Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Which Nation's Care is Best?

"The most revealing international comparisons look at cancer survival rates, because of the universally extensive record-keeping for this disease. A European study found that, compared to 18 European countries, the U.S. had strikingly higher five-year survival rates in all 12 cancers studied, except for one: stomach cancer. Even there, the survival rates were close -- and the difference was attributed to the location of the cancer in the stomach. For all types of cancers, European men have only a 47.3 percent five-year survival rate, compared to 66.3 percent survival rate for American men. The greatest disparity was in prostate cancer, which American men are 28 percent more likely to survive than European men.
European women are only 55.8 percent likely to live five years after contracting any kind of cancer, compared to 62.9 percent for American women. In five cancers -- breast, prostate, thyroid, testicular and skin melanoma -- American survival rates are higher than 90 percent. Europeans hit a 90 percent survival rate for only one of those -- testicular cancer. Most disturbingly, many cancers in Europe are discovered only upon the victim's death -- twice as many as in the U.S. Consequently, the European study simply excluded cancers that were first noted on the death certificate, so as not to give the U.S. too great an advantage.  "

Perspective On Euro Statism

"The left loves Scandinavia, but for the wrong reason. Nations such as Denmark and Sweden have much to admire, particularly their open markets, low levels of regulation, sound money, and honest governments [1]. Indeed, if fiscal policy is removed from the equation, both Denmark and Sweden are more laissez-faire than the United States according to Economic Freedom of the World [2](as I noted in this recent video [3]).
But fiscal policy is where the Scandinavians have serious problems. Taxes are confiscatory, punishing people who work, save, and invest. High levels of government spending, meanwhile, reduce economic growth by diverting resources from the productive sector of the economy and funneling them into the stifling welfare state.

Not surprisingly, this is the reason why statists admire Scandinavian nations. Matthew Yglesias, for instance, recently expressed [4]his great admiration for Denmark. And I suppose I would agree with him if asked to pick the world's best welfare state. I've been to the country several times and there is no question that laissez-faire policies in areas other than fiscal policy have helped the nation remain relatively prosperous."

Rational Thought on AGW

We believe, and evidence supports this, that a warmer climate is on the whole beneficial to human health and endeavors, esp. for agriculture and forestry; hence we see no need to attempt climate modification of any kind. In addition, CO2 is a natural fertilizer for plants, and higher CO2 levels are desirable; historic levels have been many times higher than today's. Adaptation to climate changes has been the human norm during ice ages and interglacials and will continue to be the primary mechanism. Finally, we see no need to modify energy policy in response to fears of climate change -- although we do support energy conservation and the development of alternative energy supplies in anticipation of the gradual depletion of readily available fossil fuels.

Paralysis of Governance - If Only

"The cost is compromise. And the outcome is a paralysis of governance."

He says "paralysis of governance." What he means is "paralysis of new legislation." Previously enacted legislation is still there to be governed by the Executive Branch. That does enough harm, no need to add
more of the same.  If this is what it takes to keep the government somewhat in check, I'm all for it, and will in fact hope for more. I wish we could get back to the days of "gridlock" and the "Do nothing Congress." Ahh, the good old days.

Trust Us, We're From the Govt

When they lie about AGW to make their point, what does that mean to you?  Does it make you think twice about the reality of the whole AGW case?  Or do you think the lying is justified because the stakes are so high?  In any event - do you trust the folks we call political leaders to know the truth and do the right thing?  Or do you think they'll use any event to line their pockets via their 'friends'?

This from David D Friedman:
"I am not arguing for or against claims that the greater extent doesn't really count because it is thinner ice or that all the evidence taken together still supports long term shrinking of arctic sea ice. My claim is simply that the quote above, which is still up on the JPL web page, is false. When people lie to me about the evidence for their conclusions, offering other evidence that their conclusions are still true is not an adequate defense."

One Way to Know Our Taxes Are High Enough

There are a lot of telling stats on taxes - E.G.:
"As we come to the end of the Bush administration, the top 1% of American taxpayers already pay 40% of all income taxes -- the highest level in 40 years. The top 10% of income earners pay 71% of the taxes."

But this one makes an unarguable point. If we desire to compete in the world for producers, we should be a place where producers can keep what they make so that we can keep them here producing.

