Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Bush not coexisting peacefully with fish after all

That would be one of the earlier foolish things he said (as President, anyway: “I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully“). Who knew he could be insincere about the environment? That’s right – we did!

From the same paper that brought us the details of Cheney’s miserable hate-on for all things living, comes yet more critique of Bush directly:

With little-noticed procedural and policy moves over several years, Bush administration officials have made it substantially more difficult to designate domestic animals and plants for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton added an average of 58 and 62 species to the list each year, respectively.

One consequence is that the current administration has the most emergency listings, which are issued when a species is on the very brink of extinction.

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That graph is a little skewed – there is no reason why the listings under Clinton are optimal, for example – but it paints a pretty stark picture about the priorities of this President.

Does anything so perfectly characterise this administration than not doing their job until the last possibly moment, wherein a shit job has to be done very quickly and, usually, ineffectively? I wonder where in the editorial machine of the Washington Post this environmentalist streak lies, too.

The article is a good read. The procedural, anti-scientific barriers to, well, science; the lawsuits, the open criticism of a department run by sycophantic political placements. Everything we’ve come to expect over the last 8 years, basically.

These are the reasons why arguments that Government should not be given charge of more things are so wildly off the mark – this administration is not evidence of the fallability of (big G) Government – it’s merely an embarrassment for the American voter, and a damn good reason to pay more attention to whom we elect.

By all means, wander about with asinine debates over 3am phone calls, but why not run with that idea across the board? How soon with the EPA be restored under each candidate? How soon will the judicial system be re-centred? Which candidate will actually install a government, rather than a set of politcal excuse-making and maneuvering?

Sadly, there is an Economics of all of this. Do Bush or Cheney actually believe that a lizard is a lizard is a lizard? That the exctinction of a weird type of condor is irrelevant if there are still pigeons in every city? To some extent, yeah. All Bush does is clear brush on a fake farm. Cheney hunts birds raised in cages that can barely fly. This isn’t the Sierra Club.

The reasons why this administration seems not to care about the environment are the same as applied to the energy sector; to roads; to schools. It isn’t the environment, the clean water, the good schools: they’re your environment; your clean water; your New Orleans.

The US is ruled by an aristocracy (and this includes many Democrats) whether the people admit to it or not. We are “governed” by a class of people who can purchase their own environment, their own water, their own roads and schools. They simply do not ever have to conceive of needing the things that we consider to be public goods, because they are not the public: they are the private.

It is just another form of tribalism, really. Why would most Americans really not care all that much about improving the roads in Dhaka, for example? Because we’ll never have to use them, and we’re not Bangladeshi. They’re just not our people, not our concern. Sadly, this attitude is not far beneath the surface of most of the politicians here in the last 10 years or so. Hence my argument that the best candidate is the one least interested in politics and most interested in government: Government benefits everyone; Politics is a zero-sum game.

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McCain 08 Gingrich

It’s a long weekend where I’m from, if not (by any means) where I am. Why work? So – openly defying the suggestion that I’ve no right to criticise my hosts, here are two thoughts that have really taken hold in the last several days:

  1. Gingrich is the best running mate McCain can have. Possibly the only one.
  2. McCain-Gingrich will win.

Gingrich has the same moronic ‘tough’ caricature that McCain has managed to build (how? No idea – but have you read a newspaper or watched CNN lately?). He’ll also remind the brainless of the glory days of the Gingrich revolution – back when things worked because the New (read: crazy, racist, classist, elitist, paranoid, nasty, corrupt and utterly utterly useless1) Republicans just hadn’t had the time to pour raw sewage into the functioning systems of nearly every aspect of life. And, by now, all the stuff about cheating on and leaving his sick wife won’t matter.

It’s also reminded me that reading Warren Ellis during election time may not work so well.

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The weird thing is, a lot of Transmetropolitan’s “Beast” reminds me of Clinton – as does a lot of the “Smiler”. Should I just not worry until I hear kids near alley-ways greeting me with “Business, mister?”? I don’t know.

1In no particular order: Gingrich himself; Mark Foley; Denny Hastert; Tom DeLay; Bill Frist; David Hager; Michael Brown; Poindexter; Wolfowitz; Bolton; Rove; Ashcroft, John Yoo. Those terrorist memos. I’m too depressed thinking about the whole travesty to even continue the list. For God’s sake, at least Nixon went to China and started the EPA. These psychos started out nasty and corrupt and incompetent.

Remember – who you vote for is mostly important because of who you elect (i.e. who is given a job by the person for whom you vote. You only get to vote for a candidate, but you elect an administration – Americans have yet to learn that very important lesson, I think).

