Monday, September 28, 2009


I'm going to see this in Rochester on Halloween night. Who's in?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ice Cream Truck

Gothamist reports that the ice cream truck wars in Manhattan have gotten nasty.
Reached for comment, Benjamin Van Leeuwen tells us that his driver, Travis, was being followed by three Mister Softee trucks as he tried to find a place to park near Lexington and 55th Street. When he pulled over, they surrounded him and "threatened to kill him" if he didn't leave midtown. Van Leeuwen tells us, "They do that all the time," but so far this is his company's first brush with the Mister Softee mafia in midtown. He tells us that Travis considered calling police, but in the past they've been "really unhelpful" and reluctant to file a police report, and Travis wanted to get back to work.
If this sounds like fiction, it's probably because you've read The Pushcart War. What makes the ice-cream truck war more plausible is that (a) it pits competitors in the same niche against each other, and (b) it's actually happening.

Hat tip to BOTWT.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Qaddafi at the UN

Obama's speech was forgettable. Not so "king of kings and leader of the revolution" Muammar Qaddafi's. An excellent FT blog reaction was noted by Drudge.

Friday, September 18, 2009

An Explanation for Wilson

Joe Wilson has a great excuse for his unclassy outburst last week:

Courtesy of Saturday Night Live

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Party Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

With the election of President Barack Obama, rumors abounded of a "post-racial" era. These were overstated. Now, with the president finding his partisan agenda rejected by public opinion, Democrats have begun to shout "RACISM!" in Obama's defense. This is not helping Obama.

Presidents are parodied, insulted, mocked, hated, and often shot at. This has never been blamed on race before. By running for the presidency, Obama (and his co-competitors in 2008) were volunteering to become a receptacle for vitriol. We chose Obama; we didn't have to.

When Democrats - in Congress or the media - refer to criticism of Obama as "racist", they hurt the cause of blacks in politics.

Those who play the race card are rarely colorblind; they are typically actively interested in the promotion of racial equality, or simply in the promotion of their own race. Either way, they think about race a lot. Most white Americans (and thus most voters) don't think about race a lot. If they do think about race, it's as a distraction from real business, from people doing their jobs. They - we - want a president who does his job, who makes no excuses, and who treats us voters as worthy of his respect.

When critics of the president are dismissed as racist, they will conclude that their accusers have no rejoinder of substance, and aren't ready for the rough business of Washington. This came into play during Hillary's campaign: her defenders played the "woman" card, and voters recoiled. Who wants to be tarred as chauvinist for criticizing the president? Voters instead chose Obama, who (then and now) has done an admirable job at taking punches without whining.

Democrats outside the White House, however, continue to diminish the president by defending him on racial grounds.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Teaching Economists Economics

Paul Krugman is a former economist, and he sets out to describe the state of economic inquiry in the context of the current recession. He correctly notes that there's a sharp division among economists in terms of how to respond to the financial crisis and ensuing recession. But it's his too-clever-by-half attempt to discredit the "freshwater" side of the debate that gets the laughs. He begins with an amusing anecdote:
Consider the travails of the Capitol Hill Baby-Sitting Co-op.

