Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Arnold Harberger's famous 1962 article on corporate tax incidence

This semester I am teaching Survey of International Taxation (a 3-hour class on U.S. international tax law) and Corporate and International Tax Policy (a 2-hour seminar on main issues in these fields).  In the latter class, tomorrow we will be discussing corporate tax incidence, with Arnold Harberger's famous 1962 article on the topic offering an analytical starting point.

Harberger, of course, is among the leading candidates for the title of "greatest living economist who has not won the Nobel Prize."  And the incidence article is surely one of his two signature contributions (the other being "Harberger triangles" and the welfare loss from monopoly).

As I discuss in my book Decoding the U.S. Corporate Tax, there are many things that, with the benefit of fifty years' hindsight (and changes in both economies and legal institutions), one could view as understandably dated in Harberger's corporate tax incidence article.  For example, it treats the corporate tax as creating two business sectors, the corporate one that is taxed and the non-corporate one that is not taxed.  Today, we might say instead that there are two (and indeed more than two) distinct business tax regimes, and that the corporate one - counting both the firm and shareholder levels, as well as all tax rules that apply distinctively to corporations (e.g., the tax-free reorganization rules and various compensation rules) - is sometimes worse from a tax standpoint, and sometimes better.  (The "better" scenario would be more common, of course, if there were a greater spread between the top individual rate and the corporate rate.)

Also, the article avowedly has no theory as to why some businesses are incorporated while others aren't, and adopts the concededly over-simplifying assumption that the corporate tax is, in effect, a special levy on all business sectors other than agriculture and real estate.  Economists writing about corporate tax incidence today find it necessary to consider business sectors with a mix of corporate and non-corporate firms, and are more likely to model the split as reflecting, say publicly traded versus private, and perhaps as turning on the trade-off between self-owned entrepreneurial and public markets-funded managerial systems of internal governance.

What I regard as the article's greatest and most lasting insight is as follows. Taxing the normal return to capital income - an important part of the corporate tax  base, although rents and owner-employees' undistributed labor income are also important - might initially seem to raise incidental / distributional issues that are not distinctively interesting here in particular.  Since high-income individuals save both absolutely and proportionately more than others, the incidence of such a tax will clearly be progressive in a static, one-country scenario, where saving is inelastic.  By contrast, if saving is highly elastic, and drops significantly in the presence of a tax on capital income, the bottom line may change.  E.g., high-income individuals' marginal pre-tax return to saving may go up, and workers' productivity / wages may decline by reason of the reduction in capital investment.  But again, this is too familiar an analysis to be especially interesting in the setting of taxing corporate income in particular.

Harberger 1962's great insight was that all this may change when, because there are both corporate and non-corporate business sectors, only some capital income is being taxed.  In his particular model, savers generally bear the tax, but only for a peculiar and idiosyncratic reason.  It just happens to be the case, in his model, that the non-corporate sectors (agriculture and real estate) are less able to substitute between capital and labor as productive inputs than the corporate sectors.  So, when the corporate income tax drives capital from the corporate to the non-corporate sectors, the demand for labor increases more in the former than it declines in the latter.  So workers "win" and business owners who must pay them "lose."

No one today would think that this particular analysis gives us the answer about corporate tax incidence in 2015.  Indeed, Harberger is among those who completely rejects its current applicability.  But what remains true and important in Harberger 1962 is the point that differentially taxing capital income, depending on firms' business structure, has unpredictable incidence effects that one cannot really understand without a better grasp than anyone in the world actually has about the determinants, and both the tax and non-tax consequences, of the business structure choice.

Unfortunately, this is an insight that Harberger himself may have lost sight of later on, when he argued that rising capital mobility meant the corporate tax was now borne by workers.  This is certainly plausible, and it may be right, but the very point of tax and business heterogeneity that Harberger 1962 emphasizes means that further evaluation is needed and that, until we have a convincing model (which may be unattainable given the sheer messiness of the underlying realities) significant uncertainty may remain.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Letter to FASB regarding the accounting treatment of deferred U.S. taxes

I am one of eight signatories of a letter that has just been sent to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, urging it to repeal APB 23, the rule that allows U.S. companies to designate particular foreign earnings as indefinitely reinvested abroad, thus allowing U.S. deferred tax liabilities to be ignored rather than being deducted from reported earnings at full value.

