Start-ups and Safety Nets

October 30, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cross-posted at Sociological Images.

Is socialized medicine the road to serfdom, a snare that will sap people of their independence?  Or is it liberating?

James Wimberly had a great post yesterday at The Reality Based Community (here), and I’m neither too proud nor too ethical to steal his data and summarize his idea.

George W. Bush did not really say, “The problem with the French is that they have no word for entrepreneur.”  But that statement does fit with the American tendency to view our country as the land of entrepreneurship (literally “enterprise”).  America is, after all, the land of opportunity, where anyone can become rich.  And the way to get rich is to be an independent, risk-taking entrepreneur and start your own business.  That’s what we do here in the US, and we do it better than most.  At least that’s what we think.

But look at this chart showing the rate of start-ups per working-age population.

The US ranks 23rd.  That doesn’t quite square with all those photo-ops where the president (Obama, Bush, Clinton – they all do it) goes to some small successful company out in the heartland.  What is it about these other countries that makes for more risk-taking?

Wimberly has an answer: the safety net.  He makes the point with an analogy – his own photos of kids on a rope-walk – a single rope hung between two platforms in what looks like the Brazilian rain forest.  (It’s really just a replanted hillside, formerly the site of a favela). The kids have safety devices – hard hats, a safety harness, guide-ropes to hold on to.  Without these, only a few of the most f oolhardy would try a Philippe Petit walk.  But the safety devices allow lots of kids to take a risk they would otherwise avoid. 

The same logic applies to small business.
How many Americans are locked into jobs they hate by the fear of losing health benefits? No Dane ever has to worry about losing her right to medical care by quitting her job to go it alone
Safety devices cost money, but they pay off.  On the rope-walk, you can see the reward in the expression on the kids’ faces when they reach the other platform.  In the national data, you see it in the those start-ups.
The countries with significantly higher startup rates than the USA are those with stronger, more comprehensive, and more centralised social safety nets, along with correspondingly higher taxation.
See Wimberly’s entire post – with the photos, footnotes, and comments – for a fuller explanation.

The Use of Bad Words (Two F**king Links)

October 29, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

I’m not a huge fan of curse words, though I know some people swear by them.  Repeat them, and they quickly lose whatever effect they might have had,* and then what do you use for emphasis or surprise.

There are exceptions, like Ian Frazier’s “Cursing Mommy” (here  for example).   And then there’s Colin Nissan’s recent essay  in McSweeny’s on decorative gourds for autumn.  I laughed out loud when I read it.  Then I went back and mentally removed the curse words, and it was just not funny.  Try it.

* Sometimes draining the word of its impact is the goal of such repetition, as when David Bradley (you mean you haven’t read The Chaneysville Incident?) teaches Huckleberry Finn to high school students.
“One of the first things I do is I make everybody say it out loud about six or seven times,” Bradley said.
“The N-word?” Pitts [the “60 Minutes” inteviewer] asked.
“Yeah, ‘nigger.’ Get over it,” Bradley replied, laughing. “You know. Now let's talk about the book.”

Words and Pictures

October 27, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cross-posted at Sociological Images

Newspapers report facts – thing that actually happened.  They run photos of things that actually happened.  They don’t make stuff up.  But they do choose which facts to report, and they do choose which photos to run.    Usually the two are congruent. 

But not always.  Wonkette ran this photo of a page from the Washington Post. 

Wonkette and other sites have contrasted the photo with this video of a cop deliberately firing a tear gas canister at close range directly at a group of demonstrators who had come to aid of someone who had been hit in the head with a tear gas canister.

But what’s also noteworthy is the contrast between the photo (nice cop, nice kitty, nothing violent happening here) and the Post’s own lede:   “Police fired tear gas and beanbags. . . .”

You’re the Boss?

October 26, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Why do people work?  More specifically, why do some people work more and others less?

N. Gregory Mankiw has an idea, which he shared with us in Sunday’s New York Times.
Here are two facts about the French economy. First, gross domestic product per capita in France is 29 percent less than it is in the United States, in large part because the French work many fewer hours over their lifetimes than Americans do. Second, the French are taxed more than Americans. In 2009, taxes were 24 percent of G.D.P. in the United States but 42 percent in France.

Economists debate whether higher taxation in France and other European nations is the cause of the reduced work effort and incomes there. Perhaps it is something else entirely — a certain joie de vivre that escapes the nose-to-the-grindstone American culture.

