Thursday, December 23, 2010

We Are Over-educated

I've come to the conclusion a few years back that way too many people are going to college. Sure, some jobs require advanced training, but the traditional college degree seems like about the least effective way to get trained to do a job. And many college degrees are about worthless in terms of getting a real world job. We are wasting so much money and early life productivity with so many students wasting 2-6 years borrowing money instead of making money. If they were able to start saving 10 years earlier (5 years of college + 5 years to pay off college debts) and use the magic of compound interest over time, and add 5 more earning years, there's a good chance they could come out ahead. I've seen statistics that only somewhere around 30% of the jobs really require a college degree while well over half of high school graduates at least start college, and that something like 60% of college graduates currently work in jobs unrelated to their college degree.

Anyway, I saw this article which confirmed everything I have been thinking. Please read it and tell me whether you think higher education system and the messages we tell our young adults need changed or not.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sarah Palin's Qualifications

I've never understood why so many people think that Sarah Palin is not qualified to be president.

I'll certainly agree that she did not do well in some of the interviews during the 2008 campaign, and while many of her Facebook posts are actually very strong on policy, as have some of her op-ed's in the Wall Street Journal and on National Review and some of her speeches, she needs to improve at speaking as eloquently as a tv commentator.

But from a standpoint of previous government experience, an objective look arguably makes her as qualified if not more qualified than Bill Clinton in 1992, Howard Dean and John Edwards in 2004, and Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, and Barak Obama in 2008.

I know that sounds odd, but read this piece on and tell how that doesn't stack up to the experience of the candidates I listed above.

Bill Clinton lost a U.S. House race in 1974, was Attorney General of Arkansas from 76-78, and was elected Governor of a simarly small state with a smaller budget than Alaska's (although he did serve 3 1/2 terms as governor). Howard Dean was a Vermont House member for 4 years and then Lieutenant Governor of Vermont for 5 years before serving for a little over 2 terms as governor of Vermont, one of the smallest states in the Union where the governorship is not very powerful. John Edwards only previous political experience after his 2-decade career as an ambulance chaser was that he narrowly won a U.S. Senate race in 1998 and thus had served part of 1 Senate term. Romney's only prior government experience was a failed US Senate run in 1994 and 1 term as Governor of Massachusetts. Hillary Clinton, apart from being Bill Clinton's wife, only had experience in an official capacity as U.S. Senator for 8 years. And of course Barak Obama was only a State Senator in Illinois, and spent less than 2 years in the U.S. Senate before making running for President a full-time job.

If those are all perfectly fine resumes in order to be President, I don't know why Sarah Palin's resume as PTA member, city council member, long time mayor of fastest growing city in Alaska, Alaska Oil and Gas Commissioner, and most popular Governor in the U.S. (at the time she was picked as the VP candidate by McCain in 2008) isn't sufficient. If you don't like her, then fine, you can say that. If you think she could have done better in the Katie Couric interview, then fine, even she admits that. If you buy into all the media bashing she has taken and find her controversial and don't like her style, then fine, I readily admit the media hyperventilates about her. But don't say she is not qualified. Objectively, she is qualified. She hasn't spent 30 years in the Senate like McCain or 2 full terms as Governor of a populous state like George W. Bush, or served as Vice President for 8 years like George H.W. Bush and Al Gore, but her qualifications fit right in with the rest of the candidates I mentioned earlier.

Afghanistan Media Messaging Failure

This poll is infuriating. Well, not the poll itself, but what it tells us about the utter failure of the U.S. and NATO to communicate to the local Afghans.

The poll says that 92% of Afghan men in the Taliban strongholds of the Helmand and Kandahar provinces HAVE NEVER EVEN HEARD OF 9/11!!!! Unbelievable.

It is definitely hard to win the hearts and minds of Afghans to side with us instead of the Taliban when they are completely unaware of why we have our military in their country! If they are unaware of 9/11, then I think it's safe to say they have not heard even the most basic messaging from the U.S., and could not view our military there as anything else but an unprovoked invasion by a foreign military.

If I was in charge of the U.S. military, the first thing I would have done way back in 2001 is air drop in hundreds of thousands of tiny radios with enough batteries to last a couple years and then start broadcasting a message that could be picked up on those radios. I also would have dropped millions of leaflets over every single town or village until in would be almost impossible for anyone in the region not to understand what provoked us to come there and why they should side with us instead of the Taliban, or at least why they should moderate the Taliban and kick out all the Al-Qaeda types.

