Despite Nick Carr’s insistence that Greg Mankiw stop blogging to concentrate on his comparative advantage as an economic thinker, I’m glad Mankiw continues with his inefficient pursuit. From a recent entry:

If, however, beauty is correlated with income, which it is, then like height, it should be taxed, even according to the logic of utilitarianism.

Professor Mankiw, citing evidence that better looks lead to higher incomes, notes that a social planner (with commonly assumed preferences), would wish to allocate income from the rich and beautiful to the poor, less well-endowed among us. I fully expected a dismissal of the ethical consequences, in the traditional economic mold, but instead was treated to this:

Most people would reject a beauty tax as absurd, which only goes to show that that most people do not share the moral sentiments often assumed in the economic literature on optimal tax policy.

I sometimes make the mistake of raising a question with colleagues in economics and finance about the ethical implications of traditional economic assumptions. I usually receive some form of “these are just assumptions, not ethical issues” in reply, taking neither side in the debate on scientists’ social responsibility, but simply sidestepping the rhubarb.

After all, how can normative statements in the study of the allocation of scarce resources (the traditional definition of economic science) possibly have ethical implications? Who would even ponder such a thing?

As Vizzini remarked: “Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons!”

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