The French spend about 15% less time, on average, in paid work each day (251 minutes to our 289).  (OECD summary and spreadsheet here).  Over a lifetime, as Mankiw says, those 38 minutes a day add up to many fewer hours over the course of a lifetime. (I’m not sure why lifetime hours is the appropriate measure when GDP is computed as an annual figure.  Whatever.)

Mankiw is an economist, a very successful economist – best-selling textbook, head of Bush II’s Council of Economic Advisers, currently Mitt Romney’s chief economic adviser.  So he takes the economist’s view of motivation: how much people work depends on how much money they can make.  (Mankiw throws in that bit about culture, but I doubt he puts much stock in it and that what he thinks work is really all about is making money and keeping it, i.e., income and taxes.) 

Mankiw seems to assume that the decision of how much to work rests entirely with the worker.  That’s certainly true for Mankiw himself (see my earlier post on Mankiw’s work decisions here ).  But many of us workers don’t have that kind of autonomy.  So to get another view of sources of input into this decision of how much to work, I turned to the economic observations of Eddie Cochran:
Every time I call my baby, and try to get a date
My boss says, “No dice son, you gotta work late.”
Yes Gregory, there are bosses.  Even in our American “nose-to-the-grindstone” culture, people say, “I have to work late tonight.”  Have you ever heard anyone say, “I’m going to work late tonight because I want to make more money – especially now that my income tax has been reduced by two percentage points”?  No doubt, there are people like that.  But most of the hours in the French and US data are accounted for by people whose hours are determined by external forces.* 

That French employee doesn’t just decide all by himself, “I think I’ll spend an extra hour at lunch today and give up an hour’s wage.”  How much we work is economic and maybe a little cultural.  It’s also a matter of politics.  There are contracts and laws that are the outcome of organized efforts – by unions and political parties – to limit how much employers can demand of employees.   Those laws that affect how much people work may be shaped by culture – shared ideas about work and life.  It’s less clear that they are shaped by taxes.

* In the last two years, many people in the US are working shorter hours than they were before 2008.  Some have reduced their work hours to zero.  I doubt that this reduction  reflects an increased joie de vivre.

It seems incredible to me that a guy as smart as Mankiw can ignore those external constraints on people, assuming instead that workers make these decisions as free and independent individuals, unfettered by institutions, calculating their individual benefits and costs.  But now I’m reminded of Fabio Rojas’s post of nearly five years ago, “What Economists Should Learn From Sociology.”  Number two on Fabio’s list was “Social networks/social structure matters. Simple idea but few economists sit around and model the effects of social structure.”

The Big Shill

October 25, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Jay Smooth, posted a rap (here) with an outstanding analogy.  The media, he says, in its reaction to Occupy Wall Street, is like the shill in the three-card monte game. (Mr. Smooth did not name names, but you get the sense he watches a lot of Fox.)
The ringer’s* job is to pretend they’re an objective outside observer commenting on the game when they’re actually part of the hustle who’s there to help bamboozle the public into thinking this game is legitimate.
Like this other Jay, I too used to watch the 3-card-monte teams in Times Square back in the 80s. 
I liked listening to the dealers’ rhythmic, rhyming rap, and I admired the sleight-of-hand. (The basic move is very simple, but sometimes you’d see a truly skillful dealer who could work the bent-corner variation.) 

Mostly, I took a Goffman-esque delight in watching the game, seeing how each person played his role, creating the illusion that the game was honest and winnable, trying to manipulate potential marks using no weapon except self-presentation. Even when a knowing mark did pick the right card, the team had a ruse to avoid the loss while still keeping the appearance of an honest game. The shill would jump in with a $40 bet on a different card, and the dealer would turn that card up, collect the shill’s money and push the mark’s $20 back. “Sorry, only one bet per shuffle.”

It always seemed obvious to me who the shills were. They looked like the dealer (both were usually black in the sea of mostly white tourists) and dressed like the dealer, and they seemed utterly unfazed when they lost a twenty or two on what to the onlookers was obviously the wrong card. Even the occasional white shill (a “salt and pepper” team), with scruffy appearance and clothing, looked less like the passers-by and more like the dealer.

