Non-Monetary Endowments

Megan McArdle had a good post the other day pointing out the inconsistency of those who want to tax income at a higher rate because the rich supposedly get utility from spite. That is, the rich are made to feel better than people who have less money because of their relative positions.

She used peoples’ natural endowments for beauty and height as another way that people make themselves feel better at the “expense” of others. She facetiously asked why we don’t throw acid on Cindy Crawford to even out the distribution of beauty in the country. She also noted that beauty, unlike money in most cases, is not earned but is instead an accident of nature.

I think Megan’s point was a good one, particularly in terms of pointing out the inconsistencies of those who favor “cutting the tall poppies down”. I don’t favor it in either case and simply hope for a bit of modesty to restrain peoples’ worst instincts — like puffing themselves up in their minds based on their endowments, earned and unearned. It’s still a good discussion.

FILED UNDER: General,
Robert Prather
About Robert Prather
Robert Prather contributed over 80 posts to OTB between October 2005 and July 2013. He previously blogged at the now defunct Insults Unpunished. Follow him on Twitter @RobPrather.

Comments

  1. [IMG working] [IMG Outside The Beltway | OTB] Non-Monetary Endowments Name The Breed OTB Caption JamTM Star Trek Celebrates 40th Anniversary Brad Pitt: I’ll Marry When Everyone Can Nancy Reagan Tells Jim Webb Not To Use Video Of Her Husband Stop Shuler! Blame the Owner Not the Breed

  2. […] Non-Monetary EndowmentsOutside Beltway – She used peoples natural endowments for beauty and height as another way that people make themselves feel better at the expense of others. She facetiously asked why we don t throw acid on Cindy Crawford to even out the distribution of […]

  3. I just can’t see the argument that you should tax the rich more because they might otherwise enjoy their riches and make others feel bad.

    I may not agree, but can at least see the argument of taxing the rich because they have more money, because they can afford it better, or taxing them more to equalize the tax burdens. Taxes should be to equitably raise funds for the benefit of society. Obviously there can be a lot of discussion on the terms of “equitably” and “benefit”. My flat tax for a new fighter plane may not match your highly progressive tax for supporting sesame street. But reasonable people can come up with a reasonable compromise. But taxing to restrict a vaguely defined “utility feeling” which in turn is bad because it could make others feel bad just doesn’t have a starting point to work from. I think using taxes as a means to shape policy or behavior is a poor tool anyway, but this takes the cake.

    The right tool is social nonacceptance of this sort of behavior. If society finds this behavior one that it doesn’t want to encourage, then bring societal pressure, not the tax code.

  4. I agree, John. The motive for making people pay higher taxes is important to me. That they can afford it is a good reason; that they might be enjoying themselves out of spite is a poor reason.

  5. Bandit says:

    ‘those who want to tax income at a higher rate because the rich supposedly get utility from spite.’

    That’s called projection. The spite and envy is from those who look at what others have and think they’re entitled to it.

  6. Triumph says:

    pointing out the inconsistency of those who want to tax income at a higher rate because the rich supposedly get utility from spite. That is, the rich are made to feel better than people who have less money because of their relative positions.

    Could you please name one serious observer of tax policy that argues for progressive tax systems “out of spite”?

    This sounds like one of Bush’s idiotic strawman arguments.

  7. Triumph,

    I think this is why it got highlighted. That it was being seriously put forward by some one from the left. The fact that they continue to support the idea when it’s stupidity has been exposed speaks volumes. Rather than assuming that it must be part of a ‘vast right wing conspiracy’, perhaps you should spend some time cleaning up the left wing of the democratic party so the party can be taken seriously again.

  8. Triumph says:

    That it was being seriously put forward by some one from the left. The fact that they continue to support the idea when it’s stupidity has been exposed speaks volumes.

    I reassert my original question: Could you please name one serious observer of tax policy that argues for progressive tax systems “out of spite”?

    Who is this “someone from the left”?

    Rather than assuming that it must be part of a ‘vast right wing conspiracy’,

    Where does this come from? Where was I “assuming” anything of the sort?

    This post is nothing more than a form of intellectual laziness and obfuscation that someone like Bush engages in all of the time.

  9. Triumph,

    I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. You can trace the chain back to the left-right dialog that has ensued from this. The lefty blogger who started it was this one.

    The ‘vast right wing cinspiracy’ comment came from this comment by you. I was trying to point out that the genesis of the argument started on the left and that rather than assuming it was a Bush straw man argument you might want to rein in those on the left who make the original unsupported claim.

    “This sounds like one of Bush’s idiotic strawman arguments.”

  10. Triumph says:

    The ‘vast right wing cinspiracy’ comment came from this comment by you. I was trying to point out that the genesis of the argument started on the left and that rather than assuming it was a Bush straw man argument you might want to rein in those on the left who make the original unsupported claim.

    To say that Bush uses the strawman as his main mode of logic doesn’t have anything to do with “conspriacies”–it’s simply an indication of Bush’s weak rhetorical strategies. Prather, in taking this pseudo-argument seriously, is engaging in the same weak project.

  11. Triumph,

    The ‘Vast Right Wing Conspiracy’ is short hand for the left blaming its problems on the right rather than looking at the possibility at its own fault. The fact that you assumed the argument couldn’t have come from the left, but rather was a Bush straw man argument is an example of this tendency.

  12. Triumph says:

    The fact that you assumed the argument couldn’t have come from the left, but rather was a Bush straw man argument is an example of this tendency.

    Listen, Maybe I wasn’t clear. I never assumed anything about the alleged “argument.”

    I simply asked for some EVIDENCE that SOMEONE IS ACTUALLY MAKING a stupid argument.

    I brought up Bush–not as an example of any right wing or left wing conspiracy. He simply is an example of someone who constantly makes weak, strawman arguments.

    Reference to Bush is not equal to a reference to some “right wing conspiracy” (whatever that is). In fact, to think of Bush as somehow “right wing” is preposterous as his ideological foreign policy is to the left of Woodrow Wilson.