International Relations As Kabuki Theater
September 27, 2009, 6:09 pm
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Iran would like to have nuclear weapons. This is obvious. Heck, if I were Iran, I would like to have nuclear weapons. But Iran has to pretend to only be seeking nuclear energy, to avoid serious (not phony/half-hearted, which she can deal with, and which is fine) international rebuke.

Of course, the international community, and in particular President Obama, and most of the left, doesn’t care whether Iran gets nuclear weapons. In some cases lefties would prefer Iran to have nuclear weapons than not (that would deter the evil United States from attacking her, you see). But they have to pretend to care whether Iran gets nuclear weapons, and pretend to be trying to stop it, so as not to appear weak and lose at the polls.

In some ways this is a fascinating little kabuki dance. Both sides believe and know and in a way even desire to arm the nation-state of Iran with nuclear weapons. Yet both sides put on a show designed to misdirect. Iran: “We’re not trying to get nukes!” UN/internationalists: “We’re trying really hard to stop Iran from getting nukes, and besides, she’s not even working on nukes in the first place.” Both sides winking at each other.

Who are they trying to misdirect? Regular American citizens.

Why does it so often seem like the focus of so much international relations is to pull the wool over the eyes of regular American citizens?

Blogging, AI, Viruses, and the Voight-Kampff Machine
September 20, 2009, 6:14 pm
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In some ways reading someone’s blog is like creating an artificial intelligence. I have never met “Matthew Yglesias” for example. I do not know this person (assuming he exists) and presumably never will. What I have done is sampled perhaps hundreds of examples of his thought processes and beliefs, by reading his blog posts. Over time, this has allowed me to build a fairly accurate picture of what “Matthew Yglesias” thinks. In a sense, I have been, through trial and error, building an AI version of “Matthew Yglesias” in my head.

For a time, I was a fairly avid reader of his blog. This has trickled away to the point where I basically don’t read him any more. Why? Because there’s no point. Through practice and observation, the “Matthew Yglesias AI” in my head has gotten so accurate that I can basically predict what he will think and say about virtually anything with 99.9% accuracy. So, there’s no longer any reason to read his actual posts: they no longer give me new information. For a while I did try to go back from time to time but it became so rare to encounter a “Matthew Yglesias” post that contradicted what my head-version of “Matthew Yglesias” already thought that it just wasn’t worth my time, and I started wondering why I was doing it. So I stopped.

According to this model of blog-reading, one will read a blog more if the blogger says interesting and fresh things, and less if the blogger continues to say the same thing over and over again. After all, the latter type of blogging is easy to model as an AI in your own head. Once that AI gets sufficiently good, you’d naturally lose interest in the actual blog.

So to keep readers it would seem above all else that a blogger needs to stay fresh and unpredictable. Note this is different from the usual interpretation of blogging which is that blogs are just ‘echo chambers’ people visit to have their opinions affirmed back at them. That may be the case for some blogs, but not for the sorts of blogs I tend to like. Even if I agree with a blogger about stuff, I’ll still lose interest if he becomes too predictable – too easy to model in my head as an AI.

In a sense the blogger’s challenge is to pass something like the “Turing test”, or Voight-Kampff machine, to prove to readers that he is not an AI. When a blogger becomes too AI-like, readers will just learn to build their own AI-versions of the blogger. Then why read? Just consult the AI. I can no longer tell the difference between Matthew Yglesias and the AI “Matthew Yglesias” I’ve built in my own head, so I no longer use the former.

On the flip side, one might take a more optimistic view and just say that Matthew Yglesias has succeeded in implanting his thought-programming in others, including myself. Before, I had no “Matthew Yglesias” AI in my head, then I started reading him, and now I do. If I ever want to know what Matthew Yglesias might think about something, my head-“Yglesias” will tell me (and will probably be right). I’ve been infected with “Yglesias”, it seems. And maybe that’s the goal of blogging, to infect others with your thoughts. Maybe being easy-to-model-as-an-AI is a feature not a bug, because people learn faster what you’re about.

I’ve read Tyler Cowen for years and years, after all, and I still can’t quite figure out what the heck he’s about. Which is probably why I keep reading.

