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Monday, November 30, 2009

I am puzzled by this Poll in the Washington Post.

I guess this is a bleg. Can anyone explain it to me ?

I care because there is were very interested results of question 14

14. Overall, would you say most of your friends and family think of themselves as (Republicans), most as (Democrats) or most as independents?
Other No
Republicans Democrats Independents (vol.) opinion
11/23/09 All adults 36 33 19 8 5

36% is much higher than the fraction of adults in the USA who self identify as Republicans. It seems from this question that self reported patisan affiliation and perceived affiliation of "most friends and family" are systematically different. I would find this result very interesting if I could understand the sampling design of the poll, but I can't.

This Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone November 19-23, 2009, among a random national sample of 1,306 adults, including additional interviews with randomly-selected Republicans and Republican-leaning nonpartisans for a total GOP sub-sample of 804. Interview were conducted on both conventional and cellular phones. The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points; four points for the sample of 485 Republicans and five points for the sample of 319 GOP-leaning nonpartisans.

Basically the phrases "additional interviews" and "sub-sample" seem to contradict each other.

One possible interpretation is that they polled 1,306 adults and then asked additional questions of those who leaned Republican and called those additional questions an "additional interview". I think this is not what happened, as there are too many Republicans for a random sample 485 is more than 36% of 1,306 and a much smaller fraction self identify as Republican in all recent polls.

Another possibility is that "sub-sample" is simply incorrect. That the "additional interviews" were additional phone calls and in the additional sample only people who leaned Republican were asked further questions. This means there would be two overlapping samples one of the general public and the other of Republican and Republican leaning independents. This is my current guess as to what was done. If so, the answers on question 14 show a gap between self identification and the perceived self identification of "most ... friends and family"

Finally a totally crazy conceivable possibility is that the pollster, TNS of Horsham, Pa., deliberately oversampled Republicans and then reported results for the skewed sample as results for all adults. They didn't do that. Approval of Obama administration policies is 49%. The wording isn't exactly standard but the number is similar to Obama's job approval in other polls. The sample labled "all" isn't grossly unrepresentative. I'm confident that the poll didn't use the totally crazy approach.

Under the second interpretation of the sampling, the result that the median American perceives himself as being to the left of the median American holds (because the all sample is a random sample). That would be interesting. I wish some poll with a clearly described sampling strategy included question 14.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In which I disagree with Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias in one post

Drum wrote

I’m entirely in favor of a Social Security commission, similar to the 1983 commission, tasked with producing a conventional basket of small revenue increases and small benefit cuts that would balance Social Security’s book in the long term. This is, admittedly, a relatively small thing, since Social Security’s fiscal condition has improved over the past few years and is now projected to eventually go out of balance by only about 1.5% of GDP. But aside from the virtue of even small acts of fiscal rectitude, it would also have the huge virtue of taking Social Security off the table as a political issue.

Huh ? Obviously it will never be off the table as a political issue. Too many prominent opinion leaders hate it and the general public loves it too much for it ever to be off the table.

Yglesias has a probably less plausible story about what would happen.

Kevin’s plan is going to play out along the lines of a familiar script. First, Barack Obama proposes something sensible and centrist like a balanced package of benefit cuts and tax hikes. Then this becomes defined as the extreme left pole of the debate. Then because Max Baucus and Kent Conrad are moderates, it needs to be balanced further in the direction of spending cuts. Then the administration embraces that proposal and it becomes defined as the extreme left pole of the debate. Then because Evan Bayh and Blanche Lincoln are moderates, it needs to be balanced even further in the direction of spending cuts.

Why would that happen ? Remember social security is the third rail. Cutting social security pensions is not like cutting medicaid or subsidies for the currently uninsured. It is like cutting medicare*. I haven't noticed an irresistable drift towards doing more and more of that. If some legislator demands benefit cuts in addition to tax increases, that legislator should probably start looking for another line of work.

Consider the health care debate. Republicans are not focusing on the house's surtax or thge Senate's surtax. They are denouncing Medicare cuts. They are in it to win it and they know that the way to win is to tell senior citizens that their social welfare programs will be cut.

Now consider the partial personalization debate of 2005. Cuts to social security benefits weren't inevitable then. They didn't happen when Republicans had the President and 55 senators. Why would they happen when there are 40 Republican senators. Bush pushed hard and it went nowhere.

To be blunt, I think what is going on here is that the left blogosphere is very proud of their great victory in 2005. It was a great victory and they had an important role. However, it was not a great victory against tough odds. More like the Colts beat the Lions.

I think it would be useful if that commission proposed 0 benefit cuts and the FICA doughnut plan so that the payroll tax kicks in again individual labor income over $250,000/yr.

This would have some advantages. The proposal to *eliminate* the FICA ceiling had majority support back in 2005. The doughnut plan would, I would guess, have even more support.

Obama said he would do this during the campaign.

It would be a tax increase on rich* people and help balance the budget. It would show that there is no need to cut benefits to save social security. you (M.Y. have argued again and again that such a tax increase would have good incentive effects).

The Republicans would go apesh*t and show how totally out of touch they are.
I'd say one of the events that guaranteed Obama's election was the time when McCain said that to be rich you had to have family income over $5 million per year. Republicans talking about middle class people with individual labor income over 250,000/year are not going to appeal to real live middle class people.

On the other hand ...

Well, what exactly is on the other hand ?

*typos corrected thatnks to comments.

update: I read a post somewhere in which it was asserted that the doughnut plan consists of applying the full payroll tax to individual payroll income over 250,000. This is definitely not a proposal ever made by the Obama campaign. The above the hole tax rate would definitely be lower. I'm not 100% sure that they ever described one, but IIRC the maximum discussed was 2% each on employer and employee. This is a much less radical proposal than one might guess and would creates smaller incentives to disguise payroll income as capital income, capital gains or corporate income.
I am surprised to have appreciated an essay on artnet by Ben Davis. It is a defence of conceptual art, but one of the best bits seems to me to be "The Painted Word" by Tom Wolfe edited as Maxwell Perkins edited Thomas Wolfe

What’s notable about the present attack on "conceptual" art by Dutton and many, many others is that it is a symmetrical, distorted reflection of the very critique of "traditional" art that led artists to adopt diverse "conceptual" strategies in the first place. A great many of these (e.g. process art, abject art, performance art) attracted the zeal of their purveyors in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s because they seemed to promise some kind of critique of the art market. Traditional art forms like painting and sculpture were -- and still are, in some circles -- considered to be corrupt, because the objects they produce lend themselves to being sold, owned and traded. Barbara Rose expressed this silly conception in a particularly hyperbolic passage from the Partisan Review: "For some time now I have felt that the radicalism of Minimal and Conceptual art is fundamentally political, that its implicit aim is to discredit thoroughly the forms and institutions of dominant bourgeois culture."