The Feds Are Scary

I had to write my congressional delegation about this one. This is wrong, it's abusive to liberty, it must stop.
"You can't get much meaner than to threaten someone with guns. And that is what a warning letter from HHS is. Think about what would happen if Humana ignored the HHS letter and kept speaking out critically on health care. The next step would be to bring Humana to court. If Humana refused, the next step would be, literally, for the Feds to come in with guns."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Most Powerful Hope and Change We Could Wish For

This guy is brilliant - I hope one day, out of desperation, our political leaders move this way. With this plan cemented into Constitutional Law, and tax reform like the Fair Tax, we could eliminate most of the issues we Amercians fight each other over in the political arena. Politicians would be free to do what they should be doing now, which is taking care of constituent issues and thinking about national defense. No more fighting about entitlements, health care reform, or how this group or that group is going to take some of our money and give it to a small constituency 'for our own good.' No more bickering about how we should surrender to the state 'just a teeny tiny bit of freedom' in order to gain the benefit of them taking the money from us to give it back to us.  Excerpts follow.
"Give the money to the people," Charles Murray argues in his new book, In Our Hands : A Plan To Replace The Welfare State. His plan would give a $10,000 yearly grant to all Americans, once 21, who are not in jail.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: First things first. $10,000? Who's getting and when? And can I use it on my credit-card debt? Charles Murray: If you've reached your 21st birthday, are a United States citizen, are not incarcerated, and have a pulse, you get the grant, electronically deposited in monthly installments in an American bank of your choice with an ABA routing number. If you make more than $25,000, you pay part of it back in graduated amounts. At $50,000, the surtax maxes out at $5,000. I also, reluctantly but with good reason,
specify that $3,000 has to be devoted to health care. Apart from that, you can use the grant for whatever you want. Enjoy.
Lopez: You write that your plan "does not require much in the way of bureaucratic apparatus." Come on, Charles. This is America. Is that realistic? Murray: I said "require." If we start defining "require" as "how the government would prefer to behave," all hope is gone. We start with a high-tech identity card, which these days can be within a fraction of unfakeable, for each U.S. citizen. The citizen approaching age 21 presents it to a bank. The bank opens the account and electronically notifies the government of the account holder and account number (no bank account, no grant). The bureaucratic requirements for distributing the money is a computer with decent software and a lot of capacity, with a couple of minders to dust it occasionally. All right, a few more people than that, but not many. The significant personnel requirement is for a fraud detection and prevention division. But that division is given a pretty easy job: being a citizen of the U.S. is a yes-no proposition with simple definitions. Birth record-keeping systems and naturalization records are already in place, requiring just some tweaking to make them precise enough. The main cheating problem would be the same one the IRS faces, and would involve underpayment of the surtax for people making more than $25,000, but that would be minor in the grand panorama of government waste and fraud.

Lopez: How can even low-income folks have a "comfortable retirement" under your plan? Is that foolproof?
Murray: Someone turning 21 has about 45 years before retirement. The lowest average real return for the U.S. stock market for any 45-year period since 1801 is 4.3 percent. Round that down to 4 percent and work the magic of compound interest. Just a $2,000 contribution a year amounts to about $253,000 at retirement. A low-income couple that has followed that strategy retires with more than half a million dollars in
the bank plus $20,000 continuing annual income from the grant. Sounds comfortable to me. As for  foolproof," think of it this way: All of the government's guarantees for Social Security depend on the U.S. economy growing at a rate that, at the very least, is associated with an historically worst average return of 4 percent in the stock market (actually, it needs a much stronger economy than that). Absent economic growth, no plan is foolproof. With economic growth, mine is. 

Lopez: At one point you talk about possibly increasing the grant size if you estimate on health-care-cost needs turned out to be off? What's to say that in implementation the grant size doesn't skyrocket? Murray: The passage you're talking about was intended to anticipate critics who present elaborate data to prove that my $3,000 allocated annually to health care is not precisely right. I'm close, but I don't want to spend the next year arguing about whether the right number is $3,300 or $3,500 instead of $3,000. In effect, I'm saying to the reader: "Okay, for purposes of reading the other chapters in the book, assume that the grant size is their number for health care plus $7,000." The debate about the Plan shouldn't get sidetracked over a few hundred dollars, because small dollar differences are irrelevant to the main argument. Suppose, for example, that the right figure for the annual health care allocation is as high as $3,8000 instead of $3,000. All that
means is that the projected costs of the Plan cross those of the current system in 2015 instead of 2011.

Lopez: Under your plan, recent college grads would have incentive to bum around, wouldn't they? The government would give them money to do nothing. Get a couple of bums with some guaranteed income and you've got a government disincentive to be productive, don't you? Murray: I think it would be a great boon to the maturity of our new college grads, and save many innocent people from going to law school, if more of them took a few years after college and did something besides heading straight to grad school or throwing themselves into their careers. I'm not worried about this particular form of work disincentive in the Plan. Playing gets old awfully fast. So does living on $10,000 a year.