September 19, 2009, 6:56 pm
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I’ll say it again:


I’m getting sick and tired of people who can’t tell the difference and use them interchangeably. They are being stupid, ignorant, or fricking liars. The only question is which.

The Ebert Threshold
September 19, 2009, 1:23 am
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One favorite set of punching-bags when it comes to amateur-diagnosing the causes of The Financial Crisis (tm/2008) are the rating agencies (Moody’s, S&P, Fitch). In this beloved storyline, everything was just fine, but the rating agencies got too much in bed with the banks, or all simultaneously made bad computer models, or something, and gave too many AAA ratings, and that caused a huge portion of the trouble. The moral of the story, supposedly, is Better Regulation And Oversight Of The Rating Agencies.

Let’s try an analogy.

Suppose Congress codified it into law that movie theaters could charge twice as much for any movie that Roger Ebert gave ‘three stars’ or higher. In other words, Roger Ebert – the movie critic – is specifically mentioned in the bill, and given a sort of official, government-approved fiscal power to help determine movie-ticket prices by the sheer force of his proclamations.

First off: wouldn’t that be freaking ridiculous? Yet that’s what we have done with The Rating Agencies. Their proclamation that a security is “AAA”, for example, affects the legal capital requirements needed to be held against it. This fact alone is pretty much the only reason that “CDOs” even exist.

But back to the Ebert rule. Okay, so if the movie gets 2.5 stars or lower, you can charge $10; 3 stars or above, you can charge $20. Now along comes some enterprising theater owner who takes Transporter 2 (2.5 stars), splices a half hour of Schindler’s List (4 stars) onto the end of it, and calls the resulting 2-hour film a 3-star “movie” (on average). Now he can charge $20 per 2-hour bloc instead of only $10 for every 1.5-hour bloc, which is a nice improvement from his point of view.

This begins to happen more and more. Movies are spliced and diced just to get above the Ebert Threshold. Four-star movies are cut off by 25% and called three-star movies for the same price (to watch the last 25% you have to buy another ticket). Finally, movie studios start getting in bed with Ebert and sending him kickbacks, leading to Star inflation. People complain about all this. “This is absurd!” they say. And it is.

Now, the interesting question is why it’s absurd. I’m not sure there’s a right answer and there seem to be two general schools of thought:

1. It’s absurd because Roger Ebert shouldn’t be allowed to just give four-stars to any movie. Or to get kickbacks from movie studios. Generally, there needs to be better and stricter oversight of Roger Ebert. He should be called before a Congressional subcommittee. Meanwhile, there should be tighter controls, and more complicated mathematical formulas, regarding how a “three-star-on-average movie” can be created. Not just any movie can be sliced and diced like that. Some independent body should do some stress-testing of their own, perhaps, hiring the best PhD statisticians to build models of Movie Quality. Maybe the theater owner should be required to fill out more forms, pay some fees, take some licensing exams, etc. An independent regulatory body, with Presidential appointees ratified by Cognress, could be set up to oversee all this.

2. It was just absurd to give Roger Ebert’s movie reviews the force of law in the first place.

Back to The Financial Crisis, seems to me that the people who go around saying ‘the rating agencies need better oversight! that’s the whole problem!’ are Type 1 People. They see a problem that was created by a weird, bizarre regulation and think the answer is better regulation. In my view this sets up an inevitable game of whack-a-mole as inevitably Clever Regulation N+1 becomes necessary to patch up the holes people have found in Clever Regulation N, but whatever.

I guess it’s obvious I’m more of a Type 2 Person myself. I really don’t understand the Type 1 mentality at all. But maybe that’s just me. Like I said, there are no right answers here. Both approaches 1 and 2 are equally rational and defensible.


On Pretending To Like Kanye
September 16, 2009, 6:37 am
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The one saving grace about this moronic action by Kanye West (HT mkfreeberg) is that I presume we’ll stop having to see the sorry spectacle of all American politicians regularly pretending to really like the music of Kanye West.

