Hansen point to this paper by Mankiw and Weinzierl on the idea of taxing tall people. I have no problem with the paper–it’s wacky, but intentionally wacky, one might say, using…

  • ArtD0dger

    [the paper's basic mistake is the notion "that if you can draw a silly inference from an approach, then that discredits a model."]

    So this sweeping rejection of the syllogism of reductio ad absurdum is based on what? Reductio ad absurdum?

  • Rafal Smigrodzki

    If bizarre conclusions can be derived from a theory, then your degree of confidence in the validity of this theory should diminish, if you are rational. Alternatively, if the theory is just a smokescreen for expressing your personal desires in an objectivized fashion, you can add some qualifications to the theory and proceed as before. In this case we have “optimal taxation” theory that produces emotionally disturbing conclusions, and we have economists promptly coming up with the notion of “just endowment” to reject the conclusions.

    For me this indicates that the current optimal taxation theories are a smokescreen, and as long as they produce results consistent with desires (emotional biases) of economics professors, they will be taught as the correct theory. Most humans, including economics professors, like the notion of taxation in general, and current optimal taxation theories can be easily tweaked to support a wide range of policies. Most humans dislike being mistreated because of their physical appearance, so if the optimal taxation theory prescribes financial punishment for tallness (Height-Added Tax Extension, HATE), humans will have a problem. You can’t reject the theory, because it is useful in providing a dispassionate, mathematically sophisticated justification for what you have supported since before you learned your calculus, but then a theory with bizarre conclusions does produce some cognitive dissonance. Luckily, the vague term “justice” comes to the rescue, letting you pick and choose the people and reasons to tax.

    For me this is all a bit alien – I see the disutility of being subject to taxation as astronomically higher than any benefits that are likely to accrue, making optimal taxation theory moot (or trivial). Should the values of economists ever gravitate in this direction, perhaps the mis-conclusions of optimal taxation theory will help them reflect on themselves and reject the legitimacy of taxation outright.

    That would be the optimal outcome of “optimal taxation theory”.

  • http://notsneaky.blogspot.com notsneaky

    “I was stunned that I could not find a single supporting post (just two comments), even among economists! ”

    Whoaw!. I was supporting the height tax when supporting the height tax wasn’t cool:
    http://notsneaky.blogspot.com/2007/04/we-should-be-taxing-tall-rich-men-and.html
    http://notsneaky.blogspot.com/2007/05/you-know-rawlsd-be-all-about-taxin-some.html

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Notsneaky, good for you!

  • Luis Enrique

    “Objections that we do not penalize people on the basis of unchosen attributes strike me as so ridiculous as to make me wonder whether people actually seriously thought about it before they posted”

    Well, I must be stuck in the stupid hole (not for the first time). Seems to me two things are being conflated. We do not tax on the basis of unchosen attributes. Steve Jobs would not take his higher entrepreneurial genius tax rate with him if he worked at Burger King. I, being evidently dumb, would not take my dumb-discount rate with me if appointed CEO of Apple. Sure, we tax income that may by partially explained by unchosen attributes, but we do not tax on the basis of the attribute itself. I don’t know of a tax code that varies according to ethnicity, gender etc.*

    Mankiw’s point that the height tax may be non-linear in income may scupper my reasoning here, not sure.

    Am embarrassing myself by wanting this distinction to be made? Looks to me like it pertains to (and only to) the formulation: “we tax these unchosen attributes so why not this one?”.

    But the optimal taxation argument does not rest on that formulation, because it can claim we ought to taxing unchosen attributes be even if we are not. So okay, my objections are really beside the main point. But doesn’t optimal taxation theory rest pretty heavily on assumptions about how labour-effort-as-a-choice-variable responds to taxation in various forms? These seem sufficiently shaky to me to make the conclusion “optimal taxation theory suggests we should tax height” unwarranted.

    Notsneaky, am I missing something or does your technical walk-through stop with labour effort being observable, and doesn’t get to how height as a correlate of ability would work? But anyway, I’m sure you’re right the model suggests height should be taxed; however would it be valid to object that the assumed response of effort to taxation is empirically dodgy enough to undermine the conclusion of the model?

    * Perhaps it exists in the US, I don’t know. I’m trying to think about whether subsidies directly based on unchosen attributes undermine my argument, or whether they are really about something else.

