Neil Collins

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A tall story about taxation

June 18, 2009

I can’t decide whether this is an elegant spoof or a serious piece of academic research. At first sight, the answer’s obvious, since it starts thus:

“Should the income tax system include a tax credit for short taxpayers and a tax surcharge for tall ones?”

Yet as you read on, there’s a relentless plausibility in the argument. It starts with the generally-accepted principle that tax is a way of redistributing money from the better-off to the worse off. It proceeds via studies showing that tall people (not too tall, presumably) generally do better than short ones in life’s lottery, and concludes: What’s wrong with taxing height?

The answer, say N Gregory Mankiw and Matthew Weinzieri (I assume they are real people) is that “if a person rejects the policy of a tax on height, he must also reject, or significantly amend, the standard utilitarian approach to optimal taxation and income redistribution.”

Incidentally, they define tall as over six foot, and small as under 5’10”, and I presume they are talking about men rather than women. Neither do they reveal their own heights. Since I stand just over six feet tall, I think their idea is a truly terrible one, but it’s a terrific joke.