On The Question Of Scottish Independence

The side favoring Scottish independence in next week's vote appears, at least for the moment, to have pulled even or slightly ahead in the polls, and this is sending the poo-bahs of British politics into a tizzy.  On Wednesday, the BBC reported that the leaders of all three major political parties (Cameron of the Tories, Clegg of the Lib/Dems and Miliband of Labour) had made pleas for a "no" vote:

Prime Minister David Cameron said he would be "heartbroken" in the event of a "Yes" vote, while Labour leader Ed Miliband said the case for the Union came from the "head, heart and soul".  [Cameron said:]   "I care hugely about this extraordinary country, this United Kingdom that we've built together.  I would be heartbroken if this family of nations that we've put together - and we've done such amazing things together - if this family of nations was torn apart."

Looks like it's time for a little contrarianism from the Manhattan Contrarian.  On balance, I come out in favor of Scottish independence.  I suspect it will be a good thing not just for Scotland, but also for the remainder of the U.K. and for the rest of the world.

Let's look at some background facts.  You might think of Scotland as a poor backwater, but according to data here put out by the Scottish government, Scotland actually has a higher GDP per capita than the rest of the U.K., $39,642 versus $35,671.  To be fair, these numbers include what they call "illustrative geographic share of North Sea [oil] output" in the Scottish figure.   I don't think it's by any means a done deal that an independent Scotland is going to get allocated a big share of the North Sea oil revenue, but I also don't think that that skews the numbers all that much.  Here is a briefing paper from something called Centre for Public Policy for Regions from April 2013 that analyzes Scotland and rest-of-U.K. per capita income excluding the oil, and concludes that the two are almost identical.

Although economically Scotland is not notably richer or poorer than the rest of the U.K., the politics of Scotland are dramatically different.  The Tories rule in the U.K., but are almost non-existent in Scotland.  According to Parliament's website, the current House of Commons has 650 seats, of which the Tories hold 304 and their coalition partners the Lib/Dems hold 56.  Labour holds 256 seats, and all other parties hold 36.  But in Scotland, Labour completely dominates.  Of 59 MPs from Scotland, 40 are Labour, and the Scottish National Party holds 6.  The Lib/Dems have 11, there is one "Independent," and that leaves exactly one seat held by the Tories.  An excellent question is why the Scots vote for Labour in such overwhelming numbers.  Analyses I have read of the subject trace Scottish support for Labour back to the 80s, when Thatcher pulled the plug on subsidies for Scottish heavy industry and refused to relent as most of it closed down.  Today Scotland seems to have mostly recovered economically, but apparently they have not forgotten. 

Whatever the cause, if Scotland suddenly pulled out of the Parliament, the Tories would instantly go to an absolute majority (304/591) without needing their Lib/Dem partners.  Also, Labour would be very substantially hobbled in trying to gain control of the Commons any time soon.  Given these facts, it is actually a fascinating question why Cameron and the Tories are so strongly against Scottish independence.  When the BBC put this question recently to Cameron, he responded, "I care far more about my country than I do about my party."

Given their leftist political proclivities, you might think that upon independence the Scots would promptly go to a higher tax, higher spend government model, and try to put their socialist fantasies into effect.  Maybe they will, but my bet is that they won't move far in that direction if at all.  And if they do, they are so small that they are subject to the economic discipline of the market much more quickly than a larger country like the U.K. as a whole.

Would an independent Scotland set up its own currency?  I would bet strongly against it.  Having your own currency gives the government huge license to steal from the people, at least in the short run, by inflation or exchange controls -- think Argentina or Venezuela; but it also imposes big, big costs for acquiring imports and for international travel.  The Scots are just too sensible to do this.  But as soon as you don't have your own currency, then when you borrow, you must repay in currency that you can't print.  This is the mechanism that keeps the U.S. states financially responsible (and would keep Eurozone states responsible if they didn't keep getting bailouts).

An independent Scotland could also theoretically run big deficits and get into economic "stimulus" in a big way after the fashion of an Italy or a Greece.  But the funny thing is that the smaller a country is, the more obvious it becomes that this "stimulus" thing is a fallacy.  In a place the size of the United States, when we run a deficit of a trillion dollars, nobody can really perceive who is paying for the massive income transfer to the government's cronies.  Even in the U.K., with about 64 million people, they run annual deficits of 5 - 10% of GDP, and have a cumulative debt of almost 80% of GDP, without the people really being able to tell how destructive it is.  But Scotland is only about 5.25 million people.  Somehow countries of this size are among those with the most responsible economic policies and the best economic results.  Think Switzerland (8 million), Singapore (5.4 million), Hong Kong (7.2 million), Norway (5.1 million).

