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Bits and Pieces 7-25
Posted by: Lance on Friday, July 25, 2008

Megan McCardle continues her discussion of why restricting futures traders will not work, and would be a bad thing if it did.

Let's talk taxes! Tax prof style. Here is a roundup of comparisons of the Obama-McCain tax plans. Each comparison is sure to get someone's blood boiling.

Meanwhile we do get the delightful irony that the tax cuts will hit blue states the hardest, and New York will see marginal tax rates of almost 60%. Delicious, I guess, except some of you might live in New York.

Best of all, there is a tax movie! An Inconvenient Tax:

Ask any of the millions of tax paying Americans on April 15th if the current tax system has problems and you'll get a clear answer. Complexity, inequities and international pressures top the ever-growing list of concerns. The last major tax reform in the United States occurred in 1986. Since this bipartisan effort to simplify the tax code, over 16,000 changes have been made, creating an inflating bubble of complexity that is ready to pop. This looming issue coupled with the expiration of the Bush Tax cuts in 2010 have economists, congressmen and concerned Americans scrambling to figure out a direction for immediate reform

Should Congress try to repair the tax code's inequities by moving towards a broader based income tax similar to that of 1986 or should it pursue a consumption-based system such as a flat tax, VAT or national retail sales tax? Also, can America's schizophrenic desires for lower taxes and increased social programs be reconciled?

An Inconvenient Tax explores the answers to these questions and more through interviews with world renowned economists, U.S. congressmen and average citizens across the nation. The pursuit of a better tax code requires a search for the nations identity. As Joseph Schumpeter wrote, "The spirit of a people, its cultural level, its social structure, the deeds its policy may prepare - all of this and more is written in its fiscal history..."

In order to shed light on America's current tax dilemmas, the film will look at the history of taxation in America as well as current tax-systems in other parts of the world. It will also follow a middle-class small business owner as he tries to pursue the American dream. As every aspect of his life is touched by the effects of taxation, the film will pose both the benefits and dangers of change. The next direction for U.S. tax policy will be decided soon, and it is imperative that the country learn from its past and design a system that will benefit its future.
Check out the site, they have posters, wallpaper and lots of other extras available for your downloading pleasure.

I linger over ethical and political boundary issues.

Peg Kaplan cheers McCain's willingness to speak forthrightly about school choice.

Steve Newton on The depth of the divide in this country, and why Barack Obama may end up as a polarizing rather than a uniting figure

Meanwhile anarchist leftists are attacking the memory of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in San Francisco. I love spats between leftist ideologues.

Vaclav Havel reflects on his political life via the theater.

Finally a quote from Will Wilkinson:
. . . economic downturns do offer the motivated reporter an opportunity to speculate on the possible political consequences of unflagging public and media ignorance. The causes for our current economic troubles are evidently too complex to fathom, so instead of writing intelligibly about what is actually happening and why, we are asked to wonder (hope? fear?) whether voters can be made to demand a "New Deal Lite," before the economy regains steam and we become too satisfied to regulate ourselves into oblivion.

It would be useful if journalists could find a way to report on the actual nature of the American economy. This would be a real public service. The American economy is in fact a byzantine amalgam of market and state institutions enmeshed in a thicket of regulation. Gosselin maintains that "most people" in the U.S. think there is something out there called "the free market" that operates without "government meddling." I'm not really sure that most people think that, but it seems Gosselin does, because he goes on to structure his "news analysis" as if the story is that dissatisfaction with a kind of laissez faire we do not have may be generating demand for basically the kind of dirigisme we've already got. But since economic systems we haven't got can't cause our economic problems, the result is confusion.

Consider the fact that the Federal Reserve is a central planning committee. We are lucky, I think, to have intelligent, highly professional planners, but there are in-principle limits to what they can do with limited information, and so there is no way they are not going to get it wrong sometimes, or a lot of times. The housing "bubble," which has turned out very badly for a lot of people, and the historically high price of gas, which is to a large extent a function of the low value of the American dollar, probably has had a lot to do with the policies chosen by our monetary central planners. Failures of government planning don't discredit free markets. Rather, they suggest free markets might be worth trying some time.
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