One afternoon as I was walking in Times Square, I saw a young man standing at a 3-card-monte table.** He looked like a preppy college kid from central casting – blonde hair, white polo shirt, green cotton cable-knit sweater knotted loosely over his shoulders. He had reached in his pocket and was fingering a $20, about to make a bet. I don’t know why I suddenly felt protective – maybe I didn’t want our tourists to dislike the city – but I moved up just behind him and said quietly, “If it was as easy as it looks, do you think he’d be here?”

The kid said nothing. He watched as the dealer tossed the cards (“the red, you’re ahead, the black’ll set you back”) and when the dealer stopped (“who saw it – just like that”), the kid put his $20 down. Hadn’t he heard me?

The dealer turned over the queen of hearts and put his $20 on top of it. (“I don’t get mad when I lose, I just grin when I win”), and the kid stayed to play again. And again.

Now that, I thought, is a shill.

* Jay Smooth calls this role the “ringer.” I was brought up to call it the shill. Academic journal write-ups of psych experiments back in the day, the pre-IRB day, referred to them as “confederates of the experimenter.” Makes it sound more legitimate, don’t you think? But the deceptions of those psych profs would have left the 3-card monte guys drooling with envy and eager to learn.
** The “table” was a flattened cardboard box resting on another cardboard box – easily kicked down and left behind if the cops came by.

(The photo is borrowed from Ephemeral New York)

Dictatorships Are People, My Friend*

October 23, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

We usually think of a dictatorship as a ship run by dictator – a strongman, a tyrant who has absolute power and can do anything he likes to anyone he doesn’t like.  True, but it’s important to remember that dictatorship is not just a matter of personality.  It is also a structure.  Even a Saddam or a Khaddafi doesn’t do it all by himself.  To carry out his directives, he needs other people in other organizations – a coalition of the willing.  These usually include the military, but there may also be economic organizations, bureaucracies, and other groups whose strength the “strong man” needs.  He has to make sure that they remain willing.

Any dictator worth his salt tries to minimize the power of these groups and to arrogate as much power as he can to himself and his family. Often, that is not possible, and the dictator must allow these others wealth and power in return for their loyalty. But even when it’s all in the family, he has to keep the family happy.  Unhappy families are all alike – they can dissolve into conflict and even treachery. 

This is one of the messages of The Dictator’s Handbook  by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith.

Now, for those who are preoccupied with Wall Street, with its huge salaries and bonuses despite financial failure, Joshua Tucker at The Monkey Cage , extracts the money quote from The Handbook
In terms of the political organization of businesses, large publically [sic] traded companies most closely resemble rigged election autocracies. There are typically millions of people – shareholders – with a nominal say in the choice of chief executive. But in reality the decision to retain a leader comes down to the choices of senior executives, board members and possibly a few large institutional investors.  No executive lasts long if he does not keep this small group happy, which is why such insiders receive large bonuses and rewards even as the organization fails.

* Most readers will recognize the allusion in the title of this post.  For those who don’t follow the GOP all that closely, the reference is here.

Lessons in Journalism

October 21, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Ah, the New York Post.  Some years ago, I said here that regardless of the actual content of the front page headline, the subtext is almost always the same.

This morning, the Post was playing off the old journalistic cliche: Go for the local angle.  While stuffy papers like the Times and the Wall Street Journal reported the death of Khadafy as an international story, the Post nailed the real import of the event for us New Yorkers.

If Your Survey Doesn’t Find What You Want It to Find . . .

October 19, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston(Cross posted at Sociological Images)

. . . say that it did.

Doug Schoen is a pollster who wants the Democrats to distance themselves from the Occupy Wall Street protesters.   (Schoen is Mayor Bloomberg’s pollster.  He has also worked for Bill Clinton.)  In The Wall Street Journal yesterday (here),  he reported on a survey done by a researcher at his firm.  She interviewed 200 of the protesters in Zucotti Park.

Here is Schoen’s overall take:
What binds a large majority of the protesters together—regardless of age, socioeconomic status or education—is a deep commitment to left-wing policies: opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas.
I suppose it’s nitpicking to point out that the survey did not ask about SES or education.  Even if it had, breaking the 200 respondents down into these categories would give numbers too small for comparison. 

