Heavy Lifting - thoughts and web finds by an economist
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008
From page 465 of my copy of Vasilly Grossman's Life and Faith:
The canteen had six different menus: one for doctors of science, one for research directors, one for research assistants, one for senior laboratory assistants, one for technicians and one for service personnel. The fiercest passions were generated by the two highest-grade menus, which differed only in their desserts - stewed fruit or a jelly made from powder. Emotions also ran high over the food parcels delivered to the houses of doctors and research directors.
This passage made me think of how our tax system (past, current, and proposed) invokes similar thoughts of frustration and disgust among (some) people. Certain people are granted more in terms of dispensation from paying taxes than others, even if they are at the same income level because of the vagaries of the authorities in Congress or the Statehouse. The current political season is bristling with more calls for distribution from above rather than distribution based upon talent.
In Grossman's story the character Viktor is a physicist who has developed a theory that is called by some as `genius.' Upon Viktor's return from Kazan to war-time Moscow, Viktor hoped to be greeted by his colleagues and contemporaries with some form of appreciation. Mainly it seems he seeks intellectual appreciation. However, this passage indicates that he is willing to trade the intellectual appreciation for a signal of appreciation from those who dole out the eggs. In the end, the society in which he lives (Stalinist Russia) doesn't allow for intellectual appreciation, because of the risk of being denounced, and disincentivizes the bureaucracy to provide the latter.
It is a matter of degree - eggs versus Mercedes - yet the sense of frustration that would accompany even more drastic income redistribution that some promise would eventually translate into less incentive to exhibit talent and success.
Is there any lesson to be learned from Life and Faith, Atlas Shrugged, Anthem, We the Living, First Circle, 1984, Brave New World, Animal Farm? For some, but evidently not for others.
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