The wheel of Politics: Reply to my critics

If I knew my “wheel” post would attract so much attention, I would have spent more time on it.  And BTW, perhaps it should be called the Sumner/Tarko model, as the commenter who drew several graphs for me kept insisting on labeling it his way, not mine.  Of course intellectuals are mesmerized by pretty baubles, so it was his model they critiqued, not mine.  That’s not to criticize Tarko, I admire his spunk. 

Seriously, here are a few points to keep in mind:

1.  Social science models are useful precisely because they are ad hoc, not universal.

2.  Social science models are useful only if inaccurate, i.e. simplifications of reality.

Thus I’m not concerned about whether my wheel leaves out some Americans, or even 299,000,000 Americans, I’m interested in whether it illuminates some aspect of our complex political terrain in a new and useful way.  That is all.

Obviously the Nolan Box is two dimensional, allowing much more realism than my basically one dimensional line.  So let me try to better explain what I was trying to do, and why I find it illuminating, even if no one else does. 

Let’s start with philosophy.  There is an age old-split between consequentialist/utilitarian and deontological approaches to ethics.  But I think many people lose sight of that fact that a large share of the public simply rejects both approaches, or perhaps I should say carves out a much larger role for selfishness than most well-intentioned ethics philosophers.  Many average people I talk to think both approaches are for suckers.  I called that approach ‘corrupt,’ which is a misleading term—we are all corrupt to some extent.  Like almost everything in the social sciences, I see this as a matter of degree.  In any case I came up with three moral perspectives; consequentialist, which I will simply call utilitarian, deontological (which is often associated with moral realism), and selfishness.

Then I realized that political battles are often binary fights between two poles.  For me, the most interesting fight among utilitarians is between those who think that aggregate well-being is maximized with a relatively small government and those who think it is maximized with a relatively large government.  But maybe that’s because I am an economist.  As I said, it’s ad hoc, and I’m happy with that.  As an aside I do understand that many of my fellow pragmatic libertarians don’t like being called utilitarian, and undoubtedly we are all a mixture of utilitarian and deontological impulses.  But when I see them debate issues, I mostly see utilitarian arguments.  Not exclusively, Greg Mankiw talks about “just deserts,” but mostly.  These are tendencies, not hard and fixed categories.

Among those with a natural rights perspective, the most interesting split that I see is between those who focus almost single-mindedly on liberty, and those (conservatives), who incorporate a wide range of natural rights and obligations, involving patriotism (the draft, muscular foreign policy), religion (views on sex, the sanctity of the body, selling organs), traditional family structure, paternalism (views on drugs and gambling), etc.  At times tribalism also plays a role (as with immigration.)  Conservatives believe that some cultures are objectively better than others.  Of course all the issues I’ve just discussed can also be addressed from a utilitarian perspective.  But when you do so, the political outcomes are very different.  For instance the very utilitarian Swedes see women as the victims of prostitution, and thus prosecute the “Johns” not the prostitutes.

Among the selfish there are two polar extremes of interest, those who favor the special interests of groups that benefit from progressivism, and a much more complicated “big tent” called the Republicans, who favor the special interests of fans of small government and low taxes, of cultural conservatives, and of foreign policy conservatives.  I see the Dems as basically utilitarian at the idealistic or intellectual level and the GOP as including quite a diverse mixture of libertarians, cultural conservatives and neocons.  I know that is unbalanced, giving more positions on the wheel to the right than the left, but that’s how I see American politics.  If I wanted to be symmetrical I’d add groups on the left that hate inequality so much they’d impoverish everyone to avoid it, or that favor the environment over human well-being.  But I like simplicity, and I’ve included the groups that I tend to encounter most often.

Here’s what I find useful about my wheel.  I can talk to each of the two groups that I am adjacent to for hours, agreeing on one political point after another.  Also agreeing about who the bad guys are.  Both groups would walk away from me thinking I am “‘one of them.”  But if those two groups tried to talk with each other, say Ron Paul and Matt Yglesias, Paul would walk away thinking Yglesias had no principles, and Yglesias would think Paul is a complete idiot.

