Gun Control Encore? Someone Picked the Wrong . . .

As an encore to their very successful, earlier video ads on personal self-defense, GLOCK Inc. has produced a new series of superb and humorous videos featuring R. Lee “Gunny” Ermey:

Someone Picked the Wrong Convenience Store:


NASA’s Children’s Climate Change Website, and the book 1984: Creating Spies One Child at a Time

NASA Climate Kids websiteFrom our friend Cal Beisner over at the Cornwall Alliance:

What would you say if your child accused you of a thought crime, and turned you in to the thought police?

Would you say it was ridiculous?

Perhaps you would say, “There is no ‘thought crime’ in the United States.”

Surely your children would never try to accuse you of a crime or try to change your behavior.

Well, think again, because that is exactly what websites like NASA’s Climate Kids intends to do, except they won’t accuse you of thought crime, they will accuse you of a climate crime.

This colorful, fun website has two serious flaws. First, it teaches “pseudo facts” about climate change in a childlike manner that is easy to understand. “Facts” such as

  • Eleven of the last 12 years have been the warmest on record. Earth has warmed twice as fast in the last 50 years as in the 50 years before that. (Actually, there hasn't been global warming in almost 18 years, and climate alarmist scientists know this.)

  • Climate change is causing unusual, extreme weather, some places are suffering long droughts and others are getting far too much rain in a short period. (Actually, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there is no evidence that global warming has increased the frequency or severity of extreme weather events.)

  • "We don't know enough about Earth's ice to know just how many meters sea level is likely to rise as ice melts in various locations." (Actually, sea-ice melt makes no difference in sea level, and land-ice melt doesn't appear to have accelerated during the period of recent, allegedly manmade global warming. As a result, there's been no increase in the rate of sea level rise, which has been happening ever since the end of the Ice Age.)

  • All that carbon stored in all those plants and animals over hundreds of millions of years is getting pumped back into the atmosphere over just one or two hundred years. (Actually, there is good evidence that putting it there is not causing dangerous global warming, but it most certainly is causing improved plant growth all over the world, including of agricultural crops, adding $3.2 trillion worth of crop yield 1960–2011 and a projected $9.8 trillion more by 2050.)

  • ...Since 1979, ice has been getting smaller and smaller and thinner and thinner. Check out the Climate Time Machine and watch the ice shrink. (Actually, both land and sea ice expand and shrink over time in cycles in response to largely natural influences.) [Update, July, 2014: NASA's own National Snow And Ice Data Center show record ice levels at Antarctica currently.]


Understanding Waiting Times for Health Care

in-line-for-obamacareIn Sunday’s New York Times, reporter Elizabeth Rosenthal discusses evidence that that waiting times for medical care in the United States do not always compare favorably with those of other developed countries:

“I fully expect wait times to be going up this year for Medicaid and Medicare and private insurance because we are expanding access to care, but we’re not really expanding the system of providers,” said Steven D. Pizer, a health care economist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Unfortunately, the article evolves into an apologetic for waiting times as a good thing. I would also quibble with Ms. Rosenthal’s description of U.S. health care as “market-based,” which it certainly is not. I don’t think I’ve met anyone, pro- or anti-Obamacare, who does not expect waiting times to increase as long as Obamacare exists. So, we better get used to them. How to explain them?

First, it is surely the case that a little waiting might be beneficial. This is often alluded to in articles like Ms. Rosenthal’s, but only conceptually. Seldom do surveys actually compare experienced waiting times with medically appropriate waiting times. One that does is the Fraser Institute’s survey of waiting times in Canada, which finds that experienced waiting times do, indeed, exceed medically appropriate waiting times in that single-payer system. The Fraser Institute has also detected a negative effect on mortality.


Rags to Riches (to Rags Again)

EconomicFactsandFallacies_2Most income statistics present a snapshot picture as of a given moment—and their results are radically different from those statistics which follow the same given individuals over a period of years.” —Thomas Sowell

Last week, CNNMoney carried a fascinating report on how rich families end up squandering their wealth:

Nearly 60% of the time a family’s money is exhausted by the children of the person who created the wealth, according to Roy Williams, president of wealth consultancy The Williams Group. In 90% of the cases it’s gone by the time the grandchildren die....

Perhaps the most famous example is the Vanderbilt family. Cornelius, the patriarch, built a fortune on railroads and shipping during the mid-1800s. Adjusted for the size of the economy, he was the second richest American ever, worth over $200 billion—well above Bill Gates.

Yet his children—and especially, his grandchildren—lived lavishly, building huge mansions in New York City, Newport, R.I., and elsewhere, and did little to preserve the fortune. By the 1970s, the family held a reunion with 120 members attending, and there wasn’t a millionaire among them, wrote Michael Klepper and Robert Gunther in their book The Wealthy 100.

