Saturday assorted links

1. How is the Nigerian anti-corruption campaign going?

2. This four-year-old girl knows how to read books fast and with superior comprehension.

3. Bernie Madoff dominates the hot chocolate market in prison.

4. What happens when algorithms design a concert hall?

5. David Brooks on markets in health care (NYT).

6. “As superlow rates reduce loan revenue, a Japanese lender branches out into farming, pinball, broadcasting, rice cultivation and blueberry jam; ‘If you’re going to go to the bank, it should be fun’”, WSJ link here.  And Basil Halperin on market monetarism.

7. “The ‘Krispy Kreme Familia’ and the black market doughnuts of Juarez.”


There's no "one comment" that's a Wordpress bug. I am the first comment.

#7- The 'Krispy Kreme Familia' and the black market doughnuts of Juarez - bet she get murdered within a few years, lots of kooks there. I was actually there, to meet a girl, in the height of the drug wars about six years ago. It was pretty bad. The girl was dumpy and depressed; Mexican girls rarely smile, all business, compare unfavorably to the Philippines. I would not want to live in a Tex-Mex border town, on either side of the border. For one thing, the weather is oppressively humid. Good luck to them however.

You're claiming that the weather is oppressively humid? In Juarez? Compared with where, exactly?

In my experience, it's the weather in the Philippines that is oppressively humid.

In my experience, both the Philippines (what makes then THE Philippines?) and Texas are oppressive. Mexico with its "mordida" tradition is merely corrupt beyond the dreams (or nightmares) of most people - must be seen to be believed.

It's like The Lebanon, The Ukraine, and even The Argentine. The Yemen too? Because it is so.

P.S. Does 'El Salvador' mean The Salvador?

P.P.S. Actually, it's not like them at all. It's probably The Philippines because it's an island group. That usage is quite common in some dialects of English.

El Salvador means "The Savior". And I will never call Argentine, the Argentine. I will never recognize the post-1840 borders either.

El Paso, Texas, across the border from Juarez, is one of the most friendly and pleasant towns in the US.

I like El Paso. It's more a part of New Mexico or Arizona, than Texas. The college buildings are sort of interesting: Bhutan meets the Arts and Crafts movement.

Humid it is not. Perhaps Ray mixed it up with Brownsville/Matamoros, only 800 miles away.

Yes, I visited this area, not Juarez, but I assumed they were both next to the Rio Grande and cut from the same cloth.

Bonus trivia: in Guadalajara--which I have visited--it rains nearly all the rain for the year, and lots of it, in two months during the summer, June and July.

It always displays as one more comment than there actually is. Don't know why.

Probably to deny Ray the first comment.

Another neurotic column from the hundred handed David Brooks (on the one hand..). He's become the Woody Allen of conservative columnists.

Likely the result of writing for two audiences with diametrically opposed views and tribes. He's trying to serve two masters.

I stopped reading him about 6 months ago after years of enjoying his columns.

5. Why don't Republicans simply write their replacement to Obamacare into a bill that is recorded in the Congressional database of bills?

The law that is Obamacare was written in final for by 21 December 2009, passed by the Senate on the 24th by 60 to 39. It was then online subject to attack until passed unchanged by the House on March 21 2010 by 220 votes. A separate budget bill amended tax and spend provisions but not the fundamentals of the law by 54 votes in the Senate and 220 in the House for a joint conference bill on March 24.

It is only the latter budget bill that is being "repealed" because Republicans don't even have 50 votes in the Senate to repay obamacare, assuming no filibuster.

But if Republicans have a great replacement, a week or two of debate with all the debate being how great the replacement is, the Republicans would get the Senate vote.

Assuming it's as great as promised.

For every example patient, Republicans would point to the parts of the law giving them cheaper and better coverage than obamacare. After a couple hundred patients offered up by Democrats and Republicans pointed to the law giving them better care for less cost to the patient, public opinion would require a vote.

60 votes is only needed to end debate and vote.

The Nigerian regime is by its own naturem corrupt. How can one destroy corruption when one obeself has been corrpted. As Brazilian poet Augusto dos Anjos famously wrote, "living among beasts in such a miserable land, men yearns to become a beast himself". "'Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster..." and all that.