The fact that such strategies devolved inexorably into their own sort of market-friendly style just proves a point. On both sides, "traditional" and "conceptual," the perceived ill of the other is actually just the displaced face of the market itself, with its tendency to transmogrify and vulgarize everything. Which should provide a lesson for critics about the kind of promises they make for art: There are no formal or esthetic solutions to the political and economic dilemmas that art faces -- only political and economic solutions.

I do mildly disagree with something Davis wrote

"In fact, appreciating art of any kind implies a command of the narratives around it; ancient Greek and Chinese art require a great accumulation of cultural knowledge to "get" them. All art is conceptual if by that you mean that actually having a rewarding encounter with it implies something beyond just the brute facts before your eyes."

I would edit to

"In fact, [fully] appreciating art of any kind implies a command of the narratives around it; [appreciation of] ancient Greek and Chinese art require [is enhanced by] a great accumulation of cultural knowledge to [fully] "get" them. All art is conceptual if by that you mean that actually having a [maximally] rewarding encounter with it implies something beyond just the brute facts before your eyes."

So, I think, mildly overstated. I get more than nothing out of ancient chinese art and I have almost no relevant cultural knowledge.

Also the essay risks self reference when Davis writes "He completely collapses the notion of "virtuoso display" with handicraft, as if a well-crafted philosophical essay weren’t a "virtuoso display" of its own sort" but, as someone said, a virtuoso display which might be suspected of self regard is a joy forever.

I guess I now know how the original Philistines felt after a few rounds with Samson.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chris Hayes is not reality based.

He claims that Clinton did not attempt health care reform. He is writing about Obama's trip to China. Given his contempt for plain facts, I'm surprised he didn't say that Obama showed great courage as he risked falling off the edge of the earth.

It seems that The Nation does not support comments so I will note here that Hayes is not reality based.

He wrote "In the 1990s Bill Clinton was persuaded by Robert Rubin and others that the deficits he inherited required him to abandon any extension of the welfare state," that is the Clinton administration did not propose health care reform.

This is totally insane utter nonsense. Clinton attempted by far the largest expansion of the welfare state since the 60s. It was blocked by the Senate and not by concerns about bond markets.

Also, I guess Hayes doesn't consider the Earned income tax credit to be part of the welfare state. The Clinton recovery plan included a huge expansion of the EITC. Clinton promised that any family with a full time worker in it would be over the poverty line. Counting food stamps he managed to get congress to keep that promise.

Hayes' claim is totally insane utterly non reality based nonsense. I think it is obvious that he has written this plain blatant actionable libel about Robert Rubin, because Rubin is a banker and therefore must be evil according to Hayes. But even if he must say that Rubin was a bad influence on Clinton, he could have avoided demonstrating utter contempt for the historical record.

I have a lot of respect for Atrios, but linking to an article which makes a totally false claim makes me wonder.

I have to ask you, what does Palin have which Hayes doesn't ? What is the difference between his utterly, totally, completely, false, insane, nonsensical claim and say the death panels claim ?

update: This is alarming. Like Black, Krugman linked to the article by Hayes without mentioning the totally false historical claim. Whatever happened to the reality based community ? It seems that they no longer insist that people respect plain well known facts.

I commented at Krugman's blog. I copy the comment below as I'm not sure that the comment will survive moderation (although there is no way I could honestly have been more polite to Krugman or more generous to Hayes).

I am surprised that you link to Hayes’ article without mentioning that he is totally delusional or lying. In the article to which you link (without making any criticism at all) he wrote He wrote “In the 1990s Bill Clinton was persuaded by Robert Rubin and others that the deficits he inherited required him to abandon any extension of the welfare state,” That is, Clinton did not attempt health care reform and did not expand the earned income tax credit.

I think it is important to respect facts even if they are over a decade old. The fact that you approvingly link to Hayes in spite of the plainly grossly false historical claim in this article is, I think, a serious mistake. You endanger your own credibility and reputation as a reality based economist and columnist when you link to such a palinly* false absurd claim.

It just will not do to consider a totally false claim on a matter of fact to be not worthy of even a mention. Once one decides to let falsehoods pass, because they don’t matter much, where is one to draw the line ?

* this was an honest typo. It might have been Freudian as I had just asked (on my blog) if there is any difference between Hayes’ claim and Palin’s claim about death panels. I see none. Both are utter falsehoods which demonstrate ideologically induced delusions, or contempt for the truth, or both.

update II Now I'm wondering about *my* sanity. Brad DeLong has a tweet linking to Hayes with no criticism. Now I can see how it is hard to fit discussion of one tossed of totally false absurd claim into 140 characters but What the Hell is Going On !

OMFG Brad quoted Hayes at length without any criticism. He didn't quote the absurd historical falsehood, but he didn't mention it either.

Brad is very proud of his role in the one successful Clinton administration effort to expand the welfare state. He agonized over the failure of the colossal effort to obtain universal health insurance *and* he once named Robert Rubin as the one person in the whole world who he considered most qualified to be President of the USA !

But whether I'm sane or not, I just cut and pasted from the much linked Hayes article.

WTF !?!?!
Matt Taibbi questions the patriotism of the press corps. No that's not the half of it. He says they are doubleplus ungood unpersons who must be vaporized

"press had to change its mind again and embrace an “Obama is now the presumptive frontrunner/We are now at war with Oceania” posture."

At war with Oceania ?!? he actually said the press was at war with Oceania ? What else does he think they did ? Spat on Big Brother's mustache ?!?

His post is absolutely brilliant but even Sarah Palin knows that sometimes Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia and sometimes Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia but it is doubleplus unpossible to be at war with Oceania.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I love They are awesome wonderful and totally to blame for the fact that I won't get any work done today either. The positive proof of their tireless passionate quest for the strangest most hidden facts is revealed by their discovery of a statement by Dick Cheney that is actually true !

I have no idea how many thousands of person hourse were needed to achieve this almost impossible goal.
The Turkey Blues

total tail feather kicking awesomosity via Suzanne at FDL.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The following blog post which I quote in full has been banned by the US government.

The Muzzle Is Off
By Candace Gorman

In June of this year I received a call from a foreign reporter who asked if I could give her a profile of my client Al-Ghizzawi as he was on a list of men whom the US was looking for a new home and her country was considering accepting him. This was the first I had learned that Al-Ghizzawi had been “cleared” by the Obama review team for release. I gave her information about my client and for all I know a story was published about the plight of Al-Ghizzawi at Guantánamo, his status as “cleared” and why he needed a country in Europe to take him.

A few days later an attorney from the justice department called to tell me that Al-Ghizzawi was cleared for release and we laughed about the fact that I already knew the information. However the laughing stopped when the attorney told me that the justice department had designated the information as “protected” and I could not tell anyone except my client and those people who had signed on to the protective order (a court document that outlines the procedures for the Guantánamo cases) about his status as “cleared for release.” I told the attorney that he could not declare something “protected” that was already in the public domain. To make a long story short we were not in agreement and the attorney filed an emergency motion with the judge to muzzle me. Despite the fact that the information was in the public domain I was muzzled by the good judge who apparently doesn’t believe that the Constitution applies to me. I couldn’t even tell Mr. Al-Ghizzawi’s brother what I thought was good news (I didn’t know then that this was just another stall tactic by the justice department).

