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.


LINK: Think government manipulation of intervention in the economy is good? Read George Will’s latest column. (H/t: Cafe Hayek)

LINK: Jim Harper has an entry on Cato @ Liberty discussing President Obama’s pledge to post all bills for 5 days of public comment before signing them. Mr. Harper reviews the steps the administration has taken and offers a positive review of the idea, although he correctly criticizes the administration for playing loosely with the 5 day timeline.

I agree with that in principle, but that’s not my concern here. The deficit spending bill mistakenly labeled The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is now online for public comment. I thought about adding comments, but why? I’m realistic enough to understand that what I say will not matter. It will not matter how many people comment against it, this is a done deal. The five days concept as implemented is worthless political propaganda. Honestly, if members of Congress can’t be bothered to read the bill, yet they’ll happily vote by party line, they don’t care what the American people think. They’re trading favors for power. The game hasn’t changed. So, wake me when this fails and tell me what the next stupid idea is.

LINK: I reject non-therapeutic infant circumcision because it is logically and ethically unacceptable. I question the science surrounding claims, particularly those involving HIV risk reduction, because there are obvious holes in the argument. However, unlike (too) many activists, I have no problem with vaccines. I think the logical and ethical arguments differ, and I don’t believe in conspiracy theories about Big Pharma. And from what I’ve read, the autism-vaccine link appears weak, at best. This report seems to confirm that (link via Kevin, MD):

THE doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found.

I would use this as a lesson for everyone who thinks that a claimed HIV risk reduction for (adult, voluntary) male circumcision need to be concerned about the long-term reality of their idea. I think we will eventually look back on the HIV-foreskin connection and realize the mistakes in the studies. But I do not approach the topic from that angle. I don’t need it, of course. I can concede the point for the argument and rely on ethics and objective indications of health and easier methods prevention.

For now, it’s too late anyway. The link has gained widespread acceptance because people want to believe it, regardless of facts or reasonable caution. The mindset is the same, as this excerpt from Orac’s post at Respectful Insolence suggests. (I read the post, but there’s too much to parse easily, so I’m using the summary pulled by Kevin, MD.)

“None of this will matter to antivaccinationists,” he writes, “who view Wakefield as . . . a persecuted scientific hero . . . I’m sure that [anti-vaccine proponents] will wax ridiculous about what a great doctor and man Wakefield is and how it’s big pharma and its minions who, frightened by the implications of Wakefield’s work, are working hard to demonize him and suppress his ‘science.'”

When emotion precedes logic in an objective debate, reason is lost. That would be unfortunate but defensible if it only affected the decision maker. It does not. The individual fears of parents results in poorly conceived decisions for children. Vaccinate but circumcise. Don’t vaccinate and don’t circumcise. Neither combination is justifiable when weighing the evidence with logic and ethics.

LINK: To lighten things up just a bit, will the Mets never learn?

“Whatever they did last year, they already got paid,” [Francisco] Rodriguez told the New York Daily News. Whatever they did, I have all the respect in the world. They worked hard and they deserve it. This is a different year and different ballclubs now. I don’t want to make any controversy, but with me and (J.J.) Putz and the additions in the bullpen, I feel like now we are the team to beat.”

K-Rod should ask Carlos Beltran how that worked out last year. However, I love this rivalry.

Linkfest – Stimulus Edition

I stole introduced the idea of a linkfest several months ago and then promptly abandoned it for no valid reason other than laziness. That was dumb; my aggregator is out of control. So here we go again.

LINK: I’m on record as opposing any stimulus package that Congress will inevitably pass. With that out of the way, almost any opportunity for politicians to grab power via an ever-expanding government will pass. If we’re getting a waste of money shoved down our throats, it might as well be something good. I’d argue for tax reform mislabeled as stimulus. Not targeted tax cuts, not tax credits, not gimmicks. Real reform should address two goals: simplifying and flattening the tax code. It took us a long time to put ourselves in this precarious position. We will be undoing this mess for a long time. Any plan that pretends there’s a quick fix will cost us more than the superficial appearance of improvement we will claim.

That’s not what will happen, so I’m left to judge the merits of proposals like this from a Seattle small business owner:

A better choice would be something Americans are likely to spend, and without huge logistical headaches: a gift card. By sending every taxpayer a $2,000 debit card, the government stimulates spending directly. The card doesn’t get deposited with a bank, a step that greatly reduced the use of last year’s rebate checks for new spending, and with a defined expiration time, perhaps a year, the program could help precisely while other programs get underway.

In the context of bad ideas, it’s less bad. But then it leads to the appearance of sanity, or worse, as the author’s conclusion suggests:

I would be grateful for such a card, and I imagine that the owners of any of my remaining local restaurants would be as proud to receive such a card as I would be to use it.

I would feel a lot things if that idea comes to fruition, but pride would not be on the list.

For a better perspective, economist Jeffrey Miron outlines a smart stimulus reform plan.

LINK: I didn’t blog about President Obama’s inaugural address because I was apathetic. Still, his speech made me angry because he tried to marginalize anyone who would challenge the idea of a Dear Leader. I will never apologize for staking out a principle when challenged by what is popular. Fifty-percent-plus-one is not the same as winning the debate. So, in place of what I would’ve expressed several weeks ago, I’ll point you to Will Wilkinson’s essay, “We need cynics:

“Trash the cynic” is a stock tactic of popular politicians, used to weaken remaining resistance to their agenda. The admiring public gets a warm sense of cohesive uplift while the loyal opposition is cast in an unflattering light: outmoded, small-spirited, irrelevant. Those who would argue are made to look petty—whether or not they have a good point. Obama is a master of this game. And George W. Bush was no slouch when he, too, had a gale of popular opinion at his back and a mandate to “do something” in a season of crisis.