Besides the tendency of the heirs to indulge and live lavishly, experts interviewed in this story stated that the main reason why family fortunes ended up evaporating is because the original wealth creators do not give clear instructions on how to handle the money after they’re gone. As a result, surviving family members often engage in bitter infighting, leading to an eventual loss of fortune.


Another Cover-Up? IRS and Social Security Administration Not Cooperating with Obamacare Fraud Investigation

10936452_SIn early June, we learned that over two million (of a total of eight million) Obamacare applications lacked income, citizenship, or immigration data to verify eligibility for Obamacare’s tax credits. In the middle of the month, the Obama administration began contacting “hundreds of thousands of people with subsidized health insurance to resolve questions about their eligibility, as consumer advocates express concern that many will be required to repay some or all of the subsidies.”

Now, the Inspector General (IG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has confirmed that the agency was lax in preventing ineligible enrollments: “The deficiencies in internal controls that we identified may have limited the marketplaces’ ability to prevent the use of inaccurate or fraudulent information when determining eligibility of applicants for enrollment...”

That’s putting it mildly. Far worse is that the IG is unable to investigate eligibility based on income or residency because the IRS and Social Security Administration appear not to be cooperating with the investigation (pp. iv-v):

During our fieldwork, questions arose concerning OIG’s access under the Internal Revenue Code to Federal taxpayer information that IRS provides to marketplaces. We sought authorization from IRS to access that information. Because the request was still pending when we had completed our data collection, we did not review supporting documentation for certain eligibility requirements, such as annual household income and family size, for the purpose of this report.3 As a result, we could not evaluate whether each marketplace determined the 45 sample applicants’ eligibility for advance premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions according to Federal requirements.

Further, we did not determine whether information submitted by the 45 sample applicants at each marketplace was inaccurate or fraudulent because we could not independently verify the accuracy of data stored at other Federal agencies, e.g., IRS and SSA. Instead, we focused our review on determining the effectiveness of internal controls for processing that data and addressing inconsistencies in eligibility data when identified by the marketplace.


Burgeoning Regulations Threaten Our Humanity

19666985_SInsofar as mainstream economics may be said to make moral-philosophical assumptions, it rests overwhelmingly on a consequentialist-utilitarian foundation. When mainstream economists say that an action is worthwhile, they mean that it is expected to give rise to benefits whose total value exceeds its total cost (that is, the most valued benefit necessarily forgone by virtue of this particular action’s being taken). But nearly always the economists make no attempt to evaluate as part of their benefit-cost calculus any costs that might be incurred as a result of how and by whom the action is taken.

Often they verge on the assumption that benefits and costs exist apart from those who take the action, even though this assumption clashes with the foundational principles of their science. Thus, in benefit-cost calculations, economists often attach a value to certain expected benefits (e.g., the dollar value of lives saved as a result of a safety regulation) and compare this value to the dollar outlays by the government that imposes and enforces the regulation and by the private parties who are compelled to comply with it, often at great private expense.

I cannot recall, however, ever seeing a benefit-cost computation that attaches any cost valuation to the loss of freedom by the regulated parties. It is as if it matters not at all that an action is mandated, as opposed to freely chosen. Freedom itself is, in effect, considered worthless, and hence its loss entails no sacrifice regarded as worthy of receiving weight in the calculation.


Do Private Prisons Make Financial Sense for States?

changingtheguard_180x270Most states use contract prisons for some of their corrections needs, often in the hope of saving money, but is contracting out really all that worthwhile for states? The current debate about prisons and the private sector has often generated more heat than light. Fortunately, a new study from the Independent Institute answers the question by offering a new and improved method for calculating the fiscal benefits of breaking free of the public-prison monopoly.

Authored by two leading experts on public-private partnerships, economists Simon Hakim and Erwin A. Blackstone, Prison Break: A New Approach to Public Cost and Safety finds that using contract prisons often results in cost savings two or three times as large as the 5 to 10 percent minimum that some states require. In some cases, the long-run savings is much higher, such as in California (savings of 58.61% at one prison), Oklahoma (up to 36.77%), and Texas (up to 44.95%).

“Our study found that contracting out inmates to private prisons saved state governments money while maintaining performance at least at the same quality as public prisons,” Hakim and Blackstone write. “Indeed, public-private competition and cooperation could even be extended to further these fiscally responsible goals.”