"How can you stay faithful in a room full of h*es?"

Kanye West

Yes, this is the fundametal contradiction of human condition, I think. Man yearns for intellectual and civic achievement, but he is an animal mercilessly besieged and haunted by base instincts hence the allegory of the Wandering Jew in Brazilian poetry, "wandering from tent to tent trying in vain to flee from the avenging voice". Man then understands the despair of its condition and, as in the famous poem of Augusto dos Anjos, decides to "stone the hand that caress thee and spit at the lips who kiss thee". The despair of the human condition was the fvorite theme of the Brazilian poets of our Golden Agen.

#3 so he's a parasite both inside and outside of prison

They should correct an error in their story. Madoffs was the second Biggest Pontiac scheme... 2nd to Social Security.

Social Security is a scheme involving discontinued GM sports cars?

4. So how does the concert hall, in fact, sound? An intellectually and visually interesting concert hall is very nice, but kind of irrelevant.


"Blocking someone from stealing public funds will reduce his frequency in the market"

I wonder if a civil servants union representative has the balls to say that on tape with a straight face! Such a creative and strange way to defend corruption.

#7: Krispy Kreme donuts are terrible.

5. Republicans promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a better plan, while Brooks promises this: "They’re (Republicans) probably going to agree to cover everybody Obama covered, thus essentially granting the Democratic point that health care is a right. But they are going to try to do it using more market-friendly mechanisms." Yes, those "market-friendly mechanisms" that provide the uninsured with "choice". Of course, Republicans are hell-bent on repealing Obamacare not because they worship at the alter of markets, but because they wish to cut the taxes paid by wealthy people that fund Obamacare. If Democrats had chosen to fund Obamacare with regressive payroll taxes, I suspect Republicans would do everything in their power to continue Obamacare as ordinary working Americans abandon the Democratic Party in droves just as they did when Reagan and the leaders of the Republican Party led Democrats to their doom in the 1980s with payroll tax increases to "save" social security. Or as Senator Long stated many years ago: "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree."

Republicans never write bills. They merely make promises.

It is impossible to criticize promises with facts, only with principles.

Brooks States the rising criticism from the right, which Brooks states: Republican promises cede to Obama and Democrats the principle of health care access as a RIGHT.

The right does not accept health care access as a right, but believe the weak should suffer and die, deserve to suffer and die.

3. While the linked article praises Madoff's "business instincts", what separates Madoff is his understanding of human behavior: Madoff was so successful in funding his Ponzi scheme because he created the illusion that there were many more eager investors than there were slots for them, his victims actually competing against one another for the opportunity to part with their money. Here's Tim Taylor explaining how big data is being used in a similar (but legal) way to facilitate "price discrimination" (it doesn't mean what you think). I purchase items from Amazon, but I always feel that I'm being manipulated when I do. Now I know that I am. And that second most expensive bottle of wine on the restaurant's wine list, I won't do that again. Nothing is transparent today, not even presidential elections.

" . . . he created the illusion that there were many more eager investors than there were slots" Before that, he created the illusion that he could 100% of the time realize unusually high returns.

I watched the TV show. To me, the critical moment was early on when Madoff used personal funds to cover up the market losses of his investors. The fact that he used his money doesn't ameliorate the fraud. That was equally dishonest as his Ponzi-Scheme falsifications of returns and use of other investors' "deposited" funds to pay them.

Madoff is in the joint because he took people's money and didn't give them what he promised. This puts him in the same category as religious leaders, many salesmen, cosmetic surgeons generally, and all politicians.

Maybe it wasn't what he promised, more like what they expected.

#5. Brooks totally missed the mark in his column and numerous commenters on the site went after him with a vengeance. He is totally missing the point that there is not transparency in pricing for almost all health care services/products. Secondly, how does one define quality? The research by Chandra regarding hospital quality is so limited that one cannot draw the conclusion that Brooks wants, "...people know quality and flock to it." In the absence of information, how does one make a decision about health care? I had an MRI last spring to diagnose a lumbar disk herniation. Now MRIs are pretty straight forward and for this particular indication it's not rocket science to diagnose once the image is obtained. Unfortunately, there is no way to find out which MRI facility offers the lowest price. Am I supposed to spend several hours calling around to see if I can get pricing information?

