Higher health care costs = lower wages

Seems like Ezra Klein has been waging a lonely campaign to make this very important point.  This week, he got an Op-Ed on the matter.  You really should read it.  Here's the crux:

The reason is not that people haven't heard grim warnings about the
future. It's because they don't understand what's going on in the
present. In 2009, the average
employer-sponsored health-care plan cost a bit less than $13,500. But
virtually no one cut a check for $13,500. Employers generally pay more
than 70 percent of their employees' health-care costs. To employees,
that seems like a good deal, particularly given how fast costs are
growing. A "benefit," as it's called.

But health-care coverage is not a benefit. It's a wage deduction.
When premium costs go up, wages go down. When premium costs go down,
wages go up. Yet workers don't know that. In fact, the information is
hidden from them. That means that cost control seems like all pain and
no gain, which makes it virtually impossible for Congress to pass. It's
like asking someone to diet when they don't realize it will help them
lose weight.

One simple suggestion is to simply have employers list their expenses on behalf of your health care on your paycheck.  Great, simple idea.  Unfortunately, even this modest idea has been stymied.  I certainly know that NCSU spends a ton on my health care and I'd love it if they spent less for a more cost-effective plan and I saw some more salary.  But, of course, most people don't know that and the system works to hide the fact from them.

Save the government money

Not going to end the budget deficit this way, but it is good to see the Obama administration working towards more cost savings and efficiency where they can find them.  Go here and vote on the best idea to save the government some money. 

 

Al Gore v. Sarah Palin

 Well, not directly, but loved this bit from Gore in a recent interview in Slate.

And again, we're putting 90 million tons of it into the air today
and we'll put a little more of that up there tomorrow. The physical
relationship between CO2 molecules and the atmosphere and
the trapping of heat is as well-established as gravity, for God's
sakes. It's not some mystery. One hundred and fifty years ago this
year, John Tyndall discovered CO2 traps heat, and that was
the same year the first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania. The oil
industry has outpaced the building of a public consensus of the
implications of climate science.

But the basic facts are
incontrovertible. What do they think happens when we put 90 million
tons up there every day? Is there some magic wand they can wave on it
and presto!—physics is overturned and carbon dioxide doesn't trap heat
anymore? And when we see all these things happening on the Earth
itself, what in the hell do they think is causing it? The scientists
have long held that the evidence in their considered word is
"unequivocal," which has been endorsed by every national academy of
science in every major country in the entire world.

If the people
that believed the moon landing was staged on a movie lot had access to
unlimited money from large carbon polluters or some other special
interest who wanted to confuse people into thinking that the moon
landing didn't take place, I'm sure we'd have a robust debate about it
right now.

Exactly right, on all scores.  Speaking of people who would be inclined to argue for a fake moon landing, the Washington Post, seemingly seeking to ever further undermine the credibility of its opinion pages, has taken to that sharp-minded policy expert, Sarah Palin, for her thoughts on climate change.  Don't waste your time reading them.  Instead, be glad that the Post at least has Joel Achenbach on-line to mock them:

When I want an astute analysis of climate change, or of any complex
scientific topic, including the search for the Higgs boson, the mystery
of human consciousness, and the Protein Folding Problem, I turn to America's most trusted scientific expert, Sarah Palin.

Ms. Palin lives in the Arctic. She can see the North Pole. She has
field-dressed moose on Denali glaciers. What she knows is that there's
still a lot of snow out there. There's ice all over the place. Frankly
it's way too cold. Warm things up a bit and Alaska might actually be
habitable! And those polar bears are dangerous predators for whom
extinction can come only too soon…

Climate, weather — it's all the same. Just because Arctic sea ice
has been in wholesale retreat and ships now make the Northwest Passage
doesn't mean that's anything but a warm spell.