APB 23 has terrible tax policy effects, as it creates lock-in for foreign earnings insofar as managers who have taken advantage of it don't want to create negative adjustments (or to undermine their ability to make other APB 23 designations in the future).  But it also is absurdly discontinuous (causing deferred U.S. taxes to jump from being deducted at full value to being wholly ignored) and excessively discretionary - as I feel I can say, despite not being an accountant, both from having talked to accountants and from the overlap between accounting and legal rule design with respect to income.

I would be (pleasantly) surprised if FASB took notice of this letter in any way.  But I see it as a useful contribution to public debate about the issues (including before Congress), and wish to thank those who took the lead in creating this letter.

Anyway, here is the text of the letter (which, it is not hard to tell, reflected the lead input of individuals more knowledgeable about financial accounting than I am):

                                                                                                                              August 31, 2015


Financial Accounting Standards Board
Norwalk, Connecticut


Dear FASB Members,

                We encourage Members of the Financial Accounting Standards Board to repeal Accounting Principles Board Opinion No. 23, the rule that allows a company to make a designation of indefinitely reinvested earnings (IRE) to suppress a U.S. deferred tax liability (DTL) that otherwise would be reported as contingent on the repatriation of deferred foreign earnings.[1]

                We are concerned that APB 23 IRE designations undermine accounting credibility and contribute to bad tax policy.  The designations are an incentive to reduce domestic economic activity and the U.S. tax base by encouraging investment in low tax jurisdictions.  Further, the designations invite real or perceived management conflicts of interest, creating vulnerability for IRE reversals (including reversals that have already occurred) that damage public accounting. [2]

                While pending legislative action could moot company interest in IRE designations, it is important for FASB to recognize that the accumulation of foreign deferral attributable in part to APB 23 has contributed to the advocacy for another repatriation holiday and/or replacing current law with a more territorial system.  There may be no better example of the power of accounting than this case in which suppression of a DTL for book purposes (about which some accountants and others have had concerns from the beginning) could end up forcing a corresponding tax law change to exempt foreign earnings from U.S. tax, a result that might not be a possibility if APB 23 had not been adopted or the Opinion had been implemented more rigorously.

                In addition to APB 23’s effects on tax policy, we note three non-exclusive accounting concerns, none of which was addressed in detail when APB 23 was approved 43 years ago or since:

1.       As the “Quad B” dissenters to APB 23’s adoption warned in 1972,[3]  the suppression of DTLs under APB 23 may misinform investors looking at book income by mixing restricted earnings (i.e., income for which IRE designations are made) with unrestricted earnings.
  
2.       APB 23 requires management to assert the unknowable in order to achieve the book income advantage of suppressing a DTL.[4]  Companies cannot reliably assert, whether as a probability or a possibility, that certain income will not be repatriated in the next 20 or 30 years (which is how “indefinitely” needs to be defined for accounting consistency).[5]  Changes in management, business circumstances, and shareholder needs make such assertions impractical (as demonstrated by recent big and small reversals of IRE designations by companies including Avon, eBay, Pfizer, and General Electric). Prudent accounting requires use of the DTL, which is ideal for accommodating long-term book/tax differences, to remind investors of the inevitable cost of repatriation. 

3.       The inconsistency of ABP 23 with Financial Accounting Standards No. 52 further muddles book income reporting and creates inequities across companies. FAS 52, which requires currency translation of certain foreign-denominated items for book reporting, does not permit the kind of broad company discretion to suppress a bad book result that is allowed by APB 23 (which can enhance book income by suppressing  DTLs) even though there are similarities in company decision-making for repatriation and currency conversion.[6]

                Because of the interaction between accounting rules and tax law, we believe both would be served by repealing APB 23, and we would be happy to discuss ideas for transition that would minimize disruption and complexity.  At the very least, FASB would well serve the public and itself by addressing tax and accounting controversy surrounding the Opinion.

