Quotulatiousness

January 24, 2015

Hey, young’uns? Wanna feel old? It’s over 20 years since Nirvana’s last concert

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At risk of alienating some of my younger friends — it’s already more than two decades since Nirvana’s final concert:

Yes, it’s been over 20 years now since Nirvana played their last show, and if you’re old enough to have been there, go ahead and take a moment of silence to mourn your lost youth. Given the relative paucity of raw, authentic-sounding guitar rock these days, it’s tempting to romanticize the nineties as halcyon days, but that kind of nostalgia should be tempered by an honest accounting of the tedious flood of grunge-like also-rans the corporate labels released upon us after Nirvana’s mainstream success. In a certain sense, the demise of that band and death of its leader marks the end of so-called “alternative” rock (whatever that meant) as a genuine alternative. After Nirvana, a deluge of growly, angsty, and not especially listenable bands took over the airwaves and festival circuits. Before them — well, if you don’t know, ask your once-hip aunts and uncles.

January 23, 2015

QotD: Taxicab cartels

Filed under: Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Around the world, the government-charted monopolies and cartels that run the taxi business responded with protests and violence to the emergence of technology-empowered competitors such as Uber, which does not undercut traditional taxis on cost — in New York, its drivers earn about three times what a traditional cabbie makes — but is much more convenient for those who do not live or work in areas that are generally well-served by traditional taxis. As in most cities, New York law imposes price uniformity on taxis and long protected them from most competition, with the entirely predictable result that consumers are the worst-served parties in the taxi business. (It does not help matters that, unlike their London counterparts, famously steeped in “the Knowledge,” the typical New York cabbie cannot find the Brooklyn Bridge without GPS or turn-by-turn instructions from the passenger.) The lack of consumer focus has some perverse consequences here in New York: The taxi fleet schedules its shift change from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., meaning that taxis all but vanish from the streets during the hours when they are most needed. The New York Times calls this an “apparent violation of the laws of supply and demand,” which, New York Times geniuses, is exactly what happens when you use regulation to take supply and demand effectively out of the equation. A platform that combined Uber’s on-demand service with Google-style driverless cars would probably put the traditional taxi out of business — assuming that the cartels are not able to use government to strangle innovation in its cradle.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Race On, for Driverless Cars: On the beauty of putting the consumer in the driver’s seat”, National Review, 2014-06-01.

January 22, 2015

The seductive appeal of the big project

Filed under: China, Railways, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In a Forbes post from a few years back, Warren Meyer looks at the appeal of the megaproject to those inclined to think that what society really needs is someone in control:

What is it about intellectuals that seem to, generation after generation, fall in love with totalitarian regimes because of their grand and triumphal projects? Whether it was the trains running on time in Italy, or the Moscow subways, or now high-speed rail lines in China, western dupes constantly fall for the lure of the great pyramid without seeing the diversion of resources and loss of liberty that went into building it.

Writers like Thomas Friedman and Joel Epstein in the Huffington Post have eulogized China and its monumental spending projects. These are the same folks who, generations ago, tried disastrously to emulate Mussolini’s “forward-thinking” economic regime in the National Industrial Recovery Act. These are the same folks who wanted to emulate MITI’s management of the Japanese economy (which drove them right into a 20-year recession). These are the same folks who oohed and ahhed over the multi-billion dollar Beijing Olympics venues while ignoring the air that was un-breathable. These are the same folks who actually believed the one Cuban health clinic in Sicko actually represented the standard of care received by average citizens. To outsiders, the costs of these triumphal programs are often not visible, at least not until years or decades later when the rubes have moved on to new man crushes.

These writers worry that the US is somehow being left behind by China because its government builds more stuff than we do. We are “asleep.” Well, here is my retort: Most of the great progress in this country occurred when the government was asleep. The railroads, the steel industry, the auto industry, the computer industry — all were built by individuals when the government was at best uninvolved and at worst fighting their progress at every step.

