September 29, 2014, 8:49 pm
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Slate Star Codex reviews Red Plenty. Got a chuckle out of the ‘what-if’ idea that had things played out differently – like, had well-meaning Smart People been heeded and empowered more, and killed less – the Soviets with their advanced invention of ‘linear programming’ might have solved the allocation problem and passed the West after all. I mean yeah, linear programming works ok in highly controlled, circumscribed situations. You know what’s even better at solving this type of problem when it gets bigger and messier (and less linear) though? The mathematical technique which, when implemented among humans, involves those things we refer to as ‘free markets’ and ‘prices’! Oh but sure, with linear programming you can figure out how many widgets vs. doohickeys your two-item factory should make each reporting period. (IF YOU KNOW THEIR PRICES.)

This pedestrian article asking why Wall Streeters get paid so much (in which we learn, for example, that ‘rents’ means ‘basically profits above and beyond what you’d expect’) got some discussion somewhere, I forget where. Not that I dispute the overall point, but the methodology seems suspect: they followed people (‘longitudinal data’) who worked at the ‘same job’ in finance and in not-finance, ‘controlling for job title, age, gender, and region’. Hmm. 1. A person’s career arc matters (independently of age). Working in finance is – probably – correlated with being in peak career mode, whatever the age. If one does job X in finance and then later does the ‘same job’ in not-finance it’s likely their career is on a downward arc or they chose to, say, prioritize family (otherwise they wouldn’t have left finance!), so they’d make less money for ‘natural’ reasons. If one does job X in not-finance and the does the ‘same job’ in finance, it’s likely that he is moving up in his career (hence getting paid more money for ‘natural’ reasons). You can’t notice either dynamic controlling only for ‘job title’ and ‘age’ is at best a proxy for it. 2. I question this notion of ‘same job’ in the first place. Is a Whatever Job in finance the ‘same job’ as Whatever Job in not-finance? Says who? Because it has the same job title? Nah. Again, these are nit-picks. I gather from this methodology that he would’ve had to exclude, say, job titles like ‘Trader’ and ‘Portfolio Manager’, so, yeah. Wall Streeters do get paid a lot, don’t get me wrong.

I got in a heated twitter battle with one of the myriad Internet Self-Anointed Econo Dudes who assume they are experts on climate modeling for some reason.

This piece (HT Kling) by two authors, one of whom (Jason Richwine) I knew I recognized, explains the insanity of FCRA accounting when it comes to how the federal government values the student loans that it, in its infinite wisdom, decided to start making a few years ago. This is a very important point few seem to talk about, which is why we get the Elizabeth Warrens of the world (dumbly) claiming the government makes ‘obscene profits’ on it.

I admire Nate Silver’s 538 for trying to figure out whether QE3 was a success, but it seems kind of hopeless. What does ‘success’ even mean? Compared to what? They observe that it didn’t seem to bring long-term rates down. But what about ‘term premiums’? Maybe rates would’ve been higher otherwise? (Lisa Simpson’s rock did keep tigers away, after all.) Also, maybe it wasn’t supposed to bring rates down then, just later. Or earlier. Or ‘expectations’ of rates. Or something. See, the Fed can move the goalposts all they want, they’re the ones who made them up in the first place.

My answer to the Thiel question
September 21, 2014, 9:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Via Arnold Kling, apparently Peter Thiel asks this interview question:

“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

It’s a bit hifalutin but admittedly it’s better than the questions I tend to ask (“How’s it goin’?”, “Why did you quit/leave/Why do you wanna work here?”, followed by another 29 minutes of small-talk).

Anyway, here’s my answer to the Thiel question:

Property is a fundamental human right.

Very few people, left or right, appear to believe that.

Rain-dance scheduled
September 21, 2014, 10:37 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Activists Taking to the Streets to Fight Climate Change

When humans go out and stand/walk on streets in large numbers, that is ‘climate change’ being ‘fought’. The climate is less likely to change due to this activity.

It’s like a rain dance. (Well, isn’t it? What’s the difference?)

“The goal of the march is to show world leaders something needs to be done,” said Negesti Cantave, a field organizer for Sunday’s march. “There needs to be a call to action.”

And a good, scientific goal that is. If there’s anything that ought to be done, it’s Something. The recommended course of action is Action.

The parade will stop at 11th Avenue and 34th Street. There a block party will allow marchers to listen to music, eat food, and speak to local community representatives.

In other words, ‘fight climate change’. Yes, yes.

