The solution to the problem is (A) or (A).

On the general subject of taxation, Matt Yglesias
defends sustained and increasing progressivity (emphasis added):

As Ed says, the argument is that “we can’t have progressives taxes because somebody’s rich uncle might not have the wherewithal to subsidize somebody’s business start-up.”

I’m not going to dignify this with a response. I’ll just note that Schramm is president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation and I believe he was in the room when I first heard the “rich uncle” argument, so I may have been present at the creation of this particular talking point. Meanwhile, the crippling long-term budget deficits that will result from refusing to raise new revenues are not going to be doing any wonders for entrepreneurs. And perhaps more directly to the point, the lack of a guarantee of affordable health coverage is a major impediment to entrepreneurship in the United States. The status quo systematically discourages talented, skilled people form leaving jobs at existing firms in order to strike out on their own, and this is one of the things the administration is trying to address in its budget proposals.

It’s very useful to frame problems with the solution in mind.

Long-term budget deficits occur because Congress does not match spending to tax revenue. (They are crippling because Congress believes that politics is more important than either economics or accounting.) There are at least two solutions. Congress can raise new revenue, as Yglesias suggests. Within that solution, it can raise taxes on high-income Americans or lower-income Americans. Fairness and equality in treatment suggest that everyone should share the burden, if we are to raise taxes. That’s beyond my point here, so I’ll back up and reiterate: Congress can raise new revenue. Congress can also reduce spending. Is that not an acceptable option? Ignoring it reeks of a preference for social engineering over responsibility.

Nor would I write that the lack of a guarantee of affordable1 health coverage is the impediment implied. If person X quits her job to start a business, she loses her medical coverage after a certain period of (more expensive) COBRA coverage. Tying health insurance to an employer is the problem. If her business becomes successful, then her employees will be burdened as she was if they want to leave. The system is flawed and needs to be fixed because it limits individual choices. We should begin our search for a solution from that starting point. Changing our treatment of health insurance to resemble other decisions individuals make for themselves independent of how they earn income is a possible solution Mr. Yglesias ignores.

The general theme within Mr. Yglesias’ framing appears to be a push for equality of outcome rather than equality of treatment. Equality of outcome will never happen in practice for precisely the reasons that his proposed solutions are possible in America. The political atmosphere makes it possible to treat others “more equal” by pitting one group against another, with the politicians conveniently acting as final arbiter. Endorsing that system is at least an implicit statement that control is fine as long as you are the one in control. It’s either that, or the person proposing such a statement is ignorant. I don’t think Mr. Yglesias is ignorant.

1 I will ignore the issue of affordability here. Such a subjective word requires a much deeper analysis, including the trade-offs, that I’m not interested in addressing in this post. Let it suffice that Mr. Yglesias and I probably agree very little on the matter.

Gordon Gekko is a caricature.

I don’t want to rehash liber-al-terianism again because I think the recent discussions in the blogosphere reached a reasonable conclusion that liber-al-terianism is designed more to clean the libertarian house and convert liberals to a more effective approach to our (perceived-to-be) common goals. I firmly endorse that. But after reading this entry from Matt Yglesias, I’m reminded of one reason why I think the latter goal is forever doomed to failure.

… the more it looks like a huge swathe of the big money game was just an elaborate fraud, the more an undercurrent of respect for the very boldness and criminality of Madoff’s fraud comes through. He plead guilty in a court of law, while the architects of Citibank’s bankruptcy remain wildly wealthier than the average American—people who no doubt would be completely competent to destroy a major business as well as anyone else—slinking around somewhere and various finance types skulk around the streets of New York feeling sorry for themselves because congress might screw around with their bonuses.

If one of the more prominent liberal voices in America believes that Madoff’s fraud is comparable to the financial sector’s problems, there is no common ground to share. There is no liberal receptivity to libertarian ideas. Liberals think libertarians hold up failed corporate executives who run to the government for welfare as Randian heroes, so witnessing them be wrong on multiple issues shouldn’t surprise.