The water thing

Speaking of not getting along so well when water is an issue:

Lawyers for Georgia, Florida and Alabama are gearing up again for battle, now that tri-state water negotiations have collapsed and the federal government says it will decide how to dole out water rights.

At the same time, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon issue a short-term water operations plan — a move that could set off a fresh wave of legal maneuvering.

So the Federal Government is moving in. Ah: reminds me of home.

The dispute, by the by, is over things like this:

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Free trade: I heard ’em say it was all about the Benjamins

I have a wobbly relationship with Cafe Hayek. Specifically, I’m a screaming leftie tit, and they’re a mite too free trade for my tastes. I’m Austrian only to the extent that governments should be no bigger than they must be to get things done – but we part company on the matter of exactly how much a government should be doing.

That out of the way. They have been discussing the protectionist rhetoric of Presidential candidate-candidates (that seems right) so far. We talked about this in class, back when we looked at comparative advantage and international trade. Having run through the basics of tariffs, quotas, etc., and how protectionism is about restoring Producer Surplus, we consider how much Consumer Surplus is lost in the process. The question is, what price a job saved? Our textbook has a few figures:

cost per job

Is it worth the loss in Consumer Surplus of this scale? Bear in mind that the cost is spread across the many consumers, but one is hard-pressed to defend USD50-odd million per job in the rice industry.

In class we discussed “dog whistle” politics – the use of coded language that is meaningless to most of us, but appeals directly to a specific sub-set of the electorate. Going to Michigan and talking about bringing back jobs is an example. “We” hear that, laughingly, while poor bastards in Detroit hear it and, not caring at all the cost to the economy as a whole, like what they hear. And so ad infinitum.

Edwards and Kerry caught my attention in 2004, in this regard, as do Obama and Clinton, now – basically all NAFTA-hassling is dog-whistle protectionism: the only way to come good on the rhetoric is to restrict trade; not for the benefit of all (or for the benefit of under-represented workers in our partner-countries in trade), but for the benefit of a few. Remember the quirk of globalisation/outsourcing/etc.: the benefits are spread very broadly, but the costs are felt very acutely. We respond only to the costs at our peril.

Ultimately I do not like Boudreaux’s “letters” – meaning his responses to the issue. I do think they’re worth reading, though: it’s a dialogue not seen elsewhere. Add Cafe Hayek to your bookmarks for the duration of the election campaign.

Reagan Republicism

Still back with Doonesbury Flashbacks, I noticed this gem – from August 19th, 1981 (click for larger version):

Doonesbury

One of many rips into former Interior Secretary James Watt (see The Reagan Years, if you’re interested).

Still – prescient, eh? A demonstration that, indeed, Bush the Younger was the Reagan Republican of our times (he will have presided over two recessions, though).

How to keep an AUD30bn surplus

The short version: you can’t. Not (politically) tenably, at any rate.

The Federal Government could deliver a record budget surplus of between $26 billion and $30 billion under its new fiscal policy tactic for putting downward pressure on inflation.

As the Government faced calls yesterday from a business group to freeze spending, it is emerging that the surplus for next financial year is set to be much larger than the $18 billion flagged.

This would allow the Government to use the budget to sell its message that it is tightening fiscal policy enough to contain inflationary pressures despite keeping its promised $31 billion in tax cuts.

The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, said yesterday the Government would apply a “new era of fiscal discipline” for years to get inflation under control.

Mr Swan said a Business Council of Australia submission calling for no real spending increases correctly identified challenges in areas like improving workforce skills and infrastructure.

I don’t know how the government plans to pull that off. Our economy is under very serious inflationary pressure – as was well-presented only over the weekend by Ross Gittins:

When our real resources reach the point of being fully employed, the economy (gross domestic product; aggregate demand) simply can’t grow faster than aggregate supply is growing – which these days the econocrats estimate to be 3.5 per cent a year at most, and probably nearer 3 per cent.

When we attempt to grow faster than that we don’t succeed, we just generate imports and inflation.

If, for instance, the state governments decide it’s time to start making inroads into the infrastructure backlog, their extra spending is more likely to bid up wages in the construction sector than cause more roads and schools to be built.

So how do we reduce the likelihood of such an unhappy event? By reducing the need for the Reserve Bank to rely as heavily on the blunt instrument of further interest-rate rises by making more use of the budget’s braking power.

And that means Kevin Rudd not being so stupid as to keep his ill-considered promise to cut taxes in July.

Needless to say, now that they are in opposition, the liberal party has a different view:

the Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson, defended the Coalition’s approach. “As a Liberal Party we take the view that those taxes [are] money taken out of the pockets of hard-working, everyday Australians,” Dr Nelson said.