  • conchis

    Floccina, you’re right.

    Gary, you’re wrong. Not all taxes are levied as a percentage of income – a poll tax, for example, should not discourage work.

    Luis, I said the idea that we don’t penalize people based on unchosen attributes was ridiculous, not the idea that we don’t tax them on such. Nonetheless, we do currently tax people to some degree on the basis of at least one unchosen attribute: ability. The whole point of the MW paper was precisely that we currently can’t do this very well; that standard standard tax theory says we’d like to be able to do it better; and that if that’s what we’d like to do a height tax is a good way of achieving it.

    Maybe you’re uncomfortable taxing ability to begin with, in which case it’s unsurprising you’d be uncomfortable with a height tax. The thing is, if you are comfortable taxing ability, but you’re not comfortable taxing height, I think you have some explaining to do as to why the two are different. Talking about “justly acquired endowments” or “unchosen attributes” doesn’t do the job as far as I’m concerned, because the two seem fairly indistinguishable on both scores.

  • Larry D’Anna

    James: I hope you’re trolling on retroactive abortion. I really do. That is one of the most profoundly evil suggestions I have ever heard. Yes, birth is not a meaningful distinction. The correct conclusion to infer from this is not that we should make it legal to MURDER BABIES, but that we should extend protection to unborn fetuses once they reach an appropriate stage of development.

  • Larry D’Anna

    conchis: you are wrong.

    We do not tax ability. We tax income, which correlates with ability. If we taxed ability there would be a standardized federal ability test that we would all take to determine our taxes. This would be just as wrong as taxing height.

  • conchis

    Larry,

    I’m not wrong; we’re just using words in different ways. We equally entitled to our words, so I won’t claim that your usage is wrong. However, you do seem to be applying it inconsistently: even if we used a standardized federal ability test to determine taxes, on your account, we would still not be taxing ability. We would be taxing the scores on standardised federal ability tests, which would (hopefully) correlate with ability.

    So why is it that we’re happy enough to tax some things that correlate with ability, but apparently not others?

    (FWIW, my own answer (related to the “horizontal equity” argument given by MW) is distributional concerns: the efficiency gains of an ability-proxy tax need to be weighed against their distributional impact (obviously taking transfers etc. into account where possible). Such distributional concerns probably become more pressing the worse is the ability-proxy in question, and the lower it’s correlation with ability-to-pay (i.e. income/wealth).)

  • http://notsneaky.blogspot.com notsneaky

    “Notsneaky, am I missing something or does your technical walk-through stop with labour effort being observable, and doesn’t get to how height as a correlate of ability would work? “

    Hmmm, yeah, I think that was one of those posts that was supposed to have a part 2 but that never got written. So the technical explanation stops there, but the verbal explanation goes all the way through.

    “But anyway, I’m sure you’re right the model suggests height should be taxed; however would it be valid to object that the assumed response of effort to taxation is empirically dodgy enough to undermine the conclusion of the model?”

    Well, that’s part of what Mankiw and Weinzierl spend a good portion of the paper arguing – that it’s not dodgy (that and that the correlations are strong enough and the magnitudes big enough).

  • Gary

    Conchis, perhaps I should have specified that just about any modern-day tax discourages work. That would preclude taxes that apply even when income is zero.

    Any tax on goods, services, land, income, and so on, it seems to me, would reduce the incentive to work, since one’s wage is effectively less under these scenarios. (As long as you agree that the supply curve for labour slopes upwards, I think this holds.)

  • http://nosneaky.blogspot.com notsneaky

    Why would a (Georgian) tax on land affect wages?

  • Gary

    Notsneaky, I was thinking of land taxes that are refunded if income is below a certain level. Maybe this isn’t very common.

    As you suggest with your question, if one must pay the same level of land tax regardless of income level (whether negative, zero, or positive), it would not affect incentives for working.

  • Larry D’Anna

    conchis, you are right that ability test score != ability, however we do not tax income because it correlates with ability, or anything else. We tax income because it is income. Taxing based on height, or ability scores, or race is offensive to our idea of equality before the law in a way that taxing income simply is not. As I’ve said before, the moral and ethical considerations of this question dominate. Even if the economic advantage of a tall-tax were huge (and I don’t think anyone is saying it is), it would still be unconstitutional and immoral, and should not be enacted.