I really can’t even begin to understand when or why or how but sometime earlier this decade it seemed to have been decided in some smoky Masonic backroom that Kanye West, of all people, was ‘the cool musician for politicians to pretend to like’. Some focus group or other must have really registered spikes when politicians said ‘Kanye West’, that’s all I can figure. He’s hip hop, but it was a safe kind of hip hop, he’s black, but he’s not black black like Ice Cube or somebody. (I gather. I have actually never knowingly or voluntarily heard a single piece of music, or whatever it is, made by Kanye West.)

So anyway, now instead of doing all that Kanye West name-dropping, it seems that politicians will try to get mileage out of doing some good old fashioned craven, calculated Sister Souljah’ing of the guy. Not much of an improvement, I guess, but I’ll take it.

Thank God For Bankruptcy
September 16, 2009, 5:14 am
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Something you often hear in the health care debate is people declaring that no one should have to go bankrupt just to pay a large unexpected health-care cost.

Not to sound flippant, but when should people go bankrupt then? Never?

Bankruptcy is a cushion society provides for precisely those times when you find yourself disastrously underwater. Bankruptcy isn’t the worst thing in the world that can happen to a person. Donald Trump has gone bankrupt, maybe even more than once (not sure). Bankruptcy is not death, it was actually the humanitarian solution to an age-old problem. Other solutions society has tried: slavery, indentured servitude, debtors’ prisons….

To focus on bankruptcy as if it’s a fate worse than death is an error. It is to mistake the bandage for the wound. The bandage may look ugly and nobody wants a bandage but in the final analysis it is a method of fixing some other, underlying damage. And when there is damage, bandage is better than no bandage!

When someone is faced with the sort of disastrously-expensive health-care cost that compels them to declare bankruptcy, it’s because they got real sick or got real hurt, and yet modern hardworking doctors have fixed them up well enough that they’re still alive to complain about things like bankruptcy. Well I say in such cases thank God for bankruptcy. The alternatives are not better.

All It Is
September 16, 2009, 4:34 am
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Blackhawk Down:

When I go home people’ll ask me, “Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?” You know what I’ll say? I won’t say a goddamn word. Why? They won’t understand. They won’t understand why we do it. They won’t understand that it’s about the men next to you, and that’s it. That’s all it is.

Oddly enough, this is often how I feel about my job….

Tupac Or Milli Vanilli?
September 15, 2009, 1:07 am
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The headline is Bin Laden prods US to end ‘hopeless’ Afghan war. This headline alone is possibly enough to turn me right back into an Afghanistan hawk and fully repudiate my earlier remarks on the subject. That’s just the kind of wacky guy I am. It’s an about-face about “face”.

Of course, that all presumes I truly believe that the voice on this “tape” is that of Osama bin Laden. Everyone else seems to. The News seems to. The Government is silent so we presume they don’t dispute it. As a result, every time “Osama bin Laden” “releases an audiotape” everyone takes it for granted that the person talking on the tape is indeed Osama bin Laden.

I wonder why we’re all so sure?

None Dare Call It (But I Do)
September 13, 2009, 7:51 pm
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It’s dawned on me in discussing health care that the larger issue I have with left wing approaches is that they’re all about funneling their social programs through private companies. Maybe this is what all that “Third Way” stuff people were bandying about in the Clinton years was all about.

You see, nowadays, the left

  • takes the existence of insurance companies for granted
  • takes for granted the notion that health care is paid for by insurance companies
  • sees the need for a safety net, and therefore
  • their big, radical, progressive suggestion basically amounts to funneling the safety-net through insurance companies.

Leaving aside that I still can’t figure out why the left has forgotten about the existence of our already-existing, actual safety-net program (Medicaid), the remarkable thing here is that all of the above is quite a departure from and would almost be viewed as a betrayal of traditional left-wing socialists. The left isn’t supposed to be getting in bed with evil corporations at all. That just increases their profits! The left is supposed to be creating beautiful utopian social programs from scratch, that don’t have the taint of corporatism. You know, like Medicaid.

The ramifications of this sea change are interesting. For one thing, I guess the charge from righty critics that this all amounts to “socialism” is indeed incorrect and unfair. No, the orthodox left-wing approach to health care nowadays isn’t really socialism. It’s more accurately described as economically (little-f) fascist, after all.