More to the point, that “large majority” opposed to free-market capitalism is 4% – eight of the people interviewed.  Another eight said they wanted “radical redistribution of wealth.”  So at most, 16 people, 8%, mentioned these goals.  (The full results of the survey are available here.)
What would you like to see the Occupy Wall Street movement achieve? {Open Ended}
35% Influence the Democratic Party the way the Tea Party has influenced the GOP
4% Radical redistribution of wealth 5% Overhaul of tax system: replace income tax with flat tax
7% Direct Democracy
9% Engage & mobilize Progressives 
9% Promote a national conversation
11% Break the two-party duopoly
4% Dissolution of our representative democracy/capitalist system  4% Single payer health care
4% Pull out of Afghanistan immediately 
8% Not sure
Schoen’s distortion reminded me of this photo that I took on Saturday (it was our semi-annual Sociology New York Walk, and Zucotti Park was our first stop).

The big poster in the foreground, the one that captures your attention, is radical militance – the waif from the “Les Mis” poster turned revolutionary.  But the specific points on the sign at the right are conventional liberal policies – the policies of the current Administration.*

There are other ways to misinterpret survey results.  Here is Schoen in the WSJ:
Sixty-five percent say that government has a moral responsibility to guarantee all citizens access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement—no matter the cost.
Here is the actual question:
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Government has a moral responsibility to guarantee healthcare, college education, and a secure retirement for all.
“No matter the cost” is not in the question.  As careful survey researchers know, even slight changes in wording can affect responses.  And including or omitting “no matter the cost” is hardly a slight change.

As evidence for the extreme radicalism of the protestors, Schoen says,
By a large margin (77%-22%), they support raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans,
Schoen doesn’t bother to mention that this isn’t much different from what you’d find outside Zucotti Park.  Recent polls by Pew and Gallup find support for increased taxes on the wealthy ($250,000 or more) at 67%.  (Given the small sample size of the Zucotti poll, 67% may be within the margin of error.)  Gallup also finds the majorities of two-thirds or more think that banks, large corporations, and lobbyists have too much power. 
Thus Occupy Wall Street is a group of engaged progressives who are disillusioned with the capitalist system and have a distinct activist orientation. . . . .Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before.
That means that half the protesters were never politically active until Occupy Wall Street inspired them.

Reading Schoen, you get the impression that these are hard-core activists, old hands at political demonstrations, with Phil Ochs on their iPods and a well-thumbed copy of “The Manifesto” in their pockets.  In fact, the protesters were mostly young people with not much political experience who wanted to work within the system (i.e., with the Democratic party) to achieve fairly conventional goals, like keeping the financial industry from driving the economy into a ditch again.

And according to a recent Time survey, more than half of America views them favorably.

* There were other signs with other messages.  In fact, sign-making seemed to be one of the major activities in Zucotti Park.  Some of them. like these, did not seem designed to get much play in the media. 

Sex, Society, and Spatial Ability

October 18, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cross posted at Sociological Images

It’s the kind of finding to warm the hearts of us liberal, Larry-Summers-hating,  gender-egalitarians.  Summers – you saw him in “The Social Network” as the Harvard president who had no patience for the Winklevoss twins (he didn’t have much patience for Cornell West either and probably many other things) – suggested that the dearth of women in top science and engineering positions was caused not so much by social forces as by innate sex differences in math ability. (More here and many other places.)

As others were quick to point out, those differences are greater in societies with greater gender inequality.  That’s why the math gender gap in the US has become much narrower.  In societies with greater equality, like Sweden, Norway, and Israeli kibbutzim, the male-female gap in math disappears.* But even in those societies, males still score higher on spatial reasoning. 

I’m sure that evol-psych has some explanation for why male brains evolved to be more adept at spatial reasoning.  I’m equally sure that those who favor social explanations can find residual sexism even in Sweden to explain spatial differences.  That’s why a field experiment reported last summer is so interesting.

The research team (Moshe Hoffman and colleagues, link to pdf here) tested people from two tribes in northern India – the Karbi and the Khasi.  These had once been a single tribe but had split recently – a few hundred years ago.  (Recent is a relative term, and we’re talking evolution here.)  So they were similar economically (subsistence farming of rice) and genetically.
  • The Karbi are patrilineal.  Only the men own property, and they pass that property to their sons.  Males get more education. 
  • Khasi society is matrilineal.  Men turn their earnings over to their wives.  Only women own property, which is passed along only to daughters.  Males and females have similar levels of education.

Researchers went to four villages of each tribe, recruited subjects to solve this puzzle

They offered an additional 20 rupees if the subject could solve the puzzle in 30 seconds or less. 

