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Finding New Opportunities Amid the Economic Wreckage Robert H. Frank Royal Society for the Arts June 10, 2009.

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Presentation on theme: "Finding New Opportunities Amid the Economic Wreckage Robert H. Frank Royal Society for the Arts June 10, 2009."— Presentation transcript:




4 Finding New Opportunities Amid the Economic Wreckage Robert H. Frank Royal Society for the Arts June 10, 2009




8 Herbert Hoover

9 Spend More Right Away John Maynard Keynes The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, 1936

10 Even useless activities can be effective stimulus.

11 But useful activities are clearly better.

12 A “mere spending program”??!!

13 What about the long run?



16 The pundits’ pessimistic projection: Protracted misery lies ahead. 1. Private consumption won’t recover to 2007 levels any time soon. 2. Tax resistance will keep Obama’s long- term agenda on permanent hold.

17 Things aren’t as bad as they seem: Because satisfaction depends more on relative consumption than absolute consumption, most people will adapt quickly to an across- the-board reduction in consumption.

18 By simply changing what we tax, we can eliminate several trillion dollars of waste from our current system, more than enough to pay for long-term national renewal.

19 A tax on any activity has two effects: 1. It generates revenue. 2. It discourages the activity. The current tax system taxes mostly useful activities, such as savings and job creation. If we instead taxed only harmful activities, we could raise all the revenue we need without requiring any painful sacrifices.

20 Whether deficits make future generations poorer depends on what we buy with borrowed money.

21 If we spend borrowed money on productive investments, we make future generations richer, not poorer.

22 Public Waste vs. Private Waste

23 Loose Nukes: Not worth locking down?

24 The National Science Foundation budget?

25 Nutritional assistance to poor mothers of small children?

26 Private waste occurs not because consumers get overcharged, but because they get caught up in wasteful “positional arms races.”




30 World B: You and your family live in a neighborhoods with 3000-square foot houses, others in neighborhoods with 2000-square- foot houses. Which world would you choose? World A: You and your family live in a neighborhood with 4000-square foot houses, others in neighborhoods with 6000-square-foot houses.

31 Which world would you choose? C: You have 2 weeks of vacation each year, others have 1 week, or D: You have four weeks of vacation each year, others have 6 weeks?

32 Housing = positional good Leisure = nonpositional good

33 1.People care about relative consumption, more in some domains than in others. 2. Such concerns lead to expenditure arms races focused on positional goods--those goods for which relative position matters most. 3. These arms races divert resources from nonpositional goods, causing large welfare losses.

34 The Conflict Between Individual and Group Robert H. Frank. “The Demand for Unobservable and Other Nonpositional Goods.” American Economic Review, 75, March, 1985, pp. 101-116.

35 Regulations as Data

36 Why do hockey players vote in secret ballots for helmet rules, even though they choose not to wear helmets when there is no rule?

37 Rules Governing Duels



40 Mandatory Kindergarten Start Dates

41 Are positional concerns hard-wired?


43 Theoretical Considerations People should care about relative position because it affects material payoffs –Food in Famines –Mate access

44 Neurophysiological Evidence Local rank vs serotonin

45 Local rank vs testosterone

46 In a poor country, a man proves to his wife that he loves her by giving her a rose. In a rich country he must give a dozen roses. Richard Layard

47 $10 million birthday parties Aerosmith 50 Cent


49 Viking Professional, $5,000. 1989 Sunbeam, $90 Gas Grills Then and Now

50 Talos Outdoor Cooking Suite, $35,000.

51 Victoria’s Secret $12.5 Million Fantasy Bra

52 The Progressive Consumption Tax (a.k.a., the Unlimited Savings Allowance Tax) Consumption + Savings = Income Consumption = Income – Savings Taxable consumption = Income – Savings – standard deduction

53 The Jones Family Annual income: $50,000 Annual savings: $5,000 Standard deduction: $30,000 Taxable consumption: $50,000 - $30,000 - $5,000 = $15,000 Tax rate = 20 percent Annual tax bill = $3,000 (About the same as under the current income tax.)


55 A family that currently spends $5 million a year is debating whether to build a $2 million addition to its mansion. If top marginal tax rate on consumption were 100 percent, the after-tax cost would be $4 million. If it scaled back its addition by half, the after- tax cost would fall to $2 million, and it could save $2 million more than before. Because others would also scale back their additions, the bar that defines an acceptable mansion would be reset.



58 Other harmful activities that might be taxed: Emitting non-carbon pollutants Mobile phone use while driving Driving heavy passenger vehicles Excessive honking Financial transactions?

59 Boost government spending by as much as possible, paid for with debt and by raising taxes on top earners. To minimize the long-run impact of deficits, direct stimulus spending toward productive investments. “Tax More Tomorrow:” Once the downturn ends, replace the current tax system, which taxes useful activities, with one that taxes only activities that cause harm. A progressive consumption tax Carbon, pollution, and congestion taxes



62 Borrow and Consume vs. Save and Invest

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