Law

No, this is not a repeat of the post from yesterday, there is another twist:

Doctors in Belgium have rejected an imprisoned murderer and rapist’s request for medically assisted suicide, the Justice Ministry said on Tuesday, less than a week before he was due to receive a lethal injection.

…Van Den Bleeken, 51, and in prison for nearly 30 years, had complained of a lack of therapy provided for his condition in Belgium. He argued he had no prospect of release since he could not overcome his violent sexual impulses, and wanted to die in order to end his mental anguish.

Belgium has pioneered the legalization of euthanasia beyond terminal illness to include those suffering unbearable mental pain.

But others have received euthanasia:

Cases which attracted international attention included the euthanasia of two deaf twins who were in the process of losing their sight, and of a transgender person left in torment by an unsuccessful sex change operation.

In February, Belgium became the first country to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children at any age, a move which drew criticism from religious groups both at home and abroad, though application for minors is limited to those about to die.

It is perhaps the wrong mood affiliation to apply the euthanasia process to an actual criminal:

Belgium, like the rest of the European Union, does not have the death penalty.

Here is the full article, and for the pointer I thank A. Le Roy.

Demand curves do slope downwards:

Euthanasia tourists are flocking to Brussels to get a lethal dose. Doctors at hospitals and clinics at Belgium’s capital are seeing an increase in number of euthanasia tourists who are travelling from across the world to their accident and emergency rooms.

As elective medical killings are illegal in France, French patients are often arriving with suitcases. They believe that their request to die will be carried out within a week.

In 2015, a whopping 2,023 people were medically killed in Belgium. The number has more than doubled in five years. According to Olivier Vermylen, an emergency doctor at Brugmann University hospital, seven out of 15 euthanasia cases involved French people.

“It’s a phenomenon that did not exist five or six years ago. Nowadays I get phone calls about French people who arrive in the emergency room announcing that they want euthanasia,” Vermylen told Belgium’s Sudpresse newspaper, reports The Times.

Even at the Jules Bordet institute in Brussels, almost a third of euthanasia consultations, that is 40 out of 130 cases, are by French people. One of the primary reasons why people choose to get euthanized in Belgium is the cost.

Euthanasia in Switzerland costs €4,000 (AU$5,935), writes The Australian. However, euthanasia in Belgium is usually free as the treatment is covered by the European Union’s health insurance card. The bills are sent to French healthcare providers.

And here is a person who needs that extra dose of media training:

“Of course, Belgium is not here to euthanize half the planet. I can understand those who say that France should look after its own patients. But this is easy to say in the office. When you have a patient who is suffering in front of you, you don’t think of that. You help – whether they are French or not,” said Brugmann University hospital’s Michele Morret-Rauis.

I am sorry people, but in light of that state-dependent utility function known as “life or death,” if it ever came to such a point I would opt for Switzerland.

Here is the article, via the excellent T. Hynes.

Uber passengers in Pittsburgh will be able to summon rides in self-driving cars with the touch of a smartphone button in the next several weeks. Uber also announced that it is acquiring a self-driving startup called Otto, co-founded by Israeli Lior Ron, that has developed technology allowing big rigs to drive themselves.

Via Mark Thorson, here is more.  And in Finland:

Residents of Helsinki, Finland will soon be used to the sight of buses with no drivers roaming the city streets. One of the world’s first autonomous bus pilot programs has begun in the Hernesaari district, and will run through mid-September.

Finnish law does not require vehicles on the road to have a driver, making it the perfect place to get permission to test the Easymile EZ-10 electric mini-buses.

So perhaps Finland can become a market leader in this area.

Very good sentences

by on August 19, 2016 at 2:21 pm in Current Affairs, Law, Medicine | Permalink

There are two unavoidable realities of making the American health-care system less costly: Americans must use less care, and our nation’s legion of well-paying, stable jobs in the health-care sector need to be both less numerous and less well paid. What no one can figure out is how to generate the political will to make this happen. The public option doesn’t fix that political problem.