“Once we’ve delivered on our commitments in defence and health, education and roads and all of the things that we need to do to look after pensioners, then that money wherever possible ought to be returned to the people who actually paid it.”

Actually, as a liberal party, you should not have set those tax revenues up in the first place, while allowing a now-probably-non-solvable export bottleneck to hold productivity back.

Budding Austrian economists! This is why (big G) Government isn’t supposed to take away more than the minimum required to do the things for which it was created. It always ends in tears, eventually. I don’t much look forward to another recession we will have to have had (I’m the Picasso of tenses, it’s true).

Given, as Gittins explains, that we are at (and, probably beyond) the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment, giving Australian households AUD31bn in negative taxation is not going to help much – irrespective of how much money the government isn’t giving back.

If today’s IHT is correct, the commodities boom could, soon, be boosting Australia’s income still further, as Latin America faces its own problems:

Argentina and Brazil are facing the possibility of short-term energy crises from a lack of natural gas, which is needed to fuel industries and generate electricity for residents. Bolivia is sitting in the middle, with the region’s largest gas reserves.

I’m with Gittins: the government should really consider holding onto that money for awhile. Pour it into the migration of labour within the economy, from low to high-productive areas/industries, if necessary.

This returns us to the notion of complexity, though. If you’d promised AUD31bn in tax cuts, and then I came along and explained the macroeconomic risks of delivering on that promise – the promise of tax cuts – what would you do? Unfortunately, the government is also in politics.

Why are people still ganging up on President Bush?

People just won’t leave him alone about the fact that he couldn’t manage an economy’s way out of a paper bag (into a few trillions dollars of debt, sure).

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has unleashed another flurry of jabs on Washington, ridiculing the federal government’s rebate checks as being “like giving a drink to an alcoholic” on Thursday, and said the presidential candidates are looking for easy solutions to complex economic problems.

The billionaire and potential independent presidential candidate also said the nation “has a balance sheet that’s starting to look more and more like a third-world country.”

His tirade against the candidates and the economic stimulus package on Thursday began when he was asked how that experiment is going.

In his answer, he praised Democrat Barack Obama for the plan the Illinois senator outlined on Wednesday that would create a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to rebuild highways, bridges, airports and other public projects. Obama projects it could generate nearly 2 million jobs.

Last month, Bloomberg and Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania announced a coalition that would urge more investment in infrastructure.

“I don’t know whether Senator Obama looked to see what I’ve been advocating, or not — you’ll have to ask him — but he’s doing the right thing,” Bloomberg said.

But then the mayor went on to say that while the presidential candidates appear to be talking more about the economy now, they are looking for quick fixes to please voters instead of focusing on the roots of the problem.

“Nobody wants to sit there and say, ‘Well there’s no easy solution,”‘ Bloomberg said. “They want to send out a check to everybody to stimulate the economy. I suppose it won’t hurt the economy but it’s in many senses like giving a drink to an alcoholic.”

I agree, certainly – although we should bear in mind that Bloomberg was, and could well still be, considering a Presidential run himself. Good thing he hangs out with Governor Schwarzenegger (“President of 12 percent of us” – none too subtle, but good luck with the constitution-change. If it succeeds it means I might be President, some day!).

To continue:

The mayor last month said the economic stimulus package was shortsighted, and presented his own views on where the federal government should be focusing its attention. Specifically, he said the government should adopt a capital budget to oversee long-term infrastructure spending, instead of the current year-to-year spending.

It should also offer financial counseling, modified loans, and in some cases, subsidized loans to homeowners who find themselves unable to afford their mortgages.

He says that the government should also think differently about immigration, and that bringing more workers in rather than keeping them out is the key to long term economic stability.

Funnily enough, he is the mayor of New York – whose rent control policies are a disaster for precisely the reason that they don’t over subsidies to people (as opposed to offering subsidies to property, which is far and away an inferior approach – see, for example, here, here and here). However that’s another issue (and it certainly does not prevent me liking him as a prospective President).

Does Preventive Care Save Money?

Yes and no. Yes, because prevention is often worth a pound of cure, and no, because often preventive care can identify problems that are expensive to fix (as opposed to not spotting them, after which the patient’s death is less expensive. Look, I’m not a dick – that’s just the way the costs work).

That’s the short version of this quite well-argued piece in the latest New England Journal of Medicine, Does Preventive Care Save Money? Health Economics and the Presidential Candidates.