  • conchis

    “We do not tax income because it correlates with ability, or anything else.”

    Really? I think you’ll struggle to establish this. I would say that some people would agree that we tax income (in part) because it correlates with ability and some wouldn’t. I don’t know how you get a coherent “we” out of that.

    “We tax income because it is income.”

    Um, that’s not really much in the way of an explanation.

    “Even if the economic advantage of a tall-tax were huge (and I don’t think anyone is saying it is), it would still be unconstitutional”

    Last I checked, height wasn’t a suspect category, so the equal protection test would be whether the law was reasonably related to legitimate government interest. I’m pretty sure the proposal could pass that.

    “… and immoral.”

    I admit that lots of people seem to think so, but that doesn’t make it true. It does quite clearly make the tax politically infeasible, but that’s a different matter.

  • conchis

    Gary, If I understand correctly, the argument in MW is for a height tax coupled with continued income taxation. The point is that if this were appropriately designed it would have less of a disincentive effect that current income taxation, not that it would have no such effect.

  • ScentOfViolets

    The tallness attribute strikes me as a red herring; let us talk of an intelligence tax instead. The reasoning goes something like this – taxes contrary to much ink spilled trying to argue anything else, are just the means of paying the bills due for government services and government investments. Nothing more. The issue then arises as to who will pay how much of these bills, and that’s when all the obfuscatory baggage gets dragged in. In particular, it makes sense to impose higher taxes on people with more money for the good and sufficient reason that that’s where the money is. At which point, it is these people who will throw up arguments of morality (let’s get the arrow of causality straight here), protesting that they are being taxed because of their superior virtues, most notably, intelligence.

    If this is true, why not levy a tax on the intelligence of the affluent? After all, it’s not as if they did anything – or were capable of doing anything – to acquire this attribute; it’s simply a matter of luck. And no more controversial than an inheritance tax on someone who through chance has parents wealthy enough for that tax to effect.

  • Gary

    Conchis, I agree that a height tax may have less (but not the elimination) of a disincentive effect.

    I was arguing against something Robin said: “the idea is that taxed income will reduce effort to create income, while taxed height will not.” This, as far as I can tell, is incorrect.

  • Caledonian

    And no more controversial than an inheritance tax on someone who through chance has parents wealthy enough for that tax to effect.

    Presumably this was meant facetiously. Inheritance taxes apply to money and goods that can be sold for money – commodities. Intelligence cannot be transferred, cannot be sold or purchased, and is connected to income only statistically.

    At present, we have a hard enough time getting smart people into jobs (and subcategories of jobs) that don’t pay extraordinarily well. If you create a tax on intelligence testing results, high-scorers will have to take jobs with higher pay. An important but low-paying job will be inviable, because it will be much harder to live at that salary AND pay the tax.

    Finally, it would seriously discourage people to take the test accurately. If you’re smart, what’s the benefit to scoring well? Lacking intelligence, people cannot easily improve their scores, but it’s trivial to lower a score.

  • Doug S.

    Income taxes serve as a Pigovian tax on status seeking, and therefore improve economic efficiency rather than distort it. (Because people care about relative income levels as well as absolute income levels, if your income increases, it imposes a negative externality on others, causing them to put more effort into income acquisition than they otherwise would. In other words, the income tax is a valuable tool for promoting work-life balance and discouraging “keeping up with the Joneses” effects.)

    This is not a joke.

  • steven

    Doug, I’m inclined to say that if people feel envy and choose not to combat this feeling, that is entirely their own problem.

  • conchis

    steven,

    (1) Well, part of the argument is that it’s actually just about everyone’s problem. If everyone’s doing this whole status-seeking through income thing, then we’re in a multi-player prisoners’ dilemma type situation where it’s actually in (almost) everyone’s interests to work less and earn less.

    (2) In any event, it’s not necessarily just about envy. The benefits of some goods just are positional. There are both positive and negative network externalities that mean, e.g. that if everyone else has a telephone, then, regardless of whether you’re envious about other people having a telephone, you’ll probably get left out of the loop and be worse off without one now than you would have been if nobody else had one either. Similar things occur if you can’t quite afford the entertainments customary amongst your group of friends. Social exclusion is a bitch. Finally, what if it’s other people looking down on you if you don’t have stuff? Is it envious to want stuff then, or is it just a natural reaction to people looking down on you? Maybe the world would be better if people could ignore things like this, but I’m not sure they should be punished for not being able to.

