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Economics

January 20, 2015

"Sorry, liberals, Scandinavian countries aren’t utopias"

Kyle Smith reviews The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia.

Smith's conclusion is consistent with other work I've seen: even if Scandinavians really were terrifically happy, they are key features of their societies that wouldn't transfer well to other countries, particularly the U.S.

"More Is More: Why the Paradox of Choice Might Be a Myth"

From the first time I heard about the famous experiment, I thought it was baloney: the stakes were low, the situation not representative of the choices people actually face, and the sample was almost surely unrepresentative. The corollary worry that increasing choices were therefore bound to make us sad and crazy failed to recognize the significant increase in tools people now have for making choices.

So the recent failure to replicate the results is of little importance to me, but your mileage may vary.

See this for Barry Schwartz's reply. But also see this remark of his:

It’s just that sometimes choice is paralyzing, and sometimes it’s liberating, and we don’t know what determines which direction it’ll go in, yet. So I don’t think we can say unequivocally that too much choice is bad, because we don’t know the limits to that.

I'd give him an A for honesty, but a D- for the scientific importance of his theory.

"Ezekiel Emanuel: Go Ration Yourself'

David Catron does a fine job smacking yet another really dopey pronouncement from Mr. Emanuel. This is especially nice:

. . . he probably doesn’t experience much cognitive dissonance when suggesting that, in order to forestall the physician shortage caused by a program he helped design, right-minded people should forego a “benefit” they were coerced to purchase.

January 19, 2015

"The Year of Piketty"

Bloomberg columnist Clive Crook concisely summarizes the major attacks on Piketty's work and concludes with this vicious, mostly accurate swipe at how the social sciences work:

Attention, social scientists. Don't worry about being wrong, just be wrong in a big way. Be wrong because you over-reach. Be wrong the way Marx was wrong (but maybe hope for less collateral damage).

"A New Study of the Conservative Alternatives to Obamacare, and What's Missing From It"

I agree wholeheartedly with Veronique de Rugy:

This demands, as he puts it, that health-care policymakers discard their “Fortress” mentality and adopt a “Frontier” attitude that tolerates calculated risks and welcomes competition from diverse practitioners and disciplines. . . .

The bottom line: To fix American health care, we need a new way of thinking about it, a new focus away from the demand side – away from the provision of health insurance toward the supply side of health care.

By the way, don't be suckered by those claims that Obamacare is "working". See Michael Tanner's piece.

"Spin won’t stop the pension wrecking ball"

An editorial by Union Tribune, San Diego.

The debate in the Golden State over government pensions has been distorted for years by union-funded groups like Californians for Retirement Security and their allies. Not only do they deny pension costs are soaring, they consistently depict reformers as driven by animus toward unions and envy over a benefit they won’t get to enjoy.

But two recent U-T stories show the real reason reformers keep trying to scale back public employee retirement benefits: their immense cost.

See also "UC's Pension Fiasco".

"Simple Economic Growth Won't Fix the Middle Class"

Robert Samuelson:

The great middle-class fear today is that the connection between personal aspirations and societal opportunities is breaking down.

Personally, I'd ascribe that fear to an educational system that does too little and a federal government that does too much.

January 16, 2015

"The Myth of Gentrification"

Oh, my: this is an eye-opener.

Of course, displacement is not the only way in which gentrification could harm the poor. Residents of gentrifying neighborhoods might stay put but suffer from rising rents. Freeman and Braconi found that rents did rise in gentrifying neighborhoods in New York. But rising rents had an unexpected effect: As rents rose, residents movedless.

“The most plausible interpretation,” the authors concluded, “may be the simplest: As neighborhoods gentrify, they also improve in many ways that may be as appreciated by their disadvantaged residents as by their more affluent ones.”

. . . 

McKinnish, White, and Walsh aren’t the only researchers whose work suggests that blacks often benefit from gentrification. In his book, Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality, sociologist Patrick Sharkey took a close look at black neighborhoods that saw significant changes to their ethnic composition between 1970 and 1990. He found that when the composition of black neighborhoods changed, it wasn’t because whites moved in. That rarely happens. For black communities, neighborhood change happens when Latinos begin to arrive. Sometimes these changes can be difficult, resulting as they often do in new political leaders and changes to the character of the communities. But Sharkey’s research suggests they also bring real benefits. Black residents, particularly black youth, living in more diverse neighborhoods find significantly better jobs than peers with the same skill sets who live in less diverse neighborhoods. In short, writes Sharkey, “There is strong evidence that when neighborhood disadvantage declines, the economic fortunes of black youth improve, and improve rather substantially.”

January 13, 2015

"Much Of America Still Hasn't Recovered From The Recession"

Interesting map, by counties.

January 12, 2015

"Liars’ Remorse: Democrats have second thoughts about Obamacare"

William Voegeli, beautifully correct:

If Democrats were forthright and respectful they would have enough confidence in their proposals and their countrymen to speak plainly. They would say: “We’re not idiots; you’re not idiots; and only an idiot could believe it’s possible for government to do big things that help lots of people without also imposing big costs, through taxes and regulations, that adversely affect lots of people. The reason you should support the Democratic agenda is not that we’re magicians who can make something out of nothing. It’s that the benefits of our programs will exceed their costs—so much so that our country and most of our citizens will be better off paying the higher taxes and complying with the more stringent regulations than we would be absent the taxes, the regulations, and the benefits they make possible.”

. . . 

In 2009 the federal government spent $425 billion on Medicare and $251 billion on Medicaid. Together they accounted for 19 percent of all federal spending that year. If the two programs were indeed full of waste and abuse, citizens would be fully justified in the modest demand that their elected officials treat making Medicare and Medicaid effective and honest as an urgent end in itself, rather than hold the discharge of that duty hostage to the political effort to make those wasteful, abusive programs even bigger. They would be further justified, as opposed to sickeningly childish and hypocritical, in supposing that if two huge, 44-year-old government programs’ endemic waste and abuse had not been rooted out, there might be good, daunting reasons for that problem’s persistence. Voters would go on to conclude, plausibly, that prudence dictated reducing the waste and abuse first, rather than making massive new spending commitments that were predicated upon reducing it somehow, someday.

See also "Hypocritical Harvard Profs and the Insanity of Statism":

Another way of putting this is: Obamacare is an intervention sold on the pretext of fixing problems directly caused by past interventions. The Left's optimism in the federal government's ability to tinker its way to controlled costs under Obamacare is a self-deception. And it is built on a willful ignorance of long-forgotten, unintended consequences of statist policies.

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