Lopez: Not to be stuck on stupid here, but I'm watching the French students rioting now. Is there any danger that under your plan we'd be raising a generation of French kids? People who think they are entitled for money for nothing? Murray: Au contraire. The problem with the French kids isn't that they think they are entitled to money for nothing, but entitled to guaranteed jobs with high salaries and benefits plus all the goodies of the welfare state. People living under the Plan get the $10,000, but they have to make all the decisions about how to run their lives. To put it another way, the Plan provides the raw material for a safety net, but people have to weave it for themselves. The Plan puts responsibility for people's lives back in their hands - precisely what seems to terrify French youth.

Lopez: Under your plan, the government spends more first, but saves money in the long run, right? But is there any guarantee folks in the future abide by the plan? Can't a few pols wanting to restore an entitlement here or there ruin things? Murray: I leave the size of the grant to the political process, but there is a built-in brake. Congress can pass hundreds of billions of dollars in favors for special groups, because no single allocation is large enough to mobilize the opposition of a powerful coalition opposing it. A change in the size of the grant directly effects everyone over the age of 21. Every time Congress talks about changing the size of the grant, it will be the biggest story in the country. The one thing that can't be left to the political process is the requirement that the grant replace all other transfers. That has to be a constitutional requirement, written in language that even Supreme Court justices can't ignore. Assuming such a thing is possible.

Lopez: You expect single motherhood to decline but abortion to increase? Our Ramesh Ponnuru in his review of your book in the latest issue of National Review says, "I'm not sure this would happen, both because illegitimacy and abortion rates have moved in tandem over the last several decades and because Murray's reforms might have a conservatizing effect on voters . If the proportion of the electorate that is married increases - let alone the proportion of one-income marriages - one would expect the country to become more welcoming of new life." Could you see that being true? Murray: I think Ramesh is probably right, and I thought about making a similar argument in the text. But part of writing a book like In Our Hands is to make a conscious effort not to be too Pollyanna-ish. The most direct causal logic says that some women will be more likely to have abortions under the Plan than under the current system, and I feel I have to acknowledge that. 

Lopez: Are you aiming for too much? Why not fix the bureaucracies? Isn't that more practical? Murray: I'm contemplating that sentence, "Why not fix the bureaucracies?" You're asking me to be practical? Bureaucracies are not fixable. They are inescapably, inherently driven by their internal dynamics to maximize their budgets and the size of their staffs, not to accomplish their putative tasks. 

Lopez: What does this statement mean? "The welfare state drains too much of the life from life."
Murray: A meaningful friendship does not consist of sharing backyard  barbecues; a satisfying marriage does not consist of two people living together; a vibrant community is not created by yard sales. All of these
relationships are given weight and consequence by the elemental events of life - birth, death, raising children, paying the rent, comforting the sad, joining together to do things that need getting done and (crucial point here) having responsibility for getting those things done. The welfare state says of too many important functions in life, "We'll take care of that." The natural human response is to say, "Okay, you do it." And in this transfer of responsibility the welfare state has drained too much of the life from life.

Lopez: You say that your plan will transform civil life. Might you be too optimistic about how generous and wise and cooperative Americans are? Murray: I'm just being a student of American history. My projection of
what would happen is a straight extrapolation of behaviors that have emerged whenever Americans were given responsibility for their own lives and the freedom to deal with the problems they faced. I don't think that is a romantic vision of American history, but dead-on accurate.

Lopez: "At some point in this century" the "limited competence of government is inherent" will become "consensus understanding"? This century?! That gives you some cover, doesn't it? Murray: And saying it at age 63 gives me even more cover. It will be up to my children to own up that Daddy was wrong, if I'm wrong. But I'm not.

You Won't Believe It - Government Is Not Efficient

The government geeks that are making bets on how they can force us to be more efficient through their use of the government's monopoly on coercion - wouldn't it set a great example if they cleaned up their own act first?  And anyway, given the so called 'efficiency gap', wouldn't this result in more savings to fund other massive government spending programs? 

It'll never happen.  Government incompetence is so endemic we don't even get angry about it any longer.


"The latest report found that "the Energy Department failed in many cases to use controls on heating, ventilation and air conditioning that are a primary means of conserving energy during non-working hours," as Dow Jones Newswires put it. That could have cost the DOE more than $11 million."

Boudreaux Responds to Posner's Understanding of Keynes, Part II

On Posner the Keynesian (http://www.cafehayek.com/)
Posted: 25 Sep 2009 07:20 AM PDT
Here's a letter that I sent yesterday to the New Republic:
Richard Posner courageously opens up shop in the highly competitive seventy-three year-old industry of telling the world what John Maynard Keynes <http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Keynes.html> meant in his 1936 book The General Theory ("How I Became a Keynesian <http://www.tnr.com/article/how-i-became-keynesian> ," Sept. 23). That this industry still thrives and attracts new and prominent suppliers speaks volumes.

Judge Posner, alas, misses some vital points of economic history. For instance, it's untrue that "a general fall in the price level - deflation - imperils economic stability." In the U.S. the price-level fell pretty steadily from 1865 through 1898 - a period of rapid economic growth unmarred by any unusual instability. Deflation is desirable if it is caused by rising productivity <http://www.amazon.com/Less-Than-Zero-Falling-Growing/dp/0255364024> (as was the case in the late 19th century) and not by contractions of the money supply (as happened in the early 1930s).

Judge Posner also gives undue credit to Keynes for two insights that are not original to Keynes. First, Adam Smith <http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Smith.html> beat Keynes to the punch in emphasizing that the ultimate goal of economic activity is not production, but consumption. Second, the importance of uncertainty was brought to economists' attention, not by Keynes, but by Frank Knight <http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Knight.html> . In 1921 Knight argued that profit is entrepreneurs' reward for dealing with uncertainty. Unlike Keynes, Knight understood that uncertainty poses no special threat to free markets operating with sound money. Sincerely, Donald J. Boudreaux

Boudreax on Posner on Keynes

Keynesian economics
Posted: 24 Sep 2009 07:15 AM PDT
Richard Posner has read Keynes's General Theory so you don't have to. He does a superb job of summarizing <http://www.tnr.com/article/how-i-became-keynesian> (HT: Greg Mankiw <http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/> ) what Keynes actually said. Other than pointing out the opaqueness of the work, Posner says little against it. The title of the piece is "How I Became a Keynesian" so I guess he found the arguments compelling.

Part of Keynes is compelling, the part about animal spirits, the idea that people get worried about the future, that the riskiness of the future is hard to quantify, and that this leads to people reining in plans for consumption and investment, leading to hoarding and reduced demand for all kinds of goods.

What is not so compelling is the conclusion that this can be rectified and improved on by the government taking up the slack, regardless of the reason. What is not so compelling is the idea that consumption creates growth. Consumption might create production (it depends) but consumption is not growth except in the very immediate term. (I almost said the short run, but you say the short run in a piece on Keynes and you can hear the mocking chorus that in the long run we're all dead. If the long-run is five years, it's not true. If it's 50, our children are alive and we care about them).

Also missing from the Keynesian story is the role of money creation and where the animal spirits of caution come from. They aren't spontaneous, certainly not in today's world, a world where Posner want to apply Keynes's insights. People are cautious right now in reaction to past recklessness. The Fed and the policy-makers are trying to keep the party going with massive increases in money reserves, cash-for-clunkers, home owner subsidies to people whose mortgages are underwater, and the so-called stimulus package which is stimulating the incomes of some people, financed out of future taxes on the rest of us.

But as Hayek would point out, the party needs to stop. We need to clean up the mess. It's not an easy mess to clean up but to pretend that we can clean it up by pretending it didn't happen seems to me to be a form of free lunch fantasy.

Mark Steyn, Liberty Hero from the Comic Justice Team

If you don't laugh at Mark Steyn, you must not drink enough.

""Personal responsibility" is racial code language? Phew, thank goodness America is belatedly joining Canada... and Europe in all but abolishing the concept. "Code language" is code language for "total bollocks."  "Code word" is a code word for "I'm inventing what you really meant to say because the actual quote doesn't quite do the job for me."  "Small government"? Racist code words! "Non-confiscatory taxes"? Likewise. "Individual liberty"? Don't even go there!"

Doctors Speak Up On "Reform"

"In short, doctors fear "health reform" because it's not really about health care; it's about catering to the prejudices of the politicians and the lawyers who've already made such a mess of our health-care system."


