Pro-tax university professors find a tax that they don’t like

A lot of my Facebook friends are university professors. As such they get, as part of their compensation, free tuition for their children (or, oftentimes, partial payment for tuition if they send their kids to other colleges). Some of them have graduate students, who get their fictitious tuition paid when on research or teaching assistantships.

All of these folks publicly supported Hillary Clinton prior to the election, denounced the Trumpenfuhrer’s hints about shrinking the government’s role in our society, and generally advocate for higher tax rates so as to enable the government to fulfill all of our collective dreams.

How are they reacting to the latest proposed tax law changes? With desperate lobbying efforts to preserve their own tax exemptions. Examples:

To my California friends and family, especially those who have children to educate: Republican representatives in these CA districts near you have BIG influence over *which version* of the tax bill—including whether it taxes things like tuition remission, etc.—eventually gets approved. It’s not an exaggeration to say the future of American higher education is at stake.

A crucial decision remains to be made between the House and Senate versions of the GOP tax bill. So here’s a plea to everyone who cares about the future of American universities: not only must we CALL OUR REPS, we must urge our friends and family to do so as well! I’m calling not just my own reps and senators but others’ too, identifying myself as a professor and trying to convey my sense of urgency about this bill.

[mass email to faculty at University of Chicago] Doubtless all of you are thinking about the potential effects of the Republican tax bill, which appears bent on directly attacking higher and lower education in the United States. …  The bill passed by the Senate *does not* include the grad student tuition waiver tax proposed by the House bill. …

For students like Mollie Marr, pursuing her M.D. and her Ph.D. in behavioral neuroscience in the OHSU School of Medicine, losing the tax waiver could mean dropping out of OHSU. Paying the estimated tax on top of her non-deferrable undergraduate student loans would leave her about $ 500 a month to live on. … students, staff and faculty to share their personal stories and perspectives about the impact of losing this tax waiver … Call and email your U.S. representatives and senators.  [official OHSU news release]

If universities actually are delivering something of value to professors’ children via tuition waivers, shouldn’t these good folks want to pay tax on that value? A core principle of U.S. income tax is that you pay tax on the fair market value of stuff that you receive in exchange for work. Also, if universities are delivering something of value to graduate students in exchange for work, why should a Walmart cashier have to work extra hours to make up for the tax not collected? (see Ugliest part of the Republican tax plan: What if universities were forced to calculate the value of a graduate education? for an exploration of what the imputed value of this tuition waiver should be, though)

These same folks have spent years on Facebook arguing for the government to collect more in taxes. Now they’ve found a tax that they don’t like!


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Why don’t Chinese restaurants in the U.S. serve turkey?

After a week that included a Tuesday experimental steam oven spatchcocked turkey experiment (mostly failed), a Thursday steam oven intact organic turkey dinner (slightly overcooked), and turkey leftovers for the rest of the meals, we took the kids to a safe turkey-free environment: dim sum. It then occurred to me that I have never seen turkey on a Chinese restaurant menu in the U.S. (or in China, for that matter, but mostly I cannot read menus in China!).

Big question for the night: Why not?

It is plainly possible to raise turkeys outside of the U.S. Turkey shwarma is popular in Israel, for example (taste-off). But even if the Chinese don’t want to cook turkey in China, why wouldn’t a Chinese restaurant in the U.S. add turkey to the menu? Is it possible that turkey is simply bad?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Why young people don’t like the Republican tax plan: they are planning to be W-2 wage slaves

The Republican tax plan makes it more rewarding to do business in the U.S., whether as a corporation or as a part-owner of an LLC or similar pass-through structure. The proposal does not seem to have caught on with young people. Why not? I’m reading a book by a psychology professor who studies American generations. This one is about Americans born since the mid-1990. From iGen:

As it turns out, iGen’ers are actually less likely to want to own their own business than Boomers and GenX’ers were at the same age, continuing a trend started by Millennials (see Figure 7.4). Just as they are cautious about driving, drinking, and dating, iGen’ers are cautious about going into business for themselves.

Entering college students show the same trend: in 2016, only 37% said that “becoming successful in a business of my own” was important, down from 50% in 1984 (adjusted for relative centrality). So, compared to GenX college students, iGen’ers are less likely to be drawn to entrepreneurship. These beliefs are affecting actual behavior. A Wall Street Journal analysis of Federal Reserve data found that only 3.6% of households headed by adults younger than 30 owned at least part of a private company in 2013, down from 10.6% in 1989. All the talk about the young generation being attracted to entrepreneurship turns out to be just that—talk.

So it makes sense that they don’t like business tax cuts if nobody among their peer group is involved in business, except as a wage slave.