At least according to what the leader of the Scottish National Party is saying, they have no intention of implementing dramatic changes in policy in a leftward direction.  For example, asked recently at a debate about taxes, party leader Alex Salmond responded

"We don't have proposals for changing taxation. We certainly are not going to put ourselves at a tax disadvantage with the rest of the UK."

So I think the worst thing that would happen to Scotland would be that they adopt something of a "blue state" model akin to New York, Illinois or California, and then find themselves in a position of slow relative decline compared to their more dynamic, lower-tax colleagues to the south -- much like New York and California find themselves in relative decline compared to Texas.  New Yorkers and Californians seem OK with that, but I think it's because the decline in New York and California is taking place out in the hinterlands where the smart set can't see it happening.  Scotland is small enough that the Scots are likely to see it happening and do something about it.

And meanwhile, England will be freed of those 40 Scottish Labour MPs constantly trying to vote themselves subsidies with someone else's money.  A frequently noted aspect of the Scottish independence debate is that Scotland is seeking to exit the U.K. even though Scotland is a net recipient of subsidies from the U.K.  Here is David Boaz writing today in USA today:

Critics of independence often say that Scotland is subsidized by wealthier England. The analysis is controversial, but it does appear that the United Kingdom spends about £1,500 ($2,500) more per person in Scotland than it does nationally. If it is true, as many British conservatives say, that Scots are whiny subsidy-suckers, then take them off the dole.

Somehow, this makes independence sound like a win, win to me.  The Scots get their independence and the English don't have to subsidize them any more.  And the English get a more conservative government at least somewhat likely to spend less money on foolish subsidy schemes.






How About The Food Insecurity Scam?

Perhaps you think I was a little over the top and harsh yesterday in writing about the poverty scam.  The government's "anti-poverty" efforts can't just be completely designed to fail intentionally and deceive the public, can they?  Really, our government would never do such a thing.  Would they?

Well, if you still have your doubts, consider the related topic of "food insecurity."  The government just came out with its latest annual report on that subject a couple of days ago.  The report was covered in an op-ed by James Bovard in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.  While poverty is a big and potentially complicated subject, "food insecurity" is very discrete and focused.  It's like the Rick Perry prosecution -- there's nothing about it that you can't understand in about 10 minutes.

The "food insecurity" scam starts with an annual survey conducted by the Department of Agriculture (DOA).  The survey has multiple questions, but the heart of the matter is question 1:

We worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.” Was that often, sometimes, or never true for you in the last 12 months?

Notice that the question asks only whether you "worried" about running out of food and does not ask whether you were ever "hungry" and if so for how long.  Actually I myself was hungry today (it was a few hours ago, right before dinner).  But anyway, if you respond that you ever "worried" about running out of food, you are classified as having been "food insecure."

This survey began back in 1995, in the Clinton administration, although it had some predecessors going back a little farther.  Why then?  Here is a history of the survey from an advocacy organization (FRAC).  The reason they give?  "[M]any communities across the country experienced an enormous increase in demand for emergency food, often among families with children."  My take:  There was a new Republican Congress, and the government and advocacy groups became desperately worried that someone was going to declare that the food stamp program and other government food programs (WIC, CNP) had ended the problem of hunger in the United States.  A metric was needed that could be somehow vaguely associated with hunger and yet would be impervious to decrease no matter how much food aid and assistance might be provided by the government.  Take a look at that survey question, and you will see that it is perfectly designed for this purpose.  And they were right:  it turns out that year in and year out, in good times and bad, and no matter how much food aid is provided by the government and in what form, somewhere between one person in ten and one in seven gives a positive response to the question of whether they ever "worried" about running out of food.  You can make your own decision as to whether this food insecurity thing was totally dishonest from the get-go, as opposed to only partially dishonest.  I go with totally dishonest.

