Current Affairs

From the comments

by on April 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm in Current Affairs, Law, Medicine | Permalink

This is from John B. Chilton:

For those who don’t click through this is what Tyler wrote:

“6. The exchanges will be mostly working by March 2014, but by then the risk pool will be dysfunctional. In the meantime, real net prices will creep up, if only through implicit rationing and restrictions on provider networks. The Obama administration will attempt to address this problem — unsuccessfully — through additional regulation.”

The simple answer to Christian’s query (“I’m curious how you stand now given current enrollment numbers and your previous prediction about a dysfunctional exchange.”) is that it’s not the enrollment numbers that matter, it’s the risk pool.

The jury’s out on the risk pool — lots of opinions out there on whether exchange premiums will go up for 2015.

Here is Ross Douthat on how will we know if Obamacare is working?  It is the best post on this debate so far.  He closes with this:

I’ll lay down this marker for the future: If, in 2023, the uninsured rate is where the C.B.O. currently projects or lower, health inflation’s five-year average is running below the post-World War II norm, and the trend in the age-adjusted mortality rate shows a positive alteration starting right about now, I will write a post (or send out a Singularity-wide transmission, maybe) entitled “I Was Wrong About Obamacare” — or, if he prefers, just “Ezra Klein Was Right.”

From an excellent column by Wolfgang Münchau:

The reason Greece was able to attract so much interest in last week’s bond issue was a combination of the promise of a high yield and the maturity profile of existing Greek debt. Official loans – from eurozone member states and the International Monetary Fund – make up 80 per cent of the total debt. Greece will not start to repay this until 2023. In other words the country is solvent in the short run. But long-run solvency is far from certain.

The rest of the FT piece is here.  He suggests (without advocating it) that this could be the moment for Greece to default.

Michael Ben-Gad, a professor at London’s City University who has studied the credibility of long-term promises by governments, questions whether Nato’s commitment to collective defence is absolute and asks what would happen if Russia’s border guards crossed the bridge that separates Narva from Ivangorod and took the Estonian town.

“Would the US and western Europe really go to war to defend the territorial integrity of Estonia? I think Estonia has reasons to worry. Narva is the most obvious place; it is almost completely Russian-speaking,” he says.

More than 82 per cent of Narva’s residents are ethnic Russians and 4 per cent are ethnic Estonians. More than a third have Russian citizenship.

Here is the FT article, here are photos of Narva.  Here is a map of Narva:

Narva_in_Estonia

From a Gideon Rachman FT blog post, this is still my view as well:

1. As Kerin Hope, our Athens correspondent, makes clear in a fine post – the political situation in Greece is arguably deteriorating, rather than improving. What is true for Greece is true for Europe as a whole. The European parliamentary elections in May are likely to yield quite shocking results – with the rise of far-right and far-left parties in core countries, such as France. This could be destabilising, to put it mildly.

2. As I argued in a recent column, the real economy in important countries such as Italy is still in very bad shape.

3. The euro has been saved – for now. But the underlying structural problems of a common currency that is not backed by a political union are still unresolved. And not much closer to resolution, either.

None of that means that it is necessarily irrational to make a short-term bet on Europe. But anybody who thinks the euro-story is over, is likely to get a nasty shock at some stage.

I would again stress the point that the economics of the eurozone crisis are entirely solvable (though unpleasant).  It is managing the politics of so many disparate nations that makes it tricky, and it is not obvious whether this dimension of the problem truly has been solved.  And on the economics side, the eurozone is encountering deflation risk, and arguably the main problems are moving from the periphery to France and Italy.  If you don’t think Italy can resume normal economic growth anytime soon, it is not clear how any of the plans are supposed to end up working.

Here is a good analysis of the new Greek bond deal.

I would like this post and its comments to be a useful resource for people looking to read about Modi’s economic policies, whether from the past in Gujarat or for his likely future in a national leadership post.

Please do offer your suggestions for reading, or put forward your own insights, economics and analytics only.  If you are simply offering your opinion about Indian politics, or non-economic aspects of Modi, which occasion all sorts of non-factual emotional reactions, we will delete your comment in the interests of making the section useful and focused overall.

I thank you all in advance for contributing to this resource.

We found that only one out of six Americans can find Ukraine on a map, and that this lack of knowledge is related to preferences: The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S.  to intervene with military force.

…the median respondent was about 1,800 miles off — roughly the distance from Chicago to Los Angeles — locating Ukraine somewhere in an area bordered by Portugal on the west, Sudan on the south, Kazakhstan on the east, and Finland on the north.