Although thirty states used contract prisons in 2010, Hakim and Blackstone found it helpful to focus on ten: Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. Employing state and federal cost data, as well as interviews with corrections officials, they compare the short-run and long-run avoidable costs of contract prisons with the costs of public prisons. In doing so, they raise the bar for studies on the economics of prisons. Interestingly, they note that states that contract for correctional services tend to employ a variety of alternatives to incarceration, such as sentencing reform, community-based corrections and reentry programs, and that private operators often partner with government agencies to provide such services.


Why Hobby Lobby Is Not an Assault on Women

8775595_SThe reactions from the progressive side of the fence to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. was stunning. The spin is that American women have been stripped of fundamental constitutional protections. Sandra Fluke at The Washington Post’s blog claimed that “[t]he Hobby Lobby case is an attack on women.” The White House lamented that the decision “jeopardizes the health of women employed by these companies.” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, according to CBS News, opined that “[t]his ruling goes out of its way to declare that discrimination against women isn’t discrimination.”

So in what nefarious way did Hobby Lobby and other Christian-owned businesses conspire with five members of the Supreme Court to discriminate against women and impair their health? The business owners simply objected to paying for health insurance coverage for four birth control methods that prevent a fertilized egg from developing by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus. Because they believe that life begins at conception, the Christian business owners felt that they would be aiding and abetting the murder of unborn children if they funded these methods. The owners are not against all contraception and voiced no objection to the 16 other FDA-approved birth control methods that health insurance plans must provide under Obamacare. In essence, these Christian villains simply objected to being forced to provide what they viewed as abortifacients.

In interpreting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), the Court simply held that the Christian business owners do not have to pay for the four methods that they believe induce abortion. The Court assumed that the government had a compelling interest in providing cost-free contraceptives but found that the mandates of Obamacare were not the least restrictive means in furthering that interest. This is that statutory test that Congress requires in a RFRA analysis.


Ralph Nader’s Unstoppable

cover250x312Ralph Nader’s new book, Unstoppable, describes a convergence of ideas on the political left and political right against the corporate state. The book says there is a broad consensus, from socialists to libertarians, who oppose government policies that provide corporate welfare and bailouts for the economic elite and impose the costs on everyone else. This widespread opposition to corporatism manifests itself in political groups ranging from the Occupy Wall Street movement to the Tea Party.

I’ve noticed the same thing, and a few months ago commented in The Beacon about the similar conclusions Joseph Stiglitz, on the left, and David Stockman, on the right, drew about how government policies favored the cronies—the 1 percent—over everyone else. And shortly before that, I noted my nearly complete agreement with self-described Progressive Cynthia Tucker’s column critical of government policies that favor the well-connected elite over the general public.

Like Nader, I am encouraged when I am able to agree with people whose political views differ substantially from mine.

It’s true that people from one end of the political spectrum to the other oppose corporatism, at least in the abstract. When we get to specific cases, that opposition is not so clear. Corporate bailouts were supported by Presidents Bush and Obama, and by a compliant Congress. Green energy subsidies are popular with certain groups, and business investment and job creation incentives are popular with other groups.


Does the United States Over Diagnose Cancer?

10751080_SEzra Klein challenges the notion that patients in the United States get better cancer treatment than patients in other developed countries. Klein was writing in response to the Commonwealth Fund’s comparison of health systems in eleven developed countries. As I noted previously, one problem with this survey is that there is no apparent relationship between ranking on the survey and health outcomes. Although the United States does poorly in the survey, it does well in health outcomes, especially cancer outcomes.

Or maybe not, according to Klein:

Most of the studies that highlight America’s skill in treating cancer do so by measuring survival rates—that is to say, they measure how many people survive for a certain number of years after the cancer is diagnosed. So if a certain cancer kills 50 percent of people within five years, then the five-year survival rate is 50 percent.

The problem here is simple: survival rates don’t necessarily measure when people die. They also measure when they’re diagnosed—and sometimes, that’s all they measure.

“Let’s say there’s a new cancer of the thumb killing people,” writes Aaron Carroll, a professor of pediatrics and assistant dean at Indiana University’s School of Medicine. “From the time the first cancer cell appears, you have nine years to live, with chemo. From the time you can feel a lump, you have four years to live, with chemo. Let’s say we have no way to detect the disease until you feel a lump. The five year survival rate for this cancer is about 0, because within five years of detection, everyone dies, even on therapy.”

Carroll goes on to imagine a remarkable machine: “a new scanner that can detect thumb cancer when only one cell is there.” Congress immediately orders that every American be scanned for thumb cancer. “We made no improvements to the treatment,” he writes. “Everyone is still dying four years after they feel the lump. But since we are making the diagnosis five years earlier, our five year survival rate is now approaching 100%!” That’s how survival rates can mislead.