In particular, both Friedman and Epstein think we need to build more high speed passenger trains. This is exactly the kind of gauzy non-fact-based wishful thinking that makes me extremely pleased that these folks do not have the dictatorial powers they long for. High speed rail is a terrible investment, a black hole for pouring away money, that has little net impact on efficiency or pollution. But rail is a powerful example because it demonstrates exactly how this bias for high-profile triumphal projects causes people to miss the obvious.

Which is this: The US rail system, unlike nearly every other system in the world, was built (mostly) by private individuals with private capital. It is operated privately, and runs without taxpayer subsidies. And, it is by far the greatest rail system in the world. It has by far the cheapest rates in the world (1/2 of China’s, 1/8 of Germany’s). But here is the real key: it is almost all freight.

January 21, 2015

“Sir, please put the Sriracha down. Now!”

Filed under: Cancon, Health, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Megan McArdle worries that the otherwise welcome introduction of spice to the awesomely bland North American diet of yesteryear may have gone just a tad too far:

It has come to my attention that some of you are becoming unable to eat good food unless it is spiced to within an inch of its life.

I’ve been noticing this for a while. It started with friends who put hot sauce on everything, even on dishes that were perfectly good without hot sauce. With dinner party hosts who proudly declared that the secret to good cooking was just to douse something in Cajun spices until you noticed the powder forming drifts on the side of the pan. With people who reported that an Asian restaurant was “good” because it had left their taste buds numb for hours.

Then, during the holiday season, I saw a Slate food writer declare that American apple pie is not as good as French apple pie because it is “bland and goopy,” and I began to suspect that something had gone seriously wrong with our food culture. When I saw an article on restaurant chefs who are daring to bring back prime rib, I became sure of it.

I’m as excited as anyone about the majestic spread of foreign food throughout our nation’s urban downtowns, its strip malls and cookbook aisles, its fruited plains and amber waves of grain. I can’t think of a national cuisine I don’t like, and that includes foods that will sear the taste buds off a water buffalo’s tongue at 20 feet.

I love me some spices … but I also like the idea of not feeling my tongue in pain for hours after I’ve finished eating my meal.

QotD: Teddy Roosevelt and the rise of the Progressives

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

When, after a generation of that sort of compromising, the so-called Progressive party was organized and he [Theodore Roosevelt] seized the leadership of it from the Westerners who had founded it, he performed a feat of wholesale englutination that must forever hold a high place upon the roll of political prodigies. That is to say, he swallowed at one gigantic gulp, and out of the same herculean jug, the most amazing mixture of social, political and economic perunas ever got down by one hero, however valiant, however athirst — a cocktail made up of all the elixirs hawked among the boobery in his time, from woman suffrage to the direct primary, and from the initiative and referendum to the short ballot, and from prohibition to public ownership, and from trust-busting to the recall of judges.

This homeric achievement made him the head of the most tatterdemalion party ever seen in American politics — a party composed of such incompatible ingredients and hung together so loosely that it began to disintegrate the moment it was born. In part it was made up of mere disordered enthusiasts — believers in anything and everything, pathetic victims of the credulity complex, habitual followers of jitney messiahs, incurable hopers and snufflers. But in part it was also made up of rice converts like Roosevelt himself — men eager for office, disappointed by the old parties, and now quite willing to accept any aid that half-idiot doctrinaires could give them. I have no doubt that Roosevelt himself, carried away by the emotional storms of the moment and especially by the quasi-religious monkey-shines that marked the first Progressive convention, gradually convinced himself that at least some of the doctrinaires, in the midst of all their imbecility, yet preached a few ideas that were workable, and perhaps even sound. But at bottom he was against them, and not only in the matter of their specific sure cures, but also in the larger matter of their childish faith in the wisdom and virtue of the plain people. Roosevelt, for all his fluent mastery of democratic counter-words, democratic gestures and all the rest of the armamentarium of the mob-master, had no such faith in his heart of hearts. He didn’t believe in democracy; he believed simply in government. His remedy for all the great pangs and longings of existence was not a dispersion of authority, but a hard concentration of authority. He was not in favor of unlimited experiment; he was in favor of a rigid control from above, a despotism of inspired prophets and policemen. He was not for democracy as his followers understood democracy, and as it actually is and must be; he was for a paternalism of the true Bismarckian pattern, almost of the Napoleonic or Ludendorffian pattern — a paternalism concerning itself with all things, from the regulation of coal-mining and meat-packing to the regulation of spelling and marital rights. His instincts were always those of the property-owning Tory, not those of the romantic Liberal. All the fundamental objects of Liberalism — free speech, unhampered enterprise, the least possible governmental interference — were abhorrent to him. Even when, for campaign purposes, he came to terms with the Liberals his thoughts always ranged far afield. When he tackled the trusts the thing that he had in his mind’s eye was not the restoration of competition but the subordination of all private trusts to one great national trust, with himself at its head. And when he attacked the courts it was not because they put their own prejudice before the law but because they refused to put his prejudices before the law.