I know literacy it very low in the rural Afghanistan regions, so I'm not sure if distributing a newspaper would have helped much (that actually goes for the leaflets too), but I would have tried that too.

Getting the messaging right from the start could have saved thousands of U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians lives.

Dream Act a Nightmare?

The Dems are back during the lame duck session and Harry Reid is following through on his pandering to the Hispanics during his recent campaign, and will bring up the DREAM Act for a vote again. On the surface, the DREAM Act sounds reasonable, and is supposed to give illegal aliens who entered the country as kids and have completed college or served 2 years in the military a path to citizenship. But consider some of these details:

1. The DREAM Act Is NOT Limited to Children, And It Will Be Funded On the Backs Of Hard Working, Law-Abiding Americans

2. The DREAM Act PROVIDES SAFE HARBOR FOR ANY ALIEN, Including Criminals, From Being Removed or Deported If They Simply Submit An Application

3. Certain Criminal Aliens Will Be Eligible For Amnesty Under The DREAM Act

4. Estimates Suggest That At Least 2.1 Million Illegal Aliens Will Be Eligible For the DREAM Act Amnesty. In Reality, We Have No Idea How Many Illegal Aliens Will Apply

5. Illegal Aliens Will Get In-State Tuition Benefits

6. The DREAM Act Does Not Require That An Illegal Alien Finish Any Type of Degree (Vocational, Two-Year, or Bachelor’s Degree) As A Condition of Amnesty

7. The DREAM Act does not require that an illegal alien serve in the military as a condition for amnesty, and There is ALREADY A Legal Process In Place For Illegal Aliens to Obtain U.S. Citizenship Through Military Service

8. Despite Their Current Illegal Status, DREAM Act Aliens Will Be Given All The Rights That Legal Immigrants Receive—Including The Legal Right To Sponsor Their Parents and Extended Family Members For Immigration

9. Current Illegal Aliens Will Get Federal Student Loans, Federal Work Study Programs, and Other Forms of Federal Financial Aid

10. DHS Is Prohibited From Using the Information Provided By Illegal Aliens Whose DREAM Act Amnesty Applications Are Denied To Initiate Their Removal Proceedings or Investigate or Prosecute Fraud in the Application Process

Here's a press release with more details on all these points. The devil is always in the details.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The U.S. Budget Trends

I looked up the recent years of federal spending. We are spending a LOT more while revenues have dropped over the past couple years. You have to start looking at these numbers to start getting the concept of how bad of a situation we are in. In 2009, revenues were $2.165 trillion and on the spending side just the categories of Social Security, Medicare, Health (includes Medicaid), and Income Security (unemployment insurance, federal pensions, housing assistance, food stamps, etc.) added up to right around $2 trillion. People complain about war spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, but those are only $100-150 billion annually. I say "only" only in comparison to the rest of the massive amount being spent. With the deficit at $1.5 trillion, even if you stopped the wars tomorrow and could save all the money being spent on them, you would have only cut out 10% of the deficit.

Year Receipts Outlays Surplus or Deficit(−)
2008 2,523,999 2,982,554 -458,555
2009 2,104,995 3,517,681 -1,412,686
2010 estimate 2,165,119 3,720,701 -1,555,582

By the way, the last Republican Congress' budget for fiscal year 2007 (before Democrats won in 2006 and took office in 2007 and created the 2008 budget) was $2.7 trillion. Bush's first budget was in 2002. We did not like that he let the budget increase so fast. But he signed off on a spending increase from $2 trillion to $2.7 trillion, an increase of $700 billion, in 6 years. The Democrats and Obama have increased spending by $1 trillion in just 3 years! And this as revenues were dropping.

Overall, spending has over doubled since 2001 even as revenues are currently only 9% higher than 2001.

Some Ideas for Reducing Government Spending

Matt Moon at The Next Right gets more specific with ideas that Republicans could push for:
What are some budgetary principles that should be communicated by Republicans to the American people?