In the patrilineal society, women were much slower to solve the puzzle than were men.  But among the matrilineal Khasi, the difference was negligible.

The results are encouraging, at least for those who argue for greater gender equality.  But I’m not sure how much weight to give this one study, mostly because of sample size.  Is the sample the 1300 villagers who worked the puzzle?  Or is it 1 – one inter-tribal comparison?


* Even a small difference in the means will make for a large difference in who is represented in the tail of the distribution.  Imagine two groups with average height a half-inch apart – Group Blue 5' 10", Group Red 5' 10 ½". 
Pink shows overlap
If you’re picking a basketball team randomly (from the pink part of the distribution), you’ll probably wind up with as many Blues as Reds.  But if you’re choosing from among those few who are 6' 6" or taller, you’re going to have more Reds.

Summers was arguing not that there was a difference in the means but that the variation was greater among males.  That wider distribution as well would make for a preponderance of males in the upper reaches of the scale (and at the lower end).

Ground Zero - The Sacred and the Profane

October 14, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

What’s so infuriating about reading David Brooks is that sometimes he gets it right, but then in the next sentence, he’ll veer off in the wrong direction.  (Translation: Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes I disagree.)

Today (here) Brooks is writing about the rebuilding at Ground Zero and about Chris Ward, who was brought in to organize the whole project when it had become badly bogged down in conflict. 
Ward quickly understood his mission: to take a sacred cause and turn it into a building project. That is to say, to demystify it, to see it as it really is and not through the gauze of everybody’s emotions surrounding 9/11.
Ward’s approach, as Brooks says, was to  desacralize the mission, and Brooks picks out the detail that epitomizes this change
He changed the name of Freedom Tower to One World Trade Center.
But then Brooks tries to see Ground Zero as just one more example of a more general trend.
Maybe it’s part of living in a postmaterialist economy, but nearly every practical question becomes a values question. . . .  Many issues that were once concrete and practical are distorted because they have become symbolic and spiritual.
Tax policy, gun control, and Green Tech, says Brooks, all crumple under the weight of this symbolism.  Yes, these issues (he could have added health care to the list) can involve status politics, but it’s not at all clear how much the symbolism affects the actual policies.  Besides, Brooks gets the symbolism wrong.*

More important, Brooks closes his copy of Durkheim just when he should be turning to the next page.  Brooks ignores the structural problem.  The Ground Zero project inevitably comprises two functions – the sacred and the profane.** Like the buildings the terrorists destroyed, the new ones will be places where work, where they carry out the practical business of everyday life – buying and selling, making phone calls, entering and analyzing data.  But just because of its location, people will see the new structures as sacred. 

Usually, we separate these two realms.  We have sacred places and buildings whose only purpose is to enhance some group symbolism.  We do not ask our office buildings and  schools, stores and shopping malls, streets and parking lots, to express our collective spiritual ideas.  Nor do we ask that the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty do something useful like house the Department of Transportation or a Wal-Mart.

It’s hard enough to design a purely sacred monument – look at the controversies over memorials for Flight 93 and the Vietnam War dead.  Nor is it easy to design a huge complex of offices, parks, subways, etc. that works.  But to create something that carries out both functions to everyone’s satisfaction may be impossible. 

*For example, Brooks says that gun policy is “seen as an assault on or defense of the whole rural lifestyle so to compromise on any front is to court dishonor.”  Doesn’t he listen to the gunslingers?  They’re not talking about lifestyles and dishonor. They’re talking about their individual freedom and safety.

** Profane in the sense of everyday and practical, not sacrilegious.

Following Steve Jobs

October 13, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the early 1980s, Steve Jobs wanted John Sculley, then head of marketing for Pepsi, to join Apple.  The story and its money quote are legendary. Said Jobs to Sculley:
Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?
Sculley went to Apple.

I think I first heard the story told by Sculley himself, probably on “60 Minutes.”  It’s a great line, of course, but there was an overtone I couldn’t quite place, something about it that seemed vaguely familiar that I couldn’t quite place. 

I had forgotten about it, but now Kieran Healy has posted a long and perceptive essay  “A Sociology of Steve Jobs”  on Jobs and charismatic authority.  You could assign it, you should assign it, to undergraduates to show them the relevance of Weber and how his ideas can be brilliantly applied to their own world.

