Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
A linkorama as I board a plane:
Some attention has been focused on a recent analysis that health care costs are highly skewed. Apparently, 1% of patients accounts for a fifth of all healthcare costs. For half of us, our healthcare costs are only a few hundred bucks a year. For the top 1%, they exceed $100,000.
I’m not sure what the point of this is. The very idea of health insurance is to insure against catastrophic illness. $100,000 is the cost of a moderate to bad health problem. That 1% is not a static group; people move in and out as they get sick or healthy. We don’t need government to tax us all to help people pay bills; that’s what insurance does. The only impact his has on the healthcare debate is to either link mandated coverage with mandated purchase — i.e., prevent people from waiting until they’re sick to buy insurance. It could also argue for high-deductible plans that only cover disasters.
Naturally, this is being used to argue for all kinds of other things. Preventative care is a big one. But as I’ve noted, preventative care does not save money even if it saves lives. It’s also being used to argue for end-of-life planning, which I support but is unrelated to this.
Really, I don’t know this stat has suddenly become so big. Healthcare doesn’t cost much until you need it. We knew that, didn’t we?
I’m at a conference. It stimulates my curiosity. Expects lots of links:
Someone recently sent me this diatribe from Neal Stephenson on the lack of innovation in recent years.
Still, I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done. My parents and grandparents witnessed the creation of the airplane, the automobile, nuclear energy, and the computer to name only a few. Scientists and engineers who came of age during the first half of the 20th century could look forward to building things that would solve age-old problems, transform the landscape, build the economy, and provide jobs for the burgeoning middle class that was the basis for our stable democracy.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 crystallized my feeling that we have lost our ability to get important things done. The OPEC oil shock was in 1973—almost 40 years ago. It was obvious then that it was crazy for the United States to let itself be held economic hostage to the kinds of countries where oil was being produced. It led to Jimmy Carter’s proposal for the development of an enormous synthetic fuels industry on American soil. Whatever one might think of the merits of the Carter presidency or of this particular proposal, it was, at least, a serious effort to come to grips with the problem.
Little has been heard in that vein since. We’ve been talking about wind farms, tidal power, and solar power for decades. Some progress has been made in those areas, but energy is still all about oil. In my city, Seattle, a 35-year-old plan to run a light rail line across Lake Washington is now being blocked by a citizen initiative. Thwarted or endlessly delayed in its efforts to build things, the city plods ahead with a project to paint bicycle lanes on the pavement of thoroughfares
Stephenson goes on to criticize our space program, which threw away shuttle tanks rather than using them to build space stations and has spectacularly failed to produce cheap launch vehicles. He also criticizes the energy industry.
Both of these are valid criticisms, but something bears pointing out: the industries of which he is the most critical — energy and space — have been under the heavy hand of government. Carter’s Synthetic Fuels Corp was a fiasco, burning tens of billions. The biggest government investment in energy of late is ethanol, an ecological, economic and scientific disaster supported for political reasons. Even their attempts to jumpstart green tech has been stymied by politics, as we’ve seen with Solyndra. And the same goes with the space program. We didn’t turn shuttle tanks into cheap space stations because having an expensive space station was the whole point.
In industries with less government oversight, we’ve seen spectacular progress in the last 40 years. Medicine and communications have been especially fertile. A heart attack is a recoverable event as is cancer. A host of drugs can treat everything from impotence to Parkinson’s. And I can hold in my hand a device that can communicate with anyone in the world and provides access to the sum total of human knowledge.
To the extent that government has helped with this, it has been through supporting basic research, keeping taxes low and upholding patent law (although it’s now doing too much of the latter). Whenever it has tried to get its hands dirty with specific technologies, it has inevitably screwed the pooch. The solution to our inadequacies — in space exploration and energy — is not a Manhattan-Project level initiative. It’s a combination of supporting basic research while giving corporations the freedom — economic, scientific and regulatory — to innovate.