Sincerely,

Patrick Driessen
Revenue Estimator, Federal Government (retired)

J. Clifton Fleming, Jr.
Ernest L. Wilkinson Professor of Law
J. Reuben Clark School of Law
Brigham Young University

Jeffery M. Kadet
CPA (retired) and Adjunct Lecturer
University of Washington School of Law

Edward D. Kleinbard
Johnson Professor of Law and Business
University of Southern California Gould School of Law

David L. Koontz
CPA (retired)

Robert J. Peroni
Fondren Foundation Centennial Chair for Faculty Excellence and Professor of Law
University of Texas School of Law

Daniel N. Shaviro
Wayne Perry Professor of Taxation
New York University School of Law

Stephen E. Shay
Senior Lecturer
Harvard Law School




[1] FASB’s decisions on February 11, 2015, to require disclosures of pre-tax earnings sources and further information about tax expense, APB 23 reversals, and IRE designation amounts for certain countries are helpful but in our opinion do not address fundamental issues.

[2] With over $2 trillion of IRE designations, roughly $500 billion of DTLs have been suppressed just in the last decade under APB 23 since the 2004 repatriation holiday.  These numbers are so large relative to other financial statement entries that it would not take much in the way of reversals to cause noticeable effects.  The DTL suppressions under APB 23 by many U.S. multinationals exceed their existing DTLs, deferred tax assets, and approach the magnitudes of inventories and accounts receivable entries.  For example, in 2014 Apple’s own estimate of $23.3 billion of suppressed DTLs (associated with IREs of $69.7 billion) exceeds its $6.5 billion of DTAs, $20.6 billion of net property, plant, and equipment,  $17.5 billion of accounts receivable, and approaches its $29.0 billion of long-term debt.  While Apple’s ratio of APB-23-suppressed DTLs to total assets may be relatively large at 10 percent ($23.3/$231.8) compared to other companies, a perusal of companies (e.g., General Electric) suggests that ratios of about 5 percent are routine.

[3] While 14 Members of the APB viewed the Opinion as an improvement in accounting accuracy, the “Quad B” dissenters to APB 23, Messrs.  Bevis, Bows, Broeker, and Burger, cited noncomparability in noting that “(APB 23) validates a practice … completely contrary to the underlying concepts of deferred tax accounting … by sponsoring the idea that certain earnings may be accounted for on an accrual basis while the related income taxes are accounted for on the cash basis” (APB 23: Accounting for Income Taxes – Special Areas, April 1972, section 33, p. 6). Also, the cash treatment of taxes under APB 23 is optional, so a company has total accounting control (i.e., the choice between cash and accrual) of future U.S. residual taxes.

[4] APB 23 requires “… evidence of specific plans for reinvestment … which demonstrate that remittance of the earnings will be postponed indefinitely” (ibid., section 12, p. 4).  It might be reasonable for management in its guidance to say that company value will be enhanced if certain earnings remain unavailable to shareholders for a few years. However, the higher standard that should prevail for suppressing a DTL under APB 23 should be consistent with the maximum time arc of other DTLs such as those arising from depreciation, because for investors looking at above-the-tax-footnote financial statements DTLs are effectively homogeneous.  If a company believes it might repatriate in year 19 but under its interpretation of indefinitely for APB 23 only looked 5 or 10 years out and therefore suppressed the potential DTL associated with an IRE, and yet the same company or a competitor is carrying DTLs for depreciation (or, say, pensions) that will not expire for 20 years, that is inconsistent and confusing to investors trying to gauge earnings quality.  Also, many companies have added to the distortion by asserting that certain earnings are “permanently” reinvested overseas – this term is not found in APB 23, and its use raises even a more fundamental question of how current company management could ever assert such permanence.

[5] Once it is recognized that indefinitely needs to cover at least 20 years, it would be difficult for any company to make an IRE designation because current management cannot control circumstances or future management’s actions.  Another concern is that the current flexibility that company managements have under APB 23 creates a conflict of interest. This is because the prevalence of equity-based compensation encourages a company’s management to lower tax expense so as to increase after-tax earnings and share price. Also, were this attestation made transparent, it could be Pyrrhic for whomever makes it because if U.S. management in 2015 openly stated that over $2 trillion of foreign earnings would be unavailable indefinitely (which should be defined as a minimum of 20 years, as DTLs used for depreciation can last 20 years or more, ditto for DTAs) to shareholders there likely would be a revolt that would install new management.  As another example of a test that is not applied under APB 23, the company should be foresighted about interest rates and how they affect the hurdle rate with respect to repatriation, because the correlation between the secular decline in interest rates and the recent huge IRE buildup is not coincidental. Are low interest rates to be expected for the next 20 years, and if not, how would this affect the company IRE decision? 