At each step along the wheel similar “adjacent affinities” come into play.  Here’s Matt Yglesias talking with Tyler Cowen.  It seems like every sixty seconds Matt says “That’s right.”  And I’m sure Yglesias has nice conversations with highly partisan Dems on Capital Hill.  Of course the conversations between the Dems and GOP on Capital Hill are a bit strained recently (are we electing true believers?), but during most of my life they worked together on special interest deals, and were contemptuous about professors who came to lecture them on why a tax system with no loopholes is best for the country.

So as you move further away from your own position the views of others get further and further away from your own, until you suddenly come right back to where you started.  I suppose this isn’t exactly original.  People used to say that if one went to the most extreme left and the most extreme right, you ended up with Hitler and Stalin shaking hands.  But I find this three part model to be more interesting.  On one side you share a values affinity (selfish, natural rights and utilitarian), and on the other side you share an ideological affinity (conservative, progressive and libertarian.)

You may recall the famous New Yorker cover showing how Manhattanites view the country.  Consider this a similarly distorted perspective; how a pragmatic libertarian views the political landscape.  If only a few other pragmatic libertarians find this amusing, plausible, and/or useful, then so be it.

Jonathan Chait said I needed to go back to the drawing board.  He’s right.  I’ve produced one political model that might or might not illuminate one interesting aspect of our political terrain; now it’s time to develop another, equally ad hoc model.

BTW, Here’s the model with my official labeling (Sorry Tarko.)


Special interest Democrats                                              Pragmatic Libertarians

Special interest Republicans                                            Principled libertarians


Will Vlad Tarko ever send me the model I favor?  Stay tuned.

PS.  My next political model will use string theory and involve 11 dimensions.



28 Responses to “The wheel of Politics: Reply to my critics”

  1. Gravatar of Lord Lord
    19. February 2011 at 13:14

    Rather than special interest, I think pragmatic is more appropriate. It isn’t that subgroups aren’t selfish, or if not selfish, don’t want to be walked over by others, but that building coalitions requires some accommodation to those interests. This class model has some similarity.

  2. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    19. February 2011 at 13:34

    Lord, You’ve misunderstood me. I intend the category to represent selfish people. That’s how I define the category. If the people are not selfish, but pragmatic, then they don’t belong in that category. They belong in one of the other categories. But i think lots of people are selfish, including lots of people in politics.

    Example, an up or down vote on a proposal to abolish all tax loopholes and reduce rates in a revenue neutral way. How many vote for it? Is there a non-selfish reason to oppose it?

  3. Gravatar of Doc Merlin Doc Merlin
    19. February 2011 at 13:55

    “Is there a non-selfish reason to oppose it.”

    Absolutely. Many ideologies believe that tax loopholes are a way to control behavior they believe needs to be controlled. Your main confusion, imo, stems because its true that economic control inevitably leads to corruption (Hernando de Soto sort of makes this point).

  4. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    19. February 2011 at 16:15

    Consider a government representing three constituencies. One wants a road, the second wants a bridge and the third wants a well. If all governors were ideological (non-corrupt, principled, or whatever nomenclature you) then there would be no road, nor bridge and no well. If all the governors effectively represented these special interest, then they would get together and say OK I’ll agree to your bridge if you help with my well or road. This is the essence of government. It’s not so much about single actions that maximize social utility for the majority (you don’t need a government for stuff that everyone agrees on), but more rather about compromises over many issues that collectively protect the rights and furthers the interests of minorities (special interests as you call them) and which over time (albeit slowly and crudely) tend toward an overall improvement in social utility.

  5. Gravatar of R. Kevin Hill R. Kevin Hill
    19. February 2011 at 19:57

    I count myself a critic, but a very friendly one. I agree the “corrupt” category was useful but unhelpfully labeled (I would still characterize it somewhat differently than you have here). But I still don’t quite understand the six deleted permutations’ deletion (the predicates you originally used implied a 3×4 table, with half of its cells blacked out). At the very least it seems that there needs to be a “principled vs pragmatic” thing for progressives and conservatives too, and I still don’t see the reason why there isn’t; it also leaves me uncertain if you think of each as more principled or more pragmatic. The original characterization almost made it sound like you tend to think progressives are pragmatic and conservatives principled, but that looks more like bias to me, as I can think of lots of all four kinds.