Dream On
September 13, 2009, 5:02 pm
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I’m as underwhelmed by the fact that there was a big tea party march against the health care reform proposal as I was by the fact that Obama gave some sort of prepared televised speech in favor of the health care reform proposal.

Let’s leave aside the fact that there is no health care reform proposal per se (as far as I can tell) and just pretend there is, like everyone else seems to be doing. In my view of a sane universe, neither action would influence the debate either way. There wouldn’t be people out there who were opposed to reform prior to Obama’s speech but then saw Obama’s speech and thought “wow, I really like the way he said those words on TV that were written by someone else. Okay, now I guess I’m on board.” Nor would there be people previously in favor of reform who said “some people hung out in Washington yesterday, and held signs? And the number of people who were there was greater than some unstated threshold? Well that changes everything, I guess let’s not pass this law.”

Laws would be passed, or not, on their merits, using arguments. Arguments among our representatives. Who would be much smarter than the ones we actually have, but I digress.

Of course, in my ideal sane universe the idea of the federal government ‘reforming health care’ would be DOA because there is no basis in the United States Constitution for them doing such a thing any more than the federal government can set up an established religion or put people in jail for making fun of the President. Anyone in government who suggested such a thing would be shamed by all the others, ideally tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. So there would be nothing to discuss, protest, or give TV speeches about here. In my ideal universe.

Oh, and also: the Star Wars prequels would have been much different, I wouldn’t have been called out with the bases loaded on three high-and-away called strikes starting from a 3-0 count against that girl pitcher in sixth grade, and the San Francisco Giants would not have choked in Game 6 in 2002. Let’s not forget about that.

September 13, 2009, 4:16 pm
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Not sure how much a plug from my unread blog is worth, but for a good left-wing blog check out The Hippie Professor. It seems fairly new, I’m not sure how I found it (probably random tag-surfing), but he is good-natured, spirited, well-spoken, intelligent, and willing to defend his views and substantively engage those who disagree. I find this incredibly rare. 99% of left-wing blogs would have banned me from their comments long ago :-)

I agree with virtually none of his views, of course. He’s on my sidebar.

September 13, 2009, 4:06 pm
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To my discredit, I had never heard the name Norman Borlaug before.

HT: Mike Beversluis

Statistical Analogy
September 12, 2009, 10:25 pm
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Imagine a dollar-bill game. A number is chosen (say “9”). Each player pays an ante, grabs the first dollar-bill from his wallet, and shows the serial number. Whoever’s serial number has the last digit “9” is a winner. The winners split a pot (which was funded somehow).

What’s the value of this game? How much should the ante be? Suppose there are 100 players and the pot is $100. If dollar-bill serial #s are more or less equidistributed (I don’t know this to be the case, but let’s assume), roughly 10% of the players should win. That’s 10 people splitting $100, or $10 each. So in this game, lacking other information, you have a 10% chance of winning $10 and a 90% chance of winning nothing. So the game is fair if ante is $1. Another way to see this is that the antes need to just add up to the pot size, no more no less; the game needs to pay for itself, not make money or go broke. If winning is truly uniformly random then everything is fair.

This analysis pretends that none of the players have any information about the dollar bills in their pocket however. Obviously, that’s not the case. In this particular game you can be certain that anyone who looks beforehand and finds a “9” in their pocket will show up to play the game. Because for them it’s not a random game. It’s not a game at all. It’s simply a roundabout way of paying $1 to receive more than $1 back, and they know it. That’s because these people have asymmetrical information which tips the stats in their favor.

As the game continues and more and more people hear about it, more and more “9” holders show up. Now suddenly we don’t have an equidistribution of players (even if dollar bills are still equidistributed throughout the population), we have a pool of say 80% known-“9″ holders and the remaining 20% are clueless random number holders who still haven’t figured out that the game has a loophole.

What’s the value of this game for those 20% now? Well, they still have a 10% chance of being a winner. But now, even if they win, they’ll be splitting the $100 pot not 10 ways but 82 ways (the 2% who win ‘fair and square’, plus the other 80 who know they have “9”s). So in the 10% event someone from the clueless contingent wins, he gets back about 100/82 = $1.22. Otherwise he gets nothing. This game isn’t actually worth paying $1 to play, for that person; it’s worth paying maybe 12 cents. Yet he doesn’t know that, so he still forks over the $1 ante each time.

