I heart economists

We have a short economist arguing against a tax on height and a tall economist arguing for it. “Economic agents” maximize their own utility but economists don’t.

In any case, Mankiw’s paper is pretty interesting. The abstract:

Should the income tax system include a tax credit for short taxpayers and a tax surcharge for tall ones? This paper shows that the standard utilitarian framework for tax policy analysis answers this question in the affirmative. This result has two possible interpretations. One interpretation is that individual attributes correlated with wages, such as height, should be considered more widely for determining tax liabilities.
Alternatively, if policies such as a tax on height are rejected, then the standard utilitarian framework must in some way fail to capture our intuitive notions of distributive justice.

In a way, the controversy over the Stern report can be seen in the same light. If you believe, due to some ideas of cross-generation distributional justice, that we should do something about global warming but you believe our standard values of the discount rate are correct (i.e. 2%), then there must be something wrong with the standard utility models.

I don’t think its good enough to say “yep, the models are wrong… ignore the economists.” You have to come up with an alternative framework. Without a good alternative model, there isn’t a common ground for discussion. In this way, a model is just a mode of thought that we can use to think through an issue.

Global warming documentaries

I think you will find more science in this documentary than in The Inconvenient Truth. Much of the the science you do see is questioned (wikipedia has a good write-up), but I came away from the film, at least the first half hour, knowing a little more about the mechanisms of anthropogenic global warming.

I learned:

  • After WWII, there were 3 decades of cooling and followed by 3 decades of warming
  • CO2 rose through the whole period
  • CO2 trends seem to lag warming trends by about 800 years in the longer term scale
  • It was much warmer in the middle ages than now, specifically in Greenland
  • Greenhouse gas related global warming theories predict the upper atmosphere should get warmer than the ground… this doesn’t seem to be the case in the data
  • There are competing theories of global warming, like solar variation
  • Explicating theory and sharing data are much more effective ways to make your point than appealing to “scientific consensus”

Oh, and the last 40 minutes of the documentary has really entertaining conspiracy theories. Who’s to blame for the global warming conspiracy? The anti-humanist environmentalists! The capitalist hating commie pinko fags!! and the nuclear power loving Margaret Thatcher!!! And they all hate, hate starving children in Africa. Good stuff.