With health care once again a leading issue in a presidential race, candidates have offered plans for controlling spiraling costs while enhancing the quality of care. A popular component of such plans involves greater promotion of preventive health measures. The first element in Hillary Clinton’s plan is to “focus on prevention: wellness not sickness.” John Edwards has stated that “study after study shows that primary and preventive care greatly reduces future health care costs, as well as increasing patients’ health.” Mike Huckabee has said that a focus on prevention “would save countless lives, pain and suffering by the victims of chronic conditions, and billions of dollars.” Barack Obama has argued that “too little is spent on prevention and public health.”

Indeed, some evidence does suggest that there are opportunities to save money and improve health through prevention. Preventable causes of death, such as tobacco smoking, poor diet and physical inactivity, and misuse of alcohol have been estimated to be responsible for 900,000 deaths annually — nearly 40% of total yearly mortality in the United States. Moreover, some of the measures identified by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, such as counseling adults to quit smoking, screening for colorectal cancer, and providing influenza vaccination, reduce mortality either at low cost or at a cost savings.

Sweeping statements about the cost-saving potential of prevention, however, are overreaching. Studies have concluded that preventing illness can in some cases save money but in other cases can add to health care costs.[PDF] For example, screening costs will exceed the savings from avoided treatment in cases in which only a very small fraction of the population would have become ill in the absence of preventive measures. Preventive measures that do not save money may or may not represent cost-effective care (i.e., good value for the resources expended). Whether any preventive measure saves money or is a reasonable investment despite adding to costs depends entirely on the particular intervention and the specific population in question. For example, drugs used to treat high cholesterol yield much greater value for the money if the targeted population is at high risk for coronary heart disease, and the efficiency of cancer screening can depend heavily on both the frequency of the screening and the level of cancer risk in the screened population.

The focus on prevention as a key source of cost savings in health care also sidesteps the question of whether such measures are generally more promising and efficient than the treatment of existing conditions. Researchers have found that although high-technology treatments for existing conditions can be expensive, such measures may, in certain circumstances, also represent an efficient use of resources. It is important to analyze the costs and benefits of specific interventions.

I agree. I think the authors are a mite too involved with efficiency-based arguments (as opposed to equity-based arguments) and, as a result, run right past the fact that unversal health care (for example) is an intervention – possibly the intervention.

Their solution? A meta-analysis! Possibly useful, possibly not. Meta-analyses are often of little worth. The result:

NEJM chart

Our findings suggest that the broad generalizations made by many presidential candidates can be misleading. These statements convey the message that substantial resources can be saved through prevention. Although some preventive measures do save money, the vast majority reviewed in the health economics literature do not. Careful analysis of the costs and benefits of specific interventions, rather than broad generalizations, is critical. Such analysis could identify not only cost-saving preventive measures but also preventive measures that deliver substantial health benefits relative to their net costs; this analysis could also identify treatments that are cost-saving or highly efficient (i.e., cost-effective).

The chart is interesting. I’m not so sure this is way to go: we are interested in the cost-effectiveness of preventive care, relative to palliative (or curative). This has dis-aggregated the studies along identified cost-effectiveness thresholds, but that is not what is of policy interest, surely. Moreover I see, in this, a big risk of Simpson’s paradox. Looking at the table they provide of “selected” studies, I also see a mis-match in the conditions to which preventive vs. palliative/curative care are being sorted. Can we compare colonoscopy screening with anti-retroviral treatment for HIV? ‘Cause I have a suspicion that is what might have occurred.

This is standard for systematic reviews: one is pulling together mis-matched data for retrospective analysis for which the data was never designed. This generates value-of-information problems across the board, and we ought to remember this as we ponder the results. Ultimately, too (and more importantly), I think this piece really mis-reads the point of so-called “socialised medicine”.

That said, the authors are up-front about their motive not being to solve the problem: they are commenting upon less-informed debate by Presidential candidates. Now, one (say, me) could easily reply that this is pointless: Presidential candidates are selling us themselves, not a policy – there is a big agency problem and we really shouldn’t take them too seriously. If a candidate trotted out his/her future cabinet and invited the country to openly and knowingly elect the lot of them, then I’d pay attention.

Project 28/Secure Border Initiative evaluation: all cost, no effect

So says BusinessWeek.

Among Project 28’s problems: Wind and rain affect the cameras’ image quality. Radar has been unable to distinguish between mesquite bushes and clusters of people or animals. In early tests, the laptops in the patrol cars couldn’t take the jostling of rough terrain. And Boeing has had trouble bundling infrared images, radar scans, and ground sensor readings so that they reach the Border Patrol in time for agents to pursue targets. “It blows the mind, the issues they’ve had,” says Rosso. Boeing’s Bosick says the glitches have been “ironed out.”