Not only was I muzzled but Mr. Al-Ghizzawi’s case was put on hold. The habeas hearing that we had been fighting to obtain literally for years was stayed by the judge despite the fact that the US Supreme Court held in June of 2008 that the men were entitled to swift hearings … So much for the Supreme Court! The president asked the judges to stop the hearings for those men who were “cleared” for release and the judges have fallen into lockstep, shamefully abandoning their duties as judges.

A few months later when I visited Al-Ghizzawi (at the end of August) he had just received word from his wife that she could no longer wait for his release and she asked him if she would sign papers for a divorce. Bad news is an everyday occurrence for Al-Ghizzawi and he was holding up well despite this latest blow.

When I returned from the base I asked the justice department to allow me to contact Al-Ghizzawi’s wife and tell her that he had been cleared for release. I hoped that if she knew he was to be released she would hang in there and not go through with the divorce. I was told they would get back to me. When they didn’t I asked again but they still would not give me the OK. In Court papers I pleaded with the judge to let me tell Al-Ghizzawi’s brother and wife, telling the judge about the wife’s request for a divorce, but the judge, the same judge who has apparently decided to ignore the Supreme Court’s directive for quick habeas hearings, ignored this plea as well.

I seriously thought about disobeying the order and trying to get word to Al-Ghizzawi’s wife and then taking whatever lumps were thrown my way … however, despite the fact that the judicial system has failed Al-Ghizzawi and most of the men at Guantánamo I could not bring myself to blatantly disobey a court order. For five months I have kept this information confidential despite the injustice to both my client, Mr. Al-Ghizzawi, and to what was our rule of law … until yesterday, when the muzzle was lifted.

As far as I know this subsequent blog post quoted in full again, has not been banned by the US government.

On Tuesday I reported that the Government finally allowed me to discuss matters that had previously been “protected” in regards to my client Al-Ghizzawi. In fact the Government unclassified and allowed for public release a Petition for Original Habeas Corpus that I filed in the US Supreme Court. I released that Petition to the public in accordance with the Government’s designation of “unclassified.” On Friday the Department of Justice (DOJ) told me that it had made a mistake and that it had apparently violated the Protective Order (an Order that sets out the rules for the DOJ and Habeas counsel in regards to the Guantánamo cases) entered in the case when it “unclassified” and allowed for public release information in the Petition that it wanted to “protect” and that therefore I must remove my post of November 17 because of the DOJ’s mistake. I explained to the DOJ attorneys that the Petition and my Post of November 17 were widely distributed and are available at various sites on the web … they do not seem to care about that … they only care that I not report about what they are now trying to declare “protected information” … 5 days after they unclassified the material and made it available for public release.

This is of course outrageous conduct by the DOJ … in trying to declare something as “protected” after being clearly designated and distributed to the public, but what else is new? For those of you who either remember my November 17 post or have it available on your website, I originally learned of the so-called “protected” information from a public source and the judge in Al-Ghizzawi’s case still ruled that I could not discuss it. […]

This is not the end of this story. Under the Protective Order the Government must actually get the judge’s permission to retroactively keep me (and only me) from publishing and discussing the information that the Government now seeks to “protect.” The DOJ will have to file a document with the Court explaining why this now very public information should be “protected.” Ultimately it will be the judge’s decision. If you do not see my post back up that will mean that the judge agreed with the Government, that I alone cannot talk about those things that you are privy to discuss.

The banned post was retrieved from the google cache. Banning a blog post is not only an offense against the first amendment (with very serious consequences in this case) but also an act of technological idiocy as the post had already made it into the google cache (ahd the DOJ could check that and knew it couldn't make google remove it).

All via Andy Worthington who found and reposted the cached post.
Ezra Klein criticizes David Broder's astonishingly idiotic and dishonest op-ed.

Kudos to Ezra for criticizing the dean of the Washington Post Employees. That takes intellectual integrity and courage as it sure won't help his career.

My reading of part of the op-ed which I read before losing my temper is that Broder has made it clear that, to him, "deficit reduction" means "cutting social welfare spending." It has long been fairly obvious that this is what Broder (and Hiatt) mean. Broder has eliminated all doubt.

I quote Broder. I absolutely have not distorted anything by removing necessary context (click the link and check).

will add to the federal budget deficit?"

The answer: Less than one-fifth of the voters -- 19 percent of the sample -- think he will keep his word.


the public has it right. These bills, as they stand, are budget-busters. ... "... . As of now, it's basically a big entitlement expansion, plus tax increases."

So tax increases have no effect on whether a bill is or isn't a budget buster. Broder is not talking about the deficit at all. When he says "fiscally responsible" he means "cuts social welfare spending." When he says "deficit" he doesn't mean spending minus tax revenues he means either spending or spending minus military spending.

Furthermore Broder dismisses as trivial the differences between the House and Senate bills "These bills." A hundred billion here a hundred billion there and no way will it amount to anything worthy of David Broder's attention.

No one who can read English can dispute this anymore. One can only ask if Broder doesn't know what "deficit" means or is he trying to trick his readers into thinking that tax increases can't reduce the deficit ?

I mean is he an idiot or a liar or both ?

Broder certainly has no place in responsible journalism and should be fired. Of course so should Krauthammer, Kristol, and Hiatt. Personally I'd fire Will too, but I can see how some people think that Will is not completely intellectually bankrupt.

Obviously Broder should be replaced by Klein. More than that, picking up Broders intellectual garbage is a waste of Klein's valuable time.

How did a once great paper come to this ?
Get 'em well Harry !
Senator Joeseph Lieberman will lie.

I am not talking about "the possibility of it" I am making an absolutely confident prediction with no wiggle room. I have been reluctant to make predictions since November 2004 (I predicted Kerry would win) but I think I'm safe on this one.

Here he lies to Brian Buetler

I asked in response, "How do you reconcile your contention that the public option wasn't part of the presidential campaign given that all three of the [leading Democratic] candidates had something along the lines of the public option in their white papers?'

"Not really, not from what I've seen. There was a little--there was a line about the possibility of it in an Obama health care policy paper," Lieberman said.

(That line read, "Specifically, the Obama plan will: (1) establish a new public insurance program, available to Americans who neither qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP nor have access to insurance through their employers, as well as to small businesses that
want to offer insurance to their employees," and went on from there.)

Lieberman must know about the reference to the public option in the Obama plan. His false claim that Obama did not propose a public option during the campaign (which might have been an honest mistake) has been refuted.

Now he claims that the statement that something will be is a discussion of "the possibility of it." This is a false statement. It is conceivable that Lieberman doesn't understand the meaning of the word "will" but I dismiss "the possibility of it."

He lied. He lies regularly. He will lie again.

This man should not be the chairman of a senate committee.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ultimate Ballance*

Bruce Bartlett writes

I don't mean to suggest that Democrats are any better when it comes to the deficit, although they have a better case for saying so based on the contrasting fiscal records of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Shorter Bruce Bartlett "I don't mean to suggest that Democrats are any better ..., although they" are, so don't you dare accuse me of being reality based.

Bartlett is one of the most nearly honest conservatives in the USA. What does that tell us about the rest of them ?


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why do employers want to continue providing health-care benefits?

Ezra Klein has a theory that this is basically upper class solidarity at work. They don't want spending decisions to be public, because the public wants to soak the rich and they are rich. I strongly suspect that this arguments only works if managers do not as faithful stewards of the interests of shareholders and pigs don't fly, so I give young Ezra high marx.

I have two other thoughts. They start with the fact that employers have tended to reduce the generosity of the health insurance they provide. Why is this not just like cutting wages ?

First, I think there is the power of nominal rigity. The amount they pay in premiums per worker has increased. People react very differently to an effort to restrain the increase in an expence than to an effort to cut an expense. This enabled US employers to get away with very low real wage growth during periods of inflation (in Europe the workers caught on to what was happening quicker and used the law to mandate cost of living adjustments).

Second there is the advantage of having a scapegoat. The employer can blame the insurance company for demanding higher premiums for the same coverage (note same coverage as in deductables and copays not the same health care which improves as technology improves).

This means that employers have reduced the share of health care spending which they cover and yet haven't angered their employees as much as they would have if they had cut wages.

he odd role of employers as intermediaries between the workers and the intermediaries between the workers and health care providers is useful to the employers.

OK look I have a third thought, which is that CEOs are asking human resources managers for advice and those human resources managers want to keep their jobs. Are CEOs that dumb ? Is there any evidence to the contrary ?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Washington Post -- More Catholic than the Pope

The Washington Post had a front page article yesterday which began

A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending -- one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health-care system -- would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.

Journalist Lori Montgomery didn't write the headline "Report: Bill would reduce senior care." The alleged basis for the inflamatory claims was the report by the chief actuary for the Medicare/Medicaid administration (CMS). This report noted scheduled future cuts in Medicare reimbursment rates and questioned whether they will actually be imposed. This is a reasonable suspicion, since restictions enacted in 1997 are waived once a year every year. It is obvious that the actual basis for the article is Republican congressional aids (probably the minority staff of Ways and Means, since I found the report itself (warning pdf) on their site).

The remarkable thing is that Montgomery and The Washington Post are more extreme than the hospitals' lobby -- The American Hospital Association. The AHA supports health care reform and has agreed to $155 billion less over ten years. HR3692 includes prospective cuts for hospitals, nursing homes and urgent care facilities of $ 282 billion. It is possible that the current dispute is over the difference (127 minus the part for nursing homes and urgent care facilities) but Montgomery doesn't mention any possibility that hospitals will accept cuts without denying care to medicare patients.

Thus she reminds me of Megan McArdle who argues that health care reform should be rejected, because it will excessively reduce pharmaceutical company profits and therefore pharmaceutical innovation. McArdle doesn't explain why PhRMA supports refrom if it is so terrible for pharmaceutical companies.

When you find your position more extreme than that of a lobby, maybe you should reconsider.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Health Care Reform and Caregivers Refusing Medicare Patients

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Lori Montgomery fell for (or is pushing) Republican spin in this article in the Washington Post
Report: Bill would reduce senior care
Medicare cuts approved by House may affect access to providers

A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending -- one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health-care system -- would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a government evaluation released Saturday.

The report, requested by House Republicans, found that Medicare cuts contained in the health package approved by the House on Nov. 7 are likely to prove so costly to hospitals and nursing homes that they could stop taking Medicare altogether.

Congress could intervene to avoid such an outcome, but "so doing would likely result in significantly smaller actual savings" than is currently projected, according to the analysis by the chief actuary for the agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid.

Under the proposed law, Medicare compensation rates will be so low that caregivers will refuse to accept them. So what else is new ? Under current law Medicare compensation rates will be so low that caregivers will refuse to accept them. Current law and the proposed new law are both frauds in exactly the same way similar ways. Since 1997 there has been a restriction on Medicare spending such that drastic cuts are a year away, always one year away.

[some lines deleted. My guess about what the report said was wrong].

update: I have now read the report (warning pdf) ... well actually up to the passage stressed by Republicans and Montgomery. Montgomery's article focuses on one paragraph deep in the report which begins "It is important to note that the estimated savings for one category of Medicare proposals may be unrealistic." That's some serious digging.

The paragraph goes on to discuss what seems to be new additional budgetary flim flam which is assuming that productivity in hospitals and nursing homes grows at the national average (measured productivity grows much more slowly and it doesn't matter if this is due to unmeasured improved quality of care). That would be part of a large savings of $ 282 billion. The report doesn't describe what the savings would be if Medicare rates were adjusted to a reasonable forecast of productivity growth.

Now I had assumed that Medicare cuts other than eliminating the Medicare advantage boondoggle were reductions in money effectively given to hospitals (and nursing homes etc) so they could afford to take care of the uninsured. Hospitals' budgets will be affected by increased health insurance coverage both the total fraction of people insured and the fraction of people with pre-existing conditions insured. This means that the total effect on Hospitals' budgets can't be calculated assuming only Medicare payment rates change.

Importantly, the Foster (the author) assumes that reduced Medicare payments will cause hospitals to choose to refuse Medicare patients and not drive Hospitals bankrupt. It is true that relatively lower Medicare rates will cause more hospitals to refuse Medicare patients. How many currently do ? I googled
"hospitals which refuse medicare" I got links to articles about physicians who refuse Medicare patients and this link to someone who works at a hospital where they talked about refusing Medicare patients.

Medicare rates are already low. There sure don't seem to be many hospitals which refuse to treat Medicare patients.

OK so I tried the past tense and googled "hospital did not accept medicare"
This link to someone who says an anonymous hospital told her in 1998 that they didn't accept Medicare patients.

Quite frankly this doesn't seem to be a huge problem. The idea that it will get even bigger if Medicare rates fall further below other rates doesn't seem to me to merit page 1 treatment.

My current interpretation is that Foster is saying that he believes that the new restrictions on Medicare compensation will be waived just as the existing restrictions are waived. He can't say that Congress is flimflamming so he has to explain how this might be a natural response to unforseen events in the future.

My current guess is that the event will be the perfectly forseable complaints from hospitals and nursing homes and that the forecast that Congress will waive the rule is the only forecast a responsible actuary can make.

The Republican/Montgomery/ headline guy spin that elderly people will be denied care if the bill passes is absurd. If that's the way things worked, the 1997 rule wouldn't be waived year after year.

update 2: No google hits for "hospital refuses medicaid" one for "hospital refused medicaid" to a publication of the National Center for Policy Analysis hhmmm where have I heard of that ? It's the so called think tank which fired Bruce Bartlett for heresy.

The document to which I link asserts that Veterans care is queue rationed and that the veterans administration does provide as high quality care as that available to people with private insurance. Non ideological sources rate the veterans administration as the best care provider -- number one.