  6. Gravatar of Rien Huizer Rien Huizer
    19. February 2011 at 21:20

    As I said before, it is entertaining. And your justification too!

  7. Gravatar of Bonnie Bonnie
    19. February 2011 at 22:28

    It’s an interesting model, but is not one that I can place myself in any one point that I identify most with. The problems of using typical political labels like “conservative” or “progressive” is that those are used as broad brushes to paint entire coalitions of political views that are dynamic and fluid. They mean different things to different people.

    It’s easier for me to understand in two dimensions: Authoritarian and Libertarian. One group believes that leaving their mark on the world includes using government to enforce their idea of a perfect society, and the other believes in society evolving on its own through choice and voluntary actions of the individuals who make up society.

    I know many authoritarian conservatives (and they drive me nuts) as well as progressive authoritarians, and there doesn’t seem to be much difference between them except the “what” they want to force on everyone else. The “what” doesn’t really matter because they each have the same intention and method, just a different ideal. Things like economics and market efficiency, foreign policy and trade all take a backseat to these people, and are treated as mere afterthoughts or means to an end; just make a law that affects some kind of desirable social engineering to either point of view, whether it is economically sound or even practical in actual effects is of little persuasion to them as long as people are doing what they want them to. To me, it’s the coward’s way of changing things in the absence of real leadership and persuasion.
    I don’t think all government is bad. It is useful for security and maintaining public order (except in Egypt of late), and for ensuring that property rights and others are respected. Without those basic things, there would be nothing but chaos and you can’t have a thriving economy in that condition. I view myself as a Market Libertarian, and I believe that free markets are better dealers of justice in commerce than government could ever be. And yes, I understand my dilemma – there is never going to be any way to keep politics and commerce far enough away from each other to prevent government-injected market failure somewhere. Of course the other side of that dilemma is that no one has ever had an answer to that either, just various ways of covering it up and capitalizing on the mess they make.

  8. Gravatar of Indy Indy
    20. February 2011 at 07:30

    String theory – ok, that’s actually pretty funny. I’ll take that as a gentle swipe at my suggestion that optimal-heuristic “factor analysis” is a better way to discover and illuminate these compatibility-affinities, but that would require an actual data set, which I admit I don’t have.

    I think the notion that “This is the way the current American political ecosystem scene looks to someone with ideas like mine in terms of my impression of people who are able to get-along” is key. And that’s why it fails the most at the place where it gets the farthest from you – the “special interest” Demo-Repub “link”.

    You even say that that we must be electing “true believers” because these folks are unable to get along, but I think that’s trying too hard to fit the people to the model instead of the other way around. The perception that somehow things are especially bad or antagonistic now and recently, is a false one – it’s a presentism bias, things have been just as contemptuously contentious for quite a while.

    So you should put “Scott Sumner” (or “Prag. Lib.”) in the center of the connected-graph-network and have edges of affinity radiate out from you, and as the radius increases things get blurry and fuzzy. Maybe the Dems and Repubs “link”, but only in a very stretched, tenuous line all the way around the circle of the farthest radius away from you.

    There’s something else though about “reliance on utilitarian arguments” that I think this model misses and which is also why I don’t think it really helps “illuminate affinities” (at least not those far from your own perspective) the way you claim.

    My experience is that most higher-educated people who espouse utilitarian arguments don’t actually come to their beliefs that way – but that is the only “socially accepted” manner of framing discussion because otherwise we get caught early in an unresolvable battle of differing ethical premises. Simply saying “This is simply what I believe is just” is perceived as kind of low-status, un-intellectual, quasi-religious, and an unsophisticated way of coming to certain conclusions, not to mention a dead-end for the possibility of engaged debate.