Tomorrow: Palin solves the mystery of Gamma Ray Bursts

 

 

Give cash for Christmas

If you spend $25 to buy me a DVD, but I would've only spent $15 of my own money on that DVD, that gift has wasted $10 in value. Joel Waldfogel has a new book about this called Scroogenomics.  He's got a nice summary of his basic arguments in a recent Slate article.  His key point:

Given the $65 billion in U.S. holiday spending per year, that means we
get $13 billion less in satisfaction than we would receive if we spent
that money the usual way—carefully, on ourselves. Americans celebrate
the holidays with an orgy of value destruction. Worldwide, the waste is
almost twice as large.

Maybe I should give more cash, but I'd like to think that I do such a good job with gifts that I am actually creating value by finding people things they enjoy for less money than they would have been willing to pay for it.  Steve Greene: value creator– that works for me.

Stat of the day

From Newsweek:

 Working mothers spend 60 percent more time each day on child care and
household tasks than employed fathers, according to the Bureau of Labor
Statistics. And when a father faces unemployment, he is likely to spend
just one minute more per day—just one minute!—on child care.
[emphasis mine] (He will,
however, carve out 83 more minutes to watch TV.) Unemployed mothers, on
the other hand, spend nearly twice as much time as working moms taking
care of their kids, all while they too look for work.

Wow, that's sad and pathetic.  I think I'll be using that statistic a lot in the future.  Kim will vouch for me doing my part while happily employed.  Right, Kim?

Grad student living

Thanks to my friend Steve S. for bringing this one to my attention.  Kim and I lived pretty frugally in grad school, but this guy is clearly in a class by himself.  I especially appreciate that he was living out of his van at Duke and I've got a pretty good idea where he parked.

 

Good policy = bad politics (v. 1743)

The News and Observer has a nice Op-Ed today about attempts to reform the tax system in North Carolina.  As it turns out, the solutions are quite obvious, expand the tax base and lower the rate.  Jack Betts:

Almost every state commission that has studied the sales tax has
concluded that if the state were to broaden the sales tax base to
include more services, it could also pare the rate substantially –
perhaps trim other tax rates, too.

The committee heard from
witnesses that North Carolina has an extremely narrow sales tax base,
taxing less than one-fourth of the services that could be taxed,
including such things as lawn services, plumbing repairs, hairdos and
the like…

The answer, almost everyone agreed, is that the best policy is to
broaden the tax base as much as possible and reduce the rate as much as
possible. "That's the standard advice," notes House Finance Co-chair
Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake (any my Rep– she's great), "yet it's not the standard operating procedure"
in other states. "It's a very difficult nut to crack," she added.

The difficult nut is the politics of undertaking what is clearly the most sensible policy.  Political difficulty #1: the utterly inane and non-serious modern Republican party.  They are full a revenue neutral reform of state taxes if  they can also change the NC Constitution to cap the tax rates at 3% and to require a 2/3 majority to raise taxes.  That 2/3 majority requirement has sure worked out great for California. 

Okay, though, the Democrats control both houses of the legislature and the Governor's office, they should be able to get this done then, right?  Alas, political difficulty #2… straight from my Public Policy class– distributed benefits and concentrated costs.  That is, we all benefit from a more efficient tax system, but none of us benefits all that much.  The costs, however, are concentrated on the new businesses that will be taxed, e.g., plumbers, hair salons, auto repair shops, movie theaters, etc.  They will fight tooth and nail, and spend a lot of money doing so, to prevent their businesses from being taxed.  That's hard to win against, even when it is the smart and obvious policy.  Politicians aren't exactly known for taking courageous stands in favor of smart policy against well-funded, intense, interests.  And, of course, these groups will somehow convince rubes that their taxes are going up despite the fact that the bill would surely be designed to be revenue neutral for the short term. 

Alas, kind of depressing.  I'll still hold out some hope, but I'm not exactly optimistic.  \

Republicans really are evil (at least among Wake County Commissioners)

A friend just sent me a link to this.  Astounding:

Today's election of a new chairman for the Wake County board of
commissioners makes last week's election of a new school board chairman
boring by comparison.

