The powerless get disciplined, the powerful not so much

BNP Paribas has just paid a rather large fine for circumventing US sanctions, HSBC paid a (significantly smaller) fine for laundering money of criminal organizations, yet in both of these cases the decision makers have been untouched – undermining any deterrence effect.
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Posted in Economic elitism, Hypocrisy, Modes of control | Leave a comment

Government-supported car purchases in the same way as single-payer healthcare might actually be a good idea

NC has a post in which they criticize the Freakanomics guys’ attempt to push for further privatization of health care:

In a meeting with UK PM David Cameron, Levitt and his co-author apparently made some rather absurd remarks about health care.

They told him that the U.K.’s National Health Service — free, unlimited, lifetime heath care — was laudable but didn’t make practical sense.

“We tried to make our point with a thought experiment,” they write. “We suggested to Mr. Cameron that he consider a similar policy in a different arena. What if, for instance…everyone were allowed to go down to the car dealership whenever they wanted and pick out any new model, free of charge, and drive it home?”

Rather than seeing the humor and realizing that health care is just like any other part of the economy, Cameron abruptly ended the meeting…

This nonsense reminds me that what constitutes economic debate in the US is often laughable at best.

Health care is obviously not like most other parts of the economy. As I said last week medical services are credence goods – goods which we don’t know whether we need, and even once we’ve consumed them, still don’t know if they were good value. In economic terms, these goods suffer from the worse of possible information failures, particularly with respect to the asymmetry of information between the seller (in this case the doctor) and the consumer.

The point made by Rumplestatskin stands and he elaborates on it:

Not only that, but there are substantial positive externalities to most health care services. Vaccinations are the obvious example, but the same principle applies more broadly.

I agreed in the beginning that the comparison is idiotic but now I think that there is actually something to it, just not in the way the Freakonomists thought.

Think about how healthcare (should) work: you present with symptoms, the doctor diagnoses, and depending on the diagnosis and your personal circumstances she prescribes a treatment. In particular, prescription medication, surgical procedures etc. are typically not something you can just go out and purchase.
Now transfer this to cars: instead of going down to the car dealership and picking up any car “for free”, whenever one wanted, one would go to the car dealership, describe one’s situations and needs, and a trained professional would assign a car that fits the circumstances. Might just lead to people driving safer cars, cars with lower fuel consumption, or maybe even fewer cars, because they don’t need them.

Posted in health care, health care policy, Musings, transportation | Leave a comment

We’re reduced to liberals vs conservatives again

Ars Technica reports that the Pentagon will move Chelsea Manning and start hormone treatment:

Formerly known as Bradley Manning, the private was court-martialed last year and sentenced to 35 years for forwarding a cache of classified documents to WikiLeaks.

After an August 2013 espionage conviction for leaking more than 700,000 documents and video, Manning announced that she would live as a woman with the name Chelsea going forward. A non-military judge approved the name change last month. Hormone therapy, which she has requested, will assist her in her transition. Currently, that therapy is not an option in military prisons.

I am glad for Chelsea Manning but this is exactly the kind of schizophrenia that I find so problematic with current “center-left” parties. They’re willing (to a certain degree) to support the rights of homosexuals, trans people, ethnic minorities and use these liberal (!) projects to differentiate themselves from the social conservative parties.
But economically, they are right wing (witness France’s “pacte de responsibilité”), they are typically in support of a corporate (as the leader of Germany’s SPD coming out in favor of TTIP) and surveillance state (I mean, Mrs Manning has been sentenced to 35 years for leaking documents about war crimes), and with the support of the MSM they work hard at redefining “left” as socially liberal.

Posted in "free trade", developed countries, gender | Leave a comment

Taxes > Subsidies

Ars Technica summarizes a paper whose authors looked at ways of slowing down deforestation for cattle raising in the Amazon. They consider two options:

You can get a reduction forest clearance by taxing land on which cattle is pastured conventionally or by subsidizing land on which cattle is pastured semi-intensively. Both work, but the tax saves slightly more forest, and thus offers more greenhouse gas abatement.

And cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Seventy percent of formerly forested land, and 91 percent of land deforested since 1970, is used for livestock pasture. It is possible, however, to graze cattle in what’s called a semi-intensive system, in which livestock feeding is based on a combination of pasture grazing and harvested forages. When utilized properly, this system can double the productivity of pasturelands compared to conventional land management practices.

The new paper models the impacts of two policies: a tax on land-intensive grazing, and a subsidy for semi-intensive grazing.

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Posted in anthropogenic climate change, environmental sustainability, science-based policy | 2 Comments

Lots of salt need to be added to scientific results

As Ars Technica reports:

Someone in a lab that studies pain perception noted that “Our laboratory personnel have reported anecdotally that pain behavior appears to be blunted while experimenters are present.” At some point, they decided to see if this was biasing their results. The researchers gave some mice a painful injection, left them alone for a bit, and then sent a researcher back in the room for a few minutes. The mice’s pain was then assessed using “the mouse grimace scale” (yes, that’s a formal measure of pain).

It turns out the presence of a researcher could deaden the pain—but not just any researcher. It had to be a male. The male could be replaced with a bit of dirty laundry they’d created, and it would have the same effect. The same was true for bedding used by other mammals, although this failed when castrated dogs were tested.

leading to:

This made them wonder whether their own work might have been biased by male researchers, so they went back and collected lots of archival data that was performed by known lab workers. Sure enough, the sex of the person working with the mice did affect their results.

And this, let’s stress, are the good ones – researchers that actually care enough about the scientific process that they look at this. Lots of others will just take the results they get, especially when they agree with what they’ve hoped for, and not think about the confounders.

Time to point towards The weirdest people in the world?(.pdf) and “Control” laboratory rodents are metabolically morbid: Why it matters again.

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Anthropogenic climate change is currently (almost) the root of all evil

Much of the book we use at my current level at the Alliance Française is about expressing opinions, supporting (or opposing) issues, etc. One of the topics was environmentalism, and one of the exercises consisted of discussing with course mates one’s own attitude to environmental questions. One of the questions read:

In your opinion, is there currently a more important struggle than the one for environmental protection? If so, which one?

I claimed that there wasn’t one, yet several of my course mates felt that the struggle against hunger or war in Africa was more pressing. In my opinion, since AGCC will lead to loss of arable land, less access to water, loss of coastal land, etc. issues of hunger and war will only be exacerbated (and the Pentagon, of all places agrees).
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Posted in anthropogenic climate change, environmental sustainability, neo-liberalism, standards of living | Leave a comment

The American dream is dead and rotting

New Economic Perspectives hits us with this:

The Washington Post recently reported that Day Care now costs more—in 31 U.S. states—than a college education. In a fit of logic rarely exhibited in today’s journalism, the article explains that since it takes the average family eighteen years to save enough for a child’s college education, that same child now needs to start saving for his or her own children’s Day Care beginning at age eight. The article didn’t mention—I suppose because they thought it was obvious—that this necessity is against America’s child labor laws.

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Posted in developed countries, health care, neo-liberalism, standards of living | Leave a comment