    You see this especially in the law, where the ability to fashion a case or argument from what *can* be argued about is the key skill – even when no one really cares at all about these peripheral sub-issues that are open to debate – they’re just looking for that objective-seeming “hook” to hand their, in truth, completely subjective preferences on.

    Here’s an example: the death penalty. For some reason, a lot of people who are simply dogmatically morally against the death penalty have trouble saying so because such a simplistic moral statement has somehow become an embarassing thing to say in our culture. They’ve got to claim an ulterior rationale. So you hear them say, “Well, the reason I’m against the death penalty is because it takes so many legal resources to accomplish that it would simply be cheaper to give these folks life without parole (LwoP).”

    When it’s obvious to me what the real source of their beliefs are, I challenge them to stick up for it, “So, if we made the death penalty cheaper, you’d be neutral or ok with it? If it were cheaper than LwoP, you’d be against LwoP in favor of death?”

    “Well, um … no. I’d still be against it. I guess it really doesn’t matter to me how much it costs.”

    If the derivative of one’s conclusions with respect to the objective measures within an Utilitarian argument is zero, then that argument is irrelevant and a false flag. And yet the entire structure of socially acceptable professional-level discussion has become exclusive to these false-flag irrelevant Utilitarian arguments. You’ll see this in “results-oriented” judicial opinions *all the time*, because judges too often feel the pressing need to cover their preferences and biases in the veil of objective utilitarian arguments, no matter how weak or inconsequential those arguments actually are to the judge.

    So I submit that what hinders your model is not necessarily the philosophical split between utilitarian and deontological ethical rules, or normative v. positive, but the tendency of most of the intellectual class to feel the need to frame their perspectives that way.

    I’ll add that, having swam in both the Economics and Law seas, Economists are simply different and are more likely to be genuinely sincere about their Utilitarian bona-fides as the foundation for their perspectives and views. Lawyers, Journalists, other “persuasive wordsmiths”, however, are not being nearly as honest, with each other, or even with themselves.

    The relevance to your “wheel” is that Conservatives tend to be much more frank about the “personal values” origins of their beliefs, whereas Progressives, (more dominated by those of an intellectual bent) tend to come from the “you must find and make only utilitarian-sounding arguments” world. If I’m wrong, their “Utilitarian Derivatives” should be much higher than zero, but my claim, based on plenty of experience with Progressives is that, in truth, they are not. It’s just the way they talk.

  9. Gravatar of mbk mbk
    20. February 2011 at 08:33

    Scott, this: ”
    1. Social science models are useful precisely because they are ad hoc, not universal.

    2. Social science models are useful only if inaccurate, i.e. simplifications of reality.

    is very important. Strike the “social” out and it’s what I tell my students about all science with these exact words. I don’t think it’s widely understood. Say, it goes universally unquestioned that a theory of everything in physics would be useful if it existed. I am not so sure of that.

    I’d also add this item:

    3. All models are wrong but some are useful [I have no idea who said this first – not me!].

    I think there’s a general tension between models that are too micro and those that are too macro, to be useful. Micro models (local bargaining, atoms bumping into each other) are very specific but not generic enough to be useful for the higher up scales of decision making. Macro, aggregate models (200 year stock return trends, thermodynamics) are of little use either for individual decision making: even if true, they’re too generic and not specific enough to be useful there.

    Since what people really want is guidance in individual decision making, almost every branch of science seeks more and better mesoscale models, medium complicated, medium wrong.

  10. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    20. February 2011 at 08:37

    Doc Merlin, I doubt there are many serious people who sincerely hold that view. I’ve never met one.

    dtoh, I was with you until the end. I consider that sort of horsetrading to be corruption, and I certainly don’t think it results in social progress to build things that don’t pass cost/benefit tests. And if it does pass those tests, then idealistic progressives would favor it. No horse-trading would be required.

    Kevin, You said;

    “At the very least it seems that there needs to be a “principled vs pragmatic” thing for progressives and conservatives too,”

    I don’t see why, “pragmatism” IS the “principle” that progressives go by.