    Apologies for the thread hi-jack. I’ve just been getting progressively more and more annoyed with what I see as far-too-simplitic anti-envy arguments against Doug’s point.

  • steven

    Re 1: again, it’s not everyone’s problem, it’s the problem of envious people. Suffering from the thought of other people being wealthy is a very very ugly thing that I feel the “luxury fever” types are legitimating. Maybe I’m over-generalizing from personal experience, but I find it extremely easy to just decide not to be envious.

    Re 2: those are all points, but I’m sure you could find as many positive as negative externalities from wealth if you tried as hard. It just seems obvious to me that I would not be unhappier in a world where half the population was replaced by very rich people than in a world where half the population was replaced by very poor people.

  • Gary

    From Marginal Revolution:

    Do relative status and income matter more than absolute? If this were true, then most immigration would be from rich countries to poor countries.

  • conchis

    Steven, re both 1 and 2: the data tend to disagree with you, at least within the range of changes we’re actually talking about in the developed world. I suspect that most of the positive externalities occur at fairly low levels of income, and most of the negative ones at higher ones. Also, “envy” isn’t always conscious, and so may not necessarily be that easy to just switch off.

    Gary, as I and others pointed out on that thread, this argument doesn’t even come close to working. I don’t really want to rehash the whole thing here, and we’ve already drifted far enough from topic here, so anyone interested can go look at the MR discussion. I’m going to bow out now.

  • conchis

    Apologies, try this MR thread instead.

  • conchis

    And this one.

  • Doug S.

    My argument comes from this book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Happiness-Lessons-Science-Richard-Layard/dp/1594200394

    They even state how big the externality is. If everyone’s income goes up by $X, the happiness gain for each person is equal to 2/3 of the happiness gain that person would have gotten if they were the only one whose income was raised. (They justify this statement by citing some other work.)

  • Larry D’Anna

    Conchis, my “we” is the general consensus of the American people. Perhaps I’m wrong that it’s a consensus, but I doubt it. I think you will have to agree that most Americans find the idea of a height tax just as repellent as I do.

    To be more specific on why we tax income, it really is as simple as “because it’s income”. Those who earn the most can afford to pay the most. I believe that is the rationale almost anyone would give you if you asked them to justify it. I doubt that very many would say that we tax income because it correlates with natural talent, and it’s just not fair that some people are more talented than others, and we need to balance it out with a tax.

    As for height being a suspect category, I suspect it would soon become one if height-based legislation as egregiously unjust as a height-tax were ever enacted.

    As for morality, I never said that popular opinion determined morality. Do you believe a race-tax is immoral? I bet you do. Now ask yourself why. Now ask yourself if the same reasons don’t apply to height.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    I’ll bet if I made a post mentioning the word “abortion”, no matter how indirectly, we’d get a long discussion with all the usual arguments about abortion. But since I mentioned the word “tax” here we get all the usual arguments about taxes. The main point of this point is that economists don’t embrace “silly” results of economic theory. The fact that standard theory supports the tall tax is not in dispute.

  • Carl Shulman

    “I’ll bet if I made a post mentioning the word “abortion”, no matter how indirectly, we’d get a long discussion with all the usual arguments about abortion.”
    Of course, but at what odds?

  • conchis

    “Do you believe a race-tax is immoral? I bet you do.”

    I don’t think a measure is inherently immoral just because it happens to take race into account – and anyone who believes in affirmative action will agree with me. Provided the measure’s not rooted in a belief that people of one race are somehow less worthy of respect or consideration than another, I don’t see the issue. (Well, I see a political issue, but not really a moral one.)

    Let’s say being white is positively correlated with income independently of how hard people work. (To avoid the implication that I’m saying whites are more able than non-whites, let’s further assume, not entirely implausibly, that this is because people discriminate against non-whites.) In this situation, I would probably have as little issue with a white-tax as I do the height tax. (Which is to say, that I’d want to trade of the efficiency gains against distributional concerns, but that subject to that caveat, I’d be entirely open to it – if it weren’t so obviously politically infeasible.)

