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Showing posts from September 18, 2011

A little history of the Income Tax

Naturally, LI finds the class warfare cry that has gone up with Obama’s proposal to tax the wealthy at a less onerous rate than they were taxed in the 90s rather comic, as class warfare is precisely what is at the heart of progressive taxation. Progressive taxation can best be seen as one of those complex treaties, like that which officially divided up Yugoslavia, that takes a situation of ongoing hostility and freezes it in place. It allows the wealthy to continue to exploit and flourish, but at a cost. However, there is one aspect of the right’s class warfare meme that seems to have taken root with a considerable number of middle class citizens, which is that there is something unfair about the wealthy paying 50 percent of the total of the income tax collected by the government. The usual response to this by liberals is to point out that federal taxes also consist of taxes for social security and medicare, so that the figure for income tax alone is distorting. This is true. Howe

The geneology of unintended consequences

In the note he devoted to the Regency in his Precis of the Reign of Louis XV, Voltaire marveled at the consequences of the rise and fall of Law’s system in France: “Finally, that famous system of Law or Lass, which seemed it must ruin the regency and the state, in fact sustained one and the other by some consequences that nobody could have foreseen.” The idea of unforeseen consequences will have a long history in economic thought. Voltaire introduces it hear in a marveling tone – and yet, what he shows is not a marvel, but the development of a trend that developed because of the ‘side effects’ of Law’s system. This is one of Voltaire’s signal contributions to that product of the Enlightenment, the conjectural history, of which the most famous example is Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Even as Montesquieu adheres to the classic rise and fall model of the economy, one in which Nemesis is still visible, the watermark beneath the elegant system, Voltaire dispenses with Nemesis and introd

DSK and his fantasies

Freud wrote that the system of the unconscious doesn’t contain a ‘no’. It uses, instead, contradiction to mark a negation – which is why, in dreams, seemingly inconsistent narratives will merrily unfold themselves, making it hard for the dreamer to tell the dream in waking language. I thought about this watching DSK trying to explain the events of the morning of May 14, 2011 on TF1, where he was interviewed last night by his wife’s friend, newscaster Claire Chazel. The entire interview revolved around a negation: when asked to give his side of what transpired in the thirty some minutes he spent with Nafissa Diallo, DSK came up with no account whatsoever. Instead, he declared that what happened was a ‘moral error’ and that – bizarrely – he was not ‘proud’ of it. That he was not ‘proud’ of what happened – a phrase he used at least twice – seems to be Strauss Kahn’s attempt to say that he was ashamed of it. But not being proud and being ashamed are, of course, two different things. Th

on the emotional frontier

Robert I. Levy, in an essay entitled Emotions, Knowing and Culture [1984], proposed two axes for analyzing emotions on the sense making level – that is, not as private experiences, but as experiences that enter into the public domain. On the one hand, he speaks of hyercognition – “Hypercognition involves a kind of shaping, simplifying, selecting, and standardizing, a familiar function of cultural symbols and forms. It involves a kind of making “ordinary” of private understandings.” In contrast to that stands hypocognition – “Hypocognition forces the (first order) understanding into some private mode.” Citing his own work on “sadness” among Tahitians (Levy claims that, while there are words for severe grief and lamentation, there are “no unambiguous terms that represent the concepts of sadness, longing, or loneliness… People would name their condition, where I supposed that [the body signs and] the context called for “sadness” or “depression”, as “feeling troubled” pe’ape’a, the ge