I think that "Hospitals will refuse Medicare and/or Medicaid" is a serious policy concern on a level similar to the "tax cuts cause increased revenues." And here it is on the front page of

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Lieberman Makes it Clear

Steve Benen explains it better than I can (plus he has the full quote)

I think Senator Lieberman has made it very clear that he is motivated by vanity and spite. His observation "I feal relevant" as as close to a confession that he is motivated by TV camera lust and power for its own sake as one might hope to get.

Now he explains his opposition to the public option by discussing the wishes and dreams of its most enthusiastic supporters "A public option plan is unnecessary. It has been put forward, I'm convinced, by people who really want the government to take over all of health insurance."

Note what he did not argue. He did not argue that any public option, even a level playing field public option, will lead to a government take over. He only discussed the wishes of people who proposed the public option. His argument doesn't even have the form of a policy argument -- he doesn't describe the effects of voting this or that way on cloture.

It is all about pissing off liberals and he doesn't even pretend otherwise.

He is willing to vote against cloture -- to use the extreme method of obstruction by filibuster (which he opposed unonditionally as a matter of principle in 1994) in order to block a bill which contains a provision which he considers "unnecessary," because of his opinion of the people who proposed it.

Lieberman has reached the level of statesmanship demonstrated by John Shadegg who voted present on the Stupack amendment because Nancy Pelosi is pro-choice. He felt he couldn't vote yes on an amendment where she voted no, because allowing the vote was part of her effort to pass health care reform.

Note, Shadegg did not vote present, because he hoped that if the amendment failed, the bill would be rejected. That would be just plain crazy (crazy like the belief that a level playing field public option will lead to single payer). Votes can be changed until the scheduled time runs out. Shadegg could have switched to yes when it was clear that the amendment had been accepted.

He didn't because he has achieved a whole new level of crazy -- a level where voting yes on an amendment restricting abortion financing is playing into the hands of Nancy Pelosi.

Similarly, Lieberman is willing to obstruct health care reform, because people who support single payer in their hearts haven't been humiliated enough. He does not discussion the provision in the bill and its effects. He discusses the motives of the people who proposed it. It's all about us. Lieberman doesn't care about the poor and the sick. He is willing to sacrifice them to spite us.

This is implied by the plain language of his argument. I'm paranoid enough to think he went on Fox and changed his demand for unspecified changes in the bill to a demand for no public option to ruin our enjoyment of the vote in the House.

I wish I could convince Lieberman of two things. First it's not about him. As a Senator he has special responsibilities not special importance. Second its not about me. If my mother makes her decisions based on what will or won't make me happy, that is sane. If the junior Senator from Connecticut bases his decisions on what will or won't make me happy, he belongs in a mental hospital not the US Senate.
Well now I am watching history being made.

The House is voting on the Stupak amendment banning any subsidies for purchase of a health care plan wich covers abortion.

Currently 73 Y 91 N. No Republicans have voted "present" as some declared they would. 11 dems have voted yes so far.

Now 43 D yea so passed unless Shadegg et all meant it.

Passed 240 to 194 with one R actually voting present.
Not even close. Will have to try to fix it in the conference committee.

Boehner amendment (to replace health care reform with the Republican do almost nothing bill) fails on a party line vote (so far) with some dyslexic dems hitting the wrong button and corrected their error just in time to keep my brain from exploding.

One brave Republican seems to have actually voted no. I guess that would be Cau R-LA.

Cantor makes a motion to recommit. Some more debate.

Just rejected (unless representatives change votes).

Mostly party line vote but 4 D's voted yes so far. Some people like primaries.

Oh the clerk just put up the roll calls.

On the Boehner amemdment Cao R-LA voted Yes. I apologize to the honorable gentleman from Lousiana for misspelling his name (at least I didn't type Cow).

The daring Republican was Johnson of Illinois.

On the Stupak amendment Shadegg actually did it !

He voted present on an antiabortion amendment becauase allowing the vote was part of Pelosi's effor to pass healthtcare reform and Pelosi is pro-choice. That was his argument. I kid you not.

“(Nancy) Pelosi is speaker and she’s pro abortion every minute of every hour of every day as speaker,” Shadegg said in an interview with POLITICO Saturday evening. “This is a vote to help her move the bill forward.”

OK back to the floor. 2 brave Republicans voted no. I won't guess that they are Cao and Johnson R-IL

13 or 14 D's voted Y (one hadn't voted when I started typing then the video went to rep. Obey). Shocking but at least one less than voted against the motion to consider the bill.

Voting on the bill. So far 30 Dem N's with 31 not yet voted.

212 Y 10 D's yet to vote. Clearly waiting to see if their votes are needed the cowards. They are torturing me.m 216 yes.

218 !!!! It happened. The bill passed !

39 Democrats voted No. One did not vote (I assume Pelosi -- by tradition the speaker rarely votes). 2 Republicans haven't voted. I will again not guess who they are. I will guess they are waiting to see if they have to vote yes. If so, the bill passed with 3 votes to spare. I'd also guess that at least some the Democrats who voted no right as the yesses past 218 would have voted yes if necessary.

Final vote 220 Yes including one very daring Republican. 39 Democrats voted no.

Pelosi just declared that the bill is passed.

Cao R-LA is the one Republican who voted yes.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

History Made on Capital Hill

No I'm not talking about the House of Representatives. IIRC the senate made history by voting unanimously to extend unemployment benefits and the first house tax credit (98-0) after 3 cloture votes.

Help me out history buffs.

Has there ever been a cloture vote on a bill which went on to pass unanimously ?

How many senators ever voted against cloture then voted for the bill with no new amendments ?

Is the current Republican caucus the most obstructionist minority in Senate history ?

OK that last one it too easy.

This is a new fronteir in obstructionism. The Republicans obstucted a desperately needed bill which they support (they voted yes) in order to generally slow down the Senate. They went all out (3 cloture votes) on this bill exactly because it is urgently needed so Reid wouldn't put it off until after the Senate considers health care reform.

I know the Senate has done terrible things in the past, but somehow this seems to be a new combination of evil, pettiness and hypocrisy.
Kaplan Kratovil Confused

I understand the difficulty of achieving Ballance under deadline preassure, but I think that Lori Montgomery and Shailagh Murray need some copy editing. They wrote

Kratovil said the bill is better than it was in July, but it still costs too much and would impose too heavy a burden on small businesses, many of which would be required for the first time to offer health insurance to their workers or face a stiff fine.

Note the last clause asserts, with the authority of the Washington Post, that the employer mandate would apply to many small firms. Thus they assert that many firms with payrolls over $500,000 are small firms. They do not make it clear that they are using this unusual definition of small firms. In fact, they give no real information on the employer mandate at all in their article in which they definitely assert that it applies to many small firms. A bit of googling lead me to this

", many of which " should be edited to ". He said many of which" or ", many of which, he said," if they have a shortage of periods. As is they switched from Kravotil's claim to one of their own without considering the fact of the matter.