That is from Megan McArdle, mostly on why the public option is no longer a viable…option.

The Japanese Zoning System

by on August 19, 2016 at 12:04 pm in Economics, Law | Permalink

In Laissez-Faire in Tokyo Land Use I pointed to Japan’s constitutional protection of property rights and it’s relatively laissez-faire approach to land use to explain why housing prices in Japan have not risen in past decades, as they have elsewhere in the developed world. A very useful post at Urban kchoze offers more detail on Japan’s zoning system. Here are some of the key points.

Japan has 12 basic zones, far fewer than is typical in an American city. The zones can be ordered in terms of nuisance or potential externality from low-rise residential to high-rise residential to commercial zone on through to light industrial and industrial. But, and this is key, in the US zones tend to be exclusive but in Japan the zones limit the maximum nuisance in a zone. So, for example, a factory can’t be built in a residential neighborhood but housing can be built in a light industrial zone.

…[the] Japanese do not impose one or two exclusive uses for every zone. They tend to view things more as the maximum nuisance level to tolerate in each zone, but every use that is considered to be less of a nuisance is still allowed. So low-nuisance uses are allowed essentially everywhere. That means that almost all Japanese zones allow mixed use developments, which is far from true in North American zoning.

…[The] great rigidity in allowed uses per zone in North American zoning means that urban planing departments must really micromanage to the smallest detail everything to have a decent city. Because if they forget to zone for enough commercial zones or schools, people can’t simply build what is lacking, they’d need to change the zoning, and therefore confront the NIMBYs. And since urban planning departments, especially in small cities, are largely awful, a lot of needed uses are forgotten in neighborhoods, leading to them being built on the outskirts of the city, requiring car travel to get to them from residential areas.

Meanwhile, Japanese zoning gives much more flexibility to builders, private promoters but also school boards and the cities themselves. So the need for hyper-competent planning is much reduced, as Japanese planning departments can simply zone large higher-use zones in the center of neighborhoods, since the lower-uses are still allowed. If there is more land than needed for commercial uses in a commercial zone, for example, then you can still build residential uses there, until commercial promoters actually come to need the space and buy the buildings from current residents.

In addition, residential means residential without discrimination as to the type or form of resident:

…In Japan…residential is residential. If  a building is used to provide a place to live to people, it’s residential, that’s all. Whether it’s rented, owned, houses one or many households, it doesn’t matter.
This doesn’t mean that people can build 10-story apartment blocs in the middle of single-family houses (at least, not normally). As I mentioned, there are maximum ratios of building to land areas and FAR that restricts how high and how dense residential buildings may be. So in low-rise zones, these ratios mean that multifamily homes must also have only one to three stories, like the single-family homes around them. So in neighborhoods full of small single-family homes, you will often see small apartment buildings full of what we would call small studio apartments: one room with a toilet.>

In short, as the author concludes, Japan’s zoning laws are more rational, more efficient and fairer than those used in the United States.

More details in the post. Hat tip: Sandy Ikeda.

The author is Nancy Tomes and the subtitle is How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers.  Here is one excerpt:

While unwilling to pass any kind of national insurance program, the U.S. Congress strove to advance the cause of “medical democracy” by other means.  Instead of guaranteeing a right to medical care, legislators voted to spend public funds on hospital construction and basic medical research as a means to yield more and better treatment.  To make that treatment affordable, the federal government looked to the private sector for help, using tax policy to encourage the growth of employee insurance plans.  In this fashion, postwar political and business leaders hoped to create a free enterprise alternative to “socialized” medicine.