I do think the pace of innovation has slowed and I think it may be inevitable. The things he describes — flight, nuclear power, rocketry — were big straight-forward problems that had big straight-forward solutions. The innovations of the next century — clean energy, fighting antibiotic resistant infections, slowing down aging — are much more complex and detailed.
The blogosphere is aflutter about a recent article outlining a supposed method for picking the winner of Presidential elections. The author has 13 points he evaluates the election on and if a candidate has eight of them in his favor, he will supposedly win election. Supposedly, this method correctly reproduces the winner of almost every past election — that is, if you credit it with picking the winner of the popular vote instead of the electoral college. And he’s claiming Obama will win in 2012.
The criteria are:
1. Party mandate: After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections.
2. Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination.
3. Incumbency: The incumbent party’s candidate is the sitting president.
4. Third Party: There is no significant third party challenge.
5. Short-term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.
6. Long-term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.
7. Policy change: The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.
8. Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term.
9. Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.
10. Foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.
11. Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.
12. Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party’s candidate is charismatic or a national hero.
13. Challenger charisma: The challenging party’s candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.
I scarcely need get into how silly and subjective this is. Nate Silver has thoroughly and systematically torn apart this “method”, pointing out that the author frequently changes a candidate’s “charisma” rating and bizarrely counts Obama’s most unpopular policies in his favor.
It seems to me you don’t need to go to 13 points to have a good feel for an election. You really only need two:
1) Is he of the incumbent party?
2) How’s the economy doing?
That explains the elections of 2008, 2004, 2000 (if you count that as a Gore win), 1996, 1992, 1988, 1984, 1980, 1976, 1972, etc. Really, the only 20th century President I can think of who won re-election in a crummy economy was FDR. To be fair, one of those wins was because the GOP ignored the plain language of the Constitution, which says, “On no account can the President of the United States be named Wendell Willkie. Seriously, guys.”
That having been said, I do think Obama will probably win in 2012 for the same reason FDR kept winning: the economy is not as bad as it was when he took office and the opposition is comprised of gerbils and circus clowns. Obama will be able to point to healthcare reform, Osama bin Laden and the withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s weak on the economy and the deficit, but even marginal improvements will negate that.
Obama is polling 40% right now, but that’s ahead of previous re-elected incumbents. And he hasn’t really started campaigning. While Obama might poll badly 14 months in advance, he has a tendency to exceed expectations in actual elections. His tendency is to let his opponents rant and rave and foam at the mouth right up to the point when he beats them. He beat Clinton and McCain this way and it is quite likely that he will beat beat Perry or Romney. The GOP continues to miss this about Obama: he has ice water in his veins. He doesn’t panic; he doesn’t freak out; he just slowly and calmly wins.
It’s simply a fact that American hate to throw out incumbent Presidents. They really need something to vote for and the GOP isn’t there yet. Half the country is mad that they almost hit the debt ceiling while the other half is mad they go so little for almost hitting it. They’re doing some decent things — especially at the state level. But the national party still seems confused at best and the polls keep jumping to whatever the lates flavor of the month is: Trump, Bachmann, Perry, [insert next GOP hopeful here]. “I’m not Bush” didn’t propel Kerry into the White House in 2004. I just don’t see “I’m not Obama” working out in 2012.
I mean, what does it say that some of the biggest GOP guns are clearly angling for 2016?
Of course, things can change in the next year, which makes Mr. 13 Points even more irrelevant than normal. At this point in 1991, Saturday Night Live ran a sketch where Democrats debated over not being the nominee against Bush the Elder. If the economy implodes, Obama can have all the points he wants; he’s still going to lose.
But I doubt the economy is going to get worse. I doubt a huge scandal is going to erupt. I doubt that a third party challenge will come from the Left. And that, most likely, leaves us with four more years of Obama.
I can probably deal with that if the GOP holds onto the House and picks up some Senate seats. That division of power would force Obama’s hand on the deficit and spending if he wants any legacy at all. The GOP may or may not believe in small government, but they definitely believe in opposing the Democrats. It’s no accident that the best part of Obama’s presidency has been the last eight months.