Progressivity and the Mathematical Inevitability of Increased Dues

March 31, 2011 § 3 Comments

There is a bit of a discussion in the comments in response to Don Tomaskovic-Davey’s dicussion of ASA finances here and on scatterplot.  Don’s response is worth taking seriously since – as former Secretary of the ASA – his is the closest we have yet gotten to an official response to some of our concerns. So The Disgruntled Sociologist is surfacing it from the depths of the comments.

Thanks again, Don, for engaging.

Jeremy has a very nice discussion of some of the problems with the math in Don’s post, and also some deeper comments on the transparency issue, which Don’s post does little to dispel.

A more recent comment from Don is worth surfacing.  To wit:

If you take out your trust excel spreadsheet and try to increase progressivity without increasing dues income this is what happens. The only way to do this mathematically, without giant reductions in income, is to add categories but increase dues more at the bottom then the top. My first forays into dues restructuring where exactly along these lines, but if you add high income dues categories and constrain to no dues increase it can only be done by having small differences across categories and raising the rents on the lowest paid members. This is particularly true because our membership distribution is bi-modal. So the herring is red, but in the old fashioned political sense.

As ably noted by another commenter,

This makes no sense at all.

The ASA could have taken the >=70,000 category, carved it up into intervals, and introduced progressivity within it. And they could have done it adaptively over five years to make sure that dues income doesn’t fall because members defect in response to it. (For example, in year one, the ASA could put in its usual CPI increase for categories below 70,000. They could have given the $70,000 to 99,9999 category no CPI adjustment leaving them at $234. They could have then raised the dues on those over $100,000 to compensate only for the lost no-CPI adjustment for the 70,000 to 99,9999 category. Perhaps they could shoot a little high, asking for $255 from this group. If this, then, isn’t enough progressivity, in year two, the ASA could pursue a little more, trying to subdivide and push things around again. In five years, or perhaps sooner, they could then declare the progressivity campaign completed.)

Just to pile on, TDS was equally puzzled by Don’s claim that the aggregate increase in dues was a mathematical necessity.

But before being able to draft a response, TDS was stumped by Don’s phrase “increase progressivity.” What exactly does this mean?

TDS had thought (in light of reading the Footnotes discussion of the proposed dues changes) that the problem faced by the ASA was that the income brackets were all out of whack because they were not being updated. They would indeed seem to be out of whack — the maximum income bracket was the same as average income.

But the other meaning, which is floating around in Don’s post, is that “increase progressivity” means that the marginal tax rate should rise more steeply with income than it did before. (Which would then explain how ‘soak the rich’ entered the discourse so seamlessly.)

What is the sense in which the ASA seeks to “increase progressivity”?

Again, in neither case does it seem that such implementing such changes requires an aggregate increase in dues. A revenue-neutral solution is possible. Which is not to say that a change in dues should be revenue neutral – just that increasing aggregate dues requires a separate argument. But unless Don can produce the math, TDS remains convinced that progressivity is, when it comes to the aggregate dues increase, a red herring.


§ 3 Responses to Progressivity and the Mathematical Inevitability of Increased Dues

  • ezrazuckerman says:

    Full agreement, Jimmy.

  • Jimmy,
    I don’t know how else to contact you so I’m putting this request in the comments. Could you please choose a different WordPress theme? I don’t think I’m alone in finding it very difficult to read long passages of text when they are white on black with small type. I use “Blix” but there are plenty of other very readable themes.
    Also, please add a widget for “recent comments” to make it easier to follow the comment threads.


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