The quality side of the equation is even more difficult to address. Certain types of quality metrics are out there but they are extremely limited. Most of what passes as quality is contained within practice guidelines. Should we rely on Yelp reviews or Angies' List comments? Also, those of us who live in large urban areas where there are multiple hospitals and those associated with top medical schools are likely to fare much better than those who live in areas where there may only be one or two providers.

BTW, Scott Sumner has a very good blog post on Obamacare:

Abolish the FDA?


Is Sumner an anti-vexer, as well?

#2 4-year old wunderkind

BS and hype

The extraordinary claims all come from the kid's mom and one librarian pushing a political program of early childhood reading.

The kid's reading ability has never been tested at all. The type and level of "books" allegedly read is never stated. That 1,000 Books-Read claim was ... "with the help of her mother" according to the detailed story.

The kid is probably precocious, but extraordinary claims require extra ordinary proof-- which is totally absent here

"extraordinary claims require extra ordinary proof" is one of the most tiresome cliches, and demonstrably nonsense. All that's required is proof of an entirely ordinary sort.

well, we are all extraordinarily fortunate to have a vigilant member of the cliche-police on duty this weekend. Do you also police grammar, and spelling here?

BTW what entirely ordinary sort of proof would convince you of this 4-year old child's extraordinary reading ability?

If you want to do science, the art isn't to prove her reading ability it is to attempt to falsify it. You could, for example, give her a bit of Gibbon to read and explain to you. She'd presumably fail. Bingo: perfectly ordinary evidence settles the matter.

The testimony of two adults, one unrelated, would suffice for ordinary claims of a child's literacy. More is needed for extraordinary claims like those in #2.

I think that Trev's statement holds up well.

I see a story about a young black prodigy about 4-6x's per year. There's definitely an incentive for these type of stories. It's not hard to think of the reasons why.

3. is such a good headline that I don't really want to read it and ruin the "story."

+1 for the allusion.

You were correct.

You were correct. I'm retired and have relatively unlimited time. I shot to Hell two minutes and learned that the author knows nothing and Madoff is still lying to himself and everyone that will listen.

Aside from that I am even more stupid for having read it.

Re: the 4 year old reading. IMHO this is what all parents should be trying to for their children. The ability for a young child to learn is huge and is totally unchallenged by our public schools. Schools too should be pushing this.

#5...I have always, or since reading Milton Frieman's ideas on health care, believed that the govt should use it's purchasing power to cover costs that individuals can't price competently, while letting the market take care of costs people can price competently. Of course, some people might still need help, but that's another matter. All kinds of arguments are voiced against my view, all of which are, to put it mildly, based upon more complex ideas.

The real problem with getting sensible health care was evidenced the other day when Bernie Sanders bill allowing Canadian importation of drugs from Canada was defeated. I was for it. But, shockingly to me, my Senators, Cantwell and Murray, voted against it. WTH. Check out the votes on that bill, and the problem of health care becomes clear. Too many special interests have too much power.

I didn't think Friedman's views were as you characterized the, so l did an easy search and found this -

As usual, he writes clearly, concisely and accurately. Why waste time on Brooks when Friedman is easily available?

BTW, I see that the AARP is aghast at the idea of turning Medicare and Medicaid into voucher systems, as Friedman suggested. In a sense Medicare Advantage is such a system, in which I participate.

Rich, Good work. Yes, that essay is my main source for my views, just as his essay A Monetary and Fiscal Framework for Economic Stability
Milton Friedman The American Economic Review Vol. 38, No. 3 (Jun., 1948), pp. the basis of my monetary and fiscal views. In fact, all of my policy views come from Hayek, Friedman, Henry Simons, Frank Knight, Michael Oakeshott, Bagehot, Adam Smith, and Schumpeter, or their students like Hyman Minsky and James Buchanan. Interestingly, James Tobin has recently joined this list.