Employer Mandate Excise Tax (Page 275): If an employer does not pay 72.5 percent of a single employee’s health premium (65 percent of a family employee), the employer must pay an excise tax equal to 8 percent of average wages. Small employers (measured by payroll size) have smaller payroll tax rates of 0 percent (<$500,000), 2 percent ($500,000-$585,000), 4 percent ($585,000-$670,000), and 6 percent ($670,000-$750,000).

Why is leftcoastrebel so much more informative than the Washingon Post ?

I get a moderate amount of unsolicited e-mails from conservative organizations. For example, I just received an e-mail from Richard Viguerie. This is odd, as I am not, uhm in his target demographic (to put it mildly).

I'm pretty sure I know what happened. I once put a poll on my dailykos diary asking if people believed in efficiency wage models. There was almost unanimous agreement.

I wondered if this was a characteristic of lefties or generally agreed (among non economists -- the models are controversial to disreputable within the economics profession). So I set up an account at freerepublic username honestliberal. It's not that I think most liberals are dishonest. I was just stressing that I wasn't pretending to be one of them. I found that freerepublic diaries are moderated (given how moderate the stuff that get's through is this is shocking). I gave up.

I'm pretty sure that sells e-mail lists. I can't think of another explanation. Well maybe they give them away.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Depending on Independents

Some people, including David Brooks, note that independents are more conservative than they used to be and that most of them voted Republican in New Jersey and Virginia. They conclude that the Democrats are in trouble.

This is definitely invalid reasoning. It is based on the assumption that the same people call themselves independents.

It is also a notable fact that the number of self described Republicans is at a record low. Some people who used to call themselves Republican might have switched to calling themselves Democrats but most switched to calling themselves independents.

I won't crunch the numbers (and I don't apologise because Brooks didn't either and I am crticizing him). So consider a hypothetical USA in which the only change is that people who used to call themselves Republicans are so disgusted with the Republican party that they call themselves independents.

If this is the only change, then the opinions on policy of the average independent would move right. Also, unless the disgust is unusually passionate, more independents will vote Republican.

Now I don't claim that this hypothesis is plausible. However, I do claim that people who interpert changes in the distribution of views of independents have not presented any evidence that it is false. More seriously, they haven't considered the effect of people shifting declared orientation from Republican to independent on the data they claim to analyse.

Confession: I read the Brooks op-ed *after* writing my critique. That is I took a blind folded pot shot at him. First, I note I hit him. He did not consider any possible change in the set of people who call themselves independents.

On the other hand, I missed the bull's eye. He wrote something so stupid that I didn't imagine it.

Liberals and conservatives each have their own intellectual food chains. They have their own think tanks to provide arguments, politicians and pundits to amplify them, and news media outlets to deliver streams of prejudice-affirming stories.

Independents, who are the largest group in the electorate, don’t have any of this.

He asserts that liberals and conservatives have something and independents don't. This logically implies that independents are neither liberal nor conservative. This claim is absolutely 100% refuted by the data. There are people who declare themselves to be conservative and independent and there are people who declare themselves to be liberal and independent. Therefore Brooks's claim is demonstrably false. His discussion of polling is as valid as the discussion of geography of someone who claims that the world is flat.

He contrasted independents with conservatives and liberals. This is pure total idiocy. It is possible for people to declare themselves both independent and conservative or independent and liberal.

The categories in the polls abused by Brooks are (Democrat, Republican or independent) and (liberal, conservative or moderate). It is just not at all true that all independents describe themselves as moderates. Brooks's discussion of polling is absolutely inconsistent with the polls.

His implied claim that people are either liberal or conservative or independent is plainly false. There is nothing subtle about this. He has ignored the reported results of the polls he claims to interpret.

update: This, like much of Brooks's work, shows what horrors arise when one writes about numbers using English. It is possible for totally false arguments to sound OK if they include numbers and discuss them in English. This, and not a problem with statistics, justifies the statement that there are "lies, damn lies, and statistics"

I think the problem is with English (and all other naturally evolved languages). It is very easy to base an argument in English (or Italian) on the assumption that all correlations are zero, one or minus 1. Brooks made a career discussing red states and blue states. He managed to argue, in effect, that rich people vote Democratic and not so rich people vote Republican, by noting that more people in richer states vote Democratic. Thus the typical blue state voter is a Democrat and richer than the typical Red state voter. A simple association -- probability of voting Republican increases monotonically in income was reversed by substituting "all" for "most" or "more".

Here again he confutes most and all. Most conservatives call themselves Republican. Therefor no independents are conservative. Most liberals call themselves Democratic. Therefore no independents are liberal. More people call themselves independent the Democratic. Therefore most people reject liberal solutions which most people in polls say they support (e.g. raising taxes on the rich and cutting them on the poor).

When I translate Brooks's arguments into quantitative claims about probabilities, correlations and expected values, it is blindingly obvious that they are total nonsense. Yet it is clear that they are not perceived to be total nonsense.

I think the problem is the mixture. Brooks switches from numbers to English and back in his writings. Sensible things can be written without any reference to numbers (I checked the collected essays letters and journalism of George Orwell).
The quantitative analysis of data can be useful.

Only suckers allow people to go back and forth.
Shorter Paul Krugman

I told you so.

p.s. His attitude is irritating, but the real aggravating thing is that, on each of the many many times he makes this claim, it is true.
Some semi good news from the latest Washington tea party

Christina Bellantoni reports.
U.S. Capitol Police arrested 10 people this afternoon after the Capitol Hill Tea Party crowd stormed Congressional office buildings.


They were charged with unlawful entry (entering a Congressional office and refusing to leave when told to do so) and/or disorderly conduct (yelling in the hallway outside an office) at Room 235 in the Cannon House Office Building.


Without those official details, protesters in the crowd watching the arrests were furious. They shouted "Let them go!" and one man yelled at the police that "Martin Luther King" was being dishonored and shouted "Letter from Birmingham Jail!"

I'm very glad that right wing loonies honor King.

I'm actually glad that they are willing to spend their time, get involved, and demonstrate. seems to be a very valuable resource.

I don't know how they decide which claims are false and which are pants on fire.
I'd consider this one to be pants on fire, but they rated it false.

"Three presidents in the last century — Harding, Kennedy and Reagan — all cut taxes during recessions and produced "rapid and dramatic economic recoveries," while two, Herbert Hoover and Barack Obama, did "the opposite.""
Tom McClintock on Tuesday, October 27th, 2009 in a speech on the House floor notes that Barack Obama has cut taxes already during this recession.

"So far at least, Obama hasn't raised taxes; he's actually cut certain taxes, totaling $288 billion for individuals and companies, as part of his economic stimulus package."

OK so politifact notes that Barack Obama cut taxes during the recession, but doesn't consider the claim that he did "the opposite" a pants on fire lie. What does it take to get the coveted pants on fire rating ?

In the rest of their discussion of Obama, Politifact says that

6. The Obama record isn't settled yet. ... It's true that passage of health care reform would involve raising taxes, and passage of a "cap-and-trade" climate-change plan would represent an increase in regulation.