The first step toward expansion came in 1946 when Congress passed the Hill-Burton Act, which funneled federal funds into hospital construction and expansion.  Over the next two decades, Hill-Burton funds would be used on almost 5,000 projects, many of them in rural areas that previously had had no hospitals.  The program proved very popular, giving local communities a new institution to be proud of while creating more “doctors’ workshops” for medical education and private practice.  At the same time, Congress vastly increased funding for medical research, from about $4 million in 1947 to $100 million by 1957.  Postwar political leaders found appealing the idea of tackling cancer, mental illness, and other dread diseases through “a medical research program equal to the Manhattan Project,” as the National Health Education Research Committee urged in 1958.  Taxpayer dollars helped to build up the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, as the hub of what a later generation would christen the “medical-industrial complex”: a network of researchers located in American universities and scientific institutes whose careers depended on the generation of medical innovations.

I found this book extremely useful for understanding the evolution of American health care policy and institutions before 1965.

Should you go?  I give the place high marks for food and scenery, but the total population of about 48,700 limits  other benefits.  It is like visiting a smaller, more unspoilt Iceland.  There is a shop in the main city selling Faroese music and many shops selling sweaters.  They will not tell you where the sweaters were knitted.

The natives seem to think Denmark is an excessively competitive, violent, harsh and hurried place.  The norm here is to leave your door unlocked.  It is a “self-governing archipelago,” but part of the Kingdom of Denmark.  In other words, they get a lot of subsidies.

But they are not part of the EU, so they still sell a lot of salmon — their number one export — to Russia.

You see plenty of pregnant women walking around, and (finally) population is growing, the country has begun to attract notice, and the real estate market is beginning to heat up.  But prices remain pretty low, and it would be a great place to buy an additional home, if you do that sort of thing.

In the early 1990s, their central bank did go bankrupt and had to be bailed out by Denmark.  It is a currency board arrangement, and insofar as the eurozone moves in that direction, as it seems to be doing by placing Target2 liabilities on the national central banks, a eurozone central bank could become insolvent too, despite all ECB protestations to the contrary.

Every mode of transport is subsidized in the Faroes, including helicopter rides across the islands.  Often the bus is free, and there is an extensive network of ferries.  I wonder how many population centers there would be otherwise.  There is now the notion that all of the communities on the various islands are one single, large “networked city.”

The Faroes are a “food desert” of sorts, with few decent or affordable fruits or vegetables.  And not many supermarkets of any kind.  Yet the rate of obesity does not seem to be high.  And they have a very high rate of literacy with little in the way of bookstores or public libraries.

The seabirds including puffins are a main attraction, but I enjoyed seeing the mammals too, with pride of place going to the pony:

The domestic animals of the Faroe Islands are a result of 1,200 years of isolated breeding. As a result, many of the islands’ domestic animals are found nowhere else in the world. Faroese domestic breed include Faroe pony, Faroe cow, Faroese sheep, Faroese Goose and Faroese duck.

puffins-mykines-faroe-islands

The country receives a great deal of negative publicity for killing whales, but overall they seem to treat animals better than the United States does.  Fish consumption is very high and there are no factory farms.

If the Faroes had open borders, but no subsidies for migrants, how many people would settle there?

In 1946 they did their own version of Faerexit, from Denmark of course:

The result of the vote was a narrow majority in favour of secession, but the coalition in parliament could not reach agreement on how this outcome should be interpreted and implemented; and because of these irresoluble differences, the coalition fell apart. A parliamentary election was held a few months later, in which the political parties that favoured staying in the Danish kingdom increased their share of the vote and formed a coalition.

Overall I expect this place to change radically in the next twenty years.  It is hard to protect 48,700 people forever.  In part, they are killing those whales to keep you away.

Faroe Islands fact of the day

by on August 16, 2016 at 2:57 am in Books, Education, History, Law | Permalink

…the first monolingual Faroese-Faroese dictionary was only published in 1998, the first Bible in Faroese didn’t appear until 1961, and the language only won official status in the islands in 1948 with the introduction of the Home Rule Act.

That is from James Proctor, Faroe Islands.  Here is some Faroese on YouTube.  Here is a short (2:32) Faorese drama, with profanity in Faroese, subtitles too.