In all his career no one ever heard him make an argument for the rights of the citizen; his eloquence was always expended in expounding the duties of the citizen. I have before me a speech in which he pleaded for “a spirit of kindly justice toward every man and woman,” but that seems to be as far as he ever got in that direction — and it was the gratuitous justice of the absolute monarch that he apparently had in mind, not the autonomous and inalienable justice of a free society. The duties of the citizen, as he understood them, related not only to acts, but also to thoughts. There was, to his mind, a simple body of primary doctrine, and dissent from it was the foulest of crimes. No man could have been more bitter against opponents, or more unfair to them, or more ungenerous.

H.L. Mencken, “Roosevelt: An Autopsy”, Prejudices, part 2, 1920.

January 20, 2015

A tight squeeze indeed

Filed under: Americas, Military, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:42

The USS Iowa crosses the Panama Canal at Miraflores Lock near Panama City, Panama Wednesday, March 28, 2001.  At 108.2 feet wide, the Iowa-class battleships are the largest vessels ever to scrape their way through the 110-foot-wide locks of the canal. They were designed so that they could just fit through the waterway. (AP Photo/Tomas Munita)

The USS Iowa crosses the Panama Canal at Miraflores Lock near Panama City, Panama Wednesday, March 28, 2001. At 108.2 feet wide, the Iowa-class battleships are the largest vessels ever to scrape their way through the 110-foot-wide locks of the canal. They were designed so that they could just fit through the waterway. (AP Photo/Tomas Munita)

H/T to Tyler Rogoway, who has a few other photos of Iowa-class battleships moving through the Panama canal.

January 19, 2015

Police body cameras won’t fix everything, but they clearly do help

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:30

At Marginal Revolution Alex Tabarrok looks at the first randomized controlled trial of body cameras for police officers:

The results were that police use of force reports halved on shifts when police wore cameras. In addition, the use of force during the entire treatment period (on shifts both using and not using cameras) was about half the rate as during pre-treatment periods. In other words, the camera wearing shifts appear to have caused police to change their behavior on all shifts in a way that reduced the use of force. A treatment that bleeds over to the control group is bad for experimental design but suggests that the effect was powerful in changing the norms of interaction. (By the way, the authors say that they can’t be certain whether the cameras primarily influenced the police or the citizens but the fact that the effect occurred even on non-camera shifts suggests that the effect is primarily driven by police behavior since the citizens would not have been particularly aware of the experiment, especially as there would have been relatively few repeat interactions for citizens.)

It is possible that the police shaded their reports down during the treatment period but complaints by citizens also fell dramatically during the treatment period from about 25-50 per year to just 3 per year.

Here’s a graph of use of force reports before and during the treatment period.

Police body cameras

US government to end seized-asset sharing with local police

Filed under: Government, Law, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the Washington Post, Robert O’Harrow Jr., Sari Horwitz and Steven Rich report on a very hopeful move by the federal government to end one of the programs that has fuelled police civil forfeiture efforts:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges.