    In theory you might be right about conservatives, but I have trouble spotting the difference.

    You said;

    “The original characterization almost made it sound like you tend to think progressives are pragmatic and conservatives principled, but that looks more like bias to me, as I can think of lots of all four kinds.”

    I suppose that was my view. I can’t remember the last time I met a progressive who believed in the principle of free speech. That businesses should be able to advertise without regulation, that political ads on TV should be unregulated, that hate speech on campus should be unregulated, etc.

    Rien, Thanks, entertainment was one of my goals.

    Bonnie, You said;

    “It’s easier for me to understand in two dimensions: Authoritarian and Libertarian. One group believes that leaving their mark on the world includes using government to enforce their idea of a perfect society, and the other believes in society evolving on its own through choice and voluntary actions of the individuals who make up society.”

    But most people are neither. Most people want the government to help THEM, not help others, and not leave them alone.

    You said;

    “The “what” doesn’t really matter because they each have the same intention and method, just a different ideal.”

    To you the different ideal might not seem to matter, but to most people, including me, it is very important.

    Indy, You said;

    “You even say that that we must be electing “true believers” because these folks are unable to get along, but I think that’s trying too hard to fit the people to the model instead of the other way around.”

    Your comment would make sense if I defined “corrupt” people as politicians, but even I am not that cynical. Thus your criticism is based on a misunderstanding of what I’m try to do. I don’t doubt that there are some true believers (read idealistic types) in Congress, and that they don’t get along well with their colleagues. I’m sure that Ron Paul isn’t very popular, even among fellow Republicans.

    I also don’t agree with your view that progressives come to their political views for non-pragmatic reasons. Progressives are much tougher on crime and welfare than in the 1960s–they’ve learned through experience. They are much more market-friendly than in the 1960s, again based on evidence. That’s pragmatic.

    I don’t know as much about law as you do. I agree that with the death penalty many liberals are actually deontological in approach. I did admit that no one falls entirely into one category–these are tendencies, with broad overlap.

  11. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    20. February 2011 at 08:38

    mbk, I agree about science, I just didn’t want to be pulled into a distracting side issue.

  12. Gravatar of Lord Lord
    20. February 2011 at 11:01

    I prefer the story of the link I provided, all are selfish, only in their own way. Principled libertarians are selfish at accepting only those principles that accord with their preconceptions. Pragmatic libertarians are selfish in that they want to persuade others to accept their perceptions of utility and values. All want others to accept their principles and values.

    One person’s tax loophole is another person’s business. Take the much maligned mortgage interest deduction. It recognizes a home as an investment, that there are costs to undertaking that investment, and that they do not constitute income from it. Landlords have a very similar deduction that would amount to about %500k in deductible lending. Eliminating the mortgage interest deduction would effectively reduce it from $1m to $500k. Would you also favor eliminating the landlord’s deduction? The deductibility of all business interest? I am open to such suggestions, but not unless carried out thoroughly and I have little faith they would do anything more than cause turmoil until markets accommodate to the new equilibrium at which point pressure to do it all over again would reign because that is how to raise taxes, through turmoil.

  13. Gravatar of Lord Lord
    20. February 2011 at 11:33

    Here is an example. Consider a group that wants to accomplish an end, but due to free riders, externalities, or other deficiency they cannot accomplish without a law. Consider another group that is indifferent to the end, but does not want to pay for its execution. They compromise with the first group to allow them to do that so long as they are credited with the cost. Let’s say it is welfare improving for the first group, but, after the credit, indifferent for the second. Looking at any given policy, one may be made better and one worse, but the unity of them may make none worse off. Is the first group selfish to want to increase their utility? Is the second for wanting quid pro quo? Are those affected by the law selfish for requiring a law to do the right thing? What if they simply don’t value what the first group wants to accomplish?

    Is Mankiw selfish for wanting ‘just desserts’? Is he selfish if he thinks it will increase long term growth? Is he selfish if deluded about this? Is he selfish if he thinks in the end, death and heirs will make a mockery of whatever selfishness is intended so no action is necessary? People are selfish, but one persons selfishness is often his righteousness, in mind if not in fact.