That is a new paper by Camelia Simoiu, Sam Corbett-Davies, and Sharad Goel, the abstract is familiar but depressing:

In the course of conducting traffic stops, officers have discretion to search motorists for drugs, weapons, and other contraband. There is concern that these search decisions are prone to racial bias, but it has proven difficult to rigorously assess claims of discrimination. Here we develop a new statistical method—the threshold test—to test for racial discrimination in motor vehicle searches. We use geographic variation in stop outcomes to infer the effective race-specific standards of evidence that officers apply when deciding whom to search, an approach we formalize with a hierarchical Bayesian latent variable model. This technique mitigates the problems of omitted variables and infra-marginality associated with benchmark and outcome tests for discrimination. On a dataset of 4.5 million police stops in North Carolina, we find that the standard for searching black and Hispanic drivers is considerably lower than the standard for searching white and Asian drivers, a pattern that holds consistently across the 100 largest police departments in the state.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma.

Kate Downing, a member of the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission, has resigned in protest at its no-growth policies. She writes:

After many years of trying to make it work in Palo Alto, my husband and I cannot see a way to stay in Palo Alto and raise a family here. We rent our current home with another couple for $6200 a month; if we wanted to buy the same home and share it with children and not roommates, it would cost $2.7M and our monthly payment would be $12,177 a month in mortgage, taxes, and insurance. That’s $146,127 per year — an entire professional’s income before taxes. This is unaffordable even for an attorney and a software engineer.

…I have repeatedly made recommendations to the Council to expand the housing supply…Small steps like allowing 2 floors of housing instead of 1 in mixed use developments, enforcing minimum density requirements so that developers build apartments instead of penthouses, legalizing duplexes, easing restrictions on granny units, leveraging the residential parking permit program to experiment with housing for people who don’t want or need two cars, and allowing single-use areas like the Stanford shopping center to add housing on top of shops (or offices), would go a long way in adding desperately needed housing units while maintaining the character of our neighborhoods and preserving historic structures throughout.

The vituperative responses to her letter in the local paper (quite a few now deleted for language) included many like the following:

What with everything going on I have come to realize there is a vast difference between Baby-Boomers, X-Generation, and Millennials. Not sure where Kate falls into that, suspect she is a Millennial, but her overall lack of experience regarding city planning shouts out. “Disruption” is code for the Millennials, not so for Baby-Boomers. We are not going to turn ourselves on our heads because the younger group demands change.

And another:

I’m so glad we have one less inexperienced, new resident on the Planning and Transportation Commission that is demanding that long-time residents sacrifice their hard-earned quality of life for young, new residents that want the benefits without the sacrifice and hard work.

These kinds of claims are perfectly sensible. The people who bought their homes a long time ago lucked into a windfall and they resentfully lash out at anyone trying to cut in on that windfall. But notice how un-American these claims are. The current residents want to protect their gains by telling other people how they can use their property. When a new restaurant starts to take patrons from an old restaurant we generally don’t think that the old restaurant–the long-term resident–has the right to prevent the new restaurant from opening. The same is true, by and large, for new technologies and ways of doing business. Yet when it comes to residential land we give the old residents a veto on the new.

We have collectivized property in the United States (unlike in say laissez-faire Tokyo). Property is not fully collectivized, of course, but a person’s land is not their own–it’s subject to the dictates of the collective. Collectivization has been tried in many other times and places and the results are by now predictable. Collectivization in Palo Alto has produced inefficiency, high costs and a politicization of choice that makes for ill-will and endless conflict.

Baltimore Tipped

by on August 11, 2016 at 7:23 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Law | Permalink

Last year I wrote, In Baltimore Arrests are Down and Crime is Way Up. I worried that a crime wave occasioned in part by a work stoppage could tip into a much higher level of crime:

With luck, the crime wave will subside quickly, but the longer-term fear is that the increase in crime could push arrest and clearance rates down so far that the increase in crime becomes self-fulfilling. The higher crime rate itself generates the lower punishment that supports the higher crime rate…

In the presence of multiple equilibria, it’s possible that a temporary shift could push Baltimore into a permanently higher high-crime equilibrium. Once the high-crime equilibrium is entered, it may be very difficult to exit without a lot of resources that Baltimore doesn’t have.