But even if there was some honesty in devising the metric, there isn't even a hint of honesty in its use.  In his WSJ article, Bovard quotes several Democratic party sources, up to and including President Obama, as taking the "food insecurity" number and immediately equating it, falsely, with "hunger."  Obama (relying on a 2009 "food insecurity" survey): "hunger rose significantly last year" and promis[ing] to reverse "the trend of rising hunger."  The Washington Post (relying on the "food insecurity" survey):  "Hunger a growing problem in America, USDA reports."  The New York Times (also relying on the same survey): "Hunger in U.S. at a 14-Year High."

Bovard notes that in 2006 the National Academy of Sciences, in a half-hearted stab at honesty, urged the DOA to explicitly state that the "food insecurity" numbers are not an estimate of nationwide hunger.

The [DOA] responded by dropping any mention of "hunger" in the survey's response categories. Nevertheless, the survey's results continue to be pervasively misrepresented as an accurate measure of hunger in America.

They dropped any mention of "hunger," but they completely knew that the whole purpose of this study is to allow its results to be misrepresented far and wide as a measure of hunger.  Bovard doesn't quote them, but literally every advocacy organization in the "hunger" space uses the "food insecurity" survey to claim a crisis of hunger in the United States.  Feeding America: 

In many ways, America is the land of plenty. But for 1 in 6 people in the United States, hunger is a very real struggle. . . .   Right now, millions of Americans are at risk of hunger. 

No Kid Hungry:

Hunger prevents kids from reaching their full potential.  It's an epidemic that's threatening America's future. . . .  More than 16 million kids in America live in households that struggle to put food on the table.


The financial and economic crisis that erupted in 2008 caused a dramatic increase in hunger in the United States.  This high level of hunger continued in 2012, according to the latest government report [citing the food insecurity report].

And there are many, many more along the same lines.  Bovard concludes by calling it "paradoxical" that food insecurity may actually increase as participation in government food programs increases:

A 2007 Journal of Nutrition study concluded that families receiving food stamps are over 50% more likely to be "food insecure" than similar households not on food stamps. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office reported that food-stamp participants "tend to be more food insecure" compared with eligible nonparticipants. A 2013 Harvard School of Public Health study also found that enrolling in the food-stamp program failed to significantly boost participants' food security or dietary quality.

Wow, is that an overly nice way to characterize something that is a scam from top to bottom.  There is nothing "paradoxical" about this.  The whole idea of using "food insecurity" as the metric is to have something that is completely impervious to going down no matter how much is spent to solve the problem.  Oh, it actually goes up???  Even better!!!!  Yes, the whole design of the food stamp program is that it forces poor people, who may not be the most together people in the world, to manage a monthly budget and make it last to the end of the month.  Of course they are going to feel "food insecure" at some point!  You could double, or triple, or quadruple the spending on food stamps, and this would still be true.

What I find remarkable is that it's the same organization, the DOA, that both runs the food stamp program and puts out the "food insecurity" surveys.  Don't you think they would be ashamed that their massive $80 billion per year program of food distribution (food stamps, aka SNAP) didn't ever make a dent in the problem they claimed to be trying to solve, namely "food insecurity"?  Shouldn't they be saying, "OK, we blew it.  It's time for somebody else to take over with a new approach"?  It's just incredible that in the world of government total failure is in fact the best advocacy tool for yet more money to go back and fail again.  They design their measurement metric to be absolutely sure that they will always be found to have totally failed.

Now, of course, the government could design an honest "hunger" survey.  Such a survey would ask questions like, "During the year, were you ever hungry for as long as a full day due to having insufficient resources to buy food?" followed by "Did you participate in the food stamp program?  If not, why not?" and "Did you visit a local food pantry or soup kitchen?  If not, why not?"  These questions are highly likely to come up with the result that the number of Americans experiencing actual serious "hunger" during a year is a very small fraction of those currently reported as experiencing "food insecurity."  Could it be as much as 2% of the population?  (Remember, in America today, the poor consume well more calories than the affluent and have a far higher rate of obesity.)  Whatever the results, they wouldn't be much use for selling the public on increasing the food program spending.  So you can be sure that this survey will never be conducted.  We will never actually find out how many Americans experience real hunger in a year.  

Shouldn't We Be Getting Angry About The Poverty Scam?