[Of course, one could argue that a business tax cut makes it more likely that iGeners will have a W-2 job to begin with and that jobs will pay more because global business will be more enthusiastic about headquartering and operating in the U.S. But I wouldn’t expect the average American to see things that way. People seem to evaluate tax policy on the theory that everyone’s behavior will remain unchanged after a massive change to tax rates.]

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

In Marketing and in Markets, Don’t be the Mark!

I have made countless posts lampooning the mainstream media and its eyeball harvesting, click baiting content. This content and especially the associated headlines (let’s recall the classic R.I.P. Bond Bull Market as Charts Say Last Gasps Have Been Taken, dated Dec. 2016 as but one example) are designed to whip up emotions, draw attention and […]
Slope of Hope

Even New York Times readers don’t want Australia’s refugees

“Australia’s Desperate Refugee Obstinacy” shows that Roger Cohen and his colleagues are brave enough to sit in the Manhattan offices of the New York Times and denounce the hard-heartedness of people on the other side of the planet. What’s interesting, though, is the Readers’ Picks section among the comments. It seems that even the loyal Hillary supporters who read the New York Times aren’t supportive of taking in these “asylum-seekers and refugees.” (I put in my own comment, making my standard offer:

If Mr. Cohen would like to house one of these families in his apartment or house for at least one year, I’ll be happy to pay for the airfare from Nauru.

So far Roger Cohen hasn’t emailed to accept.)

The top pick:

I believe these refugees are predominantly from the Middle East, hence they had to travel through SE Asia, eventually to Indonesia, in order to board the rickety boat that people smugglers are using.

I know people here won’t like me for asking this, but I genuinely wonder if they couldn’t stay and feel safe in any of the countries they passed through, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore or Brunei? If your only concern is flight from danger present in your native land, then any of these countries would have been enough to provide that sanctuary until events settled back home. But they had to come to Australia, after paying close to $ 10,000 to people smugglers. I genuinely wonder, if their motive wasn’t to improve their lot in life by coming to a wealthy democracy, why do they do this?

Another highly voted one:

Iran is not at war, and these people are not escaping persecution. They just want a better standard of living, but couldn’t get to Australia by legal channels. Why should Australians let them in, just because they tried to sneak in through the back door? How is this fair to people who emigrate legally? Pushing to the front of the queue should not be rewarded.

Separately, I wonder if the Great Migration of the 21st Century is going to relieve some of the media pressure on Israel. If scolding other countries for their resistance to immigration consumes the average journalist’s sanctimony budget, how much will be left over to complain about what Jews in Israel are doing?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Given the risk of broken hips, why don’t we wear hip pads all the time?

A fit 68-year-old friend recently tripped over a laundry basket and broke her hip. She needed a replacement hip installed (at nearly 4X what it would have cost in France or the UK; see also nytimes for price comparison) and then a couple of months of rehab. This led me to wonder “Why don’t all of us wear hip pads all the time?”

A study from 2007 found that there was no benefit to simple pads (see also ABC News article: many fractures don’t even occur as a result of impact but from the unnatural rotation of the hip in a fall. “Fractures often occur prior to impact,” [the doctor] said.).

ActiveProtective is a company that has a great TED talk, but it doesn’t seem as though their airbag-based hip protector is available.

Will exoskeletons to improve stability be available before reliable protections against the consequences of falling are?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Refugees don’t love the Baltic countries as much as Mom and I did

Mom and I loved Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on our Royal Caribbean cruise last summer. It seems that these UNESCO World Heritage destinations are not appealing to everyone: “Refugees frustrated and trapped in chilly Baltic states” (BBC):

Mekharena, an Eritrean, came to Latvia from Italy a year ago. Reaching Europe was an odyssey – he came via Uganda, Ethiopia, Israel and Egypt. … He was not allowed to choose the destination himself, and was not happy about it. “There are lots of Eritreans everywhere in Europe. They talk to one another. We all know that in Germany they give you an apartment and €400 (£350; $ 450) pocket money. But in Latvia they don’t give us anything – just €139 a month,” he told BBC Russian.

An EU solidarity plan, agreed in 2015, envisaged relocating 160,000 Syrian and Eritrean refugees throughout the EU, from overcrowded camps in Greece and Italy. Only a fraction have left the camps so far.

Refugees are moving on from all three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Of 349 asylum seekers taken in by Lithuania, 248 left as soon as they had received official refugee status … Benefits for refugees in Lithuania vary from €102 to €204 a month.

In Estonia the situation is similar: of the 136 who arrived on the EU programme, 79 have moved elsewhere in Europe. Refugees in Estonia receive €130 a month.

The BBC doesn’t bother to cover this, but I don’t think that these countries are disfavoring refugees compared to their own citizens. The Eritrean who was disappointed at not getting an apartment in addition to cash may not have gotten an apartment if he had been a low-income citizen (see Russian welfare: all cash; I think it is the same in the Baltics). In all three Baltic countries I learned that having sex with the richest person in the country would yield only about 200 euros per month in child support (if they’d come to Boston for a week, for comparison, and had sex with a dentist, they’d get a wire transfer of $ 3,333 per month for 23 years under the Massachusetts guidelines; see also the “American Child Support Profits Without an American Child” section of “Child Support Litigation without a Marriage”).