After being deadlocked for more than an hour, the Republicans took
advantage of a potty break by Betty Lou Ward to elect Tony Gurley as
the new chairman. The Republicans hailed the election while the
Democrats cried foul.

Democrats hold a 4-3 edge among the commissioners. But outgoing
chairman Harold Webb has missed several meetings, including today's
affair, because of a stroke.

Without Webb, the board was deadlocked 3-3 after an hour of voting.
If the vote had stayed that way, Webb would have stayed on as chair
until the issue was resolved.

But things changed today when Ward stepped out of the room to use
the restroom without apparently requesting a recess. In her absence,
the Republicans moved for a vote that saw Gurley win by a 3-2 margin.

UPDATE

The vote that elected Gurley came after dozens of procedural
votes in which the Republican refused to move past the election to
other matters or to hold a recess.

 Speaks for itself. 

The first poll on the public option that makes sense

Via Ezra Klein (of course) comes this Vanity Fair poll that asks not "do you support the public option" but rather, "could you confidently explain what exactly the public option is to someone who didn’t know?"  And the results are about what you'd expect– resoundingly "no."  

 could_you_explain_the_public_option?.png

All these seemingly strong opinions both liberals and conservatives have on the public option, but most have only the slightest clue what it actually means.  Yet another example of why you should not put too much stock in your typical "do you support or oppose…" opinion poll.

Sexist? Offensive? Really Funny?

Or all 3?   Check out this video for Method cleaners:

Something huh? Apparently it has created quite the controversy.  Had quite the discussion when I showed this to my class yesterday.  A lot of the discussion centered on what our thoughts on the ad would be had it been female bubbles ogling a male in the shower.  My take is that most men simply have no idea what it is like to be objectified in a way that commonly happens to women.  I even got into quite an email discussion with one student, which prompted me to come across this great summary of gender differences in sex drive, from WebMD of all places.  Short answer: men think more often about sex and more avidly about sex.  Anyway, I'll be looking forward to discussing this in my Summer 2010 Gender & Politics class. 

 

Bad blogger

That's myself I've been referring to in the title.  Big backlog of stuff I've meaning to blog about and haven't.  No good excused.  I'm going to try and get in some good posts later, but for now, some quick hits of stuff you should read…

  1. Politico is a joke.  Hopefully you knew that already.   
  2. In no way do the hacked emails undermine the case for anthropogenic global warming.  Largely they prove that scientists can be petty, just like ordinary people.  This is the best summary I've read.  (I linked to the last page of the article because it has a terrific summary of what we know for sure about climate change). 
  3. Republicans really love rich people— we know this.  But just admit it already.  In the latest Congressional wrangling on the Estate tax, we get the same old story about how we need to protect family farms, etc.  Only 1.3% of those affected by the tax are the small businesses and farms that GOP Senators claim they are all about protecting. 
  4. Last part of this Krugman column is great.  Strongly makes the point that failure on health care reform bodes extremely ill for us to successfully tackle any of the significant long-term economic challenges are nation faces.
  5. Nice post by Jon Cohn (who I am hopefully bringing in to speak at NCSU next semester) on the breathtaking hypocrisy of Republicans on Medicare cuts.   
  6. Nice post from Ezra Klein on why we should actually pay for Afghanistan, rather than borrow for it.  

Stuff you should read

1) Fascinating (but long) exploration of the development of social democracy over the past 100 years.  Very informative and very thought-provoking.  

2) Terrific interview with a criminal justice reporter on the problems with our criminal justice system.  I was most intrigued by the part where he discusses that the incentives are always towards more prosecution.  Much like health care incentives are always towards more treatment.  

3) A toy drive in Texas is checking the immigration status of parents before letting poor kids have toys.  So wrong!!  Yglesias demolishes the amoral logic behind this.

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