* The Solution Principle: Every challenge facing the American people does not require a federal office and federal funding.
* The Priorities Principle: Every family and every business has to balance their checkbooks, their revenues with their expenses. Through good times and bad times, families and businesses have to sacrifice what they might want and prioritize their spending. The government should operate like any prudent family or business does, and prioritize.
* The Investment Principle: The American people are "forced to invest" their income into government. Each taxpayer is, therefore, a shareholder in government. Because taxpayers have invested their money into government, taxpayers deserve the best return on their money. This means the "portfolio of investments" (otherwise known as government projects and agencies) must be reviewed carefully and objectively in order for the government to fulfill their due diligence.

How can we turn those principles into solutions? The answer is to do what's difficult, not easy (i.e. earmark moratoriums), and be innovative about our budget from both procedural and substantive points of view:

* Follow the lead of Paul Ryan and his "Roadmap for America's Future" when it comes to restructuring our entitlements.
* Don't allow earmarks to be placed during conference committees between the House and Senate.
* Install a biennial budgeting process, something promoted by Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), while also requiring supermajorities to increase in a fiscal year after a budget has been passed (for legitimate emergencies).
* Separate capital budgets from operating budgets for each department. Long term projects are very different from short term day-to-day costs.
* Instead of an executive Chief Performance Officer that gets to pick and choose what works and what doesn't under subjective criteria, have Congress create a Congressional Agency Performance Office that has some independence (like CBO) to constantly scrutinize the operations of all government agencies.
* On capital projects that go to specific state and local governments, quasi-agencies, and companies, start a Congressional Office for Spending Oversight. Just like every business has control officers, this independent office should scrutinize long term projects' spending practices. This can allow Congress to reward under-budgeted projects and punish over-budgeted projects.
* Not only should spending be posted online before it's passed. It should also be posted online when it's spent. Just like many state governments have done, the federal government's checkbook should be posted online.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Updated Employment Chart for Post WWII Recessions

Hat tip:

Reducing Deficits Requires Cutting Entitlements

See Philip Klein' piece in The American Spectator which points out that getting the deficit under control requires cutting the big 3 entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) that compose almost all of the mandatory spending that is 59% of our budget. There's this nice graph there:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Letter to Editor: Don't Buy Defazio Spin

This is my letter to the editor about my local congressional race:

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Disciplined and Engaged Teachers Perform Best

This report by the LA Times is a must read on education.

It presents the case for "value-added" testing of teachers. That is, given how the teacher's students scored entering the year, how well did they score at the end of the year? Did the teacher improve the students rankings or let them slide?

This seems like an obvious way to identify poor performing teachers. Give them a year or two to improve or else and if they don't, let them find another line of work.

But the teachers unions are staunchly opposed, and shortsightedly so. They seem to take the position that anything that might give a reason for one of their dues-paying members to be fired is unacceptable. But if they'd think for a second longer, new teachers would have to be hired to take the fired teacher's place, so the union would add another member to replace the one they lost. So why are they so opposed? Maybe they just want to resist anything that would put more pressure on their teachers to perform? In either case, the teacher's unions do not have the best interest of the kids at heart.

If education was not run as a government monopoly, private schools would naturally find the most effective ways to recruit and/or train the most effective teachers in order to gain the trust of parents. Metrics for measuring teacher performance would be a no-brainer. On the cost side of things, private schools would have an incentive to keep costs as low as possible to maximize profit. As usual, the free market would naturally provide the proper incentives to find the most efficient way to hire the best staff to achieve the best results.

Better yet, private schools would naturally develop metrics to advertise to parents to earn their business. These metrics could then be used to apply to all teachers across public and private schools.

I strongly favor the idea of dividing up the current education spending into a per student amount and simply providing a voucher for that amount to every student's parent(s) so they can decide where to send their kid(s) and pay for schooling and transportation. Parents get to keep any leftover money as an incentive to find the best value. Let all the public schools compete with private schools and any new market competitors to provide the best education! I believe scores would dramatically improve in just a few years, and that the voucher amounts could even gradually be brought down as the system became much more cost efficient. Market competition would provide a better service for a better price, just like it usually does.

Getting back to the LA Times article, I found it satisfying that they confirmed much of what I've been saying for years and years. For example:

• Contrary to popular belief, the best teachers were not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas. Rather, these teachers were scattered throughout the district. The quality of instruction typically varied far more within a school than between schools.

• Although many parents fixate on picking the right school for their child, it matters far more which teacher the child gets. Teachers had three times as much influence on students' academic development as the school they attend. Yet parents have no access to objective information about individual instructors, and they often have little say in which teacher their child gets.