In effect, the game is a thinly-veiled vehicle for transferring money from that clueless person to those who know they have “9”‘s. It becomes less and less a game and more and more just some people predictably giving other people money. Eventually, anyone who doesn’t have a “9” dollar bill will either figure this out and stop playing, or go broke.

But what if he wasn’t allowed to stop playing? (edit: You know, like via a ‘mandate’?)

Well, another tactic he might take would be to suggest that the game runners should turn away people who already know they have “9”‘s from playing. After all, such people aren’t playing fair, they already know they’re going to win in advance. Surely if the game runners could identify those people ahead of time, and not let them play the game, the game could stay fair and keep going with the $1 ante for the rest of the players.

But what if the government told the game runners they ‘weren’t allowed to take into account’ whether people knew they had “9” ahead of time, because that “wasn’t fair”?

Well then the non “9” holders are SOL.

This has been another thinly-veiled statistical analogy from your friendly neighborhood Sonic Charmer.

September 12, 2009, 6:37 pm
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“Downtown” by Redd Kross.

Supposedly this is a new song that will be on the new album they’ve supposedly been making for the last like 10 years.

Can you tell that I’m frustrated? Make more records guys.

Before Night Falls
September 11, 2009, 5:51 am
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Must be on a Javier Bardem binge, because I finally got around to seeing Before Night Falls, the celebrated indie film about a Cuban writer from some years ago. As best as I could understand it, the points of this movie:

  • virtually everyone in Cuba was/is? gay
  • the Cuban revolution was mostly about gays and quite joyfully liberating for gays
  • the Cuban regime and military was full of gays
  • and yet, paradoxically, the Cuban regime persecuted gays something awful, for no apparent reason that the movie cared to explain, delve into, or linger on (except to show the suffering of gays). Some of them were even killed (though tastefully offscreen).

The subject is a Reinaldo something who we are meant to understand was a great writer. We kinda have to take the filmmakers’ word, or perhaps Javier Bardem’s charming (fake) accent/good looks/the poor upbringing of his character, for this. It is also implied that he is a fascinating subject for a character study although the movie eschews much of any characterization or, indeed, plot. There is some music that I supppose would be enjoyed by the same sorts of people who pretend to enjoy that ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ stuff.

Near the end he starts to get AIDS in obligatory movie fashion (the coughing scene, the scene where he feels that his thyroid is swelling up, the scene where he looks at himself in the mirror, the scene where a roommate has to buy him stuff and take care of him, the scene where he can’t keep down food/liquids…). You know, the scenes that make you think: “Ok, I get it. He’s getting AIDS. Now the movie’s going to come to a standstill for the next 20 minutes while we’re sentenced to a whole bunch of scenes about him having AIDS. I think I’ll go get a snack and come back when they’re done.” All very cliche and boilerplate in movies with AIDS in them by now. (Way down but somewhere on the list of the horrors it has wreaked, is the fact that AIDS has not been good to cinema.)

Overall the movie performs the neat doublethink trick of showing Cuban persecution of gays while simultaneously not harshing on the Cuban revolution or regime all that much. This was a tough line to straddle and I was wondering how they were going to do it but they basically did it. So, you’ve got a real-life-based movie (biography is cool) about a persecuted writer (persecuted writers are cool) in Cuba (Cuba is way cool) and gayness (which is also cool) who wants to escape (which is cool, even if it’s not cool to escape from Cuba, but you sort of forget about that. In fact they seem to intentionally confuse things a bit, in one scene he appears to escape by water and by all appearances he’s headed to the U.S. but where does he end up? Back in Cuba!).

Anyway, as you can see, with the Cuba and the gayness, the coolness just permeates throughout this project, which (I assume) is how they got the participation of Johnny Depp (in two smaller roles) and Sean Penn (I don’t know who he was but the credits assured me he was there somewhere). It also is presumably what got it all sorts of awards and of course the knee-jerk obligatory plaudits from critics (“Cuba? Gay? Thumbs-up!”). So, you can understand why they didn’t want to jinx all that coolness by seeming too critical of the actual Cuban regime or its ideas in any sort of explicit overt fashion. Instead, it’s almost as if the great Cuban revolution happened and then was suddenly taken over by aliens, with no explanation.