Does this make the fights that Europeans are having about who will take refugees (immigrants are supposed to yield economic growth, but somehow these countries are fighting for the right to become poorer by rejecting them?) moot? If refugees can and do move once they are “settled” with their 130 euro/month welfare check in Estonia, why does it matter how many refugees Estonia “accepts”? It seems that there are bureaucratic obstacles to moving to whichever European country offers the best package for immigrants:

“If I move to another country, they won’t accept me. I know several people who left Latvia. They all went to Germany but none of them can work there,” says Mekharena. Refugee status in Latvia only gives you the right to claim benefits or work in Latvia. It does not guarantee anything in other EU countries.

Readers, especially those in Europe: What’s happening with the refugee influx to Europe? Hatred of Donald Trump seems to have crowded out most other news in the U.S. for the past year or so.


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Don’t marry a partner from a lower-class family if you want to avoid a custody dispute (unless you’re also lower class!)

At the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017, researchers noted that at least some of what drove custody was differences in what people believed was the norm: “What do sisters, brothers, and friends say?” Marriages that mixed partners from different social classes tended to result in the most intense litigation: “People from lower social class families are more accustomed to single moms. So if you have a mom who was herself raised by a white trash single mom and a dad who grew up middle class raised by two parents, they’re never going to agree on whether shared parenting is good for the kids.”


Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Child support payments don’t contribute to children’s well-being; fatherless children tend to be obese

Professor Kari Adamsons of the University of Connecticut spoke about her research at the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017.

What is American society getting from the roughly 3 percent of GDP that we spend making sure that alimony and child support cashflows are established and maintained? Professor Adamsons says that research psychologists can’t find any effect on American children’s well-being whether or not child support was being paid from one parent to the other.

Part of this may be due to the fact that adults who receive child support cash often respond by cutting their working hours and therefore the net spending power within the winner parent’s household may not change much.

Adamsons, however, described big differences in child-support/well-being correlation based on the race of the mother. For “non-white mothers” (Rachel Dolezal qualifies?), when child support was paid there was a negative effect on the children’s well-being. This is consistent with previous research, to the extent that “low-income” in the U.S. tends to overlap with “non-white,” e.g., see the Children, Mothers and Fathers chapter:

“Child Support and Young Children’s Development” (Nepomnyaschy, et al, 2012; Social Science Review 86:1), a Rutgers and University of Wisconsin study of children of lower income unmarried parents, found that any kind of court involvement was associated with harm to children: “We also find that provision of formal [court-ordered] child support is associated with worse withdrawn and aggressive behaviors.” The authors found that informal (voluntary) support from fathers could be helpful to children living with single mothers but court-ordered support, even when the cash was actually transferred, was on balance harmful.

It turns out that contact with the father was also a negative for well-being when the mother was non-white. Certainly Adamsons wouldn’t have suggested this, given that even tenure has its limits, but it seems that if what society cares about is child well-being and we accept that courts must deal with children on a rushed wholesale basis, the laws and defaults should be different depending on the race of the litigants(!).

Somewhat separately, Adamsons talked about what research psychologists have found regarding the effects of losing a father. Why are we always in the running for World’s Fattest Nation? Could that be related to the fact that we have the largest percentage of children without two parents (stats)? Adamsons said that “fathers have a strong and unique [not replaceable by another adult, such as the mother] influence on obesity.” What about the fact that courts usually assign a father to at least an every-other-weekend babysitting role? “That kind of parental involvement is probably not helpful. It isn’t normal. When they’re visiting with the father, the kids are waiting to go home to the mother.”

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Paris agreement debacle shows that we don’t need the Great Father in Washington as much as we thought?

The Great Father in Washington has withdrawn from the Paris agreement. Investors are so terrified about the Earth turning into Venus that the S&P 500 is up 1.75 percent in the last month.

For those of us who advocate for a smaller and/or more decentralized U.S. government, I wonder if this embarrassing spectacle has a silver lining. “Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord” (nytimes):

Representatives of American cities, states and companies are preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Paris climate accord, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.

A lot of cities and nearly all of our states have a larger population than the world’s median-sized country (about 5.5 million). Most have lavishly funded governments (sometimes so lavish that they need to declare bankruptcy!). It now transpires that they don’t need the Great Father in Washington to make a diet pledge on their behalf. (In retrospect perhaps this should have been obvious. If Denmark and Greece can independently set their CO2 output, why not Indiana and Florida?

Readers: could this reverse some of the trend toward Americans looking to the federal government to solve all of their problems?

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog