Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Republican Convention in a nutshell

"Convention speakers: 'OK, guys, my turn to get an applause line with 'You didn't build that!"'"

(From Alex Knepper on Facebook.)

Should Romney have a "Sister Souljah" moment by linking Bush to Obama?

Jonah Goldberg thinks so:

Romney must challenge Obama’s theories of both the past and the future. The notion that Bush was a government-shrinking market fanatic is bizarre. Under Bush, the federal government spent more than 3 percent of GDP on anti-poverty programs for the first time. Education spending rose 58 percent faster than inflation. Bush gave us Medicare Part D, the biggest expansion in entitlements since the Great Society — until Obamacare. He signed Sarbanes-Oxley, created a whole new Cabinet agency (the Department of Homeland Security), and was the originator of the bailouts, TARP, and the first stimulus program.

Obama took many of these policies and approaches and expanded them. Historians will look back on the Bush-Obama years as a time of largely uninterrupted growth in government and debt.

I don’t believe the Republican party would punish Romney for a policy-heavy “Sister Souljah moment.” I’ve made this argument in front of numerous conservative audiences (and recently in the pages of National Review) with little to no objection. My hunch is that Bush himself would be happy to serve as a punching bag if it would help.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Thomas Sowell on the need to end Medicare as we know it

Sowell writes:

There are people who take seriously such statements as those by President Barack Obama that Republicans want to "end Medicare as we know it."

Let's stop and think, if only for the novelty of it. If you make any change in anything, you are ending it "as we know it." Does that mean that everything in the status quo should be considered to be set in concrete forever?

If there were not a single Republican, or none who got elected to any office, arithmetic would still end "Medicare as we know it," for the simple reason that the money in the till is not enough to keep paying for it. The same is true of Social Security. . . .

We are not yet Greece, but we are not exempt from the same rules of arithmetic that eventually caught up with Greece. We just have a little more time. The only question is whether we will use that time to make politically difficult changes or whether we will just kick the can down the road, and keep pretending that "Medicare as we know it" would continue on indefinitely, if it were not for people who just want to be mean to the elderly.

In both Europe and America, there are many people who get angry at those who tell them the truth that the money is just not there to sustain huge welfare state programs indefinitely. But that anger might be better directed at those who lied to them by promising them benefits that were inherently unsustainable.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Some Like It Hot

My girlfriend and I saw Some Like It Hot, the great (great, great) comedy from 1959, at BAM over the weekend.

Best line, in a New York theater in 2012:

But you're not a girl, you're a guy, and why would a guy want to marry a guy?!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Abortion and rape

A piece in Reason magazine points out:

[A]lthough Romney was "always personally opposed to abortion," he was "effectively pro-choice" when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, promising he would not seek to restrict abortion rights. Later he had a "change of heart," but even today he believes, consistent with his Mormon faith, that "abortion should be permitted in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is threatened."

While that last exception can be justified on grounds of self-defense (albeit against a nonculpable "aggressor"), the other two cannot, and Romney has never clarified why rape or incest justifies taking an innocent life. Likewise the Mormon church, which cites the biblical injunction against murder in condemning abortion but nevertheless does not take as hard a line as the Roman Catholic Church.

"For many people," Romney said in a 2007 presidential debate, abortion "is considered an act of murder." Evidently he is not one of those people.
I agree that it doesn't seem to make sense for those who are opposed to abortion rights to support a rape exception. If abortion is infanticide, why does that fact no longer matter when there has been a rape? After all, no one supports infanticide of a baby (who has been born) when the conception resulted from rape!

The apparent discrepancy would seem to be resolved if you assume that what really motivates pro-lifers is disapproval of promiscuity and hedonism.

I question whether anyone is genuinely, whole-heartedly in favor of criminalizing abortion in the sense that they would like to see vigorous prosecutions of anyone who performs or receives an abortion, or aids someone else in doing so (e.g., paying for someone else to get an abortion). The consequences would be wildly unacceptable.

Stating one's opposition to a legal right to abortion can be a way of saying there's something about modern culture that one finds objectionable; it isn't a realistic policy solution. The fact that abortion remains generally legal actually works to the opponents' political benefit. As Nietzsche said (in Human, All Too Human, #531), "Whoever lives for the sake of combating an enemy has an interest in the enemy's staying alive."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

President Obama and Paul Ryan are almost the same on Medicare.

Explains Matthew Yglesias:

Medicare is . . . an open-ended promise to pay the bills for most of the health care services consumed by the elderly. It’s almost as if the government had a program that just gave senior citizens free shoes in unlimited quantities. The main difference is that undergoing medical treatment is generally unpleasant and it has no real resale value, so in practice people only want to consume so much of it. . . .

Both Ryan and Obama want to put an end to this and give Medicare a finite growth target. And, indeed, they’ve both converged on the same target. Ryan put out two budget plans based on very stingy Medicare proposals: The most recent version of his idea caps Medicare growth at the underlying GDP growth rate plus 0.5 percentage points. Obama, in his remarkably little noticed Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal, offers the very same target on Page 33. Both campaigns, in other words, propose putting Medicare on a fixed diet and they agree on the precise diet.

Where they disagree is on how to implement the cuts. Ryan’s proposal is to turn Medicare into a voucher program where seniors would get a subsidy with which to buy an insurance package, with the value of the subsidy limited by the overall growth target. Obama’s proposal is to hit the growth target the way foreign single-payer systems limit their costs, with more aggressive bureaucratic management of what Medicare is willing to pay for and how much it’s willing to pay.

The difference between outsourcing (Ryan) and centralized rationing (Obama) is an important one, but from a patient’s point of view they might end up looking pretty similar. Under Ryan’s approach, the poor will be left with bare-bones plans and more affluent seniors will either pay higher premiums to get more deluxe plans or else pay out-of-pocket for noncovered services. Under Obama’s approach, the poor will be left with bare-bones Medicare and more affluent seniors will either buy separate supplemental insurance plans or else pay out-of-pocket for noncovered services. The workability of Obama’s idea, in my view, is well-validated by international experience while the Romney/Ryan alternative amounts to taking a leap of faith in the magic of the private sector. But ironically it’s essentially the same leap of faith Obama is taking in his signature health care program for nonseniors—the view that an adequately regulated, subsidized system of private insurance plans can provide reasonable coverage at reasonable cost.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Medicare and reality

An article in Reason magazine defends Paul Ryan's Medicare plan:

At the rate we're going, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and interest payments will consume the entire federal budget by 2025—leaving nothing for defense, law enforcement, national parks, highways, food stamps and all the other responsibilities the government is supposed to handle. Either drastic spending cuts or staggering tax increases would be needed.

To insist that Medicare can and should remain just as it is today is either delusional or dishonest . . . .

It's easy to improve health care if cost is no object. It's easy to reduce costs if you can tolerate worse health outcomes. The trick is to balance the two needs. The Ryan plan is a credible attempt. . . .

Democrats have a point in saying what Ryan offers is not as good as the current version of Medicare. It's also not as good as the Big Rock Candy Mountain, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or the valley of Shangri-La.

His option does, however, have the virtue of a connection to the real world. It's a place his critics can't avoid forever.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Yes, President Obama did cut Medicare ...

. . . not just for health-care providers, but for senior citizens too.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias agrees:

Reducing Medicare's generosity to health care providers is an idea I'm happy to get behind, but there's a reason Medicaid is not considered a particularly high-quality health insurance program and its low reimbursement rates are a key part of it—lots of doctors refuse to accept Medicaid patients. Already Medicare is stingier than private plans, and in large high-income metro areas the most-in-demand doctors often decline to see Medicare payments. Any change at the margin to make it less lucrative for doctors will increase the number of providers who try to shun Medicare payments.

All things considered, I'm fine with that. . . . But if your top priority in life is to make senior citizens' health care as excellent as possible at any price, then Obama's savings are in fact contrary to that goal.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How an abortion would have been better for a mother and daughter

Lynn Beisner writes this in the Guardian (via):

I make even my most ardent pro-choice friends and colleagues very uncomfortable when I explain why my mother should have aborted me. . . .

An abortion would have absolutely been better for my mother. . . . She would have been better prepared when she had children. If nothing else, getting an abortion would have saved her from plunging into poverty. She likely would have stayed in the same socioeconomic strata as her parents and grandparents who were professors. I wish she had aborted me because I love her and want what is best for her.

Abortion would have been a better option for me. If you believe what reproductive scientists tell us, that I was nothing more than a conglomeration of cells, then there was nothing lost. I could have experienced no consciousness or pain. But even if you discount science and believe I had consciousness and could experience pain at six gestational weeks, I would chose the brief pain or fear of an abortion over the decades of suffering I endured. . . .

[My mother] abused me, beating me viciously and often. We lived in bone-crushing poverty, and our little family became a magnet for predatory men and organisations. . . .

The world would not be a darker or poorer place without me. Actually, in terms of contributions to the world, I am a net loss. Everything that I have done – including parenting, teaching, researching, and being a loving partner – could have been done as well, if not better by other people. Any positive contributions that I have made are completely offset by what it has cost society to help me overcome the disadvantages and injuries of my childhood to become a functional and contributing member of society.
A commenter named Afroblanco makes an important point on Metafilter (where I also posted this link):
One of the most disingenuous arguments of the anti-choice movement is "my mother would have aborted me, but I'm glad that I'm alive." A lot of women have abortions because they'd like to have children someday, but they're not ready yet. And since most American families have 3 kids or fewer, it's safe to say that once a woman reaches her "limit", she's not going to have more. So, if your mother only wanted 2 children and had an abortion before you or your sibling were born, then shouldn't you be glad she had that abortion? I'd imagine a lot of people . . . would be in this boat.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In praise of Paul Ryan

The left-leaning columnist William Saletan writes:

Ryan refutes the Democratic Party’s bogus arguments. He knows that our domestic spending trajectory is unsustainable and that liberals who fail to get it under control are leading their constituents over a cliff, just like in Europe. Eventually, you can’t borrow enough money to make good on your promises, and everyone’s screwed. Ryan understands that the longer we ignore the debt crisis and postpone serious budget cuts—the liberal equivalent of denying global warming—the more painful the reckoning will be. There’s nothing compassionate about that kind of irresponsibility.

Maybe, like me, you were raised in a liberal household. You don’t agree with conservative ideas on social or foreign policy. But this is why God made Republicans: to force a reality check when Democrats overpromise and overspend.

Ryan refutes the GOP’s bogus arguments, too. He proves that you don’t need private-sector experience to be a good lawmaker. He proves that a genuine conservative, as opposed to a Tea-Party ideologue, votes for bailouts when economic sanity requires them. Ryan also shows that a real conservative doesn’t worship any part of the budget, including defense. His expenditure caps can’t be squared with Romney’s nutty pledge to keep military spending above four percent of GDP. And Ryan destroys Romney’s ability to continue making the dishonest, anti-conservative argument that Obamacare is evil because it cuts Medicare. Now Romney will have to defend the honest conservative argument, which is that Medicare spending should be controlled. . . .

It speaks enormously well for Romney that he made this choice. It tells me he’d run the country the same way he ran Massachusetts: as a prudent, numbers-oriented businessman. . . .

The party of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, the party of spite and bloviating and recklessness and extremism, isn’t for me. I’m voting for Obama. But four years from now? In a stronger economy, with a runaway debt? And Ryan at the top of the ticket? That’s awfully tempting.
That last paragraph is a bit strange: does Saletan really believe that bloviation is a more serious problem than the deficit?

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Barack Obama wins a second term.

Paul Ryan is the next President of the United States.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Thomas Sowell on wishful thinking

"Wishful thinking is not idealism. It is self-indulgence at best and self-exaltation at worst. In either case, it is usually at the expense of others. In other words, it is the opposite of idealism."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How to make America more like Scandinavia . . .

. . . without killing economic growth.

Also, how to fund a nonfiction book.

Both involve from-the-bottom-up processes.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Nietzsche on life stages

"Age and truth. Young people love what is interesting and odd, no matter how true or false it is. More mature minds love what is interesting and odd about truth. Fully mature intellects, finally, love truth, even when it appears plain and simple, boring to the ordinary person; for they have noticed that truth tends to reveal its highest wisdom in the guise of simplicity.

People as bad poets. Just as bad poets, in the second half of a line, look for a thought to fit their rhyme, so people in the second half of their lives, having become more anxious, look for the actions, attitudes, relationships that suit those of their earlier life, so that everything will harmonize outwardly. But then they no longer have any powerful thought to rule their life and determine it anew; rather, in its stead, comes the intention of finding a rhyme."

From Human, All Too Human, Part I, # 609-10.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Why do Americans have less income mobility than Europeans?

I linked to Tyler Cowen's post with 7 points about income mobility yesterday, and I mentioned that he speculates about that question. Here's what Cowen has to say (#4); I think this is a profound insight that doesn't get nearly enough attention:

Why do many European nations have higher mobility? Putting ethnic and demographic issues aside, here is one mechanism. Lots of smart Europeans decide to be not so ambitious, to enjoy their public goods, to work for the government, to avoid high marginal tax rates, to travel a lot, and so on. That approach makes more sense in a lot of Europe than here. Some of the children of those families have comparable smarts but higher ambition and so they rise quite a bit in income relative to their peers. (The opposite may occur as well, with the children choosing more leisure.) That is a less likely scenario for the United States, where smart people realize this is a country geared toward higher earners and so fewer smart parents play the “tend the garden” strategy. . . . “High intergenerational mobility” is sometimes a synonym for “lots of parental underachievers.”
Another thing (Cowen's point #7):
I would like all measurements [of income mobility] to take into account the pre-migration incomes of incoming entrants. Denmark, which doesn’t let many people in, is a much less upwardly mobile society once you take this into account. Sweden deserves more praise, and in general this factor will make the Anglo countries look much, much more supportive of mobility.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tyler Cowen on Paul Krugman

"Paul Krugman is a great economist. But of all the people in my RSS feed, in terms of his quality and skill as a reader, he is not in the top 90 percent."

That's how Tyler Cowen concludes a reply to Krugman in their debate on income mobility.

(Here's Cowen's original post with 7 interesting points on income mobility, including speculation about why it's higher in Europe than in the US, and here's Krugman's response suggesting that Cowen's post is "anti-American.")

One of Cowen's co-bloggers, Alex Tabarrok, also defends Cowen. He gives three elegant hypotheticals which lead him to conclude that "economic mobility measures are overrated. What we should care about is growth." Whether or not you're not predisposed to agree with that view, I recommend clicking the link and considering Tabarrok's hypos.

Relatedly, here's a column by Thomas Sowell on income mobility. Excerpt:

All sorts of statements are made in politics and in the media as if that top 1 percent is an enduring class of people, rather than an ever-changing collection of individuals who have a spike in their income in a particular year for one reason or another. Turnover in other income brackets is also substantial.

There is nothing mysterious about this. Most people start out at the bottom, in entry-level jobs, and their incomes rise over time as they acquire more skills and experience.

Politicians and media talking heads love to refer to people who are in the bottom 20 percent in income in a given year as “the poor.” But, following the same individuals for 10 or 15 years usually shows the great majority of those individuals moving into higher income brackets.

The number who reach the top 20 percent greatly exceeds the number still stuck in the bottom 20 percent over the years. But such mundane facts cannot compete for attention with the moral melodramas conjured up by politicians and the media when they discuss “the rich” and “the poor.”

There are people who are genuinely rich and genuinely poor, in the sense of having very high or very low incomes for most, if not all, of their lives. But “the rich” and “the poor” in this sense are unlikely to add up to even 10 percent of the population.
For more of this, I recommend the chapter on income in Sowell's book Economic Facts and Fallacies.