Letters from our readers.
May 8 1998 3:30 AM

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That Is All Ye Know on Earth

Nice review by Judith Shulevitz ("Modern Makeup"). But who is this historian-author Kathy Peiss? What an interesting idea for a book. Is it readable prose? I mean, for 25 bucks I want to know first if she's a credible researcher and secondly whether I'll stay awake for the read. I'm being picky because I'm really thinking of buying the book--Shulevitz's review compels me. So, red light/green light?

--Kate Nolan

Judith Shulevitz responds: Good question, and one I should have answered more clearly in my review.


So here's the information I should have provided: The book's a fine read, if not a rollicking one. The research is excellent and Peiss' presentation subtle and nuanced. Peiss is a history professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the author of a book called Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York, which I have not read but which is said by more knowledgeable friends to be a substantial contribution to the history of women in America. Should you buy Hope in a Jar? Why not? You'll learn lots of things you hadn't known, you'll think about makeup in a new way, and you'll be spared the ranting about the evils of consumerism that so often accompanies social histories of women, beauty, and fashion.

Thanks for asking. Hope this helps.

For Richer or for Poorer

Eric Alterman ("Diary") says that he and his spouse-equivalent aren't getting married because their federal taxes would skyrocket. He might want to check his arithmetic and reconsider. However lamentable the "marriage penalty" may be, his examples vastly overstate its size.


For a two-earner couple making $150,000 split evenly, Alterman claims a staggering marriage penalty of $7,700. But that's not even close: The actual figures are $1,140 for a couple with no children and $1,700 for a couple with two kids.

For two earners each making $23,350, Alterman is serendipitously close to the mark when he asserts a marriage penalty of $1,001 a year. The actual amounts are $84 for childless couples and $883 for a couple with one child. (The jump in the penalty from having a child is mainly due to the fact that a single parent making $23,750 gets a $500 earned-income tax credit, while a couple making $46,700 is ineligible for that credit.) But one suspects this is not the example that actually worries Alterman.

Finally, in the example that's apparently nearest to Alterman's heart--two potential spouses making $125,000 and $40,000--he says, "a year of marriage costs the same as a year of day care." He must have found a bargain rate. The actual penalties in this case are $774 for childless couples and $2,681 for couples with one kid. That latter figure is certainly not nothing, but it's only 1.6 percent of the couple's $165,000 total income.

By the way, I've long been a hawk for eliminating the marriage penalty. But such a step wouldn't mean Alterman and his potential spouse's taxes would go down much. In the $125,000-$40,000 scenario, for instance, a deficit-neutral solution would increase their taxes by $2,000 or so (compared with now) if they remain single and cut their taxes by about $550 if they get married.


--Robert S. McIntyre Director, Citizens for Tax JusticeWashington, D.C.

The Other White Meat

I enjoyed Jacob Weisberg's article on dumb jocks ("The Football Caucus"). The last thing we need is unrealistic and idealistic people voting their consciences. We need people who can play the game and get the pork.

--Tom Swick

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