That is from Monkey Cage, there is more here.  The guesses look like this:

Ukraine_Full-1024x535

For points I thank Kevin Lewis and Samir Varma.

Vox is up!

by on April 6, 2014 at 8:40 pm in Current Affairs, Education, History, Web/Tech | Permalink

You will find the introductory video here.

Here is an explainer for Game of Thrones.

Here is Ezra on how politics makes us stupid.

Those two articles are very good, and “work” in the intended manner.  Here is the regular home page www.vox.com.

Is it possible their real competition is Coursera?

The Supreme Court just voted to eliminate aggregate contribution limits, here is David’s response:

The McCutcheon decision is a rare win for the parties. It enables party establishments to claw back some of the power that has flowed to donors and “super PACs.” It effectively raises the limits on what party establishments can solicit. It gives party leaders the chance to form joint fund-raising committees they can use to marshal large pools of cash and influence. McCutcheon is a small step back toward a party-centric system.

In their book “Better Parties, Better Government,” Peter J. Wallison and Joel M. Gora propose the best way to reform campaign finance: eliminate the restrictions on political parties to finance the campaigns of their candidates; loosen the limitations on giving to parties; keep the limits on giving to PACs.

Parties are not perfect, Lord knows. But they have broad national outlooks. They foster coalition thinking. They are relatively transparent. They are accountable to voters. They ally with special interests, but they transcend the influence of any one. Strengthened parties will make races more competitive and democracy more legitimate. Strong parties mobilize volunteers and activists and broaden political participation. Unlike super PACs, parties welcome large numbers of people into the political process.

There is more here.  Ray LaRaja makes related points here.

Andrew Sullivan argues Eich should not have been forced to resign from Mozilla for his anti-gay marriage donations, combined with his unwillingness to recant his position.  As a supporter of gay marriage (as of course Sullivan is too), I very much agree.  Like Sullivan, I see such such ideological witch hunts as unjust, counterproductive, and stifling of free discourse.

I see some further economic angles to this dispute.

First, it implies the market share of browsers is fairly arbitrary, and highly subject to potential consumer rebellion.  I can think of other businessmen who have alienated parts of the American public through their political stances, but still their products are bought and there is little talk of deposing them from their leadership roles.  Free products seem especially vulnerable to fluctuations in corporate image, in part because no product has a durable edge on price.  Since more of our economy seems headed in the direction of “free to consumers for direct use,” we might want to start thinking about this tendency a little more carefully and cautiously.  Charging people a positive price liberates you to be less conformist, at least provided you fare well in market competition.

Second, ambitious young people just got more boring.  It wasn’t long ago that opposition to gay marriage was the mainstream position in American society and of course in many places it still is.

Third, let’s say that “recantation” is becoming more important and more potent as a defense mechanism against charges (I’m not sure this is generally true, but it does seem to be true in the Eich case).  That will make people more likely to express their eccentricities in youthful bursts, rather than as a consistent pattern of donations or support over many years.  Consistent support over time is harder to recant, but a single act is easier to write off as a youthful indiscretion.

…the editors at The Verge have a policy that seems a little bit odd and anachronistic: They don’t let writers see how much traffic their stories generate. Ever.

As the American Journalism Review reported, in a piece called “No Analytics for You: Why The Verge Declines To Share Detailed Metrics With Reporters,” the editors at The Verge simply don’t want their writers thinking about traffic.

What’s more, The Verge is not alone in this practice. Re/code, a tech site run by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, the longtime Wall Street Journal tech columnist, also won’t share traffic stats with writers. MIT Technology Review holds numbers back too.

“We used to show the writers and editors traffic, and told them to grow it; but it had the wrong effect. So we stopped,“ says Jason Pontin, CEO, editor in chief and publisher of MIT Technology Review. ”The unintended consequence of showing them traffic, and encouraging them to work to grow total audience, is that they became traffic whores. Whereas I really wanted them to focus on insight, storytelling, and scoops: quality.”

That phrase – “traffic whore” – tells you everything you need to know about why some journalists have an aversion to chasing traffic. They fear it creates an incentive to do the wrong things.

Of course these policies hold only at some margins I believe…nor are they used at Gawker.

The full article, by Dan Lyons, is here.

Loans and leases

From Sober Look, there is further discussion and pictures here.

Average is Over

by on March 27, 2014 at 12:18 am in Current Affairs, Economics | Permalink

New technologies are transforming the structure of the US economy but creating only modest numbers of jobs, according to the biggest official survey of businesses, conducted only once every five years.

The 2012 economic census shows how technology is creating a boom in output for new industries – such as shale gas and internet retail – but only a modest increase in their payrolls.