    I don’t imagine I’m going to convince you about this. And I don’t imagine you’re going to convince me either. I’m sure there’s a case study in disagreement in here somewhere…

    “As for height being a suspect category, I suspect it would soon become one if height-based legislation as egregiously unjust as a height-tax were ever enacted.”

    I suspect you have no idea what you’re talking about on this point.

    “my ‘we’ is the general consensus of the American people. Perhaps I’m wrong that it’s a consensus, but I doubt it. I think you will have to agree that most Americans find the idea of a height tax just as repellent as I do.”

    You know, when I said “I admit that lots of people seem to think so” I already took this as granted. You don’t have to beat me into submission on it. What I disagreed with was the idea that everyone agrees that we don’t tax income in part because it correlates with ability. On reflection, I think I’m probably wrong about that; but it’s largely irrelevant to the argument anyway.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    conchis, the MR threads you cited didn’t seem to support your/Doug’s point much. The first one says that that greater wealth does not have negative externalities on the worse-off and the second says that it is a mistake to view happiness in relative rather than absolute terms as an artifact of measurement.

  • conchis

    TGGP: Sigh. The comments, not the posts. The point is that revealed preferences are based on myopic reference groups and therefore can’t provide any information about the issue. Also, the rich-country/poor-country choice isn’t really relevant to the range of income changes that people are typically arguing status effects dominate over. Can we please stop having this argument here? It’s entirely irrelevant to this post.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/bayesian Peter McCluskey

    I find it implausible that status quo bias explains most of the reaction to a tall tax.
    I wonder if some of the reaction results from an unconscious belief that good genes ought to be rewarded, along the lines you described in Is Fairness About Clear Fitness Signals?.
    Few people would admit to this motivation. Everyone ought to think more carefully about whether their beliefs are better explained by these motives than by the slogans that come to mind when they think about these issues.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Peter, the fitness as fairness theory would seem to predict we’d be in favor of taxing the short, but I predict a similar opposition to that variation.

  • Larry D’Anna

    Conchis, I think you are right that the issues with a tall tax are the same as those for affirmative action. I hate affirmative action. Most american’s don’t seem to hate it though, even though we all agree they would hate a tall tax. I wonder why that is.

    What I meant about the height becoming a suspect category was, that it *doesn’t* *matter* what lawyers think about it. The public would hate it and the courts would come around to the public’s point of view eventually.

    I think our basic disagreement comes down to this: I don’t want to live in a society where things like tall taxes get passed because someone thinks it will be more economically efficient, even if they’re right. I think the laws should be simple and non-discriminatory. I’m very skeptical of any excuses for why they shouldn’t be, because I don’t trust governments and I don’t trust voters. I think there is value in living in a society where tall taxes are taboo, and I wouldn’t trade that value for a little more efficiency in the economy. I value equality under the law more than I value equality of outcomes.

    You don’t mind the government tweaking and poking at the economy as long as they do it right. Your concept of fairness has more to do with everyone winding up equal rather than everyone being treated as equal by the government. You are more willing to let the government take a bigger role. Am I wrong?

    Our disagreement is one of values more than one of facts.

  • conchis

    “I’m very skeptical of any excuses for why they shouldn’t be, because I don’t trust governments and I don’t trust voters. I think there is value in living in a society where tall taxes are taboo, and I wouldn’t trade that value for a little more efficiency in the economy.”

    I would tend to apply this more narrowly: I agree there’s value in making it difficult to pass laws that discriminate between people in particular ways. However, I’d depart from your blanket position in a number of ways. First, I think the value of making-things-difficult is instrumental rather than fundamental. It’s an institutional strategy for achieving good outcomes, not a good outcome in and of itself. Second, I’m inclined to think absolute prohibitions aren’t typically necessary.* Sometimes the expected benefits will far outweigh the risk of getting it wrong (and any risk of setting off on a slippery slope). The best solution seems to me to instead focus on requiring a higher burden of proof when governments try to do things that are in some sense “suspect”.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly here, I think that we should make-things-difficult in response to specific, identified biases in either voters themselves, or majoritarian decision-making more generally. It’s seems difficult to motivate the “equality before the law” constraint on the basis of a general distrust of governments and voters: that would seem to suggest far stronger restrictions on government doing anything at all, not just on it doing “discriminatory” things. On the other hand, if you’re looking to respond to specific, identified biases, then the “equality before the law” constraint seems unnecessarily broad. In this case, for example, I see very little danger of any such biases operating in favour of something like the height tax (If anything, they would seem to militate against the tax, but that’s a more contentious position not crucial to my point.) There’s consequently no need to put obstacles in the way of it’s imposition.

