Archive for September, 2011

Infectious Disease & the Law

Posted in Law on 20110928 by Avenging Sword

In response to comments by H.M. Stuart & one Lee Pierson regarding Steve’s recent vaccination post, I figured I’d take a stab at the legal & constitutional aspects of mandatory vaccination & quarantine measures.  Note:  I’m a layman, not a lawyer, and I haven’t studied this matter in detail; so take what follows with a grain of salt.

1.       From a federal constitutional standpoint, mandatory vaccination is not analogous to the ACA’s individual mandate provision, since vaccination is primarily mandated by state – not federal – law.[1]  Such laws are enacted as part of states’ police power, which does not implicate the strictures of Article I.

2.       State sovereignty is not absolute; the Constitution places many limits upon state action,[2] and empowers federal courts[3] (and sometimes Congress[4]) to enforce these limits.  However, state vaccination mandates have long been deemed consistent with these limits.[5]

3.       Federal & state quarantine authorities derive from the Commerce Clause & state police powers, respectively.[6]  Federal law primarily concerns the military,[7] as well as interstate & foreign travel.[8]  The primary constitutional limit upon quarantine powers isn’t the First Amendment’s association clause, but rather due process & the writ of habeas corpus.[9]

Corrections & comments welcome.

[1] Kathleen S. Swendiman, Cong. Research Serv., RS21414, Mandatory Vaccinations: Precedent and Current Laws 2-4 (2011), available at  Federal vaccination mandates do extend to immigrants & the military.  Id. at 7-8.

[2] See, e.g., U.S. Const. art. I, § 10; U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.

[3] See, e.g., Randy E. Barnett, The Original Meaning of the Judicial Power, 12 S. Ct. Econ. Rev. 115, 123-125 (2004); Saikrishna B. Prakash & John C. Yoo, The Origins of Judicial Review, 70 U. Chi. L. Rev. 887, 948-951, 958, 960, 964 (2003).

[4] See, e.g., U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 5.

[5] Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905).

[6] Kathleen S. Swendiman & Jennifer K. Elsea, Cong. Research Serv., RL33201, Federal and State Quarantine and Isolation Authority 3-4 (2007), available at

[7] 42 U.S.C. § 266 (2006).

[8] 42 U.S.C. § 264 (2006).

[9] See Swendiman & Elsea, supra note 6, at 12-15.


Buffett v. The Data, Part Deux

Posted in Econ on 20110922 by Avenging Sword

In the comments of my previous post, co-blogger Steve stated, “[o]nly at the very top do taxes become regressive”; and – by way of supporting this statement – pointed (indirectly) to an IRS report regarding the 400 highest-AGI tax returns for 2008.  The data from this report, as well as other IRS data for that year, illustrates two things:

  1. Effective income tax rates do start to decline at the highest income levels.
  2. OTOH, the effective income tax rates at those levels remain well above those for most lower-income categories.

These points are graphically illustrated in Figure 1, which gives the effective income tax rates for various Adjusted Gross Income categories in 2008.

Figure 1

Granted, Fig. 1 only considers income taxes.  However, as Figure 2 shows, the aforementioned points remain valid when we include other federal taxes (e.g., FICA, excise, corporate).

Figure 2

I find it hard to get excited about the very-very-rich paying a somewhat lower federal tax rate than the very-rich, when rates for both groups remain higher than those for most other income categories.

Sources and Notes

In Figure 1:

  • The effective income tax rates for the categories between $1 & $50k, and between $500k & $10 mil, were calculated using the Adjusted Gross Income data in col. 2 of this IRS table, and the “Total income tax” numbers in col. 41 of this table.
  • The effective income tax rates for the categories between 50k & 500k were calculated using the AGI & “Total income tax” numbers from columns 2 & 62, respectively, of Table B in IRS Publication 1304 (Rev. 07-2010).
  • The effective income tax rate for the “Top 400” was calculated using 2008 AGI & aggregate income tax data from Table 1, pp. 1 & 10, of this IRS report.
  • The aggregate AGI for the “$10 mil+ ex Top 400” category was calculated by subtracting the AGI for the top 400 from the AGI of the “$10,000,000 or more” category in this table; the same procedure was used to calculate the aggregate income tax for the “$10 mil+ ex Top 400” category.