If certain earnings are indefinitely unavailable to shareholders because of an IRE designation, it might be asked whether the designated earnings should be recorded as unrestricted book income when earned overseas in the first place because of the company’s self-imposed mobility restriction.  From an investor’s perspective, APB 23 would be more internally consistent and prudent if instead of suppressing the DTL and thereby mixing inferior restricted earnings with other types of earnings, the ruling required a special designation of overseas earnings not intended for repatriation with the main financial statements excluding (or footnoting) such earnings.  

[6] FAS 52 permits some flexibility in presentation of adverse results, but it does not allow a company to ignore currency translation just by promising that it would not convert currency under unfavorable circumstances (i.e., what APB 23 allows). This inconsistency can lead to the odd result that some companies are badly hurt by hypothetical currency conversion while other companies are helped by APB 23 designation and hypothetical nonpayment of U.S. residual tax. The decision about when to convert foreign-denominated earnings into U.S. dollars seems just as discretionary for companies as the timing of repatriation; earnings currency conversion is also a step in repatriation. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

NYU Tax Policy Colloquium - spring 2016

The schedule for the 2016 NYU Tax Policy Colloquium, which I will be co-teaching with Chris Sanchirico of U Penn Law School, is now set (as to speakers, though not as yet paper titles).  We'll be meeting on Tuesdays, from 4 to 5:50 pm, at NYU Law School, 40 Washington Square South (i.e. Vanderbilt Hall), room 208.  The speaker list is as follows.

1.  January 19 – Eric Talley, Columbia Law School.

2.  January 26Michael Simkovic, Seton Hall Law School.

3.  February 2  Lucy Martin, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of Political Science.

4.  February 9 – Donald Marron, Urban Institute.

5.  February 23 – Reuven Avi-Yonah, University of Michigan Law School.

6.  March 1 – Kevin Markle, University of Iowa Business School.

7.  March 8 – Theodore Seto, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.

8.  March 22 – James Kwak, University of Connecticut School of Law.

9.  March 29 – Miranda Stewart, Australian National University.

10.  April 5 – Richard Prisinzano, U.S. Treasury Department, and Danny Yagan, University of California at Berkeley Economics Department.

11.  April 12 – Lily Kahng, Seattle University School of Law.

12.  April 19 – James Alm, Tulane Economics Department.

13.  April 26 – Jane Gravelle, Congressional Research Service.

14.  May 3 – Anne Alstott, Yale Law School.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Belated comment on Hillary Clinton's capital gains proposal

I was away on vacation when Hillary Clinton released her capital gains proposal, but figured better late than never, so here are a few words on it now.

Under present law, the top individual tax rate is 39.6%, and this is also the tax rate for short-term capital gains, or items held for less than a year.  Any capital asset that is held longer is taxed at the long-term capital gains rate, which for people in the top bracket is 20%.

The Clinton proposal is pretty simple: require that one hold the asset for six years to get the 20% rate.  In the interim, the applicable rate slowly drops to 36% for (2-3 years), 32% (3-4 years), 28% (4-5 years), and 24% (5-6 years).

The stated aim is to combat "short-termism" by the managers of publicly traded companies (which Clinton calls "the tyranny of today's earnings report").  The idea is to make corporate executives less avid than they presently are (it is argued) to boost the current stock price at the expense of long-term profitability.  Ostensibly, if investors switch to long-termism by reason of the incentive that the rate structure offers for longer-term holding, managers will change, too, so they can remain in step with investors' preferences.

I agree with Victor Fleischer that the proposal "misses the mark" if it aims to change managerial behavior.  Fleischer emphasizes the virtues, in some cases, of more rapid trading if it results in reallocating capital, and more particularly the continuing incentives that arise from managerial compensation design.

I would further emphasize a couple of additional points.  Current law already combats "short-termism," insofar as deferral reduces the present value of the expected capital gains tax and the step-up in basis at death can lead to its complete elimination.  But I don't know anyone who thinks this has a significant (or perhaps any) positive effect on managerial behavior.

Addressing the misalignment of managerial incentives, insofar as it is feasible via tax and regulatory instruments, really requires going inside the company, not just aiming at the investors.  In general this is probably best done through corporate governance rules, although it is not impossible that tax rules could play a positive role.  (E.g., the $1 million ceiling on deductible non-incentive compensation of top executives in publicly traded company has surely hurt things, although how much is a matter of debate, given that "incentive" compensation can be so misaligned from the standpoint of actual long-term investor returns or national economic welfare.)

