Feldman on King v. Burwell
March 4, 2015, 8:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Hey, an Obamacare column! I wonder if we’ll be seeing any more of these

The Heart of the Obamacare Case

That question can actually be put rather simply: What should happen when Congress writes a law with some internal incoherence?

No. I do not cede this territory. There is nothing – nothing – ‘internally incoherent’ about reading the law the way King v. Burwell plaintiffs say (i.e., the way it is actually written). The law as written, among other things, (a) imposes a tax^H^H^H penalty^H^H^H^H^H^H^H tax for those who do not have such-and-such level of health ‘insurance’ [sic]; (b) describes how ‘exchanges’ [sic] may be set up by the states; and (c) provides for means-tested tax credits for those who purchase insurance through the ‘exchanges’ [sic] set up per (b). That’s fully coherent. Yes, under that law as written, people who lived in states that did not set up such ‘exchanges’ [sic] would not be eligible for that tax credit in (c). So? How does that make it ‘internally incoherent’? There’s a whole bunch of stuff that varies from state to state. This would be one more.

Yes, it would be a fairly large difference, representing a tax hardship on folks in the non-‘exchange’ states. The plaintiffs’ theory, of course, is that that was the idea of writing the text that way in the first place. The government-side of the argument, meanwhile, has no counter-explanation for why the text is written that way. None whatsoever. Absent that, it’s pretty weak sauce to call the result ‘incoherent’. Rather, on the face of it, it’s asymmetric but coherent – the asymmetry, of course, being by design in the original drafts. Again, I’m happy to hear an alternative theory, but there clearly is none.

Should the courts assign a sensible meaning to the statute that makes everything come out right?

But it has a sensible meaning. The meaning is, We want to incentivize states to create their own ‘exchanges’, by making the burden on their citizens politically unpalatable otherwise. They just didn’t foresee that this incentive wouldn’t carry as much force as they thought.

So there is no further sensible meaning that needs ‘assigning’. The clear unambiguous meaning of the text as written is already perfectly sensible. It’s not that it’s not sensible, it’s that the left doesn’t like the ramifications of letting that meaning stand in today’s context, because it risks reopening the issue of Obamacare-subsidy funding for more political haggling, and they – being ‘liberals’ (i.e. fascists) don’t like that (i.e., letting Obamacare be the subject of any further democratic input).

Which fear is a bit silly given that there’s basically 0% chance the (R)s wouldn’t just pass a ‘fix’ the moment a Supreme Court decision for the plaintiffs came down. (Which, to be sure, I don’t expect to happen for one moment. Remember, whatever dirt/leverage Roberts’s blackmailers have on him is presumably still in play.)

All of them are clinging to the fiction that the text of the statute produces the conclusion they want.

At least he acknowledges that this is a fiction. Thanks for that. It’s a low bar to be praising someone for acknowledging, like, reality, but this admission is rare to see in the media.

The greatest exertions on all sides haven’t found a convincing explanation for why one random provision of an enormously long and complex statute refers to an exchange “established by the state” instead of referring to the possibility of a federal establishment discussed elsewhere in the statute.

Incorrect. The plaintiff side has a perfectly coherent story explaining how this came about, and plenty of evidence to point to (e.g. Gruber’s statements) to back it up. It is only the government side that has no such explanation, convincing or otherwise.

The best explanation is that the language is just a mistake

No, that is (at best) an incomplete ‘explanation’. To say that it is a ‘mistake’ is at most to say merely that some early draft #N was never reconciled and updated to match the intent of later draft #M, and probably would have been. This ‘explanation’ still leaves unexplained why the language and logic present in draft #N was created in the first place – i.e., why Amy typed it into the computer.

The difficulty of getting Congress to do anything is vast. And Congress changes: The Congress that passed the ACA is long gone, and the new Congress wouldn’t fix the law if it could.

This isn’t relevant. A law says a thing; will the government obey the thing that the law says or not? ‘Oh but it’d be hard to make the law say what we now want it to say’ – even assuming your conception of what ‘fix’ is needed is correct (but who’s to say? and that’s the point!) just isn’t a real reason to ignore what laws actually say.