Will California Survive Good Intentions

Did anyone really think that California's plan to massively increase welfare benefits would work to the benefit of the populace?  If you make it easy to be unemployed, will more or less people find a way to be 'employed?'  What if you make it hard to start/own/run a business, and (relatively) easy to be unemployed - would you predict that you would have more or less investors and entrepreneurs, or less?  Would your actions produce a harvest of more 'unemployed' people or fewer?  It reminds me of a line from a Jimmie Buffet song, "It was so simple, like the Jitterbug, but it plumb evaded me."  Apparently, it 'evaded' a bunch of California do-gooders, too.

"The website Pension Tsunami recently noted several articles of interest related to union pension funds. "Hidden Pension Fiasco May Foment Another $1 Trillion Bailout" summarizes how public employee pension funds have cooked their books for years. This has gotten worse in recent years, as public sector employee unions have, "consolidated their power in state and local governments by controlling elections [and] demanded unsustainable increases to the benefit packages of their members - often retroactively - from politicians whose survival depended on their obedience.""

"The facts are indisputable: Blue States are melting down. California is an ominous preview into America's future. Perhaps an enterprising progressive (or is that an oxymoron?) could explain why we should follow
the Obama-Pelosi-Reid brain-trust into certain oblivion."

This Is Inequality I Oppose - State Sponsored Inequality


"There is our inefficient and inequitable system of tax-advantaged, employer-based health insurance. While the federal tax code promotes overspending by making the majority unaware of the true cost of their insurance and care, the code is grossly unfair to the self-employed, small businesses, workers who stick with a bad job because they need the coverage, and workers who lose their jobs after getting sick."

Are You Up To Date on AGW?

"Yet last week in Geneva, at the UN's World Climate Conference--an
annual gathering of the so-called "scientific consensus" on man-made
climate change --Latif conceded the Earth has not warmed for nearly a
decade and that we are likely entering "one or even two decades during
which temperatures cool.""

Which Crimes Are Criminal?

BLUF:  Having allowed the government more power and responsibility than we should have, we should not be surprised to find that those more powerful than ourselves found out how to use the system to their benefit.  The solution isn't more regulation - the solution is less.  The less power government holds, they lower the incentive to manipulate the government in order to be successful.  How does one gain success in a playing field undistorted by govt?  Bring to the market products that others are willing to pay for - voluntarily.http://www.politicsdaily.com/2009/07/20/violent-crime-way-down-pick-pock

"Violent crime is down. Imagine that. The experts are scratching their heads. Statistics from major cities across the country show homicides dropping to 30- and 40-year lows.
Which gets us to an important point: The surveys only look at crime that's against the law. There's nothing about the conduct of those who used their economic and political power as weapons to make sure what they did was not illegal fraud, not illegal larceny.

Sure as can be, they used deception to improperly take billions from the unsuspecting. At the same time, they connived with their public servants to make sure their world of finance was largely a lawless frontier.

Even though the walls came tumbling down, they are still fighting in the rubble to make sure no one regulates their ability to keep their hands in our pockets. There's an interesting article in Monday's Washington Post that describes how regulators at the New York Federal Reserve were hand-in-glove with those they were supposed to oversee: "At N.Y. Fed, Blending In Is Part of the Job.''

Regulators too cozy with regulatees. Really? No kidding."

The Deniers

Of the eight insurers listed, Medicare is most likely to reject a claim, sending away 6.85% of requests. This is more than any private insurer and double that of the private insurers’ average!

In short, the AMA is endorsing a plan whose closest existing example is the most frequent denier of claims. How the public option exemplifies “delivering care to patients” is unclear.

Buchanan hits and misses

I like Buchanan's criticisms of the practice of science - people forget that while science has given much to humanity, it is no more pure an endeavor than any other human endeavor.  Nor are scientists any more pure that 'regular' humans.  The first rule of science make sense in that context - don't trust the scientist, trust the scientific method.  Given that government is run by politics, I completely agree with his assertions and the implications that science by government is a disaster.

Of course, being Buchanan, he doesn't stop there and proceeds to some BFOs (blinding flashes of the obvious) that, no, Darwinism does not explain the origin of life.  Thanks Pat.  Big help there.

A Friend's Astute Commentary on AGW Science - or Lack of Science

Madoff - Asking the Unaskable

"So let us ask the unaskable: Just how unusually evil were Madoff's actions? Not that unusual. In fact, the whole notion of paying off past investors with the funds of present investors is at the very core of the Social Security system. At least Madoff sought the consent of his investors who let him care for their money based on their own volition. And at least he didn't attempt to defend himself with the claim that he was conducting wise public policy. 
[VIEW THIS ARTICLE ONLINE] <http://mises.org/story/3546> "

Comments anyone?