Nor does this give me hope if we could find such ground (emphasis added):

… On the one hand you have people basically inclined toward Hiltzik’s that a lot of the people making the big bucks for the past 10 years are basically scammers who lucked into the ability to siphon tons of money out of the economy without really doing anything useful or valuable, and between people who think that they’re genuinely smart hard-working people who just happen to deserve to pay somewhat more in income taxes than they currently do.

Under our current tax system, there are people who should pay more. They are the people who receive more in services than they pay in taxes. That is unfairness and inequality in our system. We should remove such welfare for those who don’t truly need it.

But that’s not what he means. The highest earners – who already pay most of the income taxes in America – deserve to pay “somewhat” more. He never states why someone who already pays a higher percentage of her income than most deserves to pay more, so I’ll infer. As he states in another post:

If you think of a talented and ambitious businessman, after all, you have to remember that you’re talking about a guy who, unlike normal people, mainly focuses his life on earning as much money as possible. That’s a weird state of mind in many ways. …

Teachers, janitors, steel workers, cab drivers, engineers, waitresses, and journalists, those are the noble people who are interested in how they serve, not how much they make? They’re so noble they’d turn down a higher wage?

Until liberals understand that subjective economic factors and outcomes are relevant only to the parties involved, I’ll see liberals as little more than central planner wannabes. They’re roadblocks. The current political power structure in America offers no incentive for cooperation. Liberals won’t bother, so libertarians shouldn’t waste the effort.

On Widespread Gender-Based Double Standards

One more story for today that draws a parallel to the gender-bias in child genital cutting in America. (Note: The names of the minors should be redacted, but they’re obviously known, so I’m leaving them in the excerpt.)

Alan Jepsen was playing videogames at his home in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, when the cops came knocking on his door. He was handcuffed in front of his sister and thrown in jail. In the words of his attorney, Jeffrey Purnell, “This child, this 17-year-old high-school kid, had to spend a week in jail—they locked him up and they put him in jail with grown-ups.”

His crime: Having sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend. And, perhaps, being a boy.

The day after Alan’s arrest, Sheboygan authorities arrested Norma Guthrie, also 17, for having sex with her 14-year-old boyfriend. Norma, however, did not have to spend a single day in jail. She was released immediately, on signature bond, while Alan was held on a $1,000 cash bond, which his family could not afford. Sheboygan County Assistant District Attorney Jim Haasch is handling both cases.

The disparity in the punishment of these 17-year-olds, both accused of having sex with the 14-year-olds they were dating, goes much deeper. Haasch charged Alan with a Class C felony, which, according to court records obtained by The Daily Beast, carries a maximum prison sentence of 40 years. Norma, on the other hand, was charged only with a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of nine months in jail.

If the facts are as they appear, this is despicable. And entirely predictable. Males are viewed as possessing endless sexual appetities. Females are viewed as sexual victims. The typical defense of the non-existent ethical distinction between genital cutting on male and female minors rests solely on the mistaken notion that female genital cutting is strictly designed to limit the female’s sexuality, if not destroy it completely. (And imposed by women, even when it isn’t.) For males, we pretend that potential medical benefits dismiss the same ethical issues involved in female genital cutting because parents say their intentions are good. Anyway, we’re told, males enjoy sex more than enough, and genital cutting doesn’t affect male sexual experience. And if it does, although it doesn’t, that’s exclusively a good thing, except removing nerve endings couldn’t possibly alter sexual experience, so why are you worried?

Here’s an example:

Between 2002 and 2003, Turkish scientists studied how circumcision influences male sexual functions. They only studied men who were circumcised for aesthetic or religious reasons. The average age of those surveyed was 22.3 years old, and their sexual functions were equal before and after circumcision. After the survey was carried out, scientists concluded that circumcising grown men does not negatively effect their sexual functions. On the contrary, the fact that it causes a delay in ejaculation is more of an advantage than a complication.

Circumcision affects sexual function. It delays orgasm, which is an objective claim. Whether or not that is positive or negative is subjective to the individual, yet it’s treated as an objective finding. It’s not stated here, but most commonly the argument relies on some defense that women prefer this outcome, so it is good. (Check virtually any propaganda by Brian Morris or Edgar Schoen.)