In the event, he’s wrong anyway. Of course Congress would ‘fix’ the law if it came to that. I’d bet on it.

When the law doesn’t work, Aristotle advised, you should ask what a reasonable legislator would’ve done — and do it.

‘Doesn’t work’? Still not ceded. What pray tell ‘doesn’t work’ about how the law is written? All it would mean would be higher taxes for people in non-exchange-making states. So? The law raises taxes on lots of people in lots of ways, what’s some more? Why do those particular people convert the law from ‘working’ to ‘not working’? Are they special people?

Besides, there are legislators at the time of the drafting who put forth the incentivize-the-states logic explicitly. So, taking this tack implies second-guessing and calling what those legislators were saying at the time ‘unreasonable’. Again this is why you go with what was actually written and voted upon, not what you (later) think is ‘sensible’ or ‘works’ or whatever. If you care about the rule of law, that is.

If Congress doesn’t like the judicial fix, it can overcome its inertia and overrule it.

Wait I thought Congress couldn’t be relied on to do anything. Which is it. (Or is that the point?)

But the cost must go somewhere, and it’s a lot better to place the cost on reversing a fix rather than on making a fix in the first place.

This is gobbledygook

To the extent I can parse it he’s saying something like: 1. We should basically just let the courts make/amend/change laws later however they feel like if Smart People think said changes are what’s needed. 2. It should be costly to reverse changes to laws that Smart People insist be made later.

Um no

And with a little luck, five justices will agree on an answer by the end of June.

Oh, don’t worry Smart People (it’s so cute how worried they are!), five justices will agree with this sophistry by the end of June one way or another.

What part of ‘blackmail’ don’t people understand?

Answering the wrong question on climate policy
March 4, 2015, 5:43 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Dave Henderson responds nicely to this thing about cap-and-trade:

But cap and trade is a policy instrument, not something for which you conduct a benefit-cost analysis. The economics says that if the government decided to undertake climate policy, cap and trade would be one of the most cost-effective ways of doing it.

Read Henderson’s response. Just a bit to add.

It might in fact be true that cap and trade is the answer to this hypothetical question that I wasn’t aware anyone was asking: ‘If the government decides to undertake climate policy**, what’s one of the most cost-effective ways of doing it?’ It’s also true that this question, as such, would (unlike broader questions about climate itself) be one that an economist might be well-placed to opine upon.

The real problem is that it’s not the right question.

It’s somewhat akin to this question: ‘If we’re going to burn all the dining-room tables in the world, what’s the most cost-effective way to do it?’ Yes, sure, I mean, an economist might be able to cook up an answer to that. There’s a not too huge menu of options after all. Make a giant pile, soak it in gasoline & light it up? Load them all up into a rocket & shoot it into the sun? Set up a Cash-For-Ashes government program paying people to mail in their dining-room-table ashes? Mail everyone a book of matches, conduct house-to-house searches, & pass a law mandating the death penalty for everyone found with unburned dining-room tables after one week? Economists could cost out all these options and more and come up with the ‘most cost-effective’ (i.e., least-wasteful/costly) one. Sure. Good for you guys.

But that’s a dumb question and no one should ask it. Why on earth, from first principles, would we want to burn all the dining-room tables?

Similarly, why would the government ‘decide to undertake climate policy’? What would be the justification in the first place? That’s the actual question on the table here. If you want to be relevant to the actual debate you need to answer that question first before you get into this secondary issue. You know, using cost-benefit analysis.

If you think you’ve identified the most-cost-effective ‘climate policy’ among all the ‘climate policies’, maybe that’s a good first step – in fact I guess it allows us to reject all the others a priori – but then you still need to perform the actual cost-benefit analysis part on at least that policy. If you just assume we’re going to ‘undertake climate policy’ because you assume it’s a good idea and then calculate the Least-Dumb-Way-To-Do-It on that basis, that’s neat but just don’t mistake that for an argument for actually doing it at all – and don’t pretend that you have rebutted Paul Ryan’s claim that it’s not cost-effective to do so.