  14. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    20. February 2011 at 13:37

    The bridge won’t pass the cost benefit test for the majority of society because there is no benefit to the 2/3rds of the population who won’t use it and want a well or a road instead. It is only the 1/3rd minority (special interest in your nomenclature) who benefit from the bridge.

    On the other hand if the three special interests can cooperate (engage in corruption in your nomenclature) than all three projects can be undertaken and society will benefit because the three projects collectively will pass a cost benefit test for society as a whole. This is the nature of government.

    For single projects and policies that pass the cost benefit test, you say idealistic progressives will support them. True, but so will everyone else and there is no need for any advanced form of governance or debate in order to make decisions about those kind of projects.

    I think academics (and journalists/pundits) have a hard time understanding this aspect of government because their mindset has a technocratic focus which leads them to believe that government is a debate about finding the optimal solution to a well defined problem (kind of like a final exam where there is a right answer and wrong answer).

    In reality though, governors (in most cases) just view the technocratic arguments as a tool to obtain better terms on the horse trade.

  15. Gravatar of Doc Merlin Doc Merlin
    20. February 2011 at 17:51

    “Doc Merlin, I doubt there are many serious people who sincerely hold that view. I’ve never met one.”

    Sure you have… Gregory Mankiw, he and the Pigou Club advocate exactly that (tax loopholes for green behavior, and increased taxes for non-green behavior in this case), and I have no reason to believe they aren’t serious or honest.

  16. Gravatar of Rien Huizer Rien Huizer
    20. February 2011 at 18:20


    You said:

    “But most people are neither. Most people want the government to help THEM, not help others, and not leave them alone.”

    That is quite plausible but has this been tested?

    The entertaining thing about this discussion has been (for me) that this was about mapping rather contested terms (would a conservative call a progressive a progressive and vice versa? Would politicians consider themselves (highly) unprincipled (admitted, most went to law school like me) to a universe of complex notions that (I still do not know if we are talking about the public, politicians/officials/bureaucrats( who have a lot of discretion like the Fed or the Supreme Court ), or something in between) that has, as far as I know not be mapped with results available in the public domain. All kinds of enterprises (political ones for instance) would love to have such a map, if reliable.

    The whole thing reminds me a little of the curious reductionism of distinguished economists such as “LLSV” (and comparative political scientists) who use highly superficial legal indicators (for instance the “legal origin”) and a few economic indicators to develop arguments about the beneficial effect of one legal system over another. Comparative law (an “altruistic” branch of a highly “selfish” professional discipline) scholars find it quite difficult to dismiss the many differences and similarities that criss cross the borders between the two seemingly separate worlds of “common law” and “civil code” countries, also given the fact that “origins” are rarely pure. However, those theories stimulate research into what kind of institutional features can be expected to have what kinds of effects (externalities included pse), what the risks are, to cost of change, etc. and without that an important plank under the legitimacy of the current focus of development assistance would disappear: if we civilizeds have nothing of predictable (utilitarian) value to export, why should the savages want to become like us?

    I have a feeling that legal systems, with their genuinely more limited taxonomy (A, B and Mixed) are far easier to map than “political philosophies” (where is the authoritative source for defining terms used in the preceding discussions) to predictable effects of political (in the sense of influencing government outcomes) interaction between individuals representing different fields in the taxonomy.

    But is would be very useful for understanding political debate to have politicians certified (by an as yet to be established Federal Agency reporting to the Supreme Court (that would give them some more pedestrian staff, good for their permanent education) as to their “political philosophy”, with detailed descriptions about how they are supposed to position themselves on major issues and, especially, the building blocks of those issues. That agency would also conduct consistency checks and weed out politicians with incoherent, contradictory, frivolous and especially, incomplete sets of preferences. It should be headed up by an Economist.

  17. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    21. February 2011 at 17:50

    Lord, I define “selfish” as someone who supports public policy X, but if they were standing in someone else’s shoes they’d oppose it. I presume that even if Mankiw became homeless he would still favor “just deserts.”

