Who was my favorite student this term?
11 months ago
A long pondered but only lately realized blog about economics, politics, evaluation, econometrics, academia, college football and whatever else comes to mind.
Another friend who cared about the underdogs, and sometimes felt himself to be one, was the labor economist John DiNardo, who taught at Michigan and died this summer at the absurdly early age of 56. John had an (occasionally) overwhelming sense of humor, with a deep streak of irreverence that he loved to use to deflate the pomposity and pretensions of sophisticated econometrics. He wrote a memorable paper with Steve Pischke that poked fun at the interpretation of the wage premium for those who worked with computers; they showed that workers who carried pencils, or who worked sitting down, also received the premium. He was also famous for writing three (sometimes apoplectic) reviews of Freakonomics. He worked with Jack Johnston on late editions of the econometrics text that was standard for my generation of British students. When he finished his PhD at Princeton, he taught me that the class prejudice that I thought I had left behind in Britain, was as bad in the US. His affect as an Italian-American working-class guy, smoking when he could, not caring much about niceties of dress, and giving respect only when he thought it was due, told against him on the job market, though he quickly moved up as his work was appreciated.Hat tip: Steve Hamilton
Economists serve best when they offer thoughts outside the standard left-right partisan divide. Our first function should be always to remind people that marginal tax rates matter to the economy not taxes.
Our second insight is always to analyze things comprehensively. The Federal income tax is not what counts, the entire wedge between work and consumption matters. Whether the corporate tax is progressive or not does not matter, whether the overall tax code is progressive (plus the overall spending code, and forced cross-subsidy code!) matters. Don't tax wine over beer to redistribute; tax goods evenly and achieve progressivity through a progressive income (or better, consumption) tax, or spend money on programs to help people whose distress is correlated (imperfectly) with beer drinking.
Economists may feel their moral sentiments about redistribution are really important. But we have little professional reason to argue our feelings are better than anyone else's. What we can argue is, if you'r going to do more or less redistribution, do it efficiently and comprehensively.And I particularly like the way John keeps his eye on the prize of making the pie bigger.