Holder’s action represents the most sweeping check on police power to confiscate personal property since the seizures began three decades ago as part of the war on drugs.

Since 2008, thousands of local and state police agencies have made more than 55,000 seizures of cash and property worth $3 billion under a civil asset forfeiture program at the Justice Department called Equitable Sharing.

The program has enabled local and state police to make seizures and then have them “adopted” by federal agencies, which share in the proceeds. It allowed police departments and drug task forces to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of adopted seizures, with the rest going to federal agencies.

“With this new policy, effective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Holder said in a statement.

Holder’s decision allows limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program.

H/T to Reason‘s Scott Shackford:

Big, huge news on the civil asset forfeiture front: Eric Holder is ordering an end to most of the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program. This is the program where the DOJ works with local law enforcement agencies for busts, and then the law enforcement agencies are permitted to keep 80 percent of the assets seized. It has been an incubator of the worst police abuses, as some agencies looked for any possible reason to take people’s property without ever actually accusing them with a crime.

Robby Soave says “Attorney General Eric Holder just made the best call of his political career” and lists just a few of the cases Reason has publicized over the years.

January 18, 2015

The [f]utility of mass demonstrations

Filed under: History, Middle East, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:30

David Warren had a short essay get out of hand on him the other day:

Everything is coming out of Egypt these days, just like in the Bible. The Paris demonstrations were a throwback not only to the grand gatherings of a century ago, when the masses in each European capital were demanding war, but also to the recent “Arab spring,” when the masses in Egypt and every Middle Eastern capital were demanding “democracy.” Mobs often get what they want. The best that can be said for the Jesuischarlies, is they haven’t a clew what they want, beyond making an emotional display of their own vaunted goodness.

And yet, large demonstrations are expressions of despair. They bring momentary relief in a false exhilaration: the idea that something can be done, by men; something that will not cost them vastly more than they are now paying. Verily, it is the counsel of despair. I don’t think I can provide any example from history in which mass political demonstrations did any good; only examples when they did not end as badly as they could have.

I hardly expect agreement on this point, especially on non-violent demonstrations that affirm some simple moral point, such as the wrongness of racial prejudice, or of the slaughter of unborn children. But these must necessarily politicize something which should be above politics, and cannot help bringing an element of intimidation into what must finally be communicated cor ad cor. Pressure politics change everything, such that even when the cause is indisputably elevated — the American civil rights marches of the 1960s are a good example — the effect is dubious. What came out in that case was not simply the destruction of an evil, but its replacement with new evils: welfare provisions which undermined the black family, the poison of race quotas and “reverse discrimination,” the canting and excuse-making and radical posturing that has wreaked more aggregate damage to black people — both spiritual and material — than the wicked humiliations they suffered before. (Read Thomas Sowell.)

“Be careful what you wish for.” Be mindful of what comes with that wish. Be careful whom you ask to deliver it.

January 16, 2015

It’s always a good time to cut taxes

Filed under: Economics, Government, Humour, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In a column explaining why he’s terrified that the “Modern Monetary Theory” folks might get anywhere near the levers of power, Tim Worstall fits in the best reason to cut taxes:

Given that we are discussing monetary policy it seems appropriate to bring Milton Friedman in here. And he pointed out that if you ever have a chance to cut taxes just do so. On the basis that politicians, any group of politicians, will spend the bottom out of the Treasury and more however much there is. So, the only way to stop ever increasing amounts of the the entire economy flowing through government is simply to constrain the resources they can get their sticky little mits on. We could, for example, possibly imagine a Republican from the Neanderthal wing of the party arguing that what the US really needs is another 7 carrier battle groups. And one from the even more confused than usual Progressive end of the Democratic Party arguing that each college student needs her own personal carrier battle group to protect her from the microaggressions of being asked out for a coffee. You know. Sometime. Maybe. If you want to?