I bet there will be kebabs and funnel cakes.

September 19, 2014, 8:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

As I’ve been saying on Twitter – mostly tongue-in-cheek – I think? – the flourishing of ISIS and President Obama’s response are nothing other than the foreordained fruits of shrewd, far-reaching plans set in place by Team Bush a decade ago.

President Obama may believe he is the President and is making the decisions, but he merely dances on puppet strings being manipulated out of the past by George W. Bush from circa 2003-4. His actions and decisions are no more his own to make than a mouse being led through a maze, with doors being closed behind him; he no more has free will than an automaton marching forward along a pre-programmed trajectory.

How else to explain that by 2014, the very same Barack Obama who in 2008 inspired millions of not-racists by running on “hope and change” and The Iraq War Was Wrong would be bombing Syria & Iraq, sending troops there and pitching further warfare to a reluctant Congress?

You have to hand it to Bush. Like Hari Seldon, he computed the psychohistorical dynamics of the Middle East; like Paul Atreides, he had visions of the possible-future-paths and selected from among them, coldly but with a sympathetic intelligence placing humanity on the least-unacceptable path that he saw. The fruit of his insights was the Honeypot Strategy.

And it’s working like a charm.

We read stories daily about Westerners making or trying to make the trip to Iraq/Syria to fight on the jihadi side. Which is exactly where we want them. Right? Where else do you want all these people – murderers, psychopaths, bitter dead-end losers, schizophrenics, sadists, maladjusted sexual perverts – to be? Australia, the UK, Scandinavia? The U.S.?

Am I the only one who remembers “we fight them over there, so we don’t have to over here”?

The sad irony is that Bush will never get the credit for all this. But he doesn’t need it. There he sits on his Crawford porch, nodding sagely at Laura over the morning paper, a twinkle in his eye.

Because it is all as he foresaw.

Why am I the only one with the insight to connect these dots and to point out the obvious like this? Well that’s why you read me. It kinda has to be.

Crimes against humanity have consequences
September 17, 2014, 6:50 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Some guy:

It’s almost like they don’t live in the real world, like they think their crap doesn’t stink, like since their intentions are good, we can’t question their actions.

Ever think of the consequences?

Who is he talking about? Some politician pushing through a law? A meddling, imperialist foreign-policy perhaps?

No, U2 (the rock band).

See, he’s talking about how U2 got themselves into a deal where (I hear) if you open your iTunes and click on the tab representing Albums You Own (whatever that is), an additional string of text (“New Album” by U2) with perhaps a small square graphics/icon (the album cover) would appear when previously it didn’t. And you’d have to see it. Like, it would be in your field of vision. Do you understand? It would be in your field of vision!

As if that’s not bad enough, suppose you had auto-download (or whatever it’s called) set to Yes. Then some bits representing that album would have been transferred to your drive, which means (here’s the awful part), if you were to click on the square graphics/text, some music would start to play. Music data would be on your device that you didn’t actively fetch and you might accidentally (if for some reason you clicked on the thing you didn’t want to be in your field of vision) hear it!

Oh, U2. U2. You thought we couldn’t question your actions, BUT WE CAN.



Kill ‘em all
September 16, 2014, 7:35 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Officials: U.S. will defend itself against Syria attack

If necessary, U.S. pilots conducting airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Syria would defend themselves if fired upon by Syrian government forces…

If only by trial and error, Team Obama is meandering toward the most warmongery possible policy conceivable.

Imagine Bush launching a military campaign against a rebel militia in some country, and also announcing ‘but we’ll bomb the country’s military itself too, if we need to’. Then imagine the shrieks of horror and outrage at such reckless bloodlust. “You just want to kill everybody there don’t you!”

Which is not to say this announcement is wrong. Contextually, yes, given that we’re gonna fly over Syria, then sure, I’d want our planes defending themselves from attack. But people are supposed to factor that in when deciding upon that “given” part – at least, people who fancy themselves ‘reality-based’ and cautious about hawkish war-waging, more so than righty wackos like myself.

Which is why one can’t help but wonder: where are all the protestors? Where is “Code Pink” and “Not In Our Name”? Where’s “I’m Sorry Everybody”? What is so different here?

What’s different is the President’s skin hue, and the letter that comes after his name. That makes it basically ok! #principles

Every single health-care cost is distorted and meaningless by itself
September 13, 2014, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Arnold Kling is convinced by some health care research:

I would say that the Dartmouth studies changed my mind about health care spending in the U.S., convincing me that much of it is “wasted” (I prefer “spent on procedures with high costs and low benefits”).

