Category Archives: Politics

Lady Economists

*sigh*  From the NY Fed:  ht Noah Smith via Twitter.

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General Dubik at Jefferson Erie Global Summit IX

These are my notes from General Dubik’s talk on Friday, November 17, 2017.
Gen Dubik is highly credentialed, including member of CFR.  His slides are all titled “Institute for the study of war.

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Health Insurance Hacks

As Obamacare becomes prohibitively expensive, here are some ideas of ways to at least partially insure yourself against catastrophic healthcare costs.  From Patrick Watson, via John Mauldin:

Insurance Hacks

I suggested looking for short-term medical coverage if Obamacare becomes unavailable in your area. Reader Mike E., a Colorado insurance broker, added some details.

Temporary insurance will probably continue to be available since it’s not under the ACA restrictions. But there are several caveats:

Not only will it not cover preexisting conditions, many of the temp insurance carriers will deny any coverage if you show preexisting conditions on your application form, even common things like moderate hypertension. Leaving such details off the application is a risky prospect, because the carrier can deny all claims if they find you’ve falsified information. And if they’re receiving major claims, they’ll probably look for a reason to deny them.

The biggest downside is the total benefit limit. As far as I know, there are no plans available with a limit above $2 million. Nonetheless, temp insurance is a good option if you can qualify.

Some readers may be in a position to change their permanent residence (e.g., to a second home). Traditionally, the choice of which to use has been based on state tax rates, but now access (and cost) of health insurance may be a bigger factor.

We have been selling quite a few “microgroup” plans, partly because group insurance is the only way to get a PPO plan in Colorado for 2017. Generally, the carriers require at least two participants, one of whom has no ownership stake. (Some carriers apply other rules, including whether 1099 employees are eligible and count.) Apparently, the working population is overall considerably healthier than the non-working population, and thus the group health insurance market hasn’t seen the turmoil that the individual market has.

On small-group insurance, Ray H. said to consider using a PEO, Professional Employer Organization—what was once called employee leasing. I’ve been such an employee before (of John Mauldin, actually, many years ago) and we had big-company-style benefits. It’s worth investigating if you are self-employed.

Another idea: Go (or go back) to school. Some community colleges have student group health plans open to part-time students of any age. The rates are low because the group is mostly young—but you have to be a legitimate, enrolled student and pay tuition. That might outweigh the lower premiums.

Healthcare Cost-Sharing

From Richard J.:

Many thanks, Patrick for your letter this morning; it’s right on. And thank you for finally mentioning the religious healthcare alternative, which is getting little to no mention at all. I am relatively healthy and have been with an alternative care for 2 years now.

The savings are huge, bigger than all my investing profits during the same time, and if you’re healthy and following the suggestions in your letter, it is smart, it feels good to help others, and it’s good to know some program that really works is behind you. Keep on doing the good work.

Richard refers to the handful of religious cost-sharing cooperatives that received a special exemption in the Affordable Care Act. Participating in one satisfies the Obamacare individual mandate even though they are not “insurance” per se.

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I was wrong about Mark Perry

I thought Mark Perry was a sexist; see my 2015 post:  http://wp.me/p3RzvV-gK

Actually, he just hates women.  Here’s his latest, on the impossibility of a pay gap between men and women in the US.  It’s called

Evidence of employers paying women 20% less than men for the exact same work is as elusive as Bigfoot sightings

He lists a whole bunch of reasons why men’s pay *can’t* be higher than women’s, most ending with the words “not likely.”  As in, he is presenting no evidence.  That’s elusive.

Just as he can make up rationalizations for his case, anyone could  make rationalizations the other way as well.  So tempting.

Instead, how about some data.  Here’s an example, Mr. Perry:  JAMA article on nursing pay gap.  It even includes all those controls you long for.

It’s a shame about Professor Perry.  I agree with him on so much.  Just don’t get the hate.  Go Blue!

Edit 3/30/17:  Ivanka Trump just took a position at the white house paying $0.  Also, not sure if people consider Melania Trump a feminist but I’m kind of glad to see her turn down the unpaid full time first lady gig.

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Andrew Sullivan on Terrorism

Andrew Sullivan is 100% correct.  How do terrorists win?  By terrifying us.  I, for one, refuse to be terrified.

Here’s the link to the full piece.

Here’s the bit on terrorism:

“We are not afraid,” declared Prime Minister Theresa May after the latest Islamist horror on Westminster Bridge. She went on about the importance of being “normal.” It’s a very British response to terrorism. It’s called stoicism — a quality unknown, it appears, in the home of the “brave.” Perhaps its highest moment of sangfroid was when the IRA bombed the very hotel in Brighton where the prime minister and much of her cabinet were staying while attending their annual party conference in 1981. Thatcher herself would have been killed if she had been in a different room in her hotel suite. A leading cabinet member had to be hauled out of rubble. Nonetheless, the next day, Thatcher, utterly undaunted, got up and gave her speech — almost as if nothing had happened. A few days later, she insisted: “We suffered a tragedy not one of us could have thought would happen in our country. And we picked ourselves up and sorted ourselves out as all good British people do.” Keep calm and carry on, and all that.

Compare this with, say, the reaction to the Boston marathon bombing. An entire city was brought to a standstill and locked down, while the pursuit of a deranged, unarmed teenager continued. You can understand that, I suppose, given that the suspect was still at large. But to subsequently celebrate the event with the slogan “Boston Strong” was perverse. The truth was: “Boston Shit-Scared.”

The response of Americans to terror is to be terrified — 9/11’s trauma has never been fully exorcised. Until we get over that, until we manage to stiffen our upper lips like the Brits, jihadist terrorists will exercise control over the American psyche like no one else. We can do better, can’t we? If we want the Constitution to survive both Islamism’s threat and the potential response of a beleaguered Trump, we’ll have to.

 

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Politics and #MAGA

Catherine Austin Fitts has a lovely post today about individual responsibility and how it is related to our world.

“Our task is to look at the world and see it whole.”
— E. F. Schumacher

“An entrepreneur who grew up on a small island once explained why small islands produced a much higher percentage of people who were good at starting and building successful businesses. He said it was because when a person grows up on a small island, you see how everything is connected. It is much easier to learn how to take responsibility for the whole — to see how all time and energy is precious and never to waste anything. People who grow up on small islands, he said, understand that “a penny saved is a penny earned.”

He had been taught from the time he was a small child to connect the behavior of individual people with how everything works around him. He said that he had learned to adjust his behavior so that it contributed to the system working in the way he hoped it would. His family, his school and his church all encouraged him to take responsibility for the whole in practical concrete ways. People who grow up on small islands, he said, understand that “what goes around comes around.”

My friend said that America is just a very big island, but most Americans do not know this — nor do they understand that the planet is also just an even bigger island. They cannot connect how the system works — particularly the aspects of the system they do not like — with their individual actions. They do not have even simple maps of how things connect. They do not understand their own power to vote with their thoughts, their choice of friends and spouse, their actions and how they spend their money every day. People who grow up on small islands, he said, “see the world whole.”

Most Americans look at our situation from their own individual points of view. From every degree of the circle, there is a different definition of what ails us, of why our system isn’t working, and what the solutions are. Often, what we perceive as our own individual problems are really just the symptoms each person experiences of the deeper problems that we all share. Too many times, the solution is to blame or attack someone, or to propose that more government or private capital be spent in a futile attempt to keep the wolf from the door. Without a simple map of where we are and how to get to a better place together, we have forgotten that we are in this together and at the simplest level, you simply can’t eat what you don’t grow.”

On a related note, Jason Brennan examines political behavior from a behavioral science standpoint.

Two Hypotheses about Political Participation

February 2017 – In Considerations on Representative Government, the great nineteenth century economist, philosopher, and early feminist John Stuart Mill advocated experimenting with more widespread political participation (Mill 1975). Mill hoped that participation would make citizens more concerned about the common good, and would entice them to educate themselves. He hoped getting factory workers to think about politics would be like getting fish to discover there is a world outside the ocean. As he said, “Among the foremost benefits of free government is that education of the intelligence and of the sentiments which is carried down to the very lowest ranks of the people when they are called to take a part in acts which directly affect the great interests of their country.” (Mill 1975, 304.)

20th century sociologist and economist Joseph Schumpeter tendered a grimmer hypothesis about how political involvement affects us: “The typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field. He argues and analyzes in away which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes a primitive again.” (Schumpeter 1996, 262.)

Both Mill and Schumpeter were scientific thinkers, but neither quite had the data needed to test their hypotheses. However, we now possess over sixty years’ worth of detailed, varied, and rigorous empirical research in political science and political psychology. The test results are in. Overall, Schumpeter was largely right and Mill largely wrong. In general, political participation makes us mean and dumb. Emotion has a large role in explaining why.

Why It Matters 

There are two major sets of reasons why bias-driven politics is dangerous.

First, it contributes to the growing political polarization in the United States. Americans have become more distrustful of each other on the basis of political differences. Legal theorist Cass Sunstein (2014) notes that in 1960, only about 4-5% of Republicans and Democrats said they would “displeased” if their children married members of the opposite party. Now about 49% of Republicans and 33% of Democrats admit they would be displeased (Sustein 2014, citing Iyengar, Sood, and Lelkes 2012). Sunstein says that explicit “partyism”—prejudice against people from a different political party—is now more common than explicit racism. In fact, it appears that “implicit” partyism is stronger than implicit racism too (cf. Iyengar and Westwood 2014).

For instance, political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood (2014) find that people are much more likely to discriminate against job candidates with different political viewpoints than they are to discriminate on the basis of racial differences. At least in some cases, for democracy to work, we need people to reach across the aisle, compromise, and work together. What the various biases discussed above tells us is that this is unlikely to happen.

Second, in a democracy, what we as a collective electorate believe about politics matters, even if what any individual voter beliefs does not. Individual voters do not matter at all, but voters as a whole matter a great deal. While many things—special interest lobbying, party politics, legislature preferences, bureaucratic autonomy, luck—influence and determine political outcomes, how voters vote makes a difference. Voters elect candidates with certain policy slants, and electing such candidates makes it more likely such policies will be enacted. Further, who makes it on the ballot in the first place is largely depends on what voters want.

But what voters want depends on what they know. Most citizens and voters have low levels of information; they are generally ignorant or misinformed (Somin 2013). But, it turns out, better informed voters have systematically different political beliefs from badly informed voters, and these differences in policy preferences are not explained by demographic factors, such as race, income, or gender (Althaus 2013). But, as this article has discussed, what voters know (or do not know) is not primarily guided by a dispassionate, reason-driven search for truth. Instead, our beliefs are largely determined by emotion-based biases.

In short, emotion-driven politics does not just make us biased. Rather, it makes us dislike each other and mistreat each other. It causes mutual distrust and diffidence. Further, it leads to us voting in ways that we would not vote if only we were better informed or if we processed political information in rational ways. Emotion-driven politics means we get worse political culture and worse government.

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Defining Fake News

Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com has posted a pointed counter-argument to the “fake news” issue:

I was amused to find my site listed on the now-infamous list of purportedly Russian-controlled propaganda sites cited by The Washington Post. I find it amusing because I invite anyone to search my 3,600-page archive of published material over the past decade (which includes some guest posts and poems) and identify a single pro-Russia or pro-Russian foreign policy entry.

If anything, my perspective is pro-US dollar, pro-liberty, pro-open markets, pro-local control, pro-free-press, pro-innovation, and pro-opportunities to rebuild America’s abandoned, decaying localized economies: in other words, the exact opposite of Russian propaganda.

My “crime” is a simple one: challenging the ruling elite’s narrative. Labeling all dissent “enemy propaganda” is of course the classic first phase of state-sponsored propaganda and the favorite tool of well-paid illiberal apologists for an illiberal regime.

Labeling everyone who dissents or questions the ruling elite’s narrative as tools of an enemy power is classic McCarthy-era witch-hunting, i.e. a broad-brush way of marginalizing and silencing critics with an accusation that is easy to fabricate but difficult to prove.

Such unsupported slander is a classic propaganda technique. It has more in common with Nazi propaganda than with real journalism.

Try to dig through the hyperbolic language to the meaning behind it.  He’s right.  He doesn’t support the same goals or policies as many, or most, elected officials, and he uses the kind of wording you see above to make his points.  This absolutely does not make him a tool of Russian propaganda, even inadvertently.  Not agreeing with the mainstream cannot be the definition of being a Russian information shill.

IMHO, the biggest issue here is that many, many news sources, including mainstream media, alt-right, and others, present opinion pieces as news.  It is left for the reader to distinguish between reporting of fact and opining.  Additionally, what could legitimately be labeled fake news does exist;  that is, the presentation of “facts” that are not true at all, but are at best misrepresentations of facts and at worst outright lies.  This is the price we pay for a free press.  We must all be cognizant that regardless of the source, we must fact check information for ourselves, as well as determine what is fact and what is opinion.

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