OK but if McClintok used the past tense as in their paraphrase, then a false claim can't become true because of future events. The claim as stated will remain totally false. Furthermore, the recession is over. The trough hasn't been declared, but GNP rose last quarter. Bills signed by Obama next year won't be signed during a recession unless there is another one.

Similarly, Kennedy didn't cut taxes during a recession. In fact he signed no tax cuts into law. He proposed one in December 1962 during an expansion. The closest recession had ended in February 1960 22 months earlier.

As noted by Reagan's tax cut was not rapidly followed by a recovery. It was enacted one month after the recession began (just barely making "during a recession" and notably before it could have been known that a recession had begun). The trough came 15 months after the tax cut was enacted. That is very un-rapid by business cycle standards. That would be 11 months after the reduced withholding began in January 1982.

I mean the standard seems to be that if any of McClintock's many claims is true, then he is not a bold faced liar. Clearly the key claim is that Obama raised taxes when, in fact, Obama cut taxes. The claims about Kennedy and Reagan are both definitely false.
Snowe Job

Olympia Snowe was the one remaining candidate member of reality based Republicans in Congress anonymous. She evidently decided to make sure that smear didn't stick.

her opinion on the House reform bill, which may get a vote in just 48 hours. "I do not know what world they live in," Snowe said, apparently in reference to House Democrats. "But all I know is it is totally detached from the average person, the average business owner who is struggling to keep their doors open and to have that level of taxation is breathtaking in its dimensions. I just think it is so out of proportion with reality and with mainstream America that it is hard to believe, frankly."

The breathtaking tax is to be collected from individuals with income over $500,000/yr and families with income over $1,000,000/yr. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the average person *or* the average business owner. Snowe is proving that she is, after all, a Republican, and is therefore willing to claim that a tax on the highest income fraction of a percent is a tax on the average American.

I think this shows that it is not possible to be a Republican in Washington today without lying about tax progressivity.

Snowe mentioned reality and "mainstream America." She surely knows that most adults in America support the proposed surtax on millionaires and that most adults in America oppose the excise tax on expensive health insurance advocated by, among others, Olympia Snowe.

In the same sentence in which she mentions reality, Snowe claims that mainstream America agrees with her on what to tax even though mainstream America has very clearly said it totally disagrees with her. Republicans in Washington will not speak honestly about tax progressivity or about public opinions about tax progressivity.

Notice this poll about a surtax starting at lower incomes than the tax in the current bill on the floor of the House.

"Next, please tell me whether you favor or oppose each of the following as a way to pay for the health care bill. How about . . . ?"

Favor Oppose Unsure
% % %

"Reducing payments to Medicare providers, such as hospitals and doctors"

10/16-19/09 36 61 3

"Imposing a surcharge on federal income taxes for individuals with annual incomes over $280,000 and families with incomes over $350,000"

10/16-19/09 59 38 3

"Imposing a tax on insurance plans that have the most expensive benefit packages"

10/16-19/09 34 61 4

And now tell me, who exactly is out of touch with reality and mainstream America ?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

I think I've mentioned this before, but Paul Krugman flagged a "comment of the moment by Alice Olson which reads

“ I, for one, am glad the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid didn't have opt-out options.”
— Alice Olson
Opt-out public option
Olson and Krugman seem not to know that Medicaid is an opt-in program.

Opt-in is much worse than opt-out. For one thing, with opt-in the country ends up with 50 odd different programs -- as in the case of Medicaid. Prof Krugman, recall C. Romer's speach on how the stimulus is working. One of the best pieces of evidence used differences in Medicaid programs across states as an instrument for stimulus spending across states.

Use the google or Wikipedia it

State participation in Medicaid is voluntary; however, all states have participated since 1982 when Arizona formed its Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) program.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Go Corzine

He may be a blood sucking squid, but damnit, he's our blood sucking squid.

Actually I know someone who worked for Goldman Sachs who is a very nice person and I hear that many people there are quite human. It's just the firm that is a squid.

update: Polls close. Race too close to call.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Washington Post Headlines part MMDCLXXV

The Headline that Got Away

It read "Local Races. National Importance" with no question mark.

The abstract said that this question would be debated ad nauseum.

Now the definite assertion has been removed from the headline which currently reads

An Obama referendum (or not)

I assume that the headline guy (or Ms) detected my intention to post and changed the headline at the last second. My tinfoil hat must amplify washington Post spy rays.
Arithmetically Challenged at the New York Times

If Fox Is Partisan, It Is Not Alone

reads the headline on a New York Times article by John Harwood.

The analysis, such as it is, is here

Four years later, amid the Iraq war and President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign, the audience data had shifted. Fox News viewers had become 51 percent Republican and just 30.8 percent Democratic ...

By 2008-9, the network audiences tilted decisively, like Fox’s. CNN viewers were more Democratic by 50.4 percent to 28.7 percent; MSNBC viewers were 53.6 percent to 27.3 percent Democratic; Headline News’ 47.3 percent to 31.4 percent Democratic; CNBC’s 46.9 percent to 32.5 percent Democratic; and Comedy Central’s 47.1 to 28.8 percent Democratic.

Whiskey Fire notes that the fact that audiences are partisan doesn't show that the networks are partisan. It is possible that Republicans just don't like to watch non partisan news.

Harwood didn't write the title but he did present raw numbers without comparing them to proportions in the population. Note that the fraction of self identified Republicans in all the audiences is greater than the fraction in the general population (22%).

The numbers must be scaled to be meaningful. The correct calculation is the probability that a given Reopublican watches Fox divided by the probability that a given Democrat watches Fox. At the moment there are more than 1.5 Democrats for every Republican (says

The article doesn't include current numbers for Fox. The most recent are from 2004 (their audience was trending Republican) I don't know why more recent numbers weren't presented (not really) Assuming the current numbers are equal to the old numbers (Fox viewers 51 R to 30.8 D) and the current population I get a Republican is 2.68 times as likely to watch Fox as is a Democrat.

Using the latest numbers a given Democrat is 9% more likely to watch CNN than is a given Republican and that a given Democrat is 21% more likely to watch MSNBC than is a given Republican. 1.09 and 1.21 are not similar to 2.68. Clearly Harwood doesn't understand arithmetic.

The much more amazing thing is that he claims that CNBC's audience has a Democratic partisan tilt. It is 46.9 D to 32.5 R. So, given the headline, evidently CNBC is partisan (sure) and Democratic (huh ?!?). Arithmetically challenged or not Harwood has to understand that there is something wrong with his analysis.

Adjusting for the different numbers of self identified Democrats and Republicans in the population, I find a given Democrat is 89% as likely to watch CNBC as a given Republican. Harwood got the sign of the tilt wrong.

Look this is really obvious. In the USA more people self identify as Democrats than as Republicans. Therefore if one's audience is half Democratic and half Republican one appeals more to Republicans than Democrats. Raw numbers about audiences do not show "partisan fragmentation" they show that more people in the USA are Democrats and so, unsurprisingly, more people watching cable news are Democrats.

