Showing posts from January, 2008

Fascist traffic fines in Finland

Several Nordic countries appear to have a traffic fine system that scales with the victim's income. Finland, however, has no upper bound and calculates fines automatically based on your previous year's taxes, and the result are huge fines for people with high last year's incomes: 2001: Driver fined $71,400 for driving 43 mph in a 25 mph zone 2002: Nokia executive fined $103,000 for going 15 kph over the limit 2004: Driver fined 170,000 EUR for going 50 mph in 25 mph zone The Finns generally seem content with this state of affairs. Many consider it fair that those with high incomes should pay proportionally higher fines. The intent of fines is to discourage people from breaking the law, and high income individuals are not discouraged if the fines are low compared to their income. Making fines proportional to income, with no cap, addresses that problem. So why is the system fascist? In an ideal world, road behaviors that are truly dangerous , behaviors that are forbidden , an

The law of unintended consequences

The Freakonomics blog recently carried this article with three fascinating examples of do-gooder laws harming the very people (or animals) that they were intended to help. They followed up a few days later bringing attention to Alex Tabarrok's insight that this is what generally happens when brute and simple systems (such as politics) try to govern intricate and complex systems (such as the economy), and fail to do so wisely. Arrogance prevents people from understanding that it is rather difficult to regulate a complex system wisely; meanwhile, naive humanitarianism on the side of those helping, and a selfish false sense of entitlement on the side of those affected, prevents people from seeing that, many times, what seems like a dire problem is in fact a good and necessary change taking place. A classic example of do-gooder laws resulting in harm is rent control. Rents in a certain environment grow high because of economic pressures. Poor people complain that rents are too hig

France to track "happines" instead of economic progress

France's economy sucks, so Sarkozy proposes to measure national happiness instead . The problem is, it has already been measured, and it, too, sucks. The level of "happiness" in France is at the bottom of the "less happy" range, precisely because of the lack of opportunity provided by the bureaucratically restrained economy. But Sarkozy has recruited like-minded people to perform a study especially for him, and surely they will deliver pleasing results.

Iceland reduces taxes to collect more

Look at this graph. Over the past 20 years, Iceland has reduced its corporate income tax rate from 45% down to 18%. This graph shows how tax revenue has risen , dramatically so, with every decrease of the tax rate. This is an example of the Laffer curve effect. When taxes are high, people are (1) less motivated to produce, and (2) to the extent they do produce, they are motivated to hide income to avoid taxation. When taxes are low, people are (1) more motivated to produce, and (2) have less incentive to expend effort trying to avoid taxation, as it becomes easier and cheaper to just pay the tax.

Illegality is what makes prostitution harmful

Wow. In Chicago, where prostitution is illegal: Roughly 3 percent of tricks performed by independent prostitutes are freebies given to police to avoid arrest. In fact, prostitutes get officially arrested only every 450 tricks or so, meaning that "a prostitute is more likely to have sex with a police officer than to get officially arrested by one." When counting freebies given to gang members, prostitutes do about 1 in 20 tricks to protect their trade. Looking at this as a form of tax, it is in fact a very low tax. 1 in 20 tricks equals 5% of income. Consider what the government would take. Customers pay substantially more if they don't have to use a condom, and apparently, condoms are used only 20% of the time. Radley compares this to Nevada , where he writes that: prostitution is legal; condom use is 100 percent; there's no "protection sex" for the police or gang members; and there hasn't been a single case of HIV since 1988. Wow.

Programming needs Real Men

The Journal of Defense Software Engineering has an article about how the field of programming has become all too wimpy, and is in need of Real Men. (My phrasing, not theirs.) They praise the virtues of C, C++, Lisp, and Ada, as languages that teach different kinds of mental discipline, which knowledge (of the machine, of contracts, of concurrency, and of abstraction) is what makes programmers able to approach tough tasks. I would tend to agree. Rats can run in a maze, but they can't make one. You ain't a programmer until you become able to build some mazes. At the very least, we need such Real Men to maintain and support our existing mazes, let alone to develop sophisticated new ones. If you don't want to learn what your ancestors knew, you're just going to have to learn it for yourself on another level, all from the beginning. It certainly seems like that's what some people are doing today.

