Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Today in Taxes

Sumner on the marriage penalty:
The government is discriminating against people according to their marital status.  Two families that live side by side, each with two adults earning $130,000, might each pay very different amounts of taxes.  The family where the two adults are legally married pay more taxes than the next door neighbors, who might tell all their friends and relatives that they are married, but in fact secretly got a divorce and are now living in sin.  Does that seem fair?
BTW, this isn’t just a problem that affects the upper middle-class; low income workers also face a large implicit marriage penalty, as benefits like the EITC get phased out much more quickly if two low income people get married.  Indeed in percentage terms this probably affects them much more than me.  (Interestingly, as the marriage penalty got worse for low income workers, their marriage rate fell.)

Lomborg on Lomborg (HT:MR)
Lomborg denies he has performed a volte face ... "The point I've always been making is it's not the end of the world," he told the Guardian. "That's why we should be measuring up to what everybody else says, which is we should be spending our money well."
But he said the crucial turning point in his argument was the Copenhagen Consensus project, in which a group of economists were asked to consider how best to spend $50bn. The first results, in 2004, put global warming near the bottom of the list, arguing instead for policies such as fighting malaria and HIV/Aids. But a repeat analysis in 2008 included new ideas for reducing the temperature rise, some of which emerged about halfway up the ranking. Lomborg said he then decided to consider a much wider variety of policies to reduce global warming, "so it wouldn't end up at the bottom".
The difference was made by examining not just the dominant international policy to cut carbon emissions, but also seven other "solutions" including more investment in technology, climate engineering, and planting more trees and reducing soot and methane, also significant contributors to climate change, said Lomborg.
"If the world is going to spend hundreds of millions to treat climate, where could you get the most bang for your buck?" was the question posed, he added.After the analyses, five economists were asked to rank the 15 possible policies which emerged. Current policies to cut carbon emissions through taxes - of which Lomborg has long been critical - were ranked largely at the bottom of four of the lists. At the top were more direct public investment in research and development rather than spending money on low carbon energy now, and climate engineering.
The Economist on housing subsidies:
Sales of existing homes in America plunged to their lowest level in more than a decade, down 27.2% in July compared with June. Sales of new homes also plummeted, to a record low since figures were first kept in 1963. Both declines were worse than had been expected, and follow the expiry of a tax credit for homebuyers.
Yglesias on housing subsidies
Policies like making home mortgage interest tax deductible... tend to simply shift resources away from the non-housing economy and toward the housing sector. In other words, we have bigger and fancier houses than we otherwise would have, and less of other goods and services.
Boudreaux on non-subsidies for religion:
My friend argues that each and every church’s exemption from taxation means that religion is, in fact, subsidized heavily in the U.S. – subsidization that my friend suggests accounts for religion’s success in this great republic.
My friend and I have argued with each other repeatedly on the nature of subsidies.  I do not grant that government’s decision to refrain from taking X‘s money means that government subsidizes X. The tax-examption might be unwise policy, and it might be unfair (by some plausible guideposts) – and it almost certainly gives the tax-exempt organizations an advantage that they would otherwise not possess.
But tax-exemption does not involve taking money from Y and giving it to X. That fact is vital....
the fact that every religious leader (and activist) in the U.S. is quite aware that there is near-zero probability that government will ever bail out any failing religion or church with real subsidies means that religions and churches in the U.S – even the Big Ones – do not enjoy the prospect of a species of (real) subsidies that many other private industries and firms (especially post-2007) now enjoy.

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