Tall political scientist David Park and tall economist Robin Hansen point to this paper by Mankiw and Weinzierl on the idea of taxing tall people. I have no problem with the paper–it’s wacky, but intentionally wacky, one might say, using height as an example of a variable that is correlated with income in the general population. Height isn’t actually correlated very much with income (together, height and sex predict earnings with an R-squared of only 9% (see, for example, page 63 of our book), so in some way it’s not a great example, but maybe that’s part of their point too.
Anyway, David and Robin both quote a news article that states that Mankiw and Weinzierl “say that height is a ‘justly acquired endowment’: it is not unfairly wrested from anyone else, so the state has no right to seize its fruits.”
I think there’s something I’m missing here, but . . . who ever said that you can only tax something that was “unjustly wrestled from someone else”? Haven’t they ever heard of the sales tax? Even a society with no unjust wrestling at all would still need taxes. Setting redistribution aside entirely, there are reasons for higher taxes on the rich (they can more easily afford it) and reasons for not taxing the rich (depending on your mathematical model for the efficiency of the economy), but I don’t really see how something being “justly endowed” means that it can’t be taxed. The tax money needs to come from somewhere.
The same article also says, “By the same logic, they imply … the government has no right to force someone with the ‘justly acquired endowment” of entrepreneurial genius to pay a higher tax rate.” This also confuses me since I hadn’t heard that anyone was proposing a tax on “entrepreneurial genius.”
Maybe this is a difference between how economists and political scientists view the world. Mankiw and Weinzierl seem to view taxes as a way to punish people, whereas I see taxes as a way to raise money?