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High-end inequality colloquium at NYU: My “mapmakers dilemma” paper

Monday, November 21, 2016 20:03
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Today at NYU Law School, at session 5 (out of 7) at our Colloquium on High-End Inequality, I presented my paper, The Mapmaker’s Dilemma in Evaluating High-End inequality.  The version we discussed at the session is available here.  As noted in prior posts, an alternative version, longer by about 20 pages since I discuss at length the Diamond-Saez optimal income tax work that proposes a 70 percent top marginal income tax rate, was just published by the University of Miami Law Review, and is available here.

I don’t usually discuss my own work at my colloquia these days, because I learn more from discussing other people’s work, but I thought it made more sense to do this here.  Since I and my co-convenor comment on other people’s papers, I thought it was only fair play to have an outside commentator comment on this one, and my colleague Liam Murphy ably filled the role, discussing broader philosophical issues that I touch on in the piece but don’t really try to resolve.
It’s a bit of an odd piece, I feel, although I do mainly like it these days.  The thing is, rather than trying to resolve or take a firm stance on most of the issues it raises, the aim is simply to show that we need a broader discussion of the issues around high-end inequality than standard economic analysis (and the optimal income tax or OIT literature in its most common form) really are prepared to handle.  But the aim in a way is simply to open the door for complementing not only OIT with other hard social science, but also hard social science with the soft social sciences, such as sociological and psychological inputs on how high-end inequality affects people’s sense of wellbeing (and how that concept of wellbeing should be conceptualized to begin with).  These inputs presumptively include my focus on literature, without there being any claim on my part that that is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle from a narrowly answers-related framework.
So the piece starts a lot of hares without trying to run them to ground (so to speak).  And also, as I noted in an earlier post, I am no longer planning to use it in my inequality and literature book, except for a couple of the best bits (relating to the Gini coefficient and to the “mapmaker’s dilemma” itself) that I have imported into the literature book’s chapter 1.  So while it used to be chapter 2, now it’s just a freestanding law review article.  What a comedown, eh?


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