• Many of the factors commonly assumed to be important to teachers' effectiveness were not. Although teachers are paid more for experience, education and training, none of this had much bearing on whether they improved their students' performance.

Other studies of the district have found that students' race, wealth, English proficiency or previous achievement level played little role in whether their teacher was effective.

I've always held that the best teachers are not measured by years on the job or by amount of training. Just about any person who has graduated high school should have the knowledge necessary to teach elementary school. What makes a good teacher is learning how to maintain discipline in the classroom, engaging the students with critical thinking and asking them why, and motivating students to enjoy learning. There are some good teaching strategies, such as different ways to explain concepts and recognizing how different students learn, that can be taught in universities and teaching workshops. But mainly it comes down to how motivated the teacher is and how much they demand that students demonstrate they've learned the material through a variety of ways. That is what makes a good teacher.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

University Gay Thought Police

For all those who naively support non-discrimination codes and think you have nothing to fear from homosexual activists, check this story out. It is to the point where a public college in Georgia will not give you a counseling degree if you think homosexuality is immoral. Note in the CNN video below that the one lady says it's OK to have whatever beliefs you have, but expressing them is a behavior that is inappropriate and needs remedial training. I'm not kidding.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Shirley Sherrod and Teachable Moments

There's a lot that could be said about the Shirley Sherrod incident that was all over the news last week. For those who don't follow politics, here's a quick summary. It all started when Andrew Breitbart posted the following video in this post at

This video excerpt appears to show blatant racism by Shirley Sherrod, USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development, towards a white farmer, presumably while acting as a government official.

The video quickly went viral through the blogosphere and the reaction was swift. Within a few hours, Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, had forced Sherrod to resign. Contrary to what is widely believed, Fox News did not air anything on the matter until AFTER Sherrod had already resigned. See this post at Johnny Dollar for an incredible list of media outlets that got this part of the story wrong.

That evening, the NAACP even piled on with the following statement:

We concur with US Agriculture Secretary Vilsack in accepting the resignation of Shirley Sherrod for her remarks at a local NAACP Freedom Fund banquet.

Racism is about the abuse of power. Sherrod had it in her position at USDA. According to her remarks, she mistreated a white farmer in need of assistance because of his race.

We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.

Her actions were shameful. While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man.

The reaction from many in the audience is disturbing. We will be looking into the behavior of NAACP representatives at this local event and take any appropriate action.

We thank those who brought this to our national office's attention, as there are hundreds of local fundraising dinners each year.

The next day, the NAACP posted a second statement retracting their first, and posted the full 43 minute video, linked here:

The full video put the previous excerpt in a very different context. I have watched the full 43 minutes, and the full story Sherrod tells starts with her youth and the horrible racism she experienced at that time. Her father was one of the leading black members of their community in Georgia. He was murdered when she was 17 and a grand jury would not indict his white murderer because he was black, even though there were 3 witnesses. Shortly after, she recounts an incident where KKK members circled the front of their house as she hid in the house and her mother confronted them on the porch with gun in hand. Numerous black members of the community circled the intruders and forced them to leave.

Before that, Sherrod was itching to leave the South and head north. But given what had happened, she resolved herself to stay and fight for change. She then says her intention for a long time was to help black folks. Later she was working at a non-profit and ran into the first time that a white family in danger of losing their farm asked for help. She struggled with her (understandable) racial animosity toward whites and didn't initially help the white farmers as much as she could have, instead sending them to a white lawyer, one of their "own kind". That is the part the initial video excerpt showed.

However, she goes onto say that was the point it was revealed to her that it wasn't just about black and white, but rich and poor. When the white farmers called back later saying the lawyer hadn't helped them much, she went to bat for them and helped them save the farm from bankruptcy. She ends up later saying that we have to get to a place where race exists, but it does not matter.

The story as a whole is a story of her life and how she overcame much of the resentment she had from the racial events that happened during her youth.

The media coverage rapidly switched the other way, calling for Sherrod to be given her job back, and slamming Breitbart and Fox News for a vicious attack on Sherrod. Sherrod has almost achieved sainthood status.