    Lots of voters and politicians are selfish, but not all.

    I oppose all taxes on capital. The mortgage interest deduction doesn’t make sense because income from owner occupied houses is not taxed. Income from rental units is taxed.

    dtoh, You said;

    “This is the nature of government.”

    In that case we are in a lot of trouble. It’s very hard to strike Pareto improving deals–without some altruism we will degenerate into a low civic virtue system of governance. And that’s not a pretty sight.

    You said;

    “In reality though, governors (in most cases) just view the technocratic arguments as a tool to obtain better terms on the horse trade.”

    You think academics are being unrealistic, but I think it is the realists who are unrealistic. If this were true, then it would be equally true in Russia, Denmark, Sicily, New Zealand, the Congo, Afghanistan, etc. It’s not, because civic virtue (idealism) varies widely.

    Doc Merlin, I don’t consider a carbon tax to be a “loophole”. Sure, I support carbon taxes too. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

    Rien, Interesting. I’m assuming the final paragraph is a joke.

  18. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    21. February 2011 at 18:40

    Prof. Sumner,

    I noted an article in yesterday’s London Times that pointed to an opinion poll in which 35% of Britons blamed George Osborne for Britain’s inflation rate. Only 11% blamed the BoE. Who could have guessed that the fiscal theory of the price level was so popular?

  19. Gravatar of Rien Huizer Rien Huizer
    22. February 2011 at 05:41


    You said:

    I’m assuming the final paragraph is a joke.”

    Maybe!! As I watch The Netherlands (with its civil law system) do extremely well against England (reinforced by Dutch-origin South African Kevin Pietersen) at the ODI world cricket championships, my generosity towards economists knows no bounds. After all. Smith was a Scot, not an Englishman right. Almost Dutch..

  20. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    22. February 2011 at 06:00

    One of the best magazine articles ever written, David Foster Wallace’s “The String Theory”

    22. February 2011 at 09:08

    More bad philosophy of social science from Scott Sumner.

    I’m guessing you are better schooled in particle physics than the philosophy of science, Scott.

    Why don’t you share us your wisdom on that topic, and spare us the fake philosophy of science.

  22. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    22. February 2011 at 11:27

    And for those who like to cook:

  23. Gravatar of Lord Lord
    22. February 2011 at 11:58

    So you are only selfish if you believe yourself to be? A weak brew indeed. I know people, family members, who find it worthwhile to rent each others home to each other today for the more generous deductions, especially when it comes to maintenance and improvements. And the landlords deduction is not just against any income it generates but against earned wage income as well. It is normal for rentals to operate at a loss to provide tax benefits to the owner. It isn’t about not taxing capital at all. It is all too easy to arrange for there to be no income.

  24. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    22. February 2011 at 20:29

    W. Peden, Yes, but you can always find that sort of nonsense in polls.

    Rien, Remember, I read so many comments that you must address me like a small child.

    Morgan, Thanks, I’ll take a look.

    Greg, I am equally knowledgeable in both areas. 🙂

    Lord, I pay plenty of tax on the unit I rent out. I’m sure some landlords cheat, but that’s no reason to have a tax deduction on home interest–homeowners are not taxed on the income from owner-occupied homes. Isn’t it better to have lower rates and fewer deductions.

    The group that ends up paying for this deduction is renters, who pay a higher share of taxes than otherwise.

  25. Gravatar of D. Watson D. Watson
    4. March 2011 at 10:09

    Scott, you might like this comic, a modest reworking of Nolen:

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. March 2011 at 11:21

    Thanks D Watson, That’s pretty funny.

  27. Gravatar of Mark A. Sadowski Mark A. Sadowski
    5. March 2011 at 14:26


    Here’s a brand new blog that might be of interest to pragmatic (consequentialist) libertarians:

    P.S. I noticed that Bill Woolsey has commented there.

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. March 2011 at 09:21

    Mark, Thanks, I read a few posts.

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