If a man likes large breasts, he does not have the right to impose breast augmentation on his daughter to achieve this positive outcome. We understand that, of course, because it involves controlling a female’s sexuality. But we embrace a double standard when the roles are reversed, even though the ethical issue is the same. We must not deviate from the belief that men are predators and women are delicate flowers. So, no, I’m not surprised that there is a double standard involving prosecution of these two Wisconsin teens.

Original link via Radley Balko.

New Jersey Worries About Body Hair Removal

I’ve seen this story floating around for a few days, from multiple sources.

Things could get hairy in New Jersey this summer for women who sport revealing bikinis or a little bit less.

The painful Brazilian wax and its intimate derivatives are in danger of being stripped from salon and spa menus if a recent proposal to ban genital waxing is passed by the state’s Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling.

Before I get into my brief take, I’ll stress what I think explains this, which is what Brad Warbiany pointed out at The Liberty Papers:

[Cherry Hill, New Jersey salon owner Linda] Orsuto said that the proposal may be the state’s way of diverting a long-established salon procedure “perfected by aestheticians” to the medical community, where hair can be removed via laser treatment by dermatologists.

As Mr. Warbiany stated perfectly:

Follow the lobbying money.

Those four words explain most government actions, no?


My take: If this passes, it will be illegal in New Jersey for a woman to have her pubic hair waxed from her genitals, but she will still be free to have her son’s healthy foreskin surgically removed for any reason she can imagine. We have a long way to go before people understand individual liberty.

Check Your Premises

From England:

It took a death threat to stop Abdi’s wife from circumcising their two daughters, aged 2 and 4. She called him from Somalia while on holiday to say she wanted to carry out the procedure.

Abdi, a London-based Somali, said that his wife’s eagerness to circumcise their daughters was fuelled by a combination of religious, cultural and tribal pressures placed on her after she took the girls to Somalia for a brief summer break last year.

But he refused to be swayed, despite his wife’s argument that the girls would improve their chances of attracting a good husband because they would be perceived as being more traditional and pure.

First, notice the third paragraph. I can’t and won’t begin a detailed analysis because it would be speculation, but the information there suggests that this reasoning is at most a difference of degree between this and what Western parents often choose for their sons. The focus is on how to make the child more attractive to a future partner, not what the child needs. Attempt to build a defense of infant male circumcision on the grounds of potential benefits, but ultimately this reasoning must make no distinction between those alleged-but-not-really medical reasons and the nonsense that what the child’s future sexual partners might want is relevant to what to do to his genitals. The whole notion is absurd.

Second, this one example proves nothing. However, it demonstrates that those who perpetuate the belief that female genital cutting is exclusively perpetuated by men are mistaken. At some point we have to lay down our agenda of blame and figure out how to stop these violations. I suspect the desire to blame is responsible for much of the inability to see the similarities between male and female genital cutting. Medically unnecessary genital cutting on a non-consenting person is unethical. That is a statement of principle free from the ramifications of gender-specific reasoning and outcomes. It considers only the victim. That’s what matters.

Public Health Officials Always Know Their Conclusion

Stories like this warrant mentioning because the hypocrisy isn’t going away:

Suriname has launched a three-month pilot project offering free circumcisions in a bid to cut sexually transmitted diseases, Health Minister Celsius Waterberg said Friday.

Some two percent of the Suriname population is HIV-infected, about 10,000 people, and the project aims to carry out the operations on 100 men aged between four and 21 years old over the next three months.

How many four-year-old men do you know? When public health officials discuss the potential reduction in HIV risk from voluntary, adult male circumcision, they always forget voluntary and adult. Always.

If successful then the project will spread nationwide, Waterberg said.

This circumcision program seeks to reduce sexually-transmitted HIV infection because three studies determined that (voluntary, adult) circumcision reduces the risk of female-to-male HIV infection through vaginal intercourse. By what standards do you think the program’s coordinators will use to judge the program successful in reducing HIV transmission among the four-year-olds? When will they reach their conclusion?