January 15, 2015

Nowadays it’s called “stolen valour” but back in the day it was “just plain bullshit”

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tam indulges in a bit of reminiscing from before it had a fancified name like “stolen valour”:

Once upon a time I worked in a gun store whose owner had invented a rather colorful Vietnam-era military past for himself. It’s called “stolen valor” now, but back then it was still just plain bullsh!t. One of his favorite topics on which to hold forth was how awful the M-16 was, and how, when his unit had switched to the new rifle from the old M-14, he threatened to kill his sergeant and so he was allowed to keep his M-14. I managed to refrain from pointing out that when the Army switched from the 14 to the 16, he was too young to lift either one and, as a consequence, was barely old enough to have been drafted to help pack boxes for the inactivation of Tan Son Nhut.

[…]

Every time an AR-15 came in the shop, we’d get an earful about how he wanted to kill Eugene Stoner (who was three years in the grave already) and about all the times his unit had been ambushed and wiped out almost to a man and he had to (and I quote, here) “turn over the bodies of his boys and each and every one of them had a broken-open M-16 with a cleaning rod jammed down the barrel!” The travails of the XM16E1 as reported to the Ichord Subcommittee have taken deep root in American gun nut culture indeed when even semiliterate Bubbas can repeat them as though they were first-person happenings.

January 14, 2015

Dave Grohl’s demo tapes

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Open Culture, Josh Jones talks about Dave Grohl’s early work while he was still a member of Nirvana:

Like ‘em or lump ‘em, you should give ‘em credit — Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters have kind of redefined the concept album with their latest, Sonic Highways, pushing a tired form in a refreshing direction. Rather than a self-contained narrative, the record opens itself up to tell the stories of rock ‘n’ roll itself or, as Allmusic puts it, “the classic rock that unites the U.S. from coast to coast.” Picking up where his celebratory film Sound City left off, Grohl ties in his newest release with a series of HBO documentaries that visit cities from New York, to Nashville, Austin, New Orleans, L.A., Washington, DC., and Seattle to tell their musical stories.

Of course, the musical history of that last metropolis cannot be narrated without reference to Grohl’s former band, and so, Consequence of Sound informs us, “Nirvana received heavy focus during the [Seattle Sonic Highways] episode as Dave Grohl recounted his time in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame outfit. Among the biggest revelations was the time Kurt Cobain asked to hear solo recordings Grohl had been working on during Nirvana’s 1992 tour.”

    “Kurt heard that, and kissed me on the face, as he was in a bath,” Grohl revealed. “He was so excited. He was like, ‘I heard you recorded some stuff with Barrett [Jones].’ I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘Let me hear it.’ I was too afraid to be in the same room as he listened to it.”

January 13, 2015

The steady militarization of the police

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith discusses some of the ways the police have changed over the last few decades:

… being a police officer isn’t really all that dangerous — check the statistics, yourself. Being a fireman is more dangerous. Being a miner is more dangerous. Being a deep-sea salvage diver is hell of a lot more dangerous. Nor are these particularly dangerous times. When I was a young reserve officer in the wild and wooly early 1970s, more cops were injured or killed in California alone than in the entire nation now. That fact sparked many changes in policy, including choice of weapons, from revolver to semiautomatic, the design of holsters, and the angle at which the car should be parked during a routine traffic stop.

All that was in the 60s, and, for a while, the police did acquire a more human face. But then, something went wrong. Several things went really wrong, and it left us stuck in the mess we’re in today.

To begin with there were police unions and lawyers who rode along with them like pilot fish. RICO allowed them to loot the countryside freely. There is nothing in a free society that we could have done, or can, directly, about this. But it has come to mean that no officer will ever have to face the music for whatever criminal act he may have committed, unless he has political enemies somewhere inside the structure.

