19 November 2015

You Say M-eye-cro, I Say M-ah-cro

One of the hallmarks, if not raison d'etre, of microeconomics aka The Corporate Perspective, is that macroeconomics is just the sum of all those homo economici maximizing their use of land, labor, and capital. Such argument has been used for centuries to justify all sorts of zero-sum gaming and short-term decision making. Keynes is the most well known but not first to recognize that the welfare of The Tribe amounted to more than the sum of each member's wealth. Arguing against the macro folks is the 1% argument that "only the little people pay taxes"; if you're of the 1% you directly buy your own cops and schools and such.

Short-term decision making is exemplified by "you don't miss your water until your well runs dry". In California, we find the 1% squandering water on lawns just because, today, there still is some water and today's price (which never seems to calculate depletion) is affordable for them.

Zero-sum gaming is exemplified by the likes of Airbnb, which is subject of Australian hearings. The same old story: we should be allowed to slough off social costs, both current term and long term, because we assert that we expand the larger economy. In the case of American sports teams being gifted with stadiums, often fully gratis, the carry-on effects of bars, restaurants, and memorabilia shops are asserted to bring in more commerce and tax on same than the cost of such stadiums and tax abatements. No unbiased study has ever agreed. What has been found, of course, is that such teams pull up stakes for some other jurisdiction which makes a bigger, dumber offer as soon as, or even before, the lease finishes. Such taxpayer/community gifts are only profitable to the community if customers are imported to the jurisdiction from external places; otherwise the community is simply transferring consumption from a loser (movies and bars and OTB) to an adorned winner (Your NFL Team). Plus, that winner gets extra profit from the fact of not paying substantial cost.

Airbnb has a more difficult case to make: it is a pure replacement for some other form of accommodation. What Airbnb gains, some other facility loses. Since Airbnb runs through Ireland, of course, all other countries see no tax benefit of the corporate cash flow. And, of course, all that happens locally is that Hilton loses a customer to Airbnb's rooming house. Such Airbnb facilities are often sub-rosa, so any local accommodation tax goes unpaid. The argument by the likes of Airbnb amounts to, "we're cheaper than X incumbent, so our customers will spend the difference in the locality". I won't stay at Hilton, but rather some stranger's back room, and I'll have dinner at the Hilton bar?? As if that actually made sense as a justification: the customer base spends the same, so let us avoid taxes because we help the larger, local, economy? So, even if the Airbnb argument were true, the net gain to the community is less than $0; the Airbnb sleeper spends the difference between Hilton and its cot. There is no net increase in the local economy. The only justification for taxpayers subsidizing Airbnb (by letting them skate on regs and taxes and such) is if those who sleep at Airbnb wouldn't otherwise be in the locality spending money.

The bottom line, so to speak: when analyzing micro effects, especially quantitatively, be careful not to get sucked into ignoring macro effects, both immediate term and long term. Nearly always you'll find micro actor(s) seeking to slough off costs to the macro world. It's at best a zero-sum game for the macro economy, while the 99% lose 99.44% of the time.

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