A commenter raises a similar concern:

What we really want to know is why a comparable developed country with high-quality health outcomes, well-paid medical professionals and similar track records can do the same procedures for so much less.[...]

A difference of 20-50% isn’t too bad. A difference of a few hundred percent without any apparent bang for the extra bucks is what needs explanation.

I would say there is an intrinsic problem with trying to suss out ‘health care waste’ defined thusly and I fear that no one is getting close to the truth.

It’s true enough, I imagine, that an MRI in the U.S. ‘costs’ some multiple of what the same procedure ‘costs’ in [insert country here]. It’s also true that represents or at least is symptomatic of something wasteful going on, and the commenter is right that it needs explanation.

The problem is that the true explanation can’t be found the way people are looking for it.

The true explanation is that every single health-care ‘cost’ of every single line-item in the U.S. (and, perhaps even more so, every other country it’s being compared to) is utterly distorted beyond recognition in a way that bears no relationship whatsoever to inputs and outputs.

Yes, sure, your MRI ‘cost’ $1k in the U.S. if by ‘cost’ you mean, “the number the hospital wrote down on the invoice next to that particular line-item, which they sent to your insurance company and asked them to pay some gross, far bigger amount”. But what does that have to do with anything?

The reality is that health care is basically (give or take) at least half socialized in every modern country, and that includes the US. There is not a free market for health care line-items in the US. Individual line-item ‘costs’ are not haggled over and comparison-shopped to find the equilibrium point of anyone’s supply-demand curves. All that’s really going on is that a bunch of socialism is taking place – stealth taxes, means-tested, and money being garnished from people in a ‘from each according to his ability [to pay]‘ sort of way, laundered through insurance companies or government agencies.

This ‘cost of an MRI procedure’ people obsess over has nothing to do with anything by itself. It’s just part of the gigantic formula that has been developed over time to slosh money around in ways that Smart People find ‘fair’ – completely distorted by politics, regulated by bureaucracies, prices being set line-item by line-item by committee (“Medicare codes”, whether Medicare is the payer or not). No single line-item means anything by itself. Yes you’re being ‘overcharged for an MRI’ if you focus on that line-item. Perhaps, likewise, you’ve been undercharged for the 20 minute visit from the nurse. Overcharged for the band-aid? Undercharged for the X-ray diagnosticiation time. I dunno! Who the hell knows?

And meanwhile, the person in the room to the left to you is ‘paying’ three times as much because they don’t have insurance but do have cash. The person in the room to the right of you, meanwhile, is paying $20 for the same exact thing because they have Medicaid (or gave money under the table to a mid-level hospital bureaucrat lady to fake paperwork to get them on Medicaid). And someone with no insurance and no money is in the ER waiting room waiting to see someone and the hospital will have to treat them free, if only because of EMTALA.

All different ‘costs’ for the same exact stuff. Because? Because it’s (sloppy) socialism. You’re paying for that person to your right, and the person in the ER, of course. It’s just been laundered through your taxes, plus some bogus ‘cost of an MRI’ (or whatever), in a way that is hopelessly vague and impossible to unravel. So yes the hospital has billed you that $1k ‘for an MRI’ but it’s really just cuz the hospital, well, needs $1k and that’s what they’ve been politically able to arrange for billing you for, under the ‘for an MRI’ mantle, for someone in your category. If they could’ve convinced the Medicare price-setting committee to set the price of that particular code to a number such that their blanket ‘we get Medicare’s rate plus $X from you’ agreement with your insurance company would allow them to bill you 10x or 100x as much they would, but as it stands this is how the numbers have shaken out so $1k it is.

There’s no way to unravel any one of these (supposedly individual) ‘costs’ from any other. There’s no way to audit them or track down why they are what they are or why they are ‘more’ than in some other country. Indeed, comparing any particular procedure’s ‘cost’ to that in some other country (which is also heavily distorted, and subsidized by taxes, etc.) is a stupid, apples-oranges exercise. All these costs are distorted and sloshed together and have no individual meaning. All of them contain (implicit) socialism taxes and/or subsidies of various kinds.

Again, that doesn’t mean they don’t reflect waste and it doesn’t mean explanation isn’t needed. It does mean that any effort at explanation that is focused on individual procedures and line-items rather than being holistic and apprehending the socialism embedded in the entire system as a whole, is doomed.


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