Not that I'm complaining

Month: August, 2012

Goolsbee talks …

Goolsbee talks up Simpson-Bowles. He gets credit for that (unlike Krugman who simply frothed at the mouth over it). Then, Goolsbee rightfully pans Romney over how un-Simpson-Bowles-like Romney’s plans are. Spot-on. But then he loses it when he pretends that somehow Obama’s plans aren’t just as distant from Simpson-Bowles. Of course, Goolsbee worked for Obama for a while and may not want to speak badly of his former boss. Both Dems and Reps should be ashamed of themselves, and Goolsbee should be a little more honest here and admit that.


Policies economists love but politicians hate


Well worth reading.  It’s mostly the same old usual bunch of issues that are politically unpalatable.  (My comments in parens)

1. Eliminate (or at least restructure and restrict) the mortgage interest rate deduction.  (It’s a terrible and entirely unnecessary distortion of the mortgage and real estate market.  And the primary beneficiaries are folks with relatively higher incomes and/or ownership of more expensive houses.)

2. Eliminate the employer deduction for healthcare and insurance.  (This is a biggee — the deduction, and the absurd ties between employment and healthcare — are just terrible artifacts which distort the entire health care sector of our economy – 1/6 of our economy is built around third-party payers which separate the beneficiary from the cost, tie care to employment, and because of reimbursement structures, are mostly fee-for-service — all of which promotes overuse, higher costs, complexity)

3. Eliminate the corporate income tax.  (Corporations don’t pay taxes.  Corporate taxes are paid out of the pockets of (a) customers, (b) employees, and (c) shareholders.  While I’m not sure I agree with the article that retained corporate earnings should be fully tax-deferred, at a minimum, eliminating corporate taxes on dividends paid to equity holders (and having the holders pay those taxes at their full marginal rate, not the goofy 15% we are using now on top of corporate taxes) at least makes the payment of corporate taxes on dividends part of our progressive tax structure.  I’ve also considered replacing all C-corps with a variation of the S-corp where earnings – whether retained or paid out in dividends to the owners – are all taxed but at the individual owner’s level, not the corporate level.  Any retained earnings would increase the owners’ basis, though, and that could get messy to track)

4. Eliminate all income and payroll taxes.  (The economists suggest a consumption tax instead, which arguably makes some sense in an economic efficiency way, but doing that while also making the tax in any way progressive, or even flat, with respect to income — because the high-income folks actually spend a lower proportion of their income — is very difficult.  Perhaps, instead of worrying about making the consumption tax progressive, make it a flat sales or VAT tax, eliminate all income and payroll taxes, but supplement it with a flat wealth tax similar to Florida’s intangibles tax.  This last bit has some messy consequences with respect to hard-to-value property such as a private company as compared to easy-to-value things like publicly traded stock.  But it’s worth digging into and it solves a lot of the problems of our existing tax structure where people with huge wealth can simply borrow against it and never realize capital gains nor pay taxes on it.)

5. Tax carbon emissions.  (Which means, yes, a higher tax on gas as well as any other fossil fuel.  That’s a good thing – there are high-cost externalities to these things which the users need to pay more for.)

6. Legalize marijuana. (Not sure how economists came up with this, but it makes pretty obvious sense to anyone who knows anything about marijuana.  Criminalizing such a widespread – and relatively, though not entirely, harmless product is an absurdly expensive notion with lots of deep and ugly consequences.  Prices are high, non-violent people go to jail or are threatened with it, and massive profits go to unregulated, untaxed criminals who reinvest in ways which hurt society way more than legal marijuana would.)

The economists who made up the most vocally anti-republican economists such as Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman are awfully quiet when these kinds of proposals come around.

And the closest thing to (1) and (2) that’s been discussed seriously – the Simpson-Bowles work – was entirely ignored by Obama as well as shot down by both Republicans and Democrats – with VP-candidate Ryan helping kill it off.

Unfortunately, since no mainstream politician is willing to talk about serious reform, all we are left with are third-party candidates.  Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate (and former governor of New Mexico should at least be included in the debates.  He clearly supports several of these ideas, and as important and serious as they are, letting the two mainstream candidates ignore them is a real shame.

WSJ: book review: Ballpoint – the man who changed the way we write


Book review from today’s WSJ. I may need to read this one. The importance of the ball point pen, I think, is pretty big. And the timing and geography and politics involved make it sound like the story may illustrate some interesting things about the mid 20th century.

Plus, of course, I’ve been a pen geek since I could first write.

From the book review at the WSJ:

Common objects often have uncommon stories. The zipper, the pencil and the paper clip were devised by inventors who long struggled to produce things we now take for granted. Unearthing the histories of these humble objects vmay reveal much about the hidden underpinnings of our everyday world. That is the case with “Ballpoint,” Hungarian author György Moldova’s chronicle of the vicissitudes of the ballpoint pen’s invention and commercial development.

Apple apparently fixes some of the shortcomings in AutoSave/Versions


TidBits has a great breakdown:  http://tidbits.com/article/13187

In particular, under Lion, Apple added features called Auto-Save and Versions so that, if an application author takes advantage of them, the user no longer needs to remember to save files.  The application automatically saves the file continually and allows the user to “roll back” to an earlier version any time.

While great in theory, in practice, this has some very unfortunate consequences.  Obviously, this is intended to keep people from quitting apps or closing files without saving them – thus keeping people from losing data/work.

However, this very feature may cause people to lose work in a whole new way.  Since every time the file is opened, the auto-save starts up, if you make some accidental or temporary changes to your document, those changes are *saved* – right on top of your last good copy of the file.

Now, in theory, one could just (a) notice the changes; (b) crank up Versions and find the last good copy; and (c) roll back.  In practice, this is a huge pain in the butt, and very unlikely.  Instead, what we have now is people saving screwed up copies of their files without intending to.

So Apple set up Locking.  Under Lion, if you haven’t changed a file in two weeks, it Locks.  Then, when you open the file up, if you start to change it, Lion warns you that the file hasn’t been changed in a while, it’s been locked, and do you want to unlock it or duplicate it?  Great!  That solves the problem of accidental edits being saved — only in files that have been locked.

So Mountain Lion adds another option, finally, to help keep this from happening – a system-wide preference to “Ask to keep changes when closing documents.”  If you’ve checked this preference, and you open up a document, the document still starts doing the auto-save dance.  But when you close the file, or quit the app, the system now takes note of this fact and offers you an opportunity to roll back those unintended changes.

It’s not quite as secure as simply locking the document, but it’s a major step in the right direction.

Auto-Save and Versions are the first wave of a great step towards improved document handling.  Lion brought them out, and we quickly discovered some of the problems.  Mountain Lion is starting to address some of these problems.  It’s still not a finished solution – but it’s getting better.  I’d have called Lion’s version only a beta, and Apple really should have made it optional – it is for some third-party apps, but not for Apple apps.  Mountain Lion gets it closer to right.  I’m not sure if I’d call it a full ready-for-primetime release, and it’s still not optional for Apple apps.  But Apple is clearly hearing some of the complaints and trying to get it right.  We should be glad they haven’t given up on it – it is going to make things better for a lot of people in the future.  It’s just not quite ready yet.