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richard: see what Mandos is doing? It's called "making an argument". It's a bit harder than making ad hominem trolling attacks, but more useful.

(I have just had a look at richard's past comments on this board.)

Mandos: "If we want to talk about a priori reasons---whether or not someone deserves to be poor due to their own actions and errors---then we enter a completely different discussion and are at risk of begging the question: should particular actions lead to poverty and what are these actions."

I think that's correct. But see below.

"But instead, because the mainstream economics profession as a group has made apparent assumptions about these things,...."

I think that's incorrect. The distinction between deserving and undeserving poor is one that is very foreign to my economist's ears. AFAIK it's something economists don't write about. It's not a distinction in optimal tax theory, AFAIK.

"contd... we are instead discussing how to ameliorate the condition of the undeserving poor, and precluding a discussion of whether our current system of distinguishing deserving from undeserving has itself led to, well, systemic poverty."

The way I would *try* to bring the deserving/undeserving distinction into economics would be to ask whether the causation goes the other way. In other words, if someone "can't help" their poverty, that means that their poverty is not amenable to incentives, and they are the "deserving poor". If we could distinguish better between deserving/(does not respond to incentives) and undeserving/(does respond to incentives) it might help us build a tax/transfer system which *reduces* systemic poverty.

Nick: "Scrape off the hills, and use the material to fill in the valleys."

As always, your comments are a crystal clear setting out of the issues and what's at stake. This is where, possibly, you and I might differ:

- I think of marginal tax rates as being like a slope, a hill. When you're looking at a hill, if you can see a long, straight, unremitting slope stretching up ahead of you, you might get discouraged. If the path twists and turns, going in and out of trees, you might not realize how steep it is. That's the case for stealth taxation - when tax rates are hard to calculate, the efficiency costs of taxation may be lower. Certainly I'm far from convinced that any policy change which makes it easier people to work out what they're paying in taxes will have any kind of positive incentive effects.

- sometimes it's easier to climb steps than a ramp. One of my favourite hikes starts with a really brutal steep climb up rocks, and then meanders along delightfully through birch trees, alongside a babbling brook. I much prefer that to ones that are less steep, but have a relentless, continuing, upwards slope.

Put in economic terms: if there is a place in the income distribution where there aren't many people, or the people in the part of the income distribution tend to have inelastic labour supplies, then you can put up the tax rate there, and lower it elsewhere, where people are more responsive, and increase the overall efficiency of the tax system (this is the Akerlof part of the convex combination of Akerlof and Rowe and Woolley).

Patrick: "What's more important to him: thumping doolittle-ism or protecting Elizas?"

Showing that 'Enry 'Iggins is intellectually superior and smarter than everyone else. By making Eliza into a lady, Henry Higgins destroys her only means of supporting herself (somewhat) respectably.

Frances: the best hill climbs, for those of us with weakness of will, have lots of little rewards scattered all along the path. Every little step brings you a little bit more view.

If there were an *exogenous* gap in the population distribution, it could make sense to have EMTRs fluctuate around that gap. My strong suspicion though is that any such gaps are an endogenous result of the jumpy EMTRs themselves. Natura non facit saltum etc.

The inelastic labour supply (or an exogenously observably different earnings=F(effort) function due to disability say) would be a case for Akerlovian tagging, and ignoring the Rowe/Woolley result.

I really wish I could get my head around Akerlovian tagging and age and labour supply elasticity. For the OAS question.

Nick: "My strong suspicion though is that any such gaps are an endogenous result of the jumpy EMTRs themselves. Natura non facit saltum etc."

I could make a case for exogenous gaps e.g. suppose that for technological reasons employees usually tend to work a certain minimum amount a week and earn at least a given minimum wage, then most people would either be at that minimum of hours*works or not working at all, and there wouldn't be much in the middle. Easy enough to generate that if technology takes the form of one worker per machine, and workers need training and there are some fixed costs to hiring/firing/scheduling workers. Indeed, one could argue that was the way the world was until around 1970 - but with a service sector economy, weekly hours can be all over the place, hence the major efforts being devoted to taking down welfare walls, creating incentives for labour force participation, etc.

Frances: "I'm far from convinced that any policy change which makes it easier people to work out what they're paying in taxes will have any kind of positive incentive effects."

So our goal is to trick people to work more whether they like it or not? Or  should we try to make it simpler for people to make the choices that are going to make them happy? And, if we want to devise some crazy confusing tax scheme surely we can do it without all the government overhead?