This co-op, whose problems were recounted in a 1977 article in The Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, was an association of about 150 young couples who agreed to help one another by baby-sitting for one another’s children when parents wanted a night out. To ensure that every couple did its fair share of baby-sitting, the co-op introduced a form of scrip: coupons made out of heavy pieces of paper, each entitling the bearer to one half-hour of sitting time. Initially, members received 20 coupons on joining and were required to return the same amount on departing the group.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the co-op’s members, on average, wanted to hold a reserve of more than 20 coupons, perhaps, in case they should want to go out several times in a row. As a result, relatively few people wanted to spend their scrip and go out, while many wanted to baby-sit so they could add to their hoard. But since baby-sitting opportunities arise only when someone goes out for the night, this meant that baby-sitting jobs were hard to find, which made members of the co-op even more reluctant to go out, making baby-sitting jobs even scarcer. . . .
And then returns to the world of economists:
Freshwater economists are, essentially, neoclassical purists. They believe that all worthwhile economic analysis starts from the premise that people are rational and markets work, a premise violated by the story of the baby-sitting co-op. As they see it, a general lack of sufficient demand isn’t possible, because prices always move to match supply with demand. If people want more baby-sitting coupons, the value of those coupons will rise, so that they’re worth, say, 40 minutes of baby-sitting rather than half an hour — or, equivalently, the cost of an hours’ baby-sitting would fall from 2 coupons to 1.5. And that would solve the problem: the purchasing power of the coupons in circulation would have risen, so that people would feel no need to hoard more, and there would be no recession.
Why was the freshwater efficiency ideal "violated by the story of the co-op"? Because the prices didn't adjust. Why didn't prices adjust? Because the co-op fixed them! Krugman even describes how price change would have looked in that case, but it was precisely the rigidity of the system that prevented efficient prices and caused a 'babysitting recession'.

Krugman, of course, is a proponent of government regulation and price-setting.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

We Get Results: A Republican Plan

Yesterday, Global Review published a complaint that Republicans have squandered the opportunity to offer a clear alternative to the quasi-socialization of medicine.

We complain, they respond. Congressmen John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) have an excellent policy memo in the Journal today, laying out clear rationale and a smart plan for reform.
Thousands of foreigners come to America to get care each year; in 2008, some 400,000 people traveled here for treatment... The problem is that some in America cannot access this care. Republicans and Democrats agree that we should cover all Americans.
They highlight cost control, pre-existing conditions, and non-insured Americans as the key areas of reform. The most interesting feature was the GOP approach to the pre-existing condition problem:
In 2006, the Republican Congress and President Bush passed legislation encouraging states to create "high-risk" pools where those with pre-existing conditions could receive coverage at roughly the same rates as healthy Americans. State-based high-risk pools spread the cost of care for those with chronic diseases among all insurers in the market. The additional cost of their care is subsidized by the government.

Unfortunately, some states have not created high-risk pools, and some need to be restructured to ensure timely access to care.
This system has been insignificant so far because the market for health plans remains uncompetitive; the first part of Shadegg & Hoekstra's proposal would start to address that problem.

The congressmen also propose government vouchers spent by low-income consumers in the marketplace as a means of covering the uninsured. This certainly seems to me the most sensible idea (it's similar to how Medicaid works in some states), and it would give the poor access to the same health care as the rest of us.

This brief article doesn't go far enough in describing how means-testing would work for the new Medicaid, or whether penalties would be levied against people who want to slide by without health insurance.

Nor does their proposal for increasing competition by removing the self-insurance penalty seem like it will be enough to actually get competitively priced individual plans. I think that it's probably necessary to do away with employer-provision altogether, and put the onus on consumers to buy their own health insurance - just like they buy their own car insurance and home insurance.

The next step for Shadegg, Hoekstra and friends is to take the message beyond the friendly readership of the Wall Street Journal. The best way to move beyond the Town Hall anger of August and resolve the public debate over health care is for voters to see some alternatives and be able to choose among them through their elected representatives.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Republican Agenda

I'll bet you have no idea what this post is about. "The Republican agenda": what does that bring to mind in 2009?

I'll give you some time...

Need more time?

Ok, time's up.

So what do we have? A leading GOP governor takes time to make the platform clear: the president shouldn't speak to schoolchildren! Are you serious? Given a chance to say something about the public school system or civic responsibility, all that Tim Pawlenty has to say is that Obama shouldn't say anything?

This month has been one of the great opportunities in the past three years for the articulation of a clear conservative agenda, particularly on health care. Instead? The Republicans are the Party of 'No'. They're right: Americans don't want the creeping socialism of Obamacare. But just like the Democrats on Social Security reform 4 years ago, "no" is not enough: Americans do want marginal reforms and they do want to find representatives who can evaluate an idea for its policy merits as well as its political ones.