There are other problems lurking in the area, and at first I was inclined to think that the Clinton proposal might have some relevance to them, but on balance I think pretty much not.  I refer here to the set of issues, sometimes raised in favor of enacting a financial transactions tax (which I have discussed here), pertaining to whether (a) high-speed trading has negative externalities, and/or (b) what Keynes called the "beauty contest" aspects of stock market trading are socially wasteful or even actively destructive.  But here the focus is not on managerial short-termism, but rather on the mis-allocation of societal resources towards rent-seeking activity, along with possible volatility effects on asset markets and real economies.  These are issues that might merit a serious proposal from a leading Democratic candidate - and that might similarly signal that she is proclaiming her independence from Wall Street - but that would look quite different from this one.

Is the Clinton proposal actively harmful?  I don't think so, although it is true that in some cases people would pointlessly hold stocks just a bit longer so that they could lower the applicable tax rate.  And if one wanted to raise the capital gains rate, doing it this way might be better than not doing it at all, even if the time sequence is otherwise pointless.

The change to capital gains taxation that I would urge Clinton to advocate - although I can't speak to its political virtues or demerits - is automatic capital gains realization at death (or when one makes a gift of appreciated property), perhaps only reaching net gain above a dollar ceiling, even though this would reduce the current system's discouragement of short-termism.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Back from Spain

After an enjoyable close-to-two-weeks in Spain (Barcelona, Seville, Madrid, Toledo), I am back in NYC, more or less for the duration.  Among the best things I saw out there were the Gaudi buildings and Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, and the astoundingly rich collections of Spanish and other European art in the Prado and Thyssen museums in Madrid. It actually got painful trying to see as much as one could, in a day each, of those two collections.  For example, lots of great El Greco (supplemented in Toledo), Velazquez, and Goya. And the Picasso Museum in Barcelona was quite interesting for its early works, pre-fame and fortune and thus predating the emergence of all those trademark mannerisms.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Things I should have known

I was pro-EU for many years, reflecting my dislike of parochial nationalisms, and my analogizing from my belief that, in the U.S., the optimal balance as between the national government and the state governments should be tilted much more towards the national side of the scale than it would be we if we were like Europe.

But U.S. federal government policy is run by a nationally elected president plus a national legislature where all states are represented, not to mention that we're all in the same boat economically even when we don't realize it.  E.g., I was reading the other day about how the S&L crisis was essentially a rich coastal states' bailout of Texas, only no one even thought of it that way, as it just happened automatically.

When you lack both democratically elected (and adequately empowered) federal-level political institutions and a federal-level economic union that operates automatically, one thing you can end up with (as anyone versed in American history can tell you) is the Articles of Confederation. But a very different thing that you can end up with - the EU today - is in its own way just as bad.

Herewith Ben Bernanke, not generally known as a fire-breathing lefty:

"In late 2009 and early 2010 unemployment rates in Europe and the United States were roughly equal, at about 10 percent of the labor force. Today the unemployment rate in the United States is 5.3 percent, while the unemployment rate in the euro zone is more than 11 percent. Not incidentally, a very large share of euro area unemployment consists of younger workers; the inability of these workers to gain skills and work experience will adversely affect Europe's longer-term growth potential....
"Currently, the unemployment rate in the euro zone ex Germany exceeds 13 percent, compared to less than 5 percent in Germany. Other economic data show similar discrepancies within the euro zone between the "north" (including Germany) and the "south." ....
"Germany has effectively chosen to rely on foreign rather than domestic demand to ensure full employment at home, as shown in its extraordinarily large and persistent trade surplus, currently almost 7.5 percent of the country's GDP. Within a fixed-exchange-rate system like the euro currency area, such persistent imbalances are unhealthy, reducing demand and growth in trading partners and generating potentially destabilizing financial flows....
"Germany could help restore balance within the euro zone and raise the currency area's overall pace of growth by increasing spending at home, through measures like increasing investment in infrastructure, pushing for wage increases for German workers (to raise domestic consumption), and engaging in structural reforms to encourage more domestic demand."

But of course they won't.  It's easier just to let everyone else suffer, while also feeling very noble and put-upon.

Bernanke doesn't address the political institutional side, but you can bet that things would be different if an EU-level prime minister and legislature were setting policy, and if the EU was automatically funding social welfare programs in Greece and southern Italy, like the US national government does in Mississippi and South Carolina.