In Friedman's case, he often offers real world and utopian options, and I almost always follow his real world proposals. Oddly, many American conservatives follow his utopian views.

The trouble with the Friedman paper is that it's outdated now given the evolving state of healthcare. He savages Medicare when in fact Medicare Part B pricing and administrative costs are rock bottom. Doctors put up with this in order to have a large supply of patients but increasingly small practices are now refusing to accept Medicare patients. I am looking for a new internist and one of the recommended practices refused to take me despite the fact that I have superior Medigap insurance and told them I pay cash for MD visits. Things are horribly inefficient across the healthcare spectrum. Health savings accounts are good for those who are in relatively good health and don't need to draw down on the account. Anyone who has significant health issues that require regular MD visits or costly Rx regimens won't find an HSA to be a realistic solution.

The only realistic voucher system I've seen is the Fuchs/Emanuel proposal from just over a decade ago where they proposed a VAT to fund vouchers for everyone. It would give everyone a voucher and eliminate all employer sponsored insurance as well as Medicare and Medicaid. Everyone gets covered and the country establishes a baseline health care budget for an agreed upon coverage set. Extra after market insurance could be purchased if one wants benefits beyond that package. I've been tracking this issue since the first Jackson Hole Meetings over two decades ago and have yet to see anyone other than extreme libertarians who don't want insurance who can say why this won't work. Link to the original proposal is here:

Alan G, I will read that, but still unanswered is how to get to any efficient plan without the special interests being, in their views at least, losers. The Sanders vote still puzzles me.

GOP would never support a plan offering vouchers of a sufficient amount, as it would require them to minimize, if not eliminate, their tax cut agenda.

That is, tax cuts for upper income groups.

"BTW, I see that the AARP is aghast at the idea of turning Medicare and Medicaid into voucher systems, as Friedman suggested. In a sense Medicare Advantage is such a system, in which I participate."

So, you agree with the principles of Obamacare that insurers will use market power to create limited provider networks restricting consumer choice to cut costs of care while being required to meet minimum performance standards set by government, not the patient?

Which is contrary to Friedman's view that patients will buy medical services like they buy shares of stock on Wall Street, everyone paying the same price at the time of the transaction no matter the seller with every transaction price set by the market clearing uniform price for every buyer. This does not allow side deals with discrimatory pricing.

This is the Maryland medical pricing system: every payer pays the same price. Which is in violation of the Congressional mandate that is equivalent to Medicare paying 10% less than the Wall Street trading price for shares of stocks.

A bizarre logic has come to dominate economic debates since Reagan, a sort of Lake Woebegone pricing logic: every individual can negotiate a price below the market price. Especially when it comes to treatment for a stroke, heart attack, gunshot wound, concussion, ..., on the ride to the trauma center. Before Reagan, there was price discrimination but either for good or evil, with one group getting low prices by charging other groups high prices. And g.v.e differed based on your principles: it was evil for doctors and hospitals to charge there times cost to the rich and twice costs to middle class worker employer benefit insurance in order to provide care to the working poor, minorities, disabled at a price 1-30% of cost, if you were a rich conservative. Thus today, the poor get charged prices twice that of the rich, and middle class with employer benefitss.

Thus no one likes the Maryland every-payer-charged-the-same-price law because it prohibits discrimination based on buyer.

Of course, David Brooks writes a good game of supply side but his problem is the freckin' problem with any Republican healthcare. It is all white paper no details. Sure there some nice past experiences but let us see the ideas here. Where are the supply side ideas here?

1) Less regulation on nurse practioners and immigrant doctors.
2) Follow Alex T idea of FDA less power but any nation that can OK a drug for US sale, can also source the drug. Allow Americans to buy from another developed nation.
3) Review Pharma drugs and move more to Over-The-Counter. Start with birth control yesterday.
4) Keep the state exchanges (states can sell to private companies) to get healthcare information.
5) Considering the price of births, they can not end abortion yet.

Republication can never write a bill and place it in the Newt "Thomas" Internet database because it then gets torn to shreds for breaking every promise Trump, the Republican Party, and nearly every Republican elected to Congress, made in 2016. The most honest Republicans in Congress are those who managed to say or write absolutely nothing related to health care in the past year.