On Ross Douthat Joining the New York Times

The Atlantic’s Ross Douthat is the new conservative columnist for The New York Times. I haven’t read enough of his work to suggest that this is unwarranted. And he is, in fact, a talented writer. It’s just that I’ve been unimpressed with his thinking whenever I’ve encountered it. He shows very little interest in liberty or constructing a government that respects the interests of those with whom he disagrees.

In this entry from early last year, I criticized Mr. Douthat’s thinking on two topics, prostitution and infant circumcision. His position in both cases was objectively weak, at best. I’ll leave you to follow the link for my challenge to his views on prostitution. Here, I’d like to repost what I wrote in response to his tongue-in-cheek-yet-mind-numbingly-stupid view on infant circumcision.


Of course, since it’s apparently okay to ask questions unrelated to the topic, let me ask a question: Why is it automatically self-harm worthy of prohibition for an individual to sell sex, even when it’s voluntarily sold, yet it’s reasonable to permit parents to surgically alter the genitals of their healthy sons – who may or may not approve of such permanent, physical alteration – as Mr. Douthat suggested last year in defense of infant circumcision?

The answer to how one person can hold two incongruent opinions rather obviously rests in a willingness to use personal, subjective tastes and preferences to inform the legal code of a diverse, secular, civil society. It’s the same central planner impulse that resides in every individual who seeks to dictate which freedoms are abhorrent.

Since I’m off on the tangent, in that entry, Mr. Douthat states:

Proponents, like myself, point out that even saying the word smegma is really disgusting. Again, I think we pretty much win the debate right there, without even getting into the whole HIV question.

I get the tongue-in-cheek nature of the comment, whether he meant it or not. I think he did because I think he views circumcision as inconsequential. (Remember subjective tastes and preferences?) But any understanding of human biology demonstrates the stupidity of such an argument. Female genitals produce smegma, as well. We do not cut female minors for that reason. Or, more to the point, we do not permit parents to cut their daughters just because they, the parents, are disgusted by the mere mention of the word. We manage to find the correct reasoning to prohibit that. But for males, parents can use only the mere mention of smegma as an excuse to cut. Or they can reject even that reason and order it because it’s fun to check “yes” on the consent form. The law is based on our conditioned beliefs rather than facts.


This wasn’t in my original response, but it warrants a comment in light of the weight Mr. Douthat’s opinions will now receive because he is a columnist for The New York Times. From his entry on circumcision (emphasis in original):

… I believe I have the weight of the American experience on my side when I say that any such dampening [of sexual pleasure] would have to be extremely negligible.

He proves that he can’t possibly know this from experience with his next sentence:

All of which is to say that I’m gratified that my parents took it upon themselves to have a procedure performed on my infant self …

Without any sexual experience with his foreskin, he knows it’s “extremely negligible”. How? “I have experience with one side of the debate, so I am an expert on both sides of the debate” is not a sign of a great thinker. It is a sign of a mind interested in selecting the necessary facts to reach a desired, self-centered conclusion. I’m unimpressed.

Limited Government Is Less Prone To This Flaw

I’m trying to figure out a way to criticize Michael Gerson’s column in yesterday’s Washington Post that properly registers the obliviousness to the contradictions of his protests. If I spent enough time to develop something pithy, it would be scathing. Instead, I’ll jump into his opening paragraphs:

There is a common thread running through President Obama’s pro-choice agenda: the coercion of those who disagree with it.

Obama has begun providing federal funds for international groups that promote or perform abortions overseas. He has moved to weaken conscience protections for health-care professionals. And he has chosen the most radical possible option on the use of embryonic stem cells — a free license for researchers, with boundaries set only by the National Institutes of Health.

So, when the president wants to use public funds to pay for abortion, we must think of those who disagree with abortion. But when the president wants to direct public funds to faith-based organizations, Gerson misses the flaw. When the president wants to direct public funds to pay for circumcising healthy African infant males, Gerson misses the flaw. What’s good to Michael Gerson is apparently all that’s good, and you should pay for it, too. But how dare you not place limits on government for issues that he opposes.

Michael Gerson is a hypocrite.