Writing at FEE, Daniel Bier takes a long look at crime in Baltimore and the history of problems which got us to this point. He notes that the sharp drop in arrests which I discussed was indeed temporary.

But unfortunately:

Tabarrok’s fear that “a temporary shift could push Baltimore into a permanently higher high-crime equilibrium” looks to be borne out. Crime shot up due to temporary factors, but once those factors receded, the police [have] been unable to cope with the new status quo. Baltimore’s vicious crime cycle remains stuck in high gear.

…With 178 killings already in 2016, Baltimore is on track for 294 murders this year — shy of last year’s total of 344 homicides, but well above 2014’s total of 211.

To quote HBO’s The Wire, if Baltimore had New York’s population, it would be clocking nearly four thousand murders a year.

Daniel argues that Baltimore does have the resources to get back on track but at this stage in the game it may not have the will.

In one important respect, Baltimore is worse off than Ferguson, MO. Ferguson had poor policing but an average crime rate. Baltimore has poor policing and a sky high crime rate. Baltimore desperately needs more policing but the police have lost the trust of a vital part of the community and as the Department of Justice’s report on Baltimore brutally illustrates, in some cases rightly so. The DOJ report might provide the impetus for a surge–a large but temporary influx of federal funds for new hiring under a new police administration–that could reestablish a decent equilibrium and reform the department at the same time. Many, however, will decry a federal “takeover” of policing. Ironically, the law and order candidate might be more likely to impose Federal control, albeit it would be less likely to work.

Baltimore is truly stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Under the “third party” arrangements, nonprofit organizations work as a front for medical care providers trying to win higher payments from private insurers that pay more than government programs like Medicaid, insurers say. For example, UnitedHealth Group last month sued a dialysis chain, American Renal Associates, alleging fraud. In its suit, UnitedHealth said American Renal hooked patients up with a charitable organization that helped patients pay their premiums, according to media reports.

Even though patients were eligible for Medicaid coverage for the poor, according to this New York Times report, the kidney care company wanted them to be covered by a private insurer so the dialysis providers could be paid a higher reimbursement.

Here is more, via Megan McArdle.  And here is Megan on who is gaming Obamacare — everyone.

Donald Trump created quite the stir a few days ago when he suggested that the forthcoming Presidential election was going to be “rigged.”  I’m not sure what exactly he meant by that, or even if it’s worth debating, but I did see my Tweeter feed respond with real furor.  This will undercut faith in democracy I read, and thus the media needs to call him out on it.  Yet over the last few years or indeed decades I also have seen the following:

1. Numerous arguments insist that money buys elections and campaign finance reform is imperative.  That’s not exactly my view, with Trump himself now being Exhibit A on the other side of the issue, but please try to be consistent.  A lot of you believe that elections are (were?) rigged!  (Hey, psst…when can we go back to them being rigged againAsking for a friend!)

2. Numerous arguments that Republican-backed voter registration requirements are keeping significant numbers of voters, most of all minority voters, away from the polls.  That wouldn’t quite count as “rigging,” because the outcome still is not preordained, but it would be a form of slanting.

3. Not long ago, the conventional wisdom was that the race would be Clinton (Hillary) vs. Bush (Jeb).  Fortunately, that is not rigging, rather we call it “spontaneous order.”  Besides, it didn’t happen.  We ended up with Clinton vs…Tormentor of Bush.

4. Do we not all teach the Gibbard-Sattherthwaite theorem to our Principles classes on week three?  In case you forget, the theorem shows that under some fairly general assumptions elections processes are manipulable in a rigorous sense which is defined in social choice theory.  You can think of this as a corollary of the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, actually.

People, I am so glad we don’t teach our students that elections are rigged, it is so much more important to teach that they are “manipulable” in the precise sense defined by social choice theory.  Sadly, Mr. Trump failed that part of the course, because the silly boy wrote down the word “rigged” instead and botched the whole answer, heal so messed up the distinction between inter- and intra-profile versions of the theorem.