**The definition of ‘undertaking climate policy’ being used here seems fuzzy; I think one can fairly parse it to mean Doing A Costly/Freedom-Restricting Thing That Leftists Wish To Happen For Whatever Reason, Because Climate.

Hey wonks, please ask yourself ‘Compared to what?’ before hitting publish
March 1, 2015, 3:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This is one of the more irritating types socio-economic analysis: How Student Debt Stunts Financial Growth. The key seems to be combining some true observations with myopic diagnoses:

This is why IBR [income-based repayment] misses the mark: because it currently doesn’t do enough to address one of the key ways student debt may negatively affect young adults, by limiting their ability to accumulate assets. Students with outstanding student debt, even very small amounts, are more likely to postpone accumulating assets as young adults, as recent research shows. IBR plans may even exacerbate this problem by extending the period of students’ indebtedness.

Asset accumulation is important, because it positions young adults for significantly improved economic outcomes over their lifetimes—something higher education is supposed to do. The consequences of diverting income to debt repayment instead of asset accumulation may worsen the wealth divide between those who must take on debt to go to college and those who can avoid it.

I mean, on the one hand, duh! Of course ‘student debt’ – versus the alternative of ‘not student debt but everything else the same’? – ‘stunts financial growth’. But why, and how, is that the alternative?

So, I read this and think: well sure, there’s a lot of student debt out there, and sure, it makes sense that someone in IBR would delay asset accumulation. And sure, asset accumulation is a great thing if you can do it. So, yes, ‘diverting income to debt repayment instead of asset accumulation’ – taken as a standalone choice (as if anyone faces the choice ‘gee should I repay my debt or accumulate assets’!) – is not great, all else equal.

But the thing is, what’s the alternative? Compared to what exactly?

I think this is how you can identify Annoying Socio-Economic Analysis quickly and easily: it never asks “compared to what?”. There is no counterfactual. There is just the pointing-out of a bad thing, and bad things are bad all else equal, so let’s get rid of the bad thing, because it’s bad, and all else would be equal.

In this case, a proper counterfactual to the fact that so many people have lots of student-loan balances outstanding, and/or are put into (logical enough taken on their own terms) IBR programs, (and therefore don’t accumulate assets), would have to involve serious consideration of an alternate-universe which we might loosely term The “They Didn’t Go To College In The Fucking First Place See? So Now They Don’t Have Degrees At All” Universe. I’d be game for comparing our universe to that one and soberly weighing the tradeoffs, but I don’t think most others are quite willing to go there.

So instead we just get the Annoying Socio-Economic Analysis which imagines there is a perfect square-the-circle solution where all these people got degrees, publicly-funded loans were thrown at them to get those degrees, and yet (because we don’t want to inhibit ‘asset accumulation’ or some similar local/current consideration – there’s always a local/current consideration not to repay debt) we are supposed to just write off all that debt. And, what, later rinse repeat?

(Oh, the article does make a policy suggestion of child savings accounts or something, but I’m not taking that seriously enough to talk about it.)

Do I have to come right flat out and tell you everything, gimme some money
February 26, 2015, 8:54 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

You probably saw this earlier today. Treasury won’t explain decision to make $3 billion in Obamacare payments

The U.S. Treasury Department has rebuffed a request by House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wis., to explain $3 billion in payments that were made to health insurers even though Congress never authorized the spending through annual appropriations.
What’s tricky is that Congress never authorized any money to make such payments to insurers in its annual appropriations, but the Department of Health and Human Services, with the cooperation of the U.S. Treasury, made them anyway.

Sure is tricky! Neat trick, that.

It seems like we’re seeing more and more of this, government agencies kinda basically just deciding to hand out money to whoever they feel like, on the basis of their Views and Theories and whatnot (yes yes they have Reasons), regardless of whether Congress told or authorized them to.

