A Laffer Curve for communication

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From today's SMBC:

The whole thing:

The mouseover title: "100 is really just a starting point. We may need to go as low as 1 before we see results."

The AfterComic:

In economics, the "Laffer Curve" claims to show that reducing tax rates increases (or rather, can increase) total tax revenue. This comic presents a similar argument that reducing the size of communication networks increases total happiness.

There's an echo here of Robin Dunbar's argument about natural human group sizes, in his 1996 book Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language.


  1. John Shutt said,

    January 8, 2021 @ 3:26 pm

    So…how big is the Language Log community, anyway?

  2. Doug said,

    January 8, 2021 @ 4:57 pm

    That's the same aftercomic as for the previous SMBC, on Robot Creativity.
    Not sure what t make of that.

  3. mollymooly said,

    January 8, 2021 @ 5:15 pm

    The speaker says "bastardy" whereas the graph y-axis label is "bastardry". Dictionaries suggest the former denotes the quality of literal bastards and the latter that of figurative ones.

  4. Ken said,

    January 8, 2021 @ 7:32 pm

    In James Morrow's story "Bible Stories for Adults, No. 20: The Tower", God undoes the Tower of Babel. When anyone speaks, everyone understands exactly what they mean.

    "Plagued by a single tongue, people can no longer give each other the benefit of semantic doubt. To their utter bewilderment and total horror, they know that nothing is being lost in translation."

  5. John Shutt said,

    January 8, 2021 @ 8:50 pm

    Computer translation is /worse/ than lifting the curse of Babel, because it has all the disadvantages of believing you know what everyone has said without the advantages of actually knowing what they said. (I'm remembering an item from 2017: Israel Arrests Palestinian Because Facebook Translated 'Good Morning' to 'Attack Them'.)

  6. Chips Mackinolty said,

    January 8, 2021 @ 8:54 pm

    My confusion was that I had never seen the term "bastardy" before; rather had always only seen and heard "bastardry" (which autocorrect shows as a misspelling) . According to dictionary.com, at least, the latter is suggested as the Australian/New Zealand version. Does this mean the y-axis comes from the antipodes?

  7. Joe Fineman said,

    January 8, 2021 @ 9:19 pm

    I, on the contrary, had seen "bastardy" but not "bastardry". The OED confirms that the former is standard (even legal) English for the condition of being, or the crime of begetting, a bastard. If I needed a noun for the condition of deserving the term of abuse, I would probably resort to "bastardliness".

  8. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 9, 2021 @ 1:00 am

    7 comments already but not one with the obligatory quote from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

    “Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.”

  9. cnh said,

    January 9, 2021 @ 9:16 am

    'In economics, the "Laffer Curve" claims to show that reducing tax rates increases (or rather, can increase) total tax revenue.'

    Well, no.

    The Laffer curve gives a graph of the tax revenue raised as against tax rate. Thus, obviously, a tax rate of 0% will raise no money at all. A tax rate of 100% will equally raise no money, simply because people won't bother. There is some intermediate point where tax revenue reaches a maximum. The Laffer curve does not specify where this point is – so it is possible that reducing tax rates will increase tax revenue, but that is not a necessary condition for the curve to be correct.

  10. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 9, 2021 @ 12:49 pm

    cnh: No, if the curve has a maximum, then there's a region of negative slope where reducing the tax rate increases revenue, so reducing the tax rate can increase tax revenue, which is the statement you disagreed with.

    As a physics teacher, I prefer the much clearer-cut calculation of maximum power transfer. If you have a circuit with a fixed resistance in series with a load resistance, there's no power transferred to the load if the load resistance is zero and none if it's infinite, so there must be a value of the load resistance that gives maximum load power. Finding that value is a good problem in first-year physics with calculus, whereas finding the perfect tax structure for a nation is unsolved, as far as I know.

  11. David L said,

    January 9, 2021 @ 1:56 pm

    I've always thought the problem with the Laffer curve is that it takes no account of how an economy would work as the tax rate rose asymptotically to 100%. I can sort of imagine a structure with a tax rate of 100%: you go to work and your company sends your whole paycheck to the government. In return, the government pays for your housing, food, education, child care, health care etc, plus it gives you allowances for vacation money, beer money, and so on. And everyone would live happily ever after. The End.

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