I have already linked to the Johnny Dollar piece that showed that the attack on Fox News was unwarranted. As far as I can tell, the news shows played it safe and were trying to fact check it before running anything. It is true that Bill O'Reilly had already taped a segment in which he called for Sherrod to be fired, but that hadn't even aired by the time that Sherrod had been forced to resign. The following day, O'Reilly apologized for not doing his homework.

In Breitbart's defense, he says the two excerpts he showed in his original post was all that he had at the time. Here he is on Hannity's TV show explaining how he came by the video -- this aired the day after the BigGovernment post:

Breitbart can be blamed for not being more careful before posting the excerpts he had, but the same video clip that he saw also fooled the Obama administration, the NAACP, Rachel Maddow, Bill O'Reilly, and countless others. Most importantly, Breitbart did not force her to resign without so much as allowing her to explain the comments (like the Obama administration did) and did not condemn her despite having the full video in his possession (like the NAACP did).

Unfortunately, Breitbart has never apologized for the initial post, knowing what he knows now about it. Breitbart maintains that his whole point was to point out the hypocrisy of the NAACP in its attack on the Tea Parties, which is in fact the point he was trying to make. He still thinks that the murmurs of agreement and laughter among the crowd prove his point, that the NAACP was approving of the racist treatment of the white farmers before they could have known the whole story of her change of heart.

In my opinion, I did not find Sherrod's 43 minutes objectionable as a whole. I would point out, though, that if any white person had talked about blacks the way she did (e.g., "own kind"), they would have been forced to resign for that alone. And it is clear to me, even as she shared her story, that she still sees everything through racial lenses. For example, at one part of the speech, she accuses Republicans of opposing the health care bill because Obama is black.

I am also disturbed by further statements that Shirley Sherrod has since made which show she is still not to the point where race exists but doesn't matter to her. Here is one such clip (jump to 1:50):

I've seen several other problematic statements and may post them if I run across them again.

In addition, further information about the Sherrod's and one particular quote from her husband are also cause for concern:

VIDEO: Paul Ryan talks Spending and Deficits

HotAir posted a good clip of Paul Ryan doing a good job communicating about the budget on Chris Matthews show.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Milton Friedman Explains Spending

I stumbled across a simple but illuminating article at from Nov. 2009.

Thomas Del Beccaro does a great job explaining why any large organization inevitably has more bureaucratic inefficiencies. He notes that large companies struggle with bureaucracy too but because of the profit motive do the hard work to keep waste in check. Then he explains how large government programs have neither the motive nor the ability to minimize fraud and waste. And he quotes the great Milton Friedman giving this crystal-clear explanation:

“There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kucinich on Stossel

This week's Stossel (on Fox Business network) talked a lot about Cleveland, and what was wrong with the city. The city's population was something like 2 million around 1950, but has dwindled by more than half, and is now ranked by some publications as the worst city in America. Stossel's proposition was that it was higher taxes, excessive regulations, and inefficient government services that caused the decline.

Stossel brought on the former mayor of Indianapolis, another city located in the region but which has been doing well. In the 90's, that mayor had privatized many functions that the government used to do -- golf courses, waste disposal, etc. He said they started looking through the phone book, and if at least 3 private businesses offered the same service as the government, they privatized it.

But to get to the point of my post, I was interested to learn that nutcase House Democrat and former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich was the former mayor of Cleveland. In fact, he was the mayor at a time when Cleveland defaulted on their debts back a couple decades ago because he refused to sell city property or reduce government spending.

At the end of Stossel's show there was a Q&A segment with the audience. One of the members asked Kucinich what he didn't like about privatization. Kucinich said that the problem with privatization is that private companies want to make profits and that to do so they will lower workers' wages and raise prices.

So while I always thought of private businesses as entities that are forced to earn business by offering the best service at the best price, I realized that a lot of people focus instead on their incentives to keep labor costs down and profits up as a bad thing.

The problems I see with this "Kucinich view" (which I fear is shared by way too many Americans):

1. Businesses that cannot compete (offer a desired good or service at a price people are willing to pay) go out of business. Government services that can't compete (offer as good of quality service at the same or lower cost than private business) don't go away. They stick around and continue to offer worse service at a higher cost.

2. Government wages that are higher than the private labor market rate are really benefiting those workers at the cost of taxpayers. How is that fair to the taxpayer?