Close to one trillion dollars of annual "anti-poverty" spending at all levels of government, and yet the so-called poverty rate never goes down, not even by a little.  In the latest reports from the Census Bureau the poverty rate continues to hover right around 15%, pretty much right where it was when the War on Poverty began in 1964, more than $20 trillion of "anti-poverty" spending ago.  But since the population has grown over that 50 year period, the number of people in government-defined "poverty" has actually increased, from under 30 million people to almost 50 million people.

How is it even possible to spend that much money and not alleviate "poverty" even by a little?  And particularly, how is it possible given that "poverty" by the government's definition is entirely an issue of money income, and could, if the government chose, be completely ended in a day simply by passing out enough of the "anti-poverty" spending in cash to cure the problem -- and the amount of cash that it would take is less than a third of the current "anti-poverty" spending?

The answer is, it takes a lot of work to keep up the facade that "poverty" has not gone down despite all the spending.    New and costly "anti-poverty" programs must be carefully designed and implemented to be sure that none of the spending will be counted to reduce measured poverty even by a little.  Clever arguments must be devised to somehow make it seem plausible that even handouts nearly indistinguishable from cash, like food stamps and the EITC, should not be counted in determining poverty status.  Data to be released must be carefully edited and formatted so as to bury and conceal the existence of millions of people deemed in "poverty" by government measures whom no one would consider poor, such as twenty-somethings from affluent families looking for their first job, students, early retirees, and business owners having a losing year. 

What is not possible is to keep up the facade of never-declining poverty and also do it honestly.  If they just went through the motions and let the numbers turn out as they may, there would be no way to keep that trillion of annual spending from making poverty go down, and by a lot.  The so-called "poverty rate" of necessity is a reverse-engineered number: they decide first approximately what "poverty rate" to achieve in order to sell the public on more "anti-poverty" spending, and then they back into the series of decisions about program design and what to count and not count in order to achieve that level.  We have reached the point where the published "poverty rate" has long since ceased to bear any relationship to whatever real poverty -- physical deprivation poverty -- may persist, with no way to tell from the data which part of the poverty is real (physical deprivation) and which part is completely contrived by cynical government functionaries manipulating the definitions, the program design, the decisions on what to count, the survey questions, and the like.

The problem is that the game has gone on so long, and so far, that it is way beyond being hidden any more.  What I can't understand is the level of good will that the people show toward the government operatives who continue to practice deception, or attempted deception, with numbers that obviously on their face cannot possibly be honest.  It's like a Ponzi scheme, a Madoff-type scam, that has long since blown up, and yet everyone keeps pretending that nothing is wrong.    Shouldn't people be angry -- really angry -- that the government takes a trillion dollars of their money every year and yet can't spend any of it in a way that even slightly addresses the problem as defined, won't give any honest information on how the problem as defined is being addressed or fixed, and uses obviously dishonest numbers to advocate for yet more of the same useless waste?  And yet, with the government presenting numbers that are obviously fake on their face, the reaction of almost all of the public seems to be, well, it's the government so it must be right.

If you would like to read a piece of sheer idiocy on this subject, check out "What Makes People Poor?" by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times on September 2.  Edsall has an appalling ignorance of what the term "poverty" means in the government definition, and his article is pervaded by the fallacy that what the government calls "poverty" has some resemblance to the usual understanding of the term, namely physical deprivation.  Edsall bemoans the divide between left and right in their thinking about the causes of poverty, and thinks he has come up with a synthesis that can unite the views of both sides, and thereby come up with "programs" to solve the problems of poverty and inequality:

The emergence of a rough ideological consensus on the causes of poverty and inequality would increase the likelihood of, but by no means guarantee, agreement on such initiatives as raising the minimum wage, increasing and expanding the scope of the earned-income tax credit, programs promoting marriage and paternal involvement, as well as stronger efforts to improve the quality of education, especially in poor neighborhoods.

Is it possible to be this ignorant?  Let's take these one at a time:

  • Raising the minimum wage.  This is almost certain to increase, rather than decrease, measured poverty and inequality.  The reason is that people who actually work full time at the minimum wage for the whole year make enough to exceed the poverty thresholds in nearly all cases, so raising the minimum wage does not remove them from "poverty."  (The poverty population consists almost entirely of people who don't work, or work only a little.)  To the extent that raising the minimum wage increases unemployment, it increases the number of zero earners, and that increases measured poverty and inequality.  You may think that raising the minimum wage has little effect in increasing unemployment, but that only means that raising the minimum wage increases poverty only a little.  There is no scenario in which raising the minimum wage decreases measured poverty.
  • Expanding the EITC.  Could it be possible that Edsall does not know that the EITC does not count in the measure of poverty?  Check out this from left-wing site vox: "Everyone's favorite anti-poverty program doesn't reduce the poverty rate."  The failure to count the EITC in the measure of poverty is one of the most despicable elements of the poverty scam. 
  • Programs promoting marriage and paternal involvement.  "Paternal involvement" has absolutely no impact on measured "poverty."  Suppose the unmarried dad gives the girlfriend and kids $50,000 per year to support them?  It doesn't count!  That's gifts, and not "cash income."  Marriage?  That would count.  Kindly explain to me what exactly these "programs supporting marriage" are supposed to be, in the face of massive handouts of apartments and Medicaid and food stamps and cell phones that are only available if the woman and kids show little or no "cash income," in other words, stay unmarried.  No "program" is going to have the slightest impact in the face of the hundreds of billions of dollars of handouts that are available in return for staying unmarried.
  • Efforts to improve the quality of education.  Tom, "poverty" turns only on "cash income" in the current year.  Better education may have some impact on cash income -- 20 years from now when today's kids are in the labor force. 

No these are the proposals of the left, indeed not all of the left, but the ignorant left.  I don't think the right will be coming together with them on any of this any time soon.  

Catching Up With The Manhattan Contrarian

Please note that the cover story in the current issue of The Economist of London is titled "The World's Biggest Shakedown?  The Criminalisation Of American Business."  It is behind their pay wall, unfortunately, but I highly recommend it.  Note that this subject has been covered by the Manhattan Contrarian in articles on August 24, 2014, August 19, 2014, July 13, 2014, September 24, 2013, July 25, 2013, and July 1, 2013, among others.  My first article on the subject was in 1999 and published in the Federalist Society journal Engage. 

Glad to see at least someone else is starting to pay attention.  How about you, New York Times?  Prediction:  as loyal shills for the Democratic Party, they will get on the bandwagon only when it is a Republican occupying a high-level prosecutor's office and conducting an indefensible prosecution.

Thomas Piketty And The Economics Of Jealousy

It seems like only yesterday the big crisis in the U.S. economy was our very low rate of personal savings.  In a complex economy requiring more and more capital to produce a dollar of GDP, how can we expect to stay successful if nobody saves?  The rate of personal savings in the U.S. hit a low of only 1.5% in 2005, and since has recovered some, to 3.9% by 2012 and then to just over 5% today.  But still that compares to rates of over 10% in many European countries and much higher in Asia.  A study from the People's Bank of China in 2013 put the personal savings rate in China close to 50%, at least in some months.

As recently as 2013 you could still find articles talking about this personal savings crisis.  Here is one from Leslie Kramer of CNBC in May 2013.

Many economists and fund industry experts say that unless Americans change their spending habits and learn how to save, we will soon be facing a full blown retirement crisis and it may be turn out to be a deeper and more harrowing experience than many have already envisioned. 

Back then (barely more than a year ago) people analyzing why our savings rate was so low often pointed to the very poor incentives to save, starting with the Fed's near-zero interest rate policy, followed by high taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains.  With interest rates on bank savings and money market funds well less than 1%, and even that 1% taxed as ordinary income, and with at least some inflation, however minimal, it is clear that cash and near cash investments have been earning negative returns for years.  Longer term fixed income investments may earn barely positive returns after taxes and inflation, but those could well get wiped out by principal declines when interest rates start to rise.  You can buy higher interest "junk" bonds, but at your peril -- they can default and wipe out your investment at any time.  Equities have earned strong returns over long periods, but subject to periodic sharp and sickening declines, such as the decline of over 50% that occurred in 2008 - 09.  And if you do have long-held equity investments that have appreciated substantially, then when you sell them you must pay capital gains tax on all the appreciation, most of which will be inflation rather than real gain.  In short, if you save and invest in the U.S., between Fed policy, taxes, and wide market swings, you could as easily lose as gain.  No wonder the savings rate is low.

Then earlier this year came out the translation of Thomas Piketty's book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century."  I haven't seen anything about the crisis of low personal savings since.  Is it coincidence?