Figure 2 was generated using the 2005 Total Effective Federal Tax Rate data in Table 1 of this CBO report.

Tax Distribution: Buffett v. The Data

Posted in Econ on 20110920 by Avenging Sword

This post is all Warren Buffett’s fault.  When I read his recent NYT op-ed (HT Karen Street), this paragraph jumped out at me:

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

The implication is that the federal tax system is regressive, such that Buffett & others at his income level have lower effective federal tax rates than the rest of us.  Or, at Buffett might put it, our tax system (unnecessarily) “coddle[s]” “super-rich” individuals such as himself.  However, it appears that Buffett’s anecdotal evidence is not representative of the federal tax system as a whole.  From a recent CBS news story:

This year, households making more than $1 million will pay an average of 29.1 percent of their income in federal taxes, including income taxes and payroll taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

Households making between $50,000 and $75,000 will pay 15 percent of their income in federal taxes.

Lower-income households will pay less. For example, households making between $40,000 and $50,000 will pay an average of 12.5 percent of their income in federal taxes. Households making between $20,000 and $30,000 will pay 5.7 percent.

The latest IRS data is a few years older and it’s limited to federal income taxes but it shows much the same thing. In 2009, taxpayers who made $1 million or more paid on average 24.4 percent of their income in federal income taxes, according to the IRS.

Those making $100,000 to $125,000 paid on average 9.9 percent in federal income taxes. Those making $50,000 to $60,000 paid an average of 6.3 percent.

For those so inclined, the sources for the above can be found in this Tax Policy Center table, and on p. 23, Fig. 4 of the IRS’s Statistics of Income–2009 Individual Income Tax Returns.  (See also this report from Citizens for Tax Justice, which gives similar results.)

Given my previous forays into tax-distribution issues, these results do not surprise me.

Random Links

Posted in Random on 20110915 by Avenging Sword

Service with honor


How Europe Sees Itself

Possible failure mode for the Eurozone (Related)

McArdle re. HPV vaccination

Cowen re. the “NASA space pen” myth

Orin Kerr at VC pens a WSJ op-ed about pending CFAA amendments . . . and promptly discovers an “imitator.”  Not the first time I’ve seen this happen . . . .

Government Employment – Some Charts

Posted in Poli-ticks on 20110903 by Avenging Sword

In a recent post, my co-blogger Cheryl stated that “government is one of the few growth sectors in employment.”  Following Steve’s suggestion, I decided to see whether BLS data on government employment was consistent with the above statement.  That turns out not to be the case.

First, as shown in Fig. 1, after adjusting for temporary Census employment, the combined payrolls of federal, state, & local governments peak in late 2008, and decline thereafter.

Figure 1

Disaggregating the data paints a somewhat more complex picture.  As seen in Fig. 2, both educational & non-educational components of local government employment have fallen in the last couple years.  The same is true of non-educational state government employees.  Although the state educational & federal payrolls continued to rise as these other categories fell, in the last year even they have begun to decline (see Fig. 3).

Figure 2

Figure 3

Admittedly, government employment did continue rising even after private employment started falling in early 2008.  In the last couple years, however, the reverse has been true.  See Fig. 4.

Figure 4 (1/1/07 = 1)


Historical BLS data came from the following FRED series:

State (ed.) CES9092161101
State (ex ed.) CES9092200001
Local (ed.) CES9093161101
Local (ex ed.) CES9093200001
Total Gov USGOVT
All Private USPRIV

The “Fed (ex Cen)” series is a composite, with data for 11/1/08 through 9/1/10 taken from the seasonally-adjusted figures in BLS’s “Census 2010 temporary and intermittent workers and Federal government employment” publication; and the remaining data taken from FRED’s “All Employees: Government: Federal (CES9091000001)” series.  The “Total Gov (ex Cen)” series sums, for each month, the “Fed (ex Cen)” series, and FRED’s “All Employees: Government: State Government (CES9092000001)” & “All Employees: Government: Local Government (CES9093000001).”  All the FRED data is seasonally adjusted.