Personally, I’m all for it. Some agency should give me money too. I like money. They should authorize spending, oh, to pick a number, $17 billion dollars on me. Credit my account with $17 billion dollars from the government account. Come on. Just do it. Get your lawyers together and sign the papers to authorize it and do it. Dooo ittttttt

What’s the counterargument? None that’s what. There’s no law authorizing it? LOL come on are you Smart or not. You can do it if you wanna. Gimme some money.

We have questions, Governor Walker
February 23, 2015, 1:30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Kevin Drum (who, by the way, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this or you’ve ever heard this from anyone, is a Very Nice Guy) calls my attention to some of the important questions the press has been asking Scott Walker lately:

  • Whether he agrees with Rudy Giuliani’s comment that President Obama doesn’t love America.
  • Whether he believes in evolution.
  • Whether he believe that Obama is a Christian.

Now people, this is just Civics 101. In fact if we were going to hand out the Presidency by having people fill out a questionnaire I’m sure we can all agree these would be the first three questions on it.

How can you possibly be the President of the United States if you don’t have a ‘belief’ regarding what the religion is of some other guy named Barack Obama, whose religion we are all required to know and have a belief about? Or worse, if you have such a belief but (almost unthinkably) decline to state that belief? I mean it’s been a while since I’ve read the Federalist papers but I’m pretty sure this is all in there.

And this is to say nothing of the evolution question. People, don’t you realize the stakes? The President-guy is, primarily, the evolution-deciderer for the entire nation. There’s also some other stuff about being Commander-in-Chief or whatever, but mainly, the evolution-decidering, that’s the job. Upon swearing-in his belief regarding whether evolution is the explanation for all life becomes immediately impounded into all the rest of the humans in the country via forcible cranial implants developed by Lenovo. Didn’t you people see the 20/20 episode on this?

Finally, could it be any more clear that when some other guy says a different other guy (the same other guy mentioned two paragraphs prior) doesn’t love America, you must form and state an opinion about what that other guy (the second other guy not the first other guy) said before you can possibly be entrusted with the Oval Office? I mean, obviously.

So anyway, (SPOILER ALERT) Kevin Drum thinks these questions are totes fair, particularly because Scott Walker is (to quote Kevin Drum, nice guy): ‘basically a tea party guy’, but we need to find out whether he’s a ‘pure tea party creature’ .


$ grep -c ‘tea party’ kevin_drums_blog_post.html

is not a command that I have run on my 80-character green-on-black monochrome UNIX terminal just now. Just so you know.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Kevin Drum is a very nice guy.

The first grandma Bond girl
February 23, 2015, 7:11 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Here’s a bit of silliness, Monica Bellucci asserting that Sam Mendes “will be a hero among women” for casting her, because her chronological age is 50, which somehow strikes a blow for & helps (?) all other 50+ year old women (regardless of whether they look like Monica Bellucci).

I mean, get real. Okay she’s 50 but she’s also Monica Bellucci! If he had cast a 50+ year-old like, oh, Sally Field as a ‘Bond Girl’ maybe she’d have a point. Typical oblivious pretty-girl comment, like supermodels who complain they were skinny losers who never got dates in high school.

Bellucci added: “True sexiness is in the mind, the imagination – not in the age of the body.

Yes yes well I suppose that’s all very well and true and a laudable sentiment Monica Bellucci but in your case I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s also in your body :)

All that said, would I have liked to see Bellucci as M? Sure, what the hell. Bellucci in a movie is just never a bad thing, which is the point; putting her in a Bond movie is like the least-brave decision in the world.

Teach your children well
February 22, 2015, 9:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Little girl strikes a blow for feminism by whining about something trivial vis-a-vis the trivial topic of comic books (one infers, in the background, the existence of a Pushy Smart Parent dropping hints about what sort of comic book whines would be praiseworthy and college-transcript-adorning), having someone at the the comic book company take the time to draw her as a cute superhero, and then responding ungraciously.

Yup, sounds about right.


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