I started as a skeptic. I’ve always believed in the right of the individual to his liberty. Government could not legitimately revoke that liberty, and even its good intentions ended in damage. But experience with government turned me into a cynic. Government is, at best, oblivious to unintended negative consequences or complaints about intended preferential consequences. What is obvious is dismissed, often in the way Obama sought to marginalize opposition. As Mr. Wilkinson states:

One needn’t be a “cynic” to be wary of surging popular passions or unchecked executive power. This caution is built into our Constitution. The American system of government was designed to moderate ambition and thwart big plans. Checks and balances do embody skepticism of unregulated power, but that skepticism is the soul of good government, not its nemesis. Yes, the bottlenecks in the system aggravate crusading popular presidents, which is why so many have chipped away at their constraints. That’s why the system no longer checks nor balances as it should. That’s why Obama entered the Oval Office with unprecedented executive power.

LINK: Demonstrating concisely why I’m a cynic on the craptacular stimulus idea in general and President Obama’s fear-mongering in particular, Mr. Wilkinson delivers a line that explains how spending solves a debt problem. I wish I’d written it.

This may seem a bit like dumping gas on a person on fire so that they can more easily burn through the wall standing between them and the lake.

The rest of his blog entry is worth reading.

Introducing an idea I stole from everyone else.

Danielle once heard someone say that the next thing to come back in style would be something we’ve never seen before. This is not that, because you have seen it before. Almost every blogger has adopted a link-filled post of quick hits to fill in the spaces. Those resting outside of “almost” include me. No longer! Today, I’m stealing copying from everyone else. It’s just links I’ve found that interest me, but either I don’t have time or enough to say to write a full post.

LINK: The only political idea worse than Hillary Clinton at State is for New York Gov. David Paterson to give Bill Clinton the soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat. I’m not interested in occupying Bill Clinton “full time, with senatorial duties” because he can’t keep his mouth or his zipper closed. If “today’s unusual circumstances, surely beyond the imagination of any novelist” are so important, why would we want a preening megalomaniac drawing attention away from those already in place?

On second thought, maybe it’s not a terrible idea… Gridlock from egos, not from political parties? It could work.

LINK: With the inevitable “the bailout was about this before it was about that” we’re currently learning, Arnold Kling offers a succinct analysis:

I think it is important to understand the theory [that government should insure toxic assets rather than throw money around], if for no other reason than to understand the limits of the “root of the problem” approach.

Right. The government claims to understand what’s going on. Ask every politician. His favorite target is to blame. But we’re just throwing money around. How many more decades of that do we need to try before we learn that government usually creates problems with its solutions?

LINK: Julian Sanchez writes about anti-benchmarking and EULAs at Law & Disorder. His analysis that discussing a product’s performance is interesting, but I particularly the entry, and this statement specifically, in the context of my recent post on insider trading:

Throttling the flow of information just makes markets less efficient.

There are more nuances to both topics than a simple slogan could convey, but that is the starting point, not demonization of the users of information the government likes to push.

LINK: Greg Mankiw reminds us that incentives matter when you use qualifiers to any policy, in this case President-elect Obama’s call to end subsidies to farmers who make more than $2.5 million per year:

But why would you want to use taxpayer funds to encourage large, efficient, profitable farms to break up into smaller, less efficient, less profitable farms? Isn’t that precisely what you do if you maintain subsidies only for small farmers?

My own question: Is that earns $2.5 million in profits or generates $2.5 million in revenue? The difference in productivity could matter.

LINK: Bob Torres has a thought-provoking argument in favor of certain, limited animal rights. He makes a compelling case¹ using reason that knows where the boundary between logic and nonsense exists. This is the excellently stated foundation:

When it comes down to it, the case for animal rights is really a case for adopting a thorough moral and ethical stance in favor of treating like cases alike.

Dedicated readers of this blog know that I advocate exactly that in expecting equal protection of male and female children from unnecessary genital surgery². Mr. Torres explains the approach to principle quickly and directly. “Potential benefits”, whether from eating animals or modifying children, is not a principle.

If we applied a standard of “treating like cases alike” to animals in our society, we’d probably end up at something akin to the humanely-raised meat on a mass scale that is a niche industry in the U.S. Of course that’s better than the disgusting factory farm mess we’ve developed, but it’s little different than saying it’s okay to remove foreskins as long as we provide pain control techniques. Nope, sorry, that misses the point. For animals, cutting short a better life is an improvement over cutting short a miserable life, but the killing still matters.

¹ My only criticism is the aside about externalities caused by capitalist industrial production. It’s too blunt. For example, externalities exist when producing the computers we use to have this debate. Who should pay for this? Will the solution solve the problem? Capitalists understand this at least as well as the politicians who propose clumsy solutions catered more often to feel-good policies than to common sense. (i.e. Cap and Trade vs. Pigou Tax) A capitalist rejecting the existence of an externality, a common occurrence, is no worse than a politician who thinks we need to stop progress to prevent the smallest externality.

² You didn’t think I’d finish my first linkfest without a genital mutilation reference, did you?