3. Why should government's goal be to keep public sector wages higher? Shouldn't the goal be to offer public services at the lowest cost? Wouldn't this include keeping labor costs down? Of course the government will always be forced to pay wages competitive with the private sector in order to recruit and retain public sector employees, but what is the argument for paying wages higher than that?

4. Government takes from taxpayers via force (threat of fine or imprisonment) in order to provide services, so when it uses taxpayer money to fund services that a taxpayer doesn't want or use, it is really stealing from the taxpayer or forcibly directing what they spend their money on. That is why government services should be limited to core public services that are truly serving a very high percentage of taxpayers.

5. Profits are kept in check by competition. It is a very rare instance where a business has no competition (a monopoly). Businesses can only make a profit to the extent they can keep costs down better than their competition (operate more efficiently) or are willing to accept a lower profit margin.

6. Wage rates are also maintained by competition. Businesses cannot retain quality employees without paying as much as their competitors are paying.

7. For those that think that non-profits or government can provides services at a lower cost to the taxpayer because they aren't taking a profit, that assumes (most of the time incorrectly) that the waste and inefficiency in government or a non-profit entity is less than the profit margin of the more efficient for-profit business. But what if, for example, a business with a 8% profit margin runs a service 15% more efficiently than government?

I believe the fairest and most efficient economic system is the free market where wages and prices are dictated by market forces -- that is, in the labor market, what employers are willing to pay and employees are willing to work for, and in the markets for goods and services, what the buyer is willing to pay and the seller willing to sell for. Government should reasonably minimize the amount of interference via regulation, and only provide core public services like roads, police, and parks that for various reasons are better offered by government than by private businesses.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

VIDEO: Ryan at Rules Committee Sums Up

If there should be an individual mandate, it should be to watch this presentation by Rep. Paul Ryan at the House Rules Committee today (obviously before word spread that Pelosi has dropped DemonPass).

My comment on health care at HotAir

Below is my comment at a HotAir post about Paul Ryan decimating Louise Slaughter in an argument about Medicare.

But first, the video of the takedown:

The fact is that SS and Medicare are going bankrupt. Medicare costs are growing beyond ability for government to pay.

Cuts will HAVE TO BE MADE at some point. The question is whether to start now so we can adjust gradually and lessen the pain, or whether we continue to bury our heads in the sand and end up with abrupt cuts when the bill comes due.

A second question is what is the most efficient way to keep services up and costs down. And in my opinion, that is through reverting back to utilizing the free market as much as is possible given the current state of things.

Honestly, the best two things I can think of that government could do IF they wanted to mandate something that would lower health care costs are steps that would get consumers more skin in the game:

1. Mandate that all insurance plans have minimum percentage-based co-pays.

For instance, instead of paying somewhere from $0-$30 to go see the doctor, you pay a minimum of 10%-30%. Say you had to pay 20%. Now instead of just going to a doctor and not caring what it costs (say $200) because you pay $20 no matter what, if you pay 20% you now look around for the best price because if you can find a doctor that you like that charges $140 instead of $200, you only pay $28 instead of $40. The competition which drives down costs plus the higher amount that you’re chipping in will reduce insurance rates to save you net cost overall.

In the same way, X-rays and MRI’s and all other medical tests should be paid for on a percentage basis. This gives the users of the services the motivation to shop around for the best price at a quality they are comfortable with.

The market competition will bring down prices, and it doesn’t need everyone in the system to be price conscious. Just as with any other good or service, everyone will benefit from the efforts of the folks who are price conscious.

2. Mandate that all medical care providers post prices or offer on the spot quotes.

Without price visibility, consumers are unable to make informed decisions that include price. Right now, most people go find the best quality care they can and don’t worry about price, because they think someone else (insurance) is paying. There is simply not enough incentive or understanding for people to think through it and say,

“Yeah, I’m going to put in the hours of effort it takes calling my providers and insurance to find out what the best cost is for this visit or procedure, because even though it costs me the same either way, I know that it will ultimately raise my insurance rates if I don’t shop around for the best price.”

Until the health care system gives the consumers of health care both the price visibility and incentive to shop around and/or consume less, costs will continue to increase at an unsustainable rate.

I read a figure somewhere last year, and I wish I could find it again, that back in the 60’s, individuals on average paid for 60% of health care expenses out of pocket. Now they only pay about 10% out of pocket, the rest is covered through insurance (and even the cost of that is hidden through the employer-based system). No wonder we consume 3 times as much health care in number of procedures per person that we did in 1980!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

VIDEO: Hitler on ClimateGate

Warning: the subtitles include profanity at least 3 times.