Contrary to Republican claims, Obamacare was published in final form that is current law except for bipartisan amendments since 2010 on December 24, 2010 and then voted on by the House and passed on March 21, 2010.

Thus for three months, the bill that became law was debated with no one making any argument for a superior alternative, including arguing that "Bush-Cheney care" was superior based on premiums doubling every presidential term for employers with the greatest negotiating power, and individuals finding they have fewer options and rapidly rising premiums and increasing restrictions on covered care.

Kaiser family foundation surveyed employer benefit plans from 1998 to the present with fairly consistent methodologies over the 18 reports.

In 2000, "Monthly premiums average $202 for single coverage and $529 for family coverage. " That is the group insurance premium, including employer and employee payment. Single employees paid an average $37.

In 2008, "In 2008, the average annual premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance are $4,704 for single coverage and $12,680 for family coverage, up about 5% from the 2007 average premiums.2 Since 1999, average premiums for family coverage have increased 119%." In other words, premiums basically doubled in 8 years from 2000 to 2008, as the context for the 2008 Federal campaigns for president and Congress.

In 2016, "In 2016, the average annual premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance are $6,435 for single coverage and $18,142 for family coverage. The average family premium rose 3% over the 2015 average premium while the increase in the premium for single coverage was not statistically significant. The average premium for family coverage is lower for covered workers in small firms (3-199 workers) than for workers in large firms (200 or more workers) ($17,546 vs. $18,395). Workers’ wages increased 2.5% and inflation increased 1.1% over the period.2 Premiums for family coverage have increased 20% since 2011 and 58% since 2006. "

So, if Obamacare is a "disaster" based on cost increases since 2008 for the foundation of Obamacare, employer health benefits, what was Bush-Cheney care in 2008 based on a doubling of the same employer health benefits?

Why would repeal of Obamacare be better? Doubling employer health costs during 8 years of Trump would be superior to the roughly 50% increase under Obamacare which is a law that incorporates hundreds of policies based on principles advanced by policy wonks like Mitt Romney, and Milton Friedman, and many Republicans over a number of decades.

I see much of what conservatives are arguing for is eliminating health care as a commodity, and instead creating a thousand different products all designed to be confusing to understand and compare with opaque cost structures hidden beneath a price that can not be rationally compared by consumers to any other product offering. In other words, purposely creating a system is discrimatory prices to thwart an efficient market.

I was really disappointed to see someone like Brooks, who ought to be at least moderately informed about how health care works, throw out such half-baked, ignorant ideas. Consumers are never going to be able to discriminate based on quality or price, except at the margins.

Narrow networks (or less-narrow, accountable care organizations) will be the mechanism by which consumers can balance quality and price. Kaiser, Geisinger, Intermountain Health, etc., have shown a well-designed system can deliver a balance of quality and price that most consumers can live with. What those systems were never able to do in the past was actually bend the overall cost curve - none of them is exactly cheap. Since the passage of the PPACA, there are signs that is changing, perhaps because more health systems are building similar networks and we're reaching a tipping point that's forcing the entire health economy to respond.

The challenge is that, even if that trend continues, for the individual consumer, it simply doesn't look or feel like they're getting the kind of free market choice they get when they choose between Walmart or Target, or Sony or Panasonic. It does, however, bear some similarities between the online ecosystems, such as Android vs. iPhone (or Amazon vs... the rest of the world?).

Can Americans (or at least the Republican political majority) live with a "free market" system that, by design, restricts choice and removes decisions from the hands of the consumer? And, if not, what's their alternative?

This idea that when you buy Kaiser you buy healthcare and cost containment together seems good to me, and I do think government should push things that way.

AlanA....Yes. That's the question. But doesn't make sense to try and develop as large an area of goods that can be shopped? Otherwise, the government will have to fund it, but it's in our interest to keep government expenses down as best we can. At least we'll have a system that clearly tries to keep prices down while providing decent health care.

What Krispy Kreme donuts, Rejection Therapy and the Olympic logo have in common:

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