Mankiw calculates that McCain’s tax plan would tax him at a marginal rate of 83%, while Obama’s would tax his marginal dollar at 93%. He concludes:
The bottom line: If you are one of those people out there trying to induce me [Mankiw] to do some work for you, there is a good chance I will turn you down. And the likelihood will go up after President Obama puts his tax plan in place. I expect to spend more time playing with my kids. They will be poorer when they grow up, but perhaps they will have a few more happy memories.
I don’t quite follow Mankiw’s reasoning on the marginal tax rates, except I do get his point that his marginal dollars are all ultimately going to his kids–none of it will be spent in his lifetime, so in that sense he’s talking about different varieties of an estate tax.
I’m more interested in the decision implications.
To start with, it does sound like Mankiw’s kids are already well provided for, and, although I’m sure they’d disagree with me on this, it’s not clear that they would benefit from having more money in the bank when their parents are gone.
So, from that point of view, the question is why Mankiw isn’t already spending more time playing with his kids? I can’t speak for him, but for me, I have to say that it can be fun to work (or even to write blog entries). But, more than that, I feel a sense of obligation to get things done. At some level, getting paid is part of the motivation, but in any particular example I’m not quite sure how it fits in. I do lots of work things that pay me $0; I think they’re important, so I do them.
On the other hand, if I really, really didn’t need the money, I could set my salary to $0 and spend the money on extra postdocs. That would be pretty cool but I can’t really live on $0 and keep my current lifestyle.
For Mankiw, I’m not sure; maybe he makes enough from his textbooks that he doesn’t need much of his academic salary and could possibly do more by converting it into postdocs and research assistants. Or maybe he already has more research assistants than he knows what to do with; I don’t know. But his division of waking hours into “working” or “playing with kids” is, I would guess, not very sensitive to the marginal tax rate.