But for me, the best part was that Kieran knew, as though it were obvious, the echo in the Sculley quote, and shame on me for not seeing it.  The giveaway is the “or come with me” part.  It’s Jesus gathering his disciples.
And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.  Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1: 16-17)

637 New Blog Posts for Fall

October 10, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Four years ago, I wondered (here)  about all those numbers on the covers of women’s magazines.  Since then, I have watched as the numbers wax and wane. They never disappeared completely. But for a while, they seemed to fade into disuse, like unfashionable shoes shunted to the back of the closet. But this fall, numbers returned in strength.

What’s up with all the numbers?  Of course, there’s no single answer, but I see them as particularly resonant with some themes of American culture – abundance, freedom, success, and self-improvement. 

Some of these numbers just tell you that you’re getting a lot for your money.  Lucky promises “8,000 Giveaways,” while Vogue and In Style tell you how many pages you’ll get when you plunk down your $4.99 (Vogue wins, by 120 pages). Maybe the publishers think we have a preference for quantity over quality, like those restaurants that advertise “all you can eat.”  More is better.

Still, how many new looks can a woman have for the fall?  I don’t know, and I’m not even sure what constitutes a new look. But it must be only a small fraction of the 973 offered by Bazaar. And why not round that number to something that doesn’t look like an area code? The reason, I suspect, is that 973 sounds more precise, not just some number someone made up. They actually counted. The same logic may explain why hers offers 203 fitness tips rather than 200. 

The large numbers (485 new styles, 94 bags and boots, 300 beauty tips) also seem to contradict Barry Schwarz’s idea that too much choice is overwhelming and leaves us in choice-paralysis. Maybe the women who dutifully page through Bazaar’s 973 new looks wind up unable to choose one, and they end up plodding through the fall season in their old look. But what is appealing is not the actual choice; it is the idea of choice, the sense of limitless individual freedom to choose among all these looks.

If the big numbers offer the idea of individual self-transformation, the small numbers, like Bazaar’s 10 key pieces, make it seem more possible.  You can really do this, they say.  Numbers like Oxygen’s 23 days (for sexy abs) and 21 ways (to live longer) give us a program, a schedule.  Their message is one of success through self-help and self-improvement, like Gatsby’s schedule and “general resolves.” 

Gatsby’s list included “Read one improving book or magazine per week.”  I doubt that Gatsby had Allure in mind, but they both did think big.

Good Neighbor Policy

October 5, 2011Posted by Jay Livingston

From Keith Humphreys, in the style of  Harper’s Index:
  • Number of gun shops at or near the 1,970 mile U.S.-Mexico Border: 7,600
  • Proportion of those gun shops that are on the U.S. side: 100%

And Get Me Rewrite

October 4, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

The blog Aluation  has this fascinating post.

That’s the whole thing – two sentences from two versions of the same news story.  And two different by-lines.  I don’t know what Colin Moynihan’s official position at the Times is, but Al Baker is the chief of the Times police bureau.    Write your own story as to how this change happened.

Aluation’s post just prior to this is a long and informative analysis of the same topic – press coverage of Occupy Wall Street and protests in other countries: “bold political protesters abroad, stupid criminal hippies at home.”

Taxes and Freedom

October 3, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Denmark is adding a tax on fatty foods to the already hefty tax burden on their citizens. 

In the US, nobody in public life can get away with saying a good word about taxes.  Maybe Warren Buffet, but he’s not running for office.  The Republican mantra “It’s your money, it’s not the government’s money” has great appeal, and the Republicans and Tea Partistas have clearly stated their preference that government shut down rather than raise taxes to pay for what the government does.  

After all, less government equals more freedom.  Or does it?

Bruce Bartlett at the Times Economix blog,checked out some of those low-tax countries, nations that are well below the 27% tax-to-GDP ratio of the US.  Then he went to the Heritage Foundation site to see how these nations ranked on the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom.  Here are the results.  (On the Freedom Index, a high score is good.  A score above 80 (only six countries) is “free”; a score below 50 is “repressed.”) 

(The tax-to-GDP ratio is very slightly different from what you find here, and obviously the score on Libya is from before the fall of Gaddafi.) 

Where to go if I couldn’t stay in the US – Chad or Denmark?  The freedom of low taxes or the high-tax nanny state?  It’s a tough choice, but I think I’d go with Denmark even though language might be a problem.  The only Danish I know is prune.