Second, there were matters of accoutrement. Mace and revolver speed-loaders were the big news of my time, rapidly followed by CS gas and semiautomatic pistols, mostly Glocks in .40 caliber, while four-shot pump shotguns evolved into eight-shooters on the dashboard. Wooden nightsticks became nylon PR-24s and engendered a whole new martial art. Finally there was Kevlar body armor, and the Taser. Ammunition changed, as well. The Blue Knight’s equippage was nearly complete.

All the while, the courts were depriving ordinary citizens of more and more rights and protections until the attacks on 9/11 swept what was left from the board. The police could now go anywhere, do anything — including locking people up on suspicion — without punishment for it.

At the same time, the cops have gone insane, shooting people’s dogs, smashing in, beating up, and murdering innocent individuals, including little old ladies, and their pet kittens without even having to apologize about it. I’d cite some typical examples, but they happen every day and you can find them all too easily for yourself. You can’t blame people for hating the police, they have good reason. I’ve deliberately avoided learning much about Ferguson — what little information I have would indicate that the cop behaved properly — but you can’t blame the public, The police have brought this on themselves.

January 12, 2015

QotD: The Soviet Union’s incredibly successful ideological warfare

Filed under: History, Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Soviets consciously followed the Gramscian prescription; they pursued a war of position, subverting the “leading elements” of society through their agents of influence. (See, for example, Stephen Koch’s Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals; summary by Koch here) This worked exactly as expected; their memes seeped into Western popular culture and are repeated endlessly in (for example) the products of Hollywood.

Indeed, the index of Soviet success is that most of us no longer think of these memes as Communist propaganda. It takes a significant amount of digging and rethinking and remembering, even for a lifelong anti-Communist like myself, to realize that there was a time (within the lifetime of my parents) when all of these ideas would have seemed alien, absurd, and repulsive to most people — at best, the beliefs of a nutty left-wing fringe, and at worst instruments of deliberate subversion intended to destroy the American way of life.

Koch shows us that the worst-case scenario was, as it turns out now, the correct one; these ideas, like the “race bomb” rumor, really were instruments deliberately designed to destroy the American way of life. Another index of their success is that most members of the bicoastal elite can no longer speak of “the American way of life” without deprecation, irony, or an automatic and half-conscious genuflection towards the altar of political correctness. In this and other ways, the corrosive effects of Stalin’s meme war have come to utterly pervade our culture.

The most paranoid and xenophobic conservatives of the Cold War were, painful though this is to admit, the closest to the truth in estimating the magnitude and subtlety of Soviet subversion. Liberal anticommunists (like myself in the 1970s) thought we were being judicious and fair-minded when we dismissed half of the Right’s complaint as crude blather. We were wrong; the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss really were guilty, the Hollywood Ten really were Stalinist tools, and all of Joseph McCarthy’s rants about “Communists in the State Department” were essentially true. The Venona transcripts and other new material leave no room for reasonable doubt on this score.

While the espionage apparatus of the Soviet Union didn’t outlast it, their memetic weapons did. These memes are now coming near to crippling our culture’s response to Islamic terrorism.

In this context, Jeff Goldstein has written eloquently about perhaps the most long-term dangerous of these memes — the idea that rights inhere not in sovereign individuals but identity groups, and that every identity group (except the “ruling class”) has the right to suppress criticism of itself through political means up to and including violence.

Mark Brittingham (aka WildMonk) has written an excellent essay on the roots of this doctrine in Rousseau and the post-Enlightenment Romantics. It has elsewhere been analyzed and labeled as transnational progressivism. The Soviets didn’t invent it, but they promoted it heavily in a deliberate — and appallingly successful — attempt to weaken the Lockean, individualist tradition that underlies classical liberalism and the U.S. Constitution. The reduction of Western politics to a bitter war for government favor between ascriptive identity groups is exactly the outcome the Soviets wanted and worked hard to arrange.