LINK: From the April issue of reason, Matt Welch addresses the ongoing topic of “liberalterianism” and how it’s doomed. The heart of his argument, which I agree with completely:

It is certainly no surprise that any party, let alone the Democrats, would want to use that fancy government once it held the awesome reins of power. Unified Republican governance this decade should disabuse even the most gullible from the notion that either of our two major parties is ever going to enact a small-government agenda, especially during a perceived crisis. But already during Obama’s first 100 days we’ve seen how quickly liberals will turn against libertarians once they’re no longer swinging at the same piñata.

Small-l libertarians will never find sufficient common ground with anyone interested in maintaining partisanship at the expense of ideas.

LINK: Also from reason Ronald Bailey discusses a free market approach to health care coverage proposed by University of Chicago economist John Cochrane.

So how does health-status insurance work? As Cochrane explains, “Market-based lifetime health insurance has two components: medical insurance and health-status insurance. Medical insurance covers your medical expenses in the current year, minus deductibles and copayments. Health-status insurance covers the risk that your medical premiums will rise.” Cochrane offers the example of a 25-year-old who will likely incur $2,000 in medical expenses in a year. His medical policy component would thus cost about $2,000 per year, plus administrative fees and profit. For purposes of illustration, Cochrane then assumes the 25-year-old has a 1 percent risk of developing a chronic medical condition that would increase his average medical expenses to $10,000 per year. In that case, he would be able to buy medical insurance for $10,000 per year—which is a big financial hit. That’s where health-status insurance comes in: It insures that you can be insured in the future.

I’m not fully convinced that this would work, but I’m not unconvinced, either. I don’t know enough. However, the idea seems to be based in personal responsibility. Life is unfair, so some of us get sick. There are costs involved. It’s unfortunate if medical costs cause financial distress. We should mitigate that, but provide individuals the options to do that for themselves. That is the right approach.

Mr. Cochrane also discusses how his plan would help separate health insurance from employer provision. That will be a feature of any responsible health care reform. (Transferring the incentive from employer to government does not qualify as that type of responsible reform.)

LINK: Harold Meyerson is an incurious propagandist:

But in the United States, conservatives have never bashed socialism because its specter was actually stalking America. Rather, they’ve wielded the cudgel against such progressive reforms as free universal education, the minimum wage or tighter financial regulations. Their signal success is to have kept the United States free from the taint of universal health care. The result: We have the world’s highest health-care costs, borne by businesses and employees that cannot afford them; nearly 50 million Americans have no coverage; infant mortality rates are higher than those in 41 nations — but at least (phew!) we don’t have socialized medicine.

Universal education is not “free”. The minimum wage costs jobs. Financial regulations overlooked obvious warnings of Bernie Madoff. “Nearly 50 million” uninsured is not true. Infant mortality is more complex than a quick comparison can demonstrate.

He also wrote this, so it’s clear that he’s interested in his narrative more than facts.

Take it from a democratic socialist: Laissez-faire American capitalism is about to be supplanted not by socialism but by a more regulated, viable capitalism. And the reason isn’t that the woods are full of secret socialists who are only now outing themselves.

We do not have laissez-faire capitalism. No amount of stating preferred explanations will make them true.

LINK: Steven Pearlstein defends President Obama’s budget in a way I don’t fully understand.

In the meantime, the federal government is one of the few entities that is still able to borrow in the current environment, and given the perceived safety of buying government bonds, the cost of that borrowing is about as low as it has ever been. From a purely cash-flow point of view, substituting 18 percent credit card debt with 3 percent Treasury bond debt is a positive development for the grandchildren.

The 18 percent credit card debt makes no sense here. Government borrowing isn’t replacing that. And my hypothetical grandchildren do not have any debt right now. Adding more, even at 3 percent, is hardly a positive development for them. The administration intends to grow the debt, not refinance it.

Refinancing costs are relevant, too. If the so-called positive development of new debt at 3 percent interest helps us, what will this new debt look like at 4, 5, or more percent when interest rates rise, as they will? Maintaining the apparently-permanent interest payments is a cost.