5. A related branch of social choice theory, stemming from Dick McKelvey’s work in 1979, suggests that when the policy space has more than one dimension, the agenda setter in Congress has a great deal of power and typically can shape the final outcome.  True, that is Congress rather than a general democratic election.  By the way, how many dimensions does the policy space have these days?  If you’re not sure, that means the answer is “more than one.”  Good thing that only “Congress keystone of the Washington establishment” is rigged!

6. Major political scientists from schools such as Princeton tell us that elites determine policy and ordinary voters have very little say in what happens.  Don’t know if he used “the r word” or not!  (By the way, I agree with the critique of Dylan Matthews.)

7. The American electoral system is designed to give the two major parties a huge initial advantage.  I’m not suggesting that the public is actually itching to elect Jill Stein, but it would shape final outcomes a good deal, for better or worse, if the electoral playing field were more even in this regard.

Personally, I think median voters more or less get what they want on a large number of issues, especially broad-based ones in the public eye.  You won’t find the word “rigged” popping up too much in the MR search function, besides I started blogging (and breathing) after Kennedy vs. Nixon.  But my goodness, I can in fact understand why Donald Trump thinks the system is rigged.  For years, you have been telling him that it is.

p.s. I don’t in fact teach the Gibbard-Sattherthwaite theorem in Principles and you won’t find it in the world’s very best Principles textbook.  That we rigged.

Addendum: How many Democrats have alleged that the 2000 Presidential election was rigged?  Or that today most Americans want some form of tougher gun control, but that the system is rigged against that outcome happening?

I would stress that it is the very long run results that matter, once all lock-in and morale effects are gone or redrawn and the eventually-old legislated minimum wage is simply a relative price like any other.  But what about the short run?  Timothy Taylor has a good survey of a recent study (pdf), and here is his concluding paragraph:

I’m willing to let the evidence tell me the story, and on many economic issues, it takes time for the evidence to accumulate. As more cities raise minimum wage, the picture will clarify. But the early evidence from Seattle is that a higher minimum wage at the city level doesn’t raise total earnings by much, because low-skilled workers end up with fewer hours on the job.

There are many other points at the link.

Welcome to public housing in Puerto Rico, a realm of high intentions and low outcomes. The island has America’s second-largest public housing system, after New York’s. Roughly 125,000 people inhabit 54,000 apartments, paying rent according to a federal formula: Rent, plus utilities, must be no more than 30 percent of a household’s adjusted income.

Paychecks here are small, and the tenants’ rents are never enough to cover the system’s costs. So Washington subsidizes the rest, currently to the tune of $254 million a year.

It isn’t the housing that’s making Ms. Ramos want to leave. It’s the crime and a culture of cheating.

“Negative rent!” she exclaims. “It doesn’t exist in other parts of the world, but in Puerto Rico, sí!”

Public housing experts say “negative rent” is theoretically possible; Ms. Ramos says she sees it all around her. She pays to live in the projects, but other people have found ways to be paid.

That is from Mary Williams Walsh at the NYT.  And here is some more detail on negative rent:

Federal Housing and Urban Development records say that 36 percent of the families in Puerto Rico’s housing projects have incomes of zero. By law, tenants with no income must pay $25 a month. This turns into “negative rent” when their electric bills are factored in.

That’s because Washington gives public housing tenants a “utility allowance,” which is normally deducted from their rent. But if someone is paying just $25 a month, for example, and gets a utility allowance of $65 a month, they’ll end up with a “negative rent” of $40. It’s paid in cash.

Some people pocket the money and stiff the Electric Power Authority, a government monopoly with a bad track record for bill collections. The Power Authority is responsible for $9 billion of the government’s $72 billion debt. It could use the money.

Ms. Ramos suspects that if rates go up, Washington will send bigger utility allowances — and people living on “negative rent” will get more money.

Solve for the equilibrium, as they say…