It highlights concerns that recent innovations in information technology tend to raise productivity by replacing existing workers, rather than creating new products that demand more labour to produce.

The FT link is interesting throughout and I believe these numbers vindicate what many of us have been arguing.  It also stresses the oft-neglected point that mining and drilling are relatively capital-intensive sectors:

Drilling is capital intensive, however, so even though the industry’s sales rose by $142bn, its annual payroll was up only $20bn to $61bn in total.

It also turns out that online retail is not very labor intensive at current margins.

That is the new book by Robert D. Kaplan, and the subtitle is The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific.  Since this is possibly the most important topic in the world right now, you should read this book.  Here is one interesting excerpt of many:

According to Yale professor of management and political science Paul Bracken, China isn’t so much building a conventional navy as an “anti-navy” navy, designed to push U.S. sea and air forces away from the East Asian coastline.  Chinese drones putting lasers on U.S. warships, sonar pings from Chinese submarines, the noisy activation of Chinese smart mines, and so on are all designed to signal to American warships that Beijing knows about their movements and the United States risks a crisis if such warships get closer to Chinese waters.  Because “relations with China are too important to jeopardize with a military confrontation,” this anti-access strategy has a significant political effect on Washington.  “The strategic impact of China’s agility is not so much to tilt the military balance in its direction and away from the United States.  Rather,” bracken goes on, “it introduces new risks into the American decision-making calculus.”

Some chapters of this book are deeper and better thought out than others, but still it is definitely worth reading.

The President and other apologists for the NSA have defended the NSA’s illegal mass surveillance of US telephones by arguing that it’s “only” metadata, so “nobody is listening to our telephone calls.” But where, when, how long and to whom customers make phone calls does reveal information that could easily be used to blackmail, stifle and control. A group of computer scientists at Stanford’s Security Laboratory gathered information from volunteers who agreed to have an app on their cell phone mimic what the NSA collects. Here is an initial report.

At the outset of this study, we shared the same hypothesis as our computer science colleagues—we thought phone metadata could be very sensitive. We did not anticipate finding much evidence one way or the other, however, since the MetaPhone participant population is small and participants only provide a few months of phone activity on average.

We were wrong…The degree of sensitivity among contacts took us aback. Participants had calls with Alcoholics Anonymous, gun stores, NARAL Pro-Choice, labor unions, divorce lawyers, sexually transmitted disease clinics, a Canadian import pharmacy, strip clubs, and much more. This was not a hypothetical parade of horribles. These were simple inferences, about real phone users, that could trivially be made on a large scale.

…Though most MetaPhone participants consented to having their identity disclosed, we use pseudonyms in this report to protect participant privacy.

  • Participant A communicated with multiple local neurology groups, a specialty pharmacy, a rare condition management service, and a hotline for a pharmaceutical used solely to treat relapsing multiple sclerosis.
  • Participant B spoke at length with cardiologists at a major medical center, talked briefly with a medical laboratory, received calls from a pharmacy, and placed short calls to a home reporting hotline for a medical device used to monitor cardiac arrhythmia.
  • Participant C made a number of calls to a firearm store that specializes in the AR semiautomatic rifle platform. They also spoke at length with customer service for a firearm manufacturer that produces an AR line.
  • In a span of three weeks, Participant D contacted a home improvement store, locksmiths, a hydroponics dealer, and a head shop.
  • Participant E had a long, early morning call with her sister. Two days later, she placed a series of calls to the local Planned Parenthood location. She placed brief additional calls two weeks later, and made a final call a month after.

We were able to corroborate Participant B’s medical condition and Participant C’s firearm ownership using public information sources. Owing to the sensitivity of these matters, we elected to not contact Participants A, D, or E for confirmation.

In other news, a former president believes that his email is being monitored. He is probably correct. Monitoring presidential candidates is all too realistic.

Fortunately, President Obama has announced that the bulk collection of phone calls will end. Dismantling that illegal program is a start. Obviously, this would not have happened without the revelations of Edward Snowden.

Faculty members at Alamo Colleges in San Antonio objected earlier this year to their chancellor’s move to make a course inspired in part by the popular self-help book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People part of the core curriculum. Instructors said they felt left out of the decision-making process and weren’t sure if the course, which would replace one of only two required humanities classes in the core, deserved that kind of curricular billing.

It is strange, is it not, that the attempt to teach habits of highly effective people is considered gauche and unworthy of the time of students?  (It is unlikely that the objections stem from a belief that the wrong habits are being taught.  That said, you can read more about the Mormon roots of Stephen Covey and his ideas here.)  You can read more about the episode at Alamo Colleges here.