Do fences ever work on borders anywhere? The threat of lethal force makes sealed-off borders such as the DMZ between the Koreas and the Palestinian-Israeli barrier highly unusual cases. Along the Strait of Gibraltar and around the Canary Islands, Spain built a chain of high-tech radar stations to deter migration from Africa—only to watch illegal-immigrant traffic flow to other sea lanes.

Ordinary Mexicans, meanwhile, seem unfazed by all the efforts to wall them out. Ramiro, who didn’t want to give his surname, is a 21-year-old born in the Mexican state of Guerrero. He was deported from Arizona in mid-January after police pulled his sister’s van over for expired license plates and discovered he was there illegally. Ramiro has lived in Phoenix since he was 7, and he has no intention of staying in Mexico, where he feels out of place. Scarfing down beans and rice at a charity shelter for migrants in Nogales, Mexico, Ramiro says he plans to head back to the U.S. in a couple of days. What about the new fence and a beefed-up Border Patrol? “I’ll just find a path around the fence, or I’ll climb it at night,” he says, shrugging. “There’s always a way to get around obstacles.”

Sure enough, three days later, Ramiro leaves Nogales at 3 a.m., walks just west of a new section of fence under construction, and in five hours reaches the town of Rio Rico, Ariz., where that night he hops a freight train for Phoenix. Time elapsed: 26 hours. “Mexican ingenuity,” says Ramiro, laughing, when contacted on a friend’s mobile phone. That’s ingenuity even the powerful U.S. cannot fence out.

Ouch. Of course, the fence is a typical solution for our political era: the appearance of action without the least bit of substance by way of a solution – mostly because the action has little if anything to do with the true problem.

The bigger problem may be those who don’t bother with tunnels and ladders. Immigration specialists estimate that one-third to one-half of undocumented migrants in the U.S. didn’t scale any border fence. They are believed to have entered the country legally and then just overstayed their visas.

Some critics, including former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda, think the rise in patrols and fence-building has actually encouraged unauthorized migrants to put down permanent roots in the U.S.—these Mexicans dare not travel home and run the risk of capture while trying to cross back north.

“We have more boots and binoculars down at the border than we’ve ever had, yet we have a larger immigrant population than ever before,” says Angela M. Kelley, director of the Immigration Policy Center, a pro-immigration Washington think tank.

Think of it from the perspective of the Mexican immigrant: the risk of death on the trip is real, but relatively low. To the extent that the risk of capture is greater (if in fact it is), the consequence is return. To start again. I am not suggesting we bring lethality into the consequence box of the equation, no. I’m suggesting that we recognise that, for illegal immigrants, the cost-benefit analysis almost always results in the attempt being worthwhile.

Alternatively, would a bloody fence have held back the people on the Mayflower?

Obesity, nanny states and closing the barn buffet after the fat horses have bolted

Originally spotted at Environmental Economics: House Bill 282 from the Mississippi legislature.

(1) The provisions of this section shall apply to any food establishment that is required to obtain a permit from the State Department of Health under Section 41-3-15(4)(f), that operates primarily in an enclosed facility and that has five (5) or more seats for customers.

(2) Any food establishment to which this section applies shall not be allowed to serve food to any person who is obese, based on criteria prescribed by the State Department of Health after consultation with the Mississippi Council on Obesity Prevention and Management established under Section 41-101-1 or its successor. The State Department of Health shall prepare written materials that describe and explain the criteria for determining whether a person is obese, and shall provide those materials to all food establishments to which this section applies. A food establishment shall be entitled to rely on the criteria for obesity in those written materials when determining whether or not it is allowed to serve food to any person.

(3) The State Department of Health shall monitor the food establishments to which this section applies for compliance with the provisions of this section, and may revoke the permit of any food establishment that repeatedly violates the provisions of this section.

So, to recap:

1) Restaurants can feed you shit until you become obese, and the State will do nothing to intervene, or fix the insane obeseogenic environment that prevails in the US,

2) Damage done, restaurants will stop feeding you.

3) Rather than legislate (if legislation was felt to be that necessary) in favour of, say, smaller portions (known to be a prime cause of obesity in the US), the State will also leave the environment in place in order to make more obese people,

4) Those obese people will, in turn, not get served.

Your tax dollars at work (I mean, if you live in Mississippi). You’ll note that the legislation also includes no mention of what to do about the socioeconomic gradient to the high-caloric diets people have. Me, I envisage a fat unemployed person (statistically likely to be a minority) with no car, unable to get to better nutrition and now not being served in the eateries that contributed to their obesity in the first place (although the mechanism of the obesity is left unchanged). I guess I’m just pessimistic, like that.