"the efficiency costs of taxation may be lower"

I.e. people may produce more.

Bob: Sorry, not buying it. When the fish start shooting back maybe we can talk. A miner or fisher have an explicit right to refuse to do anything obviously unsafe. It's up to them. A soldier who packs it in when things get dicey ... well, at least they don't shot them anymore as far as I know, but no miner or fisher ever got life in prison for refusing unsafe work.

Again, I don't get the distinction. A miner and fisherman can't refuse "unsafe work". Fishing and mining IS unsafe work, inherently. The proof's in the fatality numbers. So is being a soldier. The fact that, having agreed to serve their countries, soldiers can't quit until his term's up has nothing to do with your initial point that one shouldn't have to risk one's life to escape poverty - in each case, people make a voluntary choice to risk their lives for money. Taking the position that taking a 1 in 100 chance with your life is impermissible for being a soldier, but not for being a fisherman/logger, what have you is a morally arbitrary distinction.

K: " The big toll from service is family breakdown, depression, PTSD. Not casualties."

K, sorry, but you think other occupations don't have their own harships, other than fatalities. The fisherman/soldier example is telling. At least in healthy fisheries (i.e., not Canadian fisheries that are open for two weeks a years), fisherman probably spend less time with their familes than soldiers do, probably have worse living conditions (Timmies hasn't opened a shop in the Bering Straights and you can't readily skype your kids from Labrador banks - both conveniences readily available to the soldiers of modern western armies). Short of death, fishing and mining have their own share of injuries or crippling ailments that affect people in those occupations (ditto cabbies, like fighter pilots, they're suceptible to hemorrhoids). The difference between being a soldier and having a "good" job at GM, is that while the former involves the risk of sudden death or injury, the latter involves the certainty of dying slowly after years of body destroying labour.

Which is better? Which is worse? I suppose that's a judgement call (which is why some people become soldiers, others become fisherman), but there's no basis for making a broad-based catagorical distinction.

Bob: You're right. We don't owe them squat.

Bob: " initial point that one shouldn't have to risk one's life to escape poverty ... Taking the position that taking a 1 in 100 chance with your life is impermissible for being a soldier, but not for being a fisherman/logger, what have you is a morally arbitrary distinction."

Whoa. Never said any of that.

I said that one shouldn't have to pledge their life to the state to escape poverty on pain of death or life imprisonment should they change their mind about the arrangement.

The fish don't shoot back, and the boat captain can't put you in jail (or shoot you) if you decide to quit or refuse to go out in bad weather.

It's NOT about the inherent danger, not at all. And there is a HUGE difference.

Determinant: "Bob, it's quaint you have a such a notion of families. It really is.

The trouble is that it was never reality. "The good old days of two-parent families" willingly ignored spousal abuse and had laws that were very unequal in their treatment of women. Not that that stopped people getting divorces if they really wanted one."

So we change the laws, but do we throw the baby out with the bathwater? Did I suggest that people shouldn't be able to get divorced, that they should have to put up with abusive spouses? Quite the contrary, re-read my post, my point was precisely that people should be free to do so, but that two-parent family should be the norm and the expectation - that is not the case in poor communities in Canada, the US or the UK.

Moreover, are you under the illusion that domestic violence stopped just because people stopped getting married. That the guys who used to beat their wives won't beat (one or more) of their girlfriends or (one or more) of their "baby-mamas"? If so, I'd suggest a visit to the local provincial court to disabuse (no pun intended) yourself of that notion. They won't support them or do much for their children, but they'll abuse them.

In the "good old days" (your words, not mine) the two-parent household (note, I used that phrase, rather than nuclear family or married family, intentionally - I'm far less concerned with the legal status of households so much as the facts on the ground. Cave men and woman didn't "marry", but the family was still their fundamental economic institution) were a fundamental social institution - it's probably the oldest insitutional arrangement known to humanity, and pre-dates historical times by tens of thousands of years - which provided economic security (amongst other things) to men, woman and children, and which served as a stabilizing influence in society at large. Unfortunately, it's people like you who were so eager to dismiss that institution as an anachronism without stopping to wonder why it is that it had survived so long or whether the alternatives were improvements - they generally aren't.

Patrick: "I said that one shouldn't have to pledge their life to the state to escape poverty on pain of death or life imprisonment should they change their mind about the arrangement."

See, Patrick, the thing about the internet is that both you and I can go back and see what you said. You didn't say that. If you want to change what you said, that's fine, no shame in that (quite the contrary, it takes a big man to be willing to admit he's wrong) but don't pretend you said something you didn't.