Call it what you will — various other commentators have favored ‘volk-Marxism’ or ‘postmodern leftism’. I’ve called it suicidalism. It was designed to paralyze the West against one enemy, but it’s now being used against us by another. It is no accident that Osama bin Laden so often sounds like he’s reading from back issues of Z magazine, and no accident that both constantly echo the hoariest old cliches of Soviet propaganda in the 1930s and ’40s.

Another consequence of Stalin’s meme war is that today’s left-wing antiwar demonstrators wear kaffiyehs without any sense of how grotesque it is for ostensible Marxists to cuddle up to religious absolutists who want to restore the power relations of the 7th century CE. In Stalin’s hands, even Marxism itself was hollowed out to serve as a memetic weapon — it became increasingly nihilist, hatred-focused and destructive. The postmodern left is now defined not by what it’s for but by what it’s against: classical-liberal individualism, free markets, dead white males, America, and the idea of objective reality itself.

Eric S. Raymond, “Gramscian damage”, Armed and Dangerous, 2006-02-11.

January 10, 2015

The four kinds of healthcare spending

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Economics, Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle explains why healthcare costs more than you think it should:

Milton Friedman famously divided spending into four kinds, which P.J. O’Rourke once summarized as follows:

  1. You spend your money on yourself. You’re motivated to get the thing you want most at the best price. This is the way middle-aged men haggle with Porsche dealers.
  2. You spend your money on other people. You still want a bargain, but you’re less interested in pleasing the recipient of your largesse. This is why children get underwear at Christmas.
  3. You spend other people’s money on yourself. You get what you want but price no longer matters. The second wives who ride around with the middle-aged men in the Porsches do this kind of spending at Neiman Marcus.
  4. You spend other people’s money on other people. And in this case, who gives a [damn]?

Most health-care spending in the U.S. falls into category three. In theory, the people who are funding our expenses — the proverbial middle-aged men in Porsches, except that they’re actually insurance executives and government bureaucrats — have every incentive to step in, cut up the charge cards, and substitute a gift-wrapped box of Hanes briefs with the comfort-soft waistband. In practice, legislators frequently intervene to stop them from exercising much cost-control. The managed care revolution of the 1990s died when patients complained to their representatives, and the representatives ran down to their offices to pass laws making it very hard to deny coverage for anything anyone wanted. Medicare cost-controls, such as the famed Sustainable Growth Rate, fell prey to similar maneuvers. The only system that exhibits sustained cost control is Medicaid, because poor people don’t vote, or exit the system for better insurance.

The result is a system where everyone complains that we spend much too much on health care — and the very same people get indignant if anyone suggests that they, personally, should maybe spend a little bit less. Everyone wants to go to heaven — but nobody wants to die.

Unfortunately, this is what cost-control actually looks like, which is to say, like people not being able to spend as much on health care. Oh, to be sure, we could achieve this end differently — instead of asking patients to pay a modest share of their own costs (the article suggests that this amount is less than 10 percent, in the case of Harvard professors) — we could simply set a schedule of covered treatment, and deny patients access to off-schedule treatments, or even better, not even tell them that those treatments exist. But people don’t like that solution either, which is why medical dramas are filled with rants about insurers who won’t cover procedures, and the law books are filled with regulations that sharply curtail the ability of insurers to ration care. And the third option, refusing to pay top-dollar for care, would be a bit tricky for Harvard to implement, given that they run exactly the sort of high-cost research facilities that help drive health-care costs skyward. Nor do I really think that the angry professors would be mollified by being given a cheap insurance package that wouldn’t let them go see the top-flight specialists their elite status now entitles them to access.

Instead, they persist in our mass delusion: that there is some magic pot of money in the health-care system, which can be painlessly tapped to provide universal coverage without dislocating any of the generous arrangements that insured people currently enjoy. Just as there are no leprechauns, there is no free money at the end of the rainbow; there are patients demanding services, and health-care workers making comfortable livings, who have built their financial lives around the expectation that those incomes will continue. Until we shed this delusion, you can expect a lot of ranting and raving about the hard truths of the real world.

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