Taxation in pictures: Why FairTax makes sense

The New York Times made some coverage of the FairTax proposal recently. The coverage was done in a way typical of mass media trying to be "unbiased": they vaguely describe the topic being covered, and quote some people who are in favor, quote some people who are against. The arguments in favor or against are not really explained, and it is left up to the reader to perform their own research, or walk away from the issue with lingering doubts. People who are in favor of FairTax generally say that the proposal has been designed by competent economists, and has been verified and endorsed by many more. They say that the calculations behind the proposal have been verified many times, and that the people who refute the proposal either haven't taken the time to understand it, or have vested interest in the current, horrendously complex, tax system. People who are against FairTax generally quote some other economist who calls it "unworkable" or "a swindle" wi

The world's cheapest car: growth in purchasing power

Despite the world having been gripped, for the past 75 years, in the throes of fascism , which has hobbled the free markets and substantially decreased our rates of growth, we appear to have managed a good 7-10 fold increase in the purchasing power of an average person. Ronald Bailey posts a comparison between the world's newest cheapest car, the Tata Nano, costing $2,500, and: a 1909 Ford Model T, which would cost $18,000 today in inflation-adjusted dollars; a 1961 VW Beatle, which today would cost $10,500; and a 1985 Zastava Yugo, which today would cost $7,500. Believe me. Anything Tata Motors makes must be better than the Yugo.

Big government as the law of the strongest

Robin Hanson notes insightfully : As I noted a year ago , inequality discussions focus almost entirely on the smallest (#6) of these eight kinds of inequality: Inequality across species Inequality between actual and possible humans Inequality across the eras of human history Non-income inequality, such as of popularity, respect, beauty, sex, kids, political influence Income inequality between the nations of a world Income inequality between the families of a nation Income inequality between the siblings of a family Income inequality between the days of a person's life Humans clearly do not have a generic aversion to inequality; our concern is very selective. I suspect our distant ancestors often formed coalitions that complained about inequality of transferable assets, as a way to coordinate a veiled threat to take those assets if they were not offered freely. So we care mostly about income inequality within a nation that is correlated with existing political coalitions, since w

Private law in early Iceland

Rocks sent a link to this fascinating article on private law creation and enforcement in 10th-12th century Iceland: I have described the legislative and judicial branches of "government" but have omitted the executive. So did the Icelanders. The function of the courts was to deliver verdicts on cases brought to them. That done, the court was finished. If the verdict went against the defendant, it was up to him to pay the assigned punishment--almost always a fine. If he did not, the plaintiff could go to court again and have the defendant declared an outlaw. The killer of an outlaw could not himself be prosecuted for the act; in addition, anyone who gave shelter to an outlaw could be prosecuted for doing so. Prosecution was up to the victim (or his survivors). If they and the offender agreed on a settlement, the matter was settled. Killing was made up for by a fine. For murder a man could be outlawed, even if he was willing to pay a fine instead. In our system, the differen

Art = entertainment

David J. Balan posted this on Overcoming Bias: Say a band puts out a debut album which is deemed by critics to have a great deal of artistic merit, and which a small number of hard-core fans love. For their second album, the band puts out some crap that appeals to the lowest common denominator and makes a ton of money, but which retains its artistic pretensions (the latter point is important; the argument below doesn't work if the band isn't pretending that the second album is art too). Fans of the first album accuse the band of "going commercial" or "selling out." In effect, they claim (and at least affect to believe) that they are not merely disappointed that they didn't get their preferred album, but rather that the band has done something that is in some meaningful sense a betrayal. Does this position have any merit, or is it just sour grapes from a bunch of snobs whose preferences lost out in the marketplace fair and square? A commenter replies

My predictions for the U.S. presidential election 2008

Here's my fairly safe prediction of America's election year 2008. The Republicans this year face a predicament, which is that they are fairly sure to lose the final runoff if they nominate a candidate that represents the status quo. Instead, they have the choice of nominating either (1) someone who stands to deflate the federal government balloon, or (2) someone who would merely reduce some of the damage the federal government does. If they go this route, the Republicans will choose the one they think is likelier to win the presidency. The Democrats, meanwhile, will be flipping the coin between two candidates, both obviously in favor of a big strong federal government: one dishonest and evil one, and one apparently more honest, but unusual one. With the mainstream media being controlled entirely by people with vested interest in the way things are, and with the internet not yet being strong enough to influence a majority of voters, it is likely that: if the Republicans nomi