But that’s no reason for anyone not to keep pretending to think the Cuban revolution was great. Just as one has to pretend – and pretend quite a bit – to give off the appearance of having enjoyed a dreary, meandering, self-important movie such as this.

No Dice
September 10, 2009, 1:11 am
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Let’s play a game. I’ll pay you a dollar per year, every year, as long as I live, and every year, you’ll roll a (six-sided) dice. If it comes up 1-5, nothing happens. If it comes up 6, you pay me a million dollars. Deal? Here, I’ve written it up as a contract, just sign. Sign right there.

What? You don’t want to sign? That’s not fair. You’re immoral. Obviously this market isn’t functioning and the government should force you to sign. Surely if my dice had a few million sides or so, you’d consider signing, right? You could then sign the same contract with millions of others, we’d all be pooled together, and even though you’d have to pay out a few times here and there, on net, you’d come out ahead. Now it so happens that my dice only has six sides. But that’s not my fault! That’s just my “pre-existing condition”. You shouldn’t be allowed to take that into account. You should still be forced to sign the contract with me.

Hey, where are you going? Nobody will sign this contract with me. That just isn’t right. The world’s not fair if no one is willing to sign a pay-a-buck, win-a-million contract with me.

p.s. Ok, what was this post really about?

Events Have A Funny Way Of Proving Me Right
September 8, 2009, 10:47 am
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Last time I complained about Obama’s use of “czars”, Pastorius implied I was being somewhat silly.

I wonder if it’s more apparent now that I had a point then?

The Recipe
September 8, 2009, 10:22 am
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Here’s something I haven’t seen anyone bring up:

Any form of government ‘single-payer’ or ‘public option’ plan – any plan that the government gives people that mimics what the typical employer-based plan offers – is a retroactive tax on the salaries, for as long as we’ve worked, of anyone who currently gets an employer-based plan.

Why is that?

Let’s go through this slowly. If you’re like me, or like the average person, you do work for your employer and in return they give you, basically, (a) X dollars per year and (b) a Health Plan worth Y dollars per year. In other words your employer thinks it’s worth spending at least X+Y dollars per year to have you on staff, but they only give you X of that in the form of cash.

But don’t worry, they say. That Health Plan you’re getting, that’s worth Y dollars. You should factor that in. Maybe you’re supposed to even think it’s worth more than Y dollars. After all, your employer can only pay that rate on your behalf because of their ‘negotiating power’, because of ‘risk pooling’. If you had to go out and buy that Health Plan on the open market by yourself, you’d have to spend more than Y. So, having Y of your salary be given to you in the form of Health Plan seems like a pretty good deal.

The point is: that health plan you’ve been getting, it’s part of your salary. It’s the fruit of your labor. You only agreed to spend N hours/day away from your home and family doing these unpleasant things for only X dollars in cash, because you were also getting that Y dollar Health Plan in return.

But guess what? Barack Obama and other people in the government have now decided it’s unfair that you have Health Plan and other people don’t. Got that? The thing you have been earning, by the sweat of your brow, that Health Plan you’ve been allowing your employer to give you in lieu of salary – you don’t deserve it. It’s “not fair” that you have it and other people don’t. So the government needs to step in and correct this. The government needs to ensure that everyone has a basic plan pretty much just as good, regardless of whether they can pay for it.

Remember: you’ve been earning this Health Plan by working. You’ve been getting it instead of cash and told to like it, dammit. But now it’s “not fair” that you have it! Even worse, remember that the supposed market value of this Health Plan was Y dollars. In other words, instead of giving you an extra Y dollars, your employer gave you a Health Plan, and implicitly said “Don’t worry that’s worth at least Y dollars”.

People have been placing a high value on these Health Plans. They have actually been staying in jobs just for the Health Plan! There has also been an escalation in the demand for good Health Plans, i.e. their price has been bid up. People have wanted them to include more, to cover more, to be more expansive. People have wanted to be paid in as much Health Plan as possible, in fact. “Don’t give me the cash! Put more of it into Health Plan!”