    In fact, this is (sort of) what the courts’ application of the equal protection clause does: puts higher hurdles in the way of measures that distinguish between people on particular grounds that they think are likely to be suspect; and lower hurdles or none at all in the way of measures that distinguish on other grounds. I don’t necessarily think they do it that well, or coherently, but you can see something of this sort of reasoning behind their practice.

    * Actually, I’m inclined to think that an general prohibition on government discriminating would be incoherent rather than merely unnecessary, certainly without specifying more precisely “between whom?” and “in respect of what outcomes?” But the argument for this position is too involved to go into here, so I won’t expect you to buy it. A good account can be found in Peter Western’s “The Empty Idea of Equality”.

    “Your concept of fairness has more to do with everyone winding up equal rather than everyone being treated as equal by the government.”

    Actually, the sort of equality that I’m committed to doesn’t correspond to either of these formulations very well. I’m probably something like a capability prioritarian.

  • Chris

    a) the ‘tax the tall’ proposal could best be considered as a didactic troll
    b) if ‘standard economic theory’ doesn’t take into account the irrational emotional impact of economic policy it’s not worth tiddly squat.
    c) the disincentive effect of progressive income tax may be real, but it’s not rational, and would not be, unless the marginal tax rate exceeded 100%. The point at which the marginal utility of additional effort becomes zero is overwhelmingly subjective. Pure emotion at work, as anyone who’s had a lunchtime discussion with their higher income colleagues will readily agree.
    d) the ‘tax the tall’ troll is didactic because it introduces several beautiful biases in a condensed space
    Bias no 1 : The assumption that ‘not to disincentive effort’ is an absolute good. Not proven. Go home and spend time with your children.
    Bias no 2 : The assumption that ‘taxing the tall’ would not have any undesirable side-effects. Not proven. As a tall person, it would put me in a highly unproductive murderous rage (no more or less rational than the disincentive effect of progressive income tax).
    Bias no. 3 : Positing that taxing the tall is reasonable because tallness has a moderate correlation with income, then sliding to the argument that it is preferable, because it is not a tax on income. Pure irrationality, and once the thought process became widely known, would reinforce the effect listed under bias no 2..
    Bias no 4 : Having created an impression of absurdity in most readers, the argument goes on, by juxtaposition, to its real intention, which is to contaminate its objective (progressive income tax) with the same or higher impression of absurdity. There is no demonstration, just juxtaposition, with the hope that the impression that postulate B is at least as absurd as postulate A will transmit like an electric spark.
    Bias No. 5 : Postulate B is the idea of a ‘tax on entrepreneurial ability’. The bias is introduced by neglecting to distinguish between the tax on the entrepreneur as an individual and the tax on the wealth creating entity, the enterprise. Entrepreneurs have sometimes had a bad name for trying to take advantage of the fevourable taxation of the enterprise to reduce the taxation on themselves as individuals. As individuals, entrpreneurs are taxed according to the same principles as everyone else.
    Bias no 6 : is created by the vague and emotionally charged word ‘Entrepreneur’ itself. What constitutes an entrepreneur ? Anyone who takes a stab at anything, in the sense of trying something he/she is not sure of succeeding, is an entrepreneur. If I postulate (as an ugly 70 year old) for a job at McDonalds, in my way I’m an entrepreneur. Wealth is created as much or more by the salaried employee as by the absentee Chairman of the Board. So is taxing my senior citizen job at McD a tax on entrepreneurial ability ? The intentional emotionally charged reframing is similar to that involved in describing inheritance tax (a tax on the unearned income of the inheritors) as a ‘death tax’. I read that example in Judy Harris’s book on personality.
    e) The didactic effort takes us back to the underlying discussion, which as Robin points out, is as old as debates on taxes : ‘so waddya think about progressive income tax ?’
    f) Economics 101 : putting the words ‘fairness’ and ‘tax’ in the same sentence is like putting matter and anti-matter in the same box.
    g) We get straight back to Darwin, with the tension between the legitimate interests of the individual and the legitimate interests of the group, both contributing to the survival of the Intelligent Tax gene. Robin, please reformulate tax policy in Darwinian terms.