He continues with a bit about how infrastructure creates lasting economic value without defending it. Would the Bridge to Nowhere have justified its cost? Doesn’t matter, it seems. He reassures:

Strange as it may sound, there are times when it’s necessary to make things worse in order to make them better. Fighting a war to achieve a lasting peace. Making a patient sick to cure his cancer with radiation or chemotherapy. And, yes, taking on more debt to help get the country out of a debt-induced recession.

Unlike chemotherapy, where doctors eventually stop dosing a patient, what evidence do we have that politicians will ever believe we’ve reached the “ideal time for the government to deleverage and put its financial house in order”? The new deficit spending is permanent. The only open question once the budget passes is who will pay for it. Right now, the answer is “the rich” and the Chinese. Eventually, it will be the middle class, including all of our grandchildren.

LINK: Wanting an iPhone does not mean a consumer is entitled to an iPhone with the carrier of his choice.

The Consumers Union, the New America Foundation, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as software provider Mozilla and small wireless carriers MetroPCS (PCS) and Leap Wireless International (LEAP), are lining up in opposition not only to the Apple-AT&T partnership, but to all manner of arrangements whereby mobile phones are tethered exclusively to a single wireless service provider.

Apparently a voluntary contract between two parties means nothing if it means a consumer has to then make a choice that she doesn’t like. I want an iPhone with Sprint, but I can’t get it. My response is to decide which has more value and act accordingly, not whine to the government.

More Consumers Union nonsense here and here.

Individual Incentives Can Be Skewed

When I wrote about comparative effectiveness research, I focused on the merits of including funding in the deficit spending bill as a path to more socialized health care. I haven’t changed my opinion on that, but it’s worth noting that the idea behind this research is reasonable. Do our interventions produce results?

Following that, here’s an interesting analysis of comparative effectiveness research that focuses on the relevant issues (link via Kevin, M.D.). The analysis contains useful examples, and is worth reading. I don’t think we’ll get what we expect from the newly-funded research unless we expect more decision-making power handed to bureaucrats. Still, the idea behind comparative effectiveness research is reasonable.

But the more useful, immediate discussion is this:

Here’s where things get dicey. A chief medical officer I know was once discussing unnecessary procedures in his healthcare system. In a rare moment of unvarnished truthtelling, one of his procedural specialists told him, “I make my living off unnecessary procedures.” Even if we stick to the correct side of the ethical fault line, doctors and companies inevitably believe in their technologies and products, making it tricky to get them to willingly lay down their arms. …

You can probably figure out that I’m going to discuss this in the context of infant circumcision. First, let me make this clear, in case anyone’s missed me saying it previously: I do not believe there is a conspiracy to circumcise infant males. It is a common, actively-pursued goal, but it does not fit the nefarious intent behind a conspiracy.

That does not mean that individual doctors are immune to the undeniable point that genital surgery is not indicated for most infant males. The ethical claim is impregnable to excuses based in cultural and moral relativism. What incentive does a doctor like Dr. Neil Pollock have to begin deferring to his patients’ needs rather than his own?

Dr. Neil Pollock, who performs about 2,500 infant circumcisions annually in Metro Vancouver, travelled to Rwanda in December to teach his circumcision method to local surgeons.

Pollock is hopeful that the painless [ed. note: Even if true, the ethical claim must win out.] nature of his technique, which takes less than a minute to perform, will persuade many Rwandan parents to consider circumcision for their infants.

Once again: When public health officials discuss the potential reduction in HIV risk from voluntary, adult male circumcision, they always forget voluntary and adult. Always.

Looking at comparative effectiveness research, Dr. Pollock is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, outside the realm of the deficit spending bill’s reach. He’s good anecdotal evidence, though, because he shows what it means to be uninterested in placing your patient’s needs and rights first. He’s built a practice around performing more than 12 infant circumcisions per business day. Will he readily give that up, since he’s so clearly invested in continuing the involuntary procedure?

Of course, the conclusion on infant circumcision is already in. Here’s what the Canadian Pediatric Society says about routine infant circumcision:

Recommendation: Circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed.

I see no reason to believe there will be any difference in the US. Most American doctors already ignore the ethical case for protecting the rights of infant males. There are people invested in perpetuating the imposition of unnecessary genital cutting. No government study is going to change that.