Other than that, I found it hilarious. Hat tip to Neptunus Lex.

C4P on Bastiat's Broken Window Fallacy

Doug Brady and has a nice post from last year that I ran across that includes a more contemporary paraphrase of Bastiat's Broken Window Fallacy, as well as a John Stossel video on it.

Henry Hazlitt, an economist who was influenced by Bastiat, explained the broken window fallacy in his book, Economics in One Lesson. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

A young hoodlum, say, heaves a brick through the window of a baker’s shop. The shopkeeper runs out furious, but the boy is gone. A crowd gathers, and begins to stare with quiet satisfaction at the gaping hole in the window and the shattered glass over the bread and pies. After a while the crowd feels the need for philosophic reflection. And several of its members are almost certain to remind each other or the baker that, after all, the misfortune has its bright side. It will make business for some glazier.

As they begin to think of this they elaborate upon it. How much does a new plate glass window cost? Two hundred and fifty dollars? That will be quite a sun. After all, if windows were never broken, what would happen to the glass business? Then, of course, the thing is endless. The glazier will have $250 more to spend with other merchants, and these in turn will have $250 more to spend with still other merchants, and so ad infinitum.

The smashed window will go on providing money and employment in ever-widening circles. The logical conclusion from all this would be, if the crowd drew it, that the little hoodlum who threw the brick, far from being a public menace, was a public benefactor.

Now let us take another look. The crowd is at least right in its first conclusion. This little act of vandalism will in the first instance mean more business for some glazier. The glazier will be no more unhappy to learn of the incident than an undertaker to learn of a death. But the shopkeeper will be out $250 that he was planning to spend for a new suit. Because he has had to replace the window, he will have to go without the suit (or some equivalent need or luxury). Instead of having a window and $250 he now has merely a window. Or, as he was planning to buy the suit that very afternoon, instead of having both a window and a suit he must be content with the window and no suit. If we think of him as part of the community, the community has lost a new suit that might otherwise have come into being, and is just that much poorer.

The glazier’s gain of business, in short, is merely the tailor’s loss of business. No new “employment” has been added. The people in the crowd were thinking only of two parties to the transaction, the baker and the glazier. They had forgotten the potential third party involved, the tailor. They forgot him precisely because he will not now enter the scene. They will see the new window in the next day or two. They will never see the extra suit, precisely because it will never be made. They see only what is immediately visible to the eye.*

VIDEO: Paul Ryan at Health Care Summit

Paul Ryan does an excellent job of summarizing the budget gimmickry and issues with the current health care bills. It amazes me that the conversation could just go on without addressing these numbers. Obama just said that he had some problems with Ryan's numbers and moved on to another Democrat to speak about something else.

I hate the format where each speaker gets to talk for a set period of time, and there's very little back and forth actually hashing out any issues. And the whole summit, Obama gets to constantly frame the discussion after every Republican speaks.

In this case, there should have been considerable discussion addressing the points that Paul Ryan made.

By the way, I wish the Republicans had tried a lot harder to pin down Reid and Obama by asking them both to commit to not passing a bill using reconciliation or signing a bill that was passed using reconciliation. It would have made headlines if while being pressed hard Obama and Reid refused to make that commitment during the bi-partisan summit. It would have exposed how much of a sham the summit was. I'm willing to bet that if the Democrats think they have the votes to pass the Senate bill in the House, and a 2nd bill in both houses that would pass the Senate via reconciliation, that they will jam in through in the next few weeks.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

2 Graphs: Jobs and Housing prices

Powerline blog has a great post with two informative graphs.

1. A graph of job gains or losses per month. It shows the natural cycle already starting trending upwards before Obama's policies could have had any effect. It's always important to keep in mind the business cycle's trends when evaluating whether policies have helped or not.

2. A graph of the housing market, asjusted for inflation, since 1900. It makes it clear how government policies and lower lending standards and easy money policies and the market irrationality caused by opaque mortgage-backed securities and their derivatives had thrown housing prices completely out of whack. They are only now back down near, but still higher, than the historical average. Based on this graph, you could expect anything from a stabilization in prices in the near future to a further pendulum swing down another 20-30%.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Obama's Jobs Proposals

In the State of the Union address on Wednesday, and again at the Republican annual conference meeting on Friday, President Obama outlined several proposals for a "jobs bill". I'm trying to think through the pros and cons of each.

