Octavo Dia

Monday, July 01, 2013

Mileage Taxes

The problem with gas taxes is that, as vehicles become more fuel efficient, you get the same road damage but less revenue.  The problem with congestion taxes is that they're hard to enforce.  Why not combine the two and create a mileage tax?  Every time the mileage is reported to the state, a tax would be levied on the number of miles driving since the last time.  Whenever a car is sold, wrecked, transferred, or moved out of state, the mileage would be recorded and tax levied.  It's not as precise as either the gas tax (at reducing oil consumption) or the congestion tax (at reducing driving in particular areas), but it would both reduce oil consumption and reduce driving in general.  It does both things not particularly well, but it makes enforcement easy and unintrusive (particularly since this information is already collected).  And in terms of raising revenue, switching up the tax code now and again is a proven strategy.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How to Fix the Patent System

I know I've written about this subject before, but it's been eight years, so I figure I get a mulligan!

The basic rationale for patents is that they provide a societal good by causing information that would otherwise be kept secret to be released to the general public.  However, I'm sure we can agree that the patent system that we have is broken (even if we're not ready to get rid of it entirely) and not provided the societal good it is intended to.  If the purpose of patents is to stimulate innovation by compensating inventors for sharing secrets, why not make the compensation explicit?  I propose a very simple rule: there are no patents, but eminent domain applies to intellectual property.  If there is a vital trade secret, the government could simply appropriate the idea and compensate the inventor accordingly.  The inventor would still have the advantage of experience, being the first mover, and the government compensation to boot, but everyone could use and build of the idea, giving competition free rein.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Two State Solution

Just a random thought: I'm pretty sure that the Two-state Solution for Israel and Palestine wouldn't work any better than the South African homelands.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Saving Services

An old macro-economic canard is that you cannot save on a societal scale.  That one person's saving must be another person's borrowing.  That production and consumption must ultimately balance.  However, the creation of capital goods clearly falsifies this assertion as, for example, building a more efficient power plant doesn't just uses present resources to provide for current consumption, but also causes increased consumption in the future.  Thus, investment allows consumption to be moved into the future, which is pretty much the definition of saving.  And there's no reason that a society need to consume its investment as rapidly as it invests.

What's old is new again, so the argument is reborn as "retirees consume mostly services, and you can't save services."  If you go back to my theory that economic growth is fueled by substitution, the problem is that services are expensive.  What can you substitute for services?  Goods.  If we can provide many of these services with computers, robots, or whatever else may appear on the horizon, then the economy can continue to grow with cheap goods replacing expensive services.  Since a society can "save" goods by investing in productive capacity, we can save to meet the needs of the future elderly by investing and innovating now.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Review: Still the Best Hope

Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph.  By Dennis Prager.

I deliberately get all of my news from sources with whose political slate I disagree (a practice I have had for 14 years now).  Consequently, I have a window on both how the political Left perceives itself, and how it perceives the political Right.

From my perspective on the Right, the Left's perception of the Right is laughably inaccurate.  I expect that, were a Leftist to read this book, they would consider its perception of the Left to be laughably inaccurate as well.  It is my opinion that books that claim to explain what the other side believes are usually a waste of paper.  No one is persuaded by them that does not already believe what they state.

For example, in the Introduction, he spends a couple of pages in the introduction arguing that Leftism is a religion.  I have never, ever met anyone who was persuaded that there philosophy was a religion.  You may be able to persuade people that their philosophy serves the same purpose as a religion, but what's the point of that?  Even if you could persuade someone that their philosophy was a religion, why should that cause them to change?  A religious belief by a philosophical name can be held just as fervently.

I, however, being on the political right, and thus already persuaded, did agree with nearly all of what he said.  For example (in the introduction) I do agree that Leftists don't believe that they have a philosophical system.  One of the conceits of Leftism is that it is a purely rational system that addresses each issue as it comes, or as it's put in Scripture, "blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine."


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How to Fix the Post Office

Of the many lessons to be learned from the ongoing European unpleasantness, one is that you need to build a margin of error into your reforms.  If you don't, you'll be plunged back into chaos if you undershoot your target.  I think the current round of Post Office reforms is suffering from that same problem.  Cutting Saturday delivery--the current proposal--is much the same sort of piecemeal reform that will just kick the problem down the road and not provide sufficient time to rework a business model.  I've previously proposed that you could change where the post office delivers, or grant it a monopoly of local delivery, but if those are still too radical, the Post Office should be much bolder in its changes to the delivery schedule, and if it's going to cut service, it should also add some compensating service.

To this end, I propose that the Post Office provide seven-day-a-week, every-other-day delivery service.  At a stroke, this would vastly reduce the number of trucks and personnel needed to delivery the mail, even while providing Sunday service.  Not only would you have to visit each address nearly half as often, but each stop, by delivering nearly twice the mail, would be much more efficient.  It would also allow the vehicles to either carry more in a single load, or to allow larger vehicles to be used.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Variable Voting

Scott Adams pointed out that the physical location of your mother at birth is a weird way of determining citizenship.  I would add that having eligibility to vote be a simple yes/no proposition, with all votes weighted equally, is also a weird way of determining how much a vote is worth.  Those who are not eligible to vote still have interests in the functioning of government, but those interests are not represented.  There are also those who are eligible to vote, for example, a voter would acquired citizenship at birth, but has resided overseas in the custody of a non-U.S. citizen parent every since, has no connection at all to the U.S., but whose interests are still represented.

The current system has the virtue of simplicity, but I believe its inequities override its virtue.  I propose that a new system be created, in which ones voting rights are linked to the strength of one's ties to the United States.  The more your prosperity, your future, is linked to the prosperity and future of the United States, the more your vote would be worth.

For example:

You'd receive 50 votes for birth in the United States.

For every immediate relative you have in the United States, you'd receive additional votes (say 5 to 10 apiece).  (This sounds complicated, but we already do relative preferences for immigrants, so it's possible to do it for citizens as well.)

For every year you reside in the United States, you'd receive an additional vote.  This takes into account the difficulty of restarting a career (also, I'd have the parents cast the children's votes).

You'd receive additional votes, but on a declining basis, for fixed investment in the United States.  (This takes into account the political power that accrues to the wealthy.)

You'd receive additional votes for service in the military, which (obviously) makes you a less attractive prospect for resettlement in other countries.

And so on.

The end result is that a middle-aged, property-owning, veteran whose family is entirely in the United States, would have far higher representation than a 20-something student studying abroad.