But how much is an employer-based Health Plan really worth in an environment where the government is handing out Health Plans for free? Answer: um, far, far less than Y dollars. After all, would all these people have valued Health Plan so highly these past 10 years if they had known that by 2009 the government would be seriously considering handing out Health Plans?

Where you end up if you think this through is the government is threatening to dilute the value, after the fact of an in-kind service you’ve been getting in lieu of cash. The government wants to inflate away the value of your Health Plan, the one you were told all these years to love and appreciate and value more than its weight in cash. They want to pop the Health Plan bubble that they created. This is an after-the-fact tax and it applies to everyone who is productive. Moreover, it is highly regressive; inflating away the value of a $Y Health Plan probably means little to someone making $800k/yr who ‘only’ received $(800-Y) of that in cash, but means a lot to someone who was told for ten years that receiving $(35-Y)k (plus Health Plan)/yr was just as good as, or even better than, receiving $35k/yr and having to buy (or not) their own health care.

Here’s the recipe for this and future government takeovers:

  • decide what you think people Should Spend Their Money On, according to your infinite wisdom
  • create tax incentives, etc. for employers to pay people in-kind rather than in cash, on that thing. Subsidize it if necessary. This creates a Bubble in the thing (people begin to value it more than cash)
  • then look around, acting shocked that some people have the thing while others don’t. Say that’s “not fair”.
  • create a ‘public option’ to provide the thing to everyone, thus diluting away the value to anyone who earned the thing through working. (And more, because this ‘public option’ is at taxpayer expense – i.e. the productively employed will pay more than their share of it)
  • now you, the caring, loving government, control the market in that thing.

Repeat, and you get to full-on socialism in no time.

Now is it any wonder that I’d always rather just be paid in money? The government can inflate the value of that away too, but at least it would be more out in the open…..

My Favorite Band Of Brothers Quote
September 7, 2009, 10:43 pm
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Band Of Brothers just might be the greatest thing that I have ever seen on television. Well, it’s being re-run on some cable channel or another, and must be my lucky day, cuz I flipped to it just as it got to my favorite line from the whole thing:

Col. Sink: If they come by here y’all remember to smile for the camera. Got to keep the morale up for them folks back home.
Cpt. Winters: Why?
Col. Sink: Damned if I know.

September 7, 2009, 10:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Work got really busy and it takes practically all my attention just to keep my screwup rate down at 3-5 per day, with only 1-2 major per week. But I did get a chance to go through and cleanup and flag these posts that were clogging my (once again) overflowing Google Reader queue:

  • Robin Hanson says:

    So it seems the US has a finance and policy elite defined by college ties and related social connections, an elite with a strong sense that only people in their circle can really be trusted, and that their institutions must be saved at all cost at taxpayer expense if necessary.

    A small dimension on which this plays out is in the university system. There are ‘top universities’ and not-so-top universities. I’ve long struggled to spot the supposedly huge gulf of difference between them from my experience of them and their graduates. As far as I can tell, Calculus is the same whether you learn it at Harvard or at Wichita State. What you don’t get at Wichita State, necessarily, is into the phone call round of interviews, with Harvard-grad derivatives traders, for that Goldman job….

  • Russ Roberts, if very few others, seems to actually understand that there is a difference between health insurance and health care.
  • Bryan Caplan on why Americans overrate Europe and Europeans underrate America. Short answer – both see mostly the tourist attractions. One thing I would add is that to a large degree, Europeans who have any real experience of America do so because they come here as, say, grad students and spend several years in academic settings. Which means their experience is often dominated by living in some crummy college town amongst hicks, on a tiny stipend, with no car, and (therefore) nowhere to go. Then they go back home and tell everyone they know that America is sucky, classless, and boring. But you’d expect the same reaction if for whatever reason hordes of young Americans kept signing up to go to Europe for four-year stints as interns in sardine plants in the Denmark suburbs (which is a not-so-terrible analogy to grad school, when you think about it).
  • Pro-life actor Jim Caviezel, walks the walk.
  • How Sunlight Controls Climate, is the headline in Scientific American. You know, I know it’s a crazy far-out theory, but I always suspected that climate had something to do with the freaking sun. It’s nice to be (somewhat) vindicated.


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