What you said was: "Not sure that the price of escaping poverty should be pledging your life." Note the absence of any reference to the implications of changing your mind. Not that it's clear why that matters. Why is it different to commit to the military (at the risk of your life) vs. commiting to a fishing expedition or a mining operation (at the risk of your life). Are you under the illusion that fisherman caught in a storm or miners trapped in a mine have the option of saying "Hmm, you know, this isn't for me. Guys, I'm out of here". Sort of makes you wonder so many of them die doesn't it? I'm willing to bet that there's no shortage of fisherman or miners who change their mind about "the arrangement" shortly before the air runs out hits or when the waves start washing over their ship. Funny how, just like soldiers, they can't get out either.

K: "You're right. We don't owe them squat."

Who don't we owe squat?

Bob, that's just sanctimonious.

Don't ever, ever accuse me of dismissing families. Very raw nerve there. I take family very seriously. People like me would rather die than ever go before the divorce courts. Experience talking there.

You can't have a norm or expectation without the corollary shame and embarrassment, and no single parent or child of a single-parent family deserves that.

You're just trafficking in stereotypes in disingenuous ways.

Determinant: ‘You can’t have a norm or expectation without the corollary shame and embarrassment, and no single parent or child of a single-parent family deserves that’.

I haven’t looked at any primary sources supporting the notion that two-parent families are ‘better’ than single-parent families with respect to reducing poverty but I’m inclined to believe it. I’m also inclined to believe that a norm of two-parent families necessitate the ‘corollary shame and embarrassment’ for single-parent families. Assuming we care about reducing poverty and avoiding discrimination and a two-parent family policy results in conflict between these aspirations, it becomes a conundrum then?

I think the disagreement between you and Bob Smith is one of values or you guys disagree on the premise that two-parent families are better at reducing poverty than single-parent families.

K - on the 100% marginal tax rates.

Any benefit that's given has to be paid for by taxation at some point. Whether it's better to raise that revenue in lumps or gradually is not obvious. E.g. if you're in Ontario, there are these little income ranges where your marginal tax rate shoots up for a little bit, sometimes to as high as 60 or 75 percent or so, when the Ontario health care premiums kick in. If you live in Ontario, have you ever noticed them? They always annoy me, but I suspect that the efficiency gains from flattening them out would be close to zero.

Bob Smith - on two parent families.

Take a look on ancestry.com some time and, if you can, find out the family structure of your grand parents and great grandparents and great-great grandparents (census records are the thing to look for). If it's like mine, you'll find lots of single-parent, blended, extended and multi-generational households, and surprisingly few nuclear families. So families, yes, two-parent families, not so much. Which raises the question of why we put so much emphasis on one particular form of family tie. (Matthew and Marilla and all that).

Bob: So stick "... to the state" in there.

And Bob, indeed this is the internet, where typos and incomplete thoughts rule. Rather than trying to play gotcha, you might try better understanding my point.

My last try: soldier signs up, get's shipped to some gawd awful place and his buddies get blown-up and he gets shot. Supposing he is lucky enough to survive, he then says to himself "holy crap! this is not for me, I quit!". Ooops. Can't do that. Go directly to jail, do not pass go.

Now imagine a fisherman in the North Atlantic. He gets caught in a bad storm, some of his mates are swept overboard but somehow they manage to get the boat home. He says to himself "holy crap! this is not for me, I quit". So he moves to Edmonton and bangs nails into McMansions.

You really don't see a difference?

In any case, I think K made it more coherently than I. Read his comment. I'm done.

What about the contented poor and the distressed poor?

By an odd coincidence, My Fair Lady was on TV last night, and I caught some words of Mr Doolittle's that I'd forgotten, but are relevant to the discussion about family and poverty earlier, plus some previous discussions of moral hazard and health care:

When I was a poor man and had a solicitor once when they found a pram in the dust cart, he got me off, and got shut of me and got me shut of him as quick as he could. Same with the doctors: used to shove me out of the hospital before I could hardly stand on my legs, and nothing to pay. Now they finds out that I'm not a healthy man and can't live unless they looks after me twice a day. In the house I'm not let do a hand's turn for myself: somebody else must do it and touch me for it. A year ago I hadn't a relative in the world except two or three that wouldn't speak to me. Now I've fifty, and not a decent week's wages among the lot of them. I have to live for others and not for myself: that's middle class morality.

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