I will not claim to have read Piketty's book from end to end (I'm not sure that's even possible).  However, I have bought it and looked through it for highlights.  On the kindle, where after you buy a book they can track of how much of it you have read, this has been declared the least-read book of the year -- less read than even Hillary Clinton's "Hard Choices," if you can imagine that.  Still, if you are left-wing economist you are seemingly required to declare this one of the greatest economics books of all time.  Gushingly favorable notices have come from the likes of Nobel Prize winners Robert Solow, Joseph Stiglitz and, of course, Official Manhattan Contrarian Worst Economics Writer Paul Krugman.  In the New York Review of Books Krugman calls "Capital" a "magnificent, sweeping meditation on inequality."

Piketty asserts that inequality is high and increasing and that he has identified the key to understanding why.  It is that r > g.  r is the rate of return on capital; g is the rate of growth of the economy.  If the rate of return on existing capital exceeds the rate of economic growth, then, asserts Piketty, the owners of existing wealth get richer faster than anyone else can catch up with them.  In other words, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  From page 377:

We have also learned that the relative movements of the return on capital and the rate of growth of the economy, and therefore of the difference between them, r - g, can explain many of the observed changes, including the logic of accumulation that accounts for the very high concentration of wealth that we see throughout much of human history.

Aha!  Now you tell us that all you have to do is save some and you are on the ineluctable path to becoming a plutocrat!  The former crisis of low personal savings does not fit with this and is no longer part of the narrative.  

But wait:  is r really greater than g when the government has been running for years a zero interest rate policy specifically to make it so that nobody can earn any positive return on savings?  I can't seem to find the answer to that here.  I do find this on the same page 377:

In all likelihood, inheritance will again play a significant role in the twenty-first century, comparable to its role in the past. . . .  Whenever the rate of return on capital is significantly and durably higher than the growth rate of the economy, it is all but inevitable that inheritance (of fortunes accumulated in the past) predominates over saving (wealth accumulated in the present). . . .  The inequality r > g in one sense implies that the past tends to devour the future: wealth originating in the past automatically grows more rapidly, even without labor, than wealth stemming from work, which can be saved.  Almost inevitably, this tends to give lasting disproportionate importance to inequalities created in the past, and therefore to inheritance.

That sounds a lot more like a prediction for the future than an explanation of why we supposedly have too much inequality today.  And what basis does Piketty have to predict that inherited wealth will come to dominate in the future?  Got me.  Even if you grant that r is greater than g, or has been for some substantial periods in the past, if that meant that inherited wealth would dominate, shouldn't we now be dominated by the heirs of the Vanderbilts, the Fords, the Carnegies, the Morgans, and so forth.  Instead, as Jonah Goldberg points out in Commentary, most large fortunes in the United States seem to dissipate or get eclipsed quickly, while almost all the largest fortunes today have been made in the current generation:

Fewer than 1 in 10 of the 400 wealthiest Americans on the Forbes list in 1982 were still there in 2012. (Lawrence Summers notes that if Piketty was right about the stable return on capital, they should have all stayed on the list.) Of the 20 biggest fortunes on the Forbes list in 2013, 17 (85 percent) were self-made. Of the three remaining entries, only one—the Mars candy family—goes back three generations. 

Oh well.  Maybe it doesn't really matter if any of this is true or not.  You need to get way toward the back of the book (past page 500) before you get to the really important point:  we must take the wealth away from those who have gotten too rich!  And thus we find proposals for much higher marginal income tax rates and for a global wealth tax to prevent anyone from getting too rich.  And how rich is too rich?

A[n income tax] rate of 80 percent applied to incomes above $500,000 or $1 million a year would not bring the government much in the way of revenue, because it would quickly fulfill its objective: to drastically reduce remuneration at this level but without reducing the productivity of the US economy, so that pay would rise at lower levels. 

Up to this point in the book I thought that the problem was the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few and the passing of that wealth by inheritance; now all of a sudden the problem is current income above a certain level.  Piketty is explicit that his desire for this tax is not to raise revenue (to his credit he admits that it won't raise much) but rather to punish anyone who dares to be too successful.  And is it just my cynicism, or is that level of "$500,000 or $1 million a year" picked to be just above the level that an academic economist with a modestly successful book can expect to earn?  Somehow, all the proposals for punitive action against the evil "one percent" always seem to come from people in percents 2 and 3.  Those people are themselves very affluent, but somehow consumed by jealousy.  That's not much of a basis for economic policy.