Nothing to see here, America, move along.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

NHS Death Panels

Sarah Palin, call your office. Drudge's splash headline today is a Telegraph article detailing a critique of Britain's relatively new "Liverpool Care Pathway", which is an oxymoron in which medical care is withdrawn when the doctors judge that a terminally ill patient is near death. Basically it works like this:

Doctor 1: Bring out yer dead.
Doctor 2: Here's one.
Doctor 1: That'll be ninepence.
NHS Patient: I'm not dead.
Doctor 1: What?
Doctor 2: Nothing. There's your ninepence.
NHS Patient: I'm not dead.
Doctor 1: 'Ere, he says he's not dead.
Doctor 2: Yes he is.
NHS Patient: I'm not.
Doctor 1: He isn't.
Doctor 2: Well, he will be soon, he's very ill.
NHS Patient: I'm getting better.
Doctor 2: No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment.
Doctor 1: Well, I can't take him like that. It's against regulations.
NHS Patient: I don't want to go on the cart.
Doctor 2: Oh, don't be such a baby.
Doctor 1: I can't take him.
NHS Patient: I feel fine.
Doctor 2: Oh, do me a favor.
Doctor 1: I can't.
Doctor 2: Well, can you hang around for a couple of minutes? He won't be long.
Doctor 1: I promised I'd be at the Robinsons'. They've lost nine today.
Doctor 2: Well, when's your next round?
Doctor 1: Thursday.
NHS Patient: I think I'll go for a walk.
Doctor 2: You're not fooling anyone, you know. Isn't there anything you could do?
NHS Patient: I feel happy. I feel happy.
[Doctor 1 glances up and down the street furtively, then silences the Patient with his a whack of his club]
Doctor 2: Ah, thank you very much.
Doctor 1: Not at all. See you on Thursday.
Doctor 2: Right.
Doctors everywhere have been deciding when patients are beyond their care since the beginning of doctors. The Liverpool Care Pathway is a uniform lowering of that standard and, like other NHS decisions, was imposed on the people of Britain without their consultation or consent.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Vick, Dogs, and Race

Much has been made of Michael Vick's return to the NFL this year after two years in prison. Two years! How did he get that much when another NFL star got just 30 days for manslaughter. First, he managed to get snared in federal racketeering charges instead of local laws. Second, he was uncooperative and was "made an example" by an angry judge.

Meanwhile, Brett Favre likes to kill animals for sport, too. But his animals are bear and deer. Moreover, I and you, tender reader, enjoy eating hamburgers, chicken wings, and other pieces of dead animals bred in captivity and killed at will. It's hard to see the difference in treatment as anything other than social fiat: we, as a society, like dogs, and don't want to see them killed. We, as a society, believe that animal bloodsport (including bullfighting and bear-baiting as well as dogfighting) is unbecoming of our humanity and detrimental to social peace, but that slaughtering cattle is just fine. That's all well and good: I don't question the content of those decisions.

But race plays a role. It's not racism per se that's at play here. The white American majority did not set out to make "black" sports illegal because we dislike blacks. Nor would the law have let Favre walk if he chose dogfighting instead of bear-hunting. Rather, the majority has outlawed that which it finds inhumane, and the tastes represented by that majority must be the tastes of most whites: there's no other way to construct an American majority.

So what's a majority to do? Should we allow behavior we think inhumane? Should we outlaw behavior that anyone thinks is inhumane (PETA, we're looking at you)? Or should we have different standards for different races? No; separate was never equal. So we find no clear alternative to democracy (in one form or another), which will always elevate the tastes and sensibilities of a majority.

And then what's a Vick to do? By his own lights, he did no worse than Brett Favre with a hunting rifle. He could have accepted the standards of others' consciences, like a foreigner would; but he's no foreigner. Instead, he accepted the harsh punishment of a society in which he enjoys the futility of full individual representation.