Many U.S. tax people (not just me) have tended to be pro-EU, in part from the U.S. analogy in which we think that limiting internal tax competition to the relatively small state and local tax systems, which themselves face federal judicial review under the dormant commerce clause, gets it more or less right, all things considered. But we have often not been huge fans of the jurisprudence emanating from the European Court of Justice, which at times creates the worst of both worlds by handcuffing national governments' reasonable responses to aggressive tax planning, while lacking the power to impose federal-level uniformity. I don't blame this on the people at the ECJ - it's structural and inherent to the institutional set-up, rather than being particularly their fault.

What I hadn't understood until recently is the similarity between the structural flaws that tax people have seen all too clearly for years in the ECJ model and what we've seen at the macro level between Germany and the European "south" (not just Greece). Without federal-level democratic institutions, legitimacy, or true economic and political integration, you combine the evils of centralized decison-making that ignores reasonable local needs, with the evils of not being centralized enough to advance the common good in an integrated way.  One would have thought you could only one get set of evils at a time, but the EU has advanced our intellectual understanding of federalism by showing that, with a sufficiently perverse institutional design and ruling ideology, you can simultaneously get both.

Obviously, the ECJ looks great compared to these other jokers.

A broader lesson is that, even if greater EU centralization would potentially be good, it does not follow that decentralizing wouldn't also be good, relative to where they are now.  In my view, greatly decentralizing (e.g., dismantling the Euro and reducing ECJ oversight) would be a sizable improvement over the current state of play, even if it would be better still to centralize more, and in the end truly to become a single nation (subject, of course, to people actually wanting to do that).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Jury duty

For the last three days, I've spent most of my time at a New York State criminal courthouse, where I was called for jury duty. Lots of sitting around, but, while sent to a courtroom where they were picking jurors, I never got selected even for voir dire, much less actual jury service.

I was actually selected once for a civil jury - despite my law prof background and my having (long, long ago) taught Evidence and written a couple of articles about statistical probability issues.  But that civil trial settled before the opening statements. Just as well, as I was merely an alternate, so I probably wouldn't have gotten to participate in the jury deliberations.

It's actually quite interesting to see the process from the quasi-inside.  One clear point that I've noticed on more than one occasion is how earnest, or at least apparently earnest (it's hard to know) people are about expressing their views and feelings accurately during the voir dire.  But at the same time a part of the process is designed to overawe them into doing as they are told, in terms of following the law and the judge's instructions.

It would definitely be interesting to serve on a jury sometime, but I was glad not to be chosen this time, for personal reasons relating to set-in-stone vacation plans.

Another article draft that I may post soon

I've recently completed another article draft, one more of the things that I've committed to do before getting back to work on my literature book.  This one was commissioned for an edited volume that is being put together by a friend at another leading law school, on issues related to timing and legislation. My book from 15 years ago, When Rules Change, is well within the topic range of the new volume, but as it happened I didn't want to return to the issues I discussed there.

While the editors have a book contract, I'm not 100% sure this is public information yet, so I will hold off on giving more details.

The piece I've written is a short one by legal standards - under 10,000 words, as indeed was specified by the invite.

Article title: "The More It Changes, The More It Stays the Same? Automatic Indexing and Current Policy."

Opening sentence: "The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously remarked that you cannot step into the same river twice, to which a disciple supposedly replied that you cannot do so even once."

My topic is automatic adjustment rules in the income tax and Social Security.  E.g., apart from inflation indexing in both, I discuss such automatic indexing possibilities (or actualities) as:

--In the income tax, indexing the rate brackets to prevent real bracket creep, or to respond to vertical distributional changes via the "Rising Tide Tax System," or to provide automatic tax smoothing when a measure of the fiscal imbalance changes.

--In Social Security, disputes over how to measure inflation for indexing purposes, wage indexing in actual Social Security, and proposals to index the normal retirement age for life expectancy changes.

The aim here is conceptual, rather than to endorse specific proposals.  E.g., I discuss indexing's general appropriateness (I consider it just fine if one happens to agree with the policy it advances), the difficulty of defining current policy if that is what one is trying to maintain, and the links between particular proposals that might be debated on seemingly technical grounds and separately conceived policy preferences that might lead one either to support or oppose them.