Saturday, April 16, 2016

Question for any Historians Reading This

I am currently working on the sequel to Salamander, my second novel, and would like some relevant historical information. The novel is a fantasy, the world it is set in has technology somewhere between our fourteenth and 18th century (no firearms) plus weak magic. Political institutions a bit like seventeenth or eighteenth century England--a monarchy with real power but not absolute, feudalism on the way out but not entirely vanished.

The capital of the kingdom of Esland has been taken in a surprise attack by an army from a neighboring state. A good deal of looting, burning and killing, as usual under such circumstances. A defending force is still holding out in the citadel.

Two weeks after the attack, what does the situation look like? Are the attackers sending looting parties into the countryside for food or simply offering to buy it, thus giving farmers an incentive to come to them? Is there a curfew in the city? Has city life for the survivors more or less returned to normal? Have invaders recruited locals to patrol the streets, as a step towards longer run control over the city? Are the city gates open and guarded, open and not guarded, open during the day and closed at night (relevant because I have a character planning to enter the city)?

The invaders anticipate an army or armies eventually being assembled to try to retake the capital, but there is not yet one close enough to be an immediate threat.

Anyone know of good historical sources, preferably primary, that describe this sort of situation? I would rather steal from history than make it up out of whole cloth.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

My Response to a Non-Libertarian FAQ

A long time ago, a blogger I think highly of wrote a non-libertarian faq. When I came across it, some years later, I responded by email, he replied, I replied. I eventually got around to converting the exchange to a web page.

I recently came across a blog post which commented on the non-libertarian faq, remarked that he thought it was basically right but also that he would like to see my response. Since his blog does not permit comments or provide the author's email but he apparently reads my blog, I thought providing a link here would be the easiest way of showing it to him.

Others may also find it of interest.

Someone else wrote and webbed a much longer reply.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

My Favorite Ex-Candidate

Is more fun to listen to than any still in.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Corrupt Bargain of 2016

I recently came across a clever article on how the Republicans could nominate Trump and then elect someone else. The plan is simple in principle, tricky in execution:

1. The Republicans nominate Trump, the Democrats nominate Hilary.

2. The anti-Trump Republicans run a pair of third party candidates, say Kasich and Cruz. They get on the ballot in Texas, Ohio, and perhaps a few other states where both major party candidates are sufficiently unpopular. They stay off the ballot in any state where their presence might help the stronger of the major party candidates, probably Clinton.

3. They get enough electoral votes so that neither Trump nor Clinton has a majority, which throws the election to Congress. The House chooses the President, the Senate the VP, from among the three leading candidates. Kasich is chosen as President, despite coming in third in both popular and electoral votes, and Cruz, or possibly Trump's running mate, becomes Vice President.

When I described the scenario to my history major son he informed me that it had already happened—almost two hundred years ago. In 1824, Andrew Jackson got forty-one percent of the popular vote, John Quincy Adams got thirty-one percent, with the rest of the votes going to Henry Clay and William Crawford, all four running as candidates of the Democratic-Republican Party. Jackson was looked down on by the more civilized elements of his party, viewed as a lowbrow populist and bully. 

Remind you of anyone?

Jackson had a plurality of both popular and electoral votes but no candidate had a majority of electoral votes, so the presidential election went to the House, which chose Adams. Critics claimed that Clay had thrown his support in Congress to Adams in exchange for being offered the position of Secretary of State, widely viewed as making Clay heir to the White House. They labeled it The Corrupt Bargain.

Having had the presidency stolen from him, as he and his supporters saw it, in 1825, Jackson ran again in the next election, this time as the candidate of the (new) Democratic Party. And won.

So maybe it's not such a clever idea after all.

Hawaiian Taxes, Vertical Integration, and a Research Project

Not a Sales Tax

I recently spent a few days in Hawaii, teaching some classes and giving a talk at the Iolani school. In the process, I learned something interesting about the Hawaiian tax system. A major source of state income is the general excise tax, a tax, in most cases of 4% (4.5% on Oahu), on the gross revenue of firms. At first glance that looks like a sales tax, but it has rather different implications.

Consider the taxation of bread. A farmer grows wheat, sells it to a miller, pays 4% tax on the money he receives. The miller converts the wheat into flour, sells it to the baker, pays 4% tax on the money he receives. The baker sells the bread to customers, pays 4% tax on what they pay him. The wheat has been taxed three times, for a total tax of (because of compounding–taxes on taxes) 12.5%. The miller's contribution, the value added to the wheat by milling it, has been taxed twice. The contribution of the baker has been taxed once. Depending on the relative amounts of value added at each stage, the total tax on the bread is between 4% and 12.5%.

Suppose, however, that the bakery is a vertically integrated firm, owns its own farm and mill. That makes the transfer of wheat from farm to mill and of flour from mill to bakery internal to the firm. Only the final stage, the sale of the bread, produces revenue to be taxed. Now the total tax on the bread is only four percent.

Which means that one effect of the excise tax is an artificial incentive for vertical integration, making firms in Hawaii larger than they would otherwise be.

A Theory of Exploitative Taxation

While on the subject of taxation in Hawaii, an interesting conjecture occurred to me, which I thought someone else might be interested in pursuing. Consider two adjacent states that are equally attractive in terms of climate, culture, and the like. They compete for taxpayers. If one of them has higher taxes and does not use them to produce a correspondingly better level of services, it will lose citizens, and taxes, to the other.

Consider the same story, with one change—one of the states is, for reasons independent of taxes and government services,  a pleasanter place to live in than the other. It can collect taxes and use them in ways that produce no benefit to the taxpayers—to buy the votes of state employees, say, with generous wages and pension benefits. As long as the cost of the higher taxes is lower than the value to taxpayers of the state's natural advantages, they have no incentive to move. 

Hawaii has unusually high state taxes per capita. It is also a very pleasant place to live—comfortable climate, lots of beaches. 

To turn my conjecture into a research project, you need data of two sorts. One is some measure of the level of exploitative taxation in each state—tax collected minus value of services to the marginal taxpayer/resident. The other is some measure of each state's natural advantages. If the theory—think of it as an elaboration of the Tiebout hypothesis—is correct, the two should be positively correlated.

Monday, March 14, 2016

My View of the Apple Encryption Controversy

Posted more than two years ago.

An earlier version.

And a still earlier one.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Concerning The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

I was recently interviewed on the subject of Heinlein's very interesting novel. The audio of the interview has been webbed here.