Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Unfairness of the Marriage Tax Penalty

Following up on my posts on the power of forgiveness (links below):  Timothy Keller(Founding Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church (New York City)), The Fading Of Forgiveness: Tracing the Disappearance of the Thing We Need Most:

Offended by Forgiveness
After the 2014 deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, a new movement for racial justice emerged, especially embodied by a new loose network called Black Lives Matter. “This ain’t your grandfather’s civil rights movement,” said rapper Tef Poe. This one, he said, would be much angrier. At an October protest in Ferguson, street activists heckled and turned their backs on the president of the NAACP. Unlike the older civil rights protesters, journalists on the ground in Ferguson reported that the activists were “hurling insults and curses” at police.

Patricia A. Cain (Santa Clara), The Unfairness of the Marriage Tax Penalty:

In this essay Professor Cain identifies several instances in which the Internal Revenue Code imposes a penalty on married couples. This penalty occurs for married couples both at the low end and the high end of income levels. She is especially critical of the $10,000 limitation on the deductibility of state and local income taxes. While the deduction for property taxes may be harder to justify, the deduction for state income taxes serves the purpose of horizontal equity by adjusting the tax burden on individual taxpayers in high income tax states as compared with individuals in low or no income tax states. If the limitation is justified at all it should be applied per taxpayer 

Society has devoted a lot of attention to the problem of bias — and rightly so. But when it comes to mistaken judgments and unfortunate decisions, there is another type of error that attracts far less attention: noise.

To see the difference between bias and noise, consider your bathroom scale. If on average the readings it gives are too high (or too low), the scale is biased. If it shows different readings when you step on it several times in quick succession, the scale is noisy. (Cheap scales are likely to be both biased and noisy.) While bias is the average of errors, noise is their variability.

Although it is often ignored, noise is a large source of malfunction in society. In a 1981 study, for example, 208 federal judges were asked to determine the appropriate sentences for the same 16 cases. The cases were described by the characteristics of the offense (robbery or fraud, violent or not) and of the defendant (young or old, repeat or first-time offender, accomplice or principal). You might have expected judges to agree closely about such vignettes, which were stripped of distracting details and contained only relevant information.

But the judges did not agree. The average difference between the sentences that two randomly chosen judges gave for the same crime was more than 3.5 years. Considering that the mean sentence was seven years, that was a disconcerting amount of noise.

Noise in real courtrooms is surely only worse, as actual cases are more complex and difficult to judge than stylized vignettes. It is hard to escape the conclusion that sentencing is in part a lottery, because the punishment can vary by many years depending on which judge is assigned to the case and on the judge’s state of mind on that day. The judicial system is unacceptably noisy. ...

Noise causes error, as does bias, but the two kinds of error are separate and independent. ...

New York Times op-ed:  Bias Is a Big Problem. But So Is ‘Noise.’, by Daniel Kahneman (Princeton; Google Scholar), Olivier Sibony (HEC-Paris; Google Scholar) & Cass Sunstein (Harvard; Google Scholar) (co-authors, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment (May 2021))

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