  • http://nosneaky.blogspot.com notsneaky

    To add to steven’s comment about envy above (with which I broadly agree); If there is more than one positional/status good then it gets a lot more complicated. For example, why would only ‘income’ be a status good, but not ‘leisure’? People certainly brag about where they spend their vacations, how much free time they have, etc. In that instance it may be the case that people end up working ‘too little’ (although, again, it’s mostly the problem of those who care about status in the first place). At the very least, there’s no reason to think that one particular effect must dominate the other – as it is usually assumed when this status/Pigovian justification is invoked. The evidence for status effects, aside from some idiosyncratic goods and groups, is, in my opinion fairly weak. All of which suggests that people like the justification not because there’s meat to it, but rather simply because it justifies higher taxes.

  • conchis

    notsneaky, I generally appreciate your arguments, but here I think you’re off-base.

    “why would only ‘income’ be a status good, but not ‘leisure’… there’s no reason to think that one particular effect must dominate the other – as it is usually assumed”

    Well, it’s not usually ‘assumed’. It’s widely recognised that for the argument from status effects to even get off the ground, such effects have to operate more strongly in respect of some goods than others – which is why people have been trying to test these ideas empirically rather than just making assumptions. There is actually evidence that people don’t seem to treat, say, the number of weeks holiday they get as a status good in the same way that they do income. (And FWIW, the evidence for the latter doesn’t seem to me to be confined to idiosyncratic goods and groups at all. It tends to turn up on income for nationally representative samples in a variety of countries. Those that don’t fit this pattern seem to be the exception rather than the rule. There are reasons to be careful here, but that’s really not one of them.)

    There are perhaps some definitional issues here about what counts as leisure and what counts as consumption, but your example of people bragging about where they went on holiday doesn’t seem to support your point terribly well, given that bragging rights are likely to be pretty strongly linked to how expensive a place is to visit and consequently to income. I agree that this whole issue becomes more complicated if there are multiple positional goods. But if many, or most of those goods are linked to income, then that tends to reduce the complexity rather a lot. Whether they are is something of an open question, but as far as I can tell, it’s not quite as open as you seem to think, and contrary to your assertions, those you’re criticising are hardly unaware of this issue.

    I’m going to refrain from speculating as to your motives for not liking the argument. I’d suggest you extend the same charity to those who disagree with you. There seems to me to be very little reason to suspect they’re more biased than you are.

  • Dave

    In particular: we tax income based on an idea of justice, we take marriage, children etc. into account more to incentivise the family than to adjust fairness – we do not need to incentivise being short.

    In general: this seems to indicate that economics is less a science than its supporters admit – these decisions are highly political not theoretical.

  • bigjim

    Why do taxes exist anyway? Why is it right to redistribute wealth? Why shouldn’t I just pay for the public goods I consume rather than pay for those others consume? I’m speaking as a high income, fit and healthy, privately educated 28 yr old who feels he’s not getting much value for his tax payments already, and I’m 6’8″ (and hairy) to boot! A tax on the tall? Let all the tall people unite against whomever tries to force that on us and see what happens… The meek shall not inherit the Earth!

  • Pingback: Overcoming Bias : Reply to Clarke

  • Pingback: The Incredible Shrinking Man | Height Tax

  • themusicgod1

    If you were a
    Gene, would you allow the robot you made to interact with the rest of
    the universe construct local law fields penalizing genes directly, or
    the results of their activity? Perhaps if you could target competing
    genes but ‘government’ seems to be a blunt tool for this purpose,
    capable of backfiring. Genes that allow for use this tool for gene
    conflict purposes are effectively ‘going nuclear’, and anyway, if
    successful, will require another gene to effectively ‘feed’ the
    government’s new found hunger for active genes. Teaching the government
    to eat genes is only a good idea if its ability can be limited before
    it eats you. If, however, the robot were capable of mainaining a model
    that always kept your allies and you safe, it might be reasonable, do we
    have this model or ability though, and how would we convince our genes that we had
    it?

    Given that we *should* feel predisposed to not like this
    idea, based on how dangerous it is to some genes, shouldn’t we therefor give it a greater
    chance?