The worthless analysis also describes increased "partisan fragmentation." due to shifts in audiences which are partly the result of the declining fraction of self identified Republicans in the population.

Monday, November 02, 2009

TPM Headlines I

US Supreme Court refuses to hear Guantanamo case

Supreme Court to hear Guantanamo Uighurs appeal

James Vicini
Reuters US Online Report Domestic News

Oct 20, 2009 10:33 EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court said on Tuesday it would hear an appeal by Chinese Muslim prisoners held for years at Guantanamo Bay who argue that they should be released in the United States.
What Digby Said

The near collapse of the financial system and this dreadful recession have exposed the disgusting income inequality that was kept hidden beneath a pile of credit card bills and home equity lines for decades.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Commenting on Brad's Links to Save His Time

Brad DeLong reads very fast. He also writes fast, but he regularly provides links without comment to save time. His time is valuable. Mine less so (my serious work computer is not working -- it's not my fault -- all I can do today is blog until I get some serious work software installed (all with legit site license) on this computer Monday -- sigh).

Brad's links

Justin Fox discusses very special pleading by Jeremy Siegal.I have already noted my agreement with Fox in a comment over there.

Free Exchange: Here's your recovery A solid sensible article with a valid important theme "misguided deficit fears have probably made aggressive fiscal moves politically difficult," but concludes with 2 weird lines "a populist squeeze on high earners. That's a dangerous direction to travel."

Other aspects of the dangerous direction were listed before the squeeze on high earners, but what evidence is there that "a populist squeeze on high earners." is "a dangerous direction to travel" ? I know of none. The last time high earners were squeezed (in 1993) the economy did fine. Events following removal of the squeeze are evidence that not squeezing high earners is dangerous.

Perhaps The Economist's correspondent is convinced that a populist squeeze will have a different effect than a technocratic squeeze. I wonder how that would work ? Oh and populist anger was very strong in 1993 (During a debate Bush supporters pushed the "I agree" button when Clinton said that only the rich got tax cuts under Reagan and Bush -- this doesn't happen often). It seems to me that the journalists at The Economist just can't give up their non evidence based opposition to income redistribution.

Menzie Chin on Mulligan. Chin notes that Mulligan assumes that flash data are accurate and will not be revised (not a very strong criticism -- they are what we have and Mulligan should just have warned that they will be revised) *and* Mulligan assumes that the stimulus had no effect on GDP. Mulligan believes this, but he is claiming that new evidence supports his prediction. He can't assume that he is right when discussing which theories fit the evidence best. He simply contrasts what other people predicted would happen without a stimulus to what happened with a stimulus. The data may have refuted the predictions of the gloomiest Cassandra, but Mulligan presents no evidence that any actual human being made an innaccurate prediction.

Intellectual garbage pickup indeed.

The Economist on Casey Mulligan

REMEMBER when Casey Mulligan said that it was perhaps not a good thing, economically speaking, to give women in developing nations the ability to control family size, because larger populations increased the incidence of innovators, thereby boosting economic growth?

Well no I don't. I will note that there is a very strong negative correlation between fertility and per capita GDP growth in cross country regressions I have seen (t-stat of - 6 or so). This is not (pace The Economist) new evidence. It is also not relevant, because Mulligan is assuming that innovations are available to all countries and so only has a prediction of world GNP growth as a function of world population. He is probably looking at growth since 1,000,000 bc. He should know that for most of that time real per capita GNP probably was roughly fixed (Malthus was right about economic history up until the time of Malthus) and there was no formal schooling. Data dated BC is not relevant to the 21st century.

Mulligan is working from a model in which there is no formal schooling and in which innovation depends only on total output not per capita output. These are ultra stylized models and using them for policy advice is absurd. It is easy to write models in which higher fertility causes less innovation (you need to assume that R&D is human capital intensive and so relatively expensive if there is a low ratio of human capital to raw labor, plus you want the innovations to substitute for raw labor and so be less valuable (compared to GNP) if the marginal product of raw labor is low).

Actual observed innovations mainly come from rich countries. This is strong evidence that human capital per capita has a lot to do with the cost of R&D and that wages have a lot to do with the benefits. Profits from innovation don't have all that much to do with population or GNP in developing countries, given how much those countries import. Mulligan considers very simple models not designed to address the question to be worth as much as actual empirical evidence (as usual).

Brad admits that he was totally wrong about Ross Douthat and calls "uncle." I think he should ask for a Mulligan.
Pyrrhic Victory ?

The Republicans were very happy that they managed to block the "doc fix" in the Senate (the "doc fix" is a fix for doctors not falsifying documents as in cooking the books). There are draconian cuts to Medicare payment schedules scheduled for each and every year and, traditionally, put off for a year. They serve to cook the books, since the CBO must forecast future deficits assuming that there will be draconian cuts next year.

The Democrats decided to do away with the budgetary scam with a permanent reform, so, of course, projecting Republicans claimed the Democrats were cooking the books. They declared that the illusory cost of admitting that the imaginary draconian cuts were never going to happen should be counted as part of the cost of health care reform. Their logic escapes me.

Furhtermore, they claimed that the doc fix was just a way to bribe the AMA and hospitals to support health care reform. This is, of course, true. However, the Republicans filibuster is not a rational application of this insight. The Republicans have angered health care providers and made sure that there is one bill a year which health care providers must support.

So how should the Democratic leadership take advantage of this very generous gift from the Republicans ?

Well they have lost one lately. The public option is now "level playing field" not "robust," that is the public insurance plan will have to negotiate rates with health care providers instead of being able to force them to accept medicare rates plus 5%.

So let's say that next years delay of the drastic medicare cuts is in the same bill as a reform allowing the public plan to pay medicare + 5% ? Now the people threatening to block everything are threatening to bankrupt hospitals (including all hospitals in all Dakotas). The bill is clearly plainly totally budgetary so it can be passed with 51 votes in the Senate. Amendments to strip the medicare + 5% provision would add to the deficit and would be out of order in the Senate.

It seems to me that the Republicans have something to teach Pyrrhus of Epirus.
Matthew Yglesias Says that Glenn Beck is Like Plato

I claim he insulted Glenn Beck. I am quite serious.

Yglesias wrote

Beck is recapitulating an argument Plato makes in The Republic about the inferiority of art to philosophy. The complaint, essentially, is that art is a kind of cheating that bypasses the faculty of reason and can mislead the people. This leads him to the conclusion that poetry ought to be banned in a well-governed society.

Comparing Beck to Plato is audacious, I'll give you that. However, I think you have achieved the very difficult task of slandering (or libeling) Glenn Beck. To criticize something is not to propose that it be banned.

Hmmm yes you are like Glenn Beck (I see your Beck = Plato and raise you a let's make it personal). Beck and other Foxers claimed that, when Dunn censured Fox News, she was censoring it. It seems that Yglesias is doing the same with Beck.

On the other hand, while Yglesias is eager to deny the differences between Beck and Plato, at least he doesn't confuse glibertarians with defenders of liberty.