1) An up to $5000 tax credit for businesses for each employee hired in 2010.

2) A payroll tax refund (dollar for dollar) for employers who give raises to employees earning under $100,000 for the amount of the raise that is greater than the rate of inflation.

3) Eliminate the capital gains tax for small business investment.

4) Take $30 Billion returned from the Wall Street banks, and give it to community banks to start lending to small businesses again.

(well, I've typed out the proposals, but gotta run for now -- will analyze later)

Here's some more proposals from the meeting with Republicans on Friday:

5) A "modest fee on the nation's largest banks and financial institutions to fully recover for taxpayers' money that they provided to the financial sector when it was teetering on the brink of collapse, and it's designed to discourage them from taking reckless risks in the future."

6) "I propose that we close tax loopholes that reward companies for shipping American jobs overseas, and instead give companies greater incentive to create jobs right here at home."

7) "I've proposed a 3-year freeze in discretionary spending, other than what we need for national security... that's consistent with a lot of the talk... we can't blink when it's time to actually do the job."

8) PAYGO rules -- just passed in Senate.

9) Bipartisan fiscal commission -- I'm going to establish one by executive order, after one died in the Senate the other day. "I hope you participate fully..."

Obama goes on to health insurance, but I don't have time to fisk it all.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

International Welfare Creates Dependency Too

Bret Stephens takes the occasion of Haiti's plight to remind people that long-term Foreign Aid (as opposed to short-term emergency humanitarian assistance which almost everyone supports) is part of the problem.

Take something as seemingly straightforward as food aid. "At some point," Mr. Shikwati [, a Kenyan economist,] explains, "this corn ends up in the harbor of Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unscrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the U.N.'s World Food Program."

Foreign Aid more often than not destroys the local production capacity of the items being provided as aid, and thus creates dependency instead. And to make matters worse, it always props up corrupt local politicians who use their power in the aided country to direct aid for political reasons, or make money off the aid using various schemes, such as buying and running the trucking companies that actually deliver the aid.

American foreign aid, apart from emergency aid like in Haiti right now, in my opinion, should be carefully limited to forms that promote local good governance and increased production capacity in the aided country. Otherwise, it does more harm than good.

The reasons that poor countries are poor is directly due to their economic and government systems. There are numerous examples of countries quickly rising out from the third to first world in a matter of a decade or two with free markets and protecting property rights. The ones that stay mired in poverty are almost all characterized by corrupt governments and dysfunctional economic systems. Foreign investment is almost non-existent in these countries.

Those core reasons for why a country remains poor are by-in-large harmed by long-term foreign aid.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

BigJourn: Fisking AP ClimateGate Article

On Andrew Breitbart's new website, there is a great fisking of the big AP writeup immediately after the ClimateGate scandal broke back in December 2009.

The AP's article probably had the largest reach of any writeup on the scandal, as it was no doubt featured prominently in most newspapers around the country as well as on countless news aggregator websites.

The AP assigned 5 reporters to the article, who reviewed the emails and got comment from only 4 scientists, taking pains to point out that the one AGW (anthropogenic global warming) skeptic was not a true scientist, even though the other quoted scientists were not in the field of climatology either. Further they distort what the scientists said, or at least what their positions were when contacted by the Big Journalism article's authors, to downplay the significance of the ClimateGate emails and computer code.

The AP article is also conspicuous in who it did not quote, including any of the Global Warming crowd who wrote the emails and computer code, or any of the skeptics who are frequently mentioned in the emails. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that with the computer code, the AP just hadn't had enough time to have computer programmer pore through all the code yet.

Here's the link to the Big Journalism article.

Be sure to read it. Articles like these are crucial to understanding the bias inherent in supposedly "objective" news reporting.

The biggest error by the AP is in coming to such sweeping and pre-judged conclusions as the headline "Science Not Faked..." when that remains to be seen. There have been many articles since ClimateGate broke which question some of the data itself, and not much can be determined for sure until these Global Warming scientists open up their data and climate models for independent review. The AP headline could have just as easily and validly have been "Scientists' Methods & Motives Now In Question".