Offsets = good; taxes = bad

Nice post from Blad Plumer in TNR about the power of words in affecting public policy preferences:

 Via Julia Whitty, here's
a new study from a trio of Columbia psychologists that tries to settle
this question. Test subjects were broken up into two groups, and each
group was allowed to pick between pricier and cheaper versions of
various items like airline tickets. Group A was told that the more
expensive items included the price of a "carbon tax," whose proceeds
would go toward clean-energy development. Group B was told that the
costlier items included the price of a "carbon offset," whose proceeds
would go toward clean-energy development. Exact same policy, just
different names for each.

You can guess what happened next. In the "offset" group, Democrats,
Republicans, and independents all flocked toward the pricier item. They
were perfectly happy to pay an extra surcharge to fund CO2
reduction—even Republicans gushed about the benefits of doing so. Not
only that, but most of the group supported making the surcharge
mandatory. In the "tax" group, however, Democrats were the only ones
willing to pay for the costlier item. Republicans in this group were
much more inclined to grumble about how much more expensive the tax
made things. Labels really do matter.

It's amazing the degree to which Republican have such an un-thinking, knee-jerk to response with anything with "tax" in the name.  If it is a worthy idea as a "fee" or "offset" it is a worthy idea as a "tax."  We've long seen in political science that winning political battles often depends on winning linguistic battles.  I guess we should expect Democrats to start talking a lot more about "fees" and "offsets" because our government certainly needs to get more revenue instead of the government at a discount we are currently getting.  How about a "fee" on earning more than a million a year.

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Not all bad guys are terrorists.

People who directly attack members of the US military (or CIA engaging in military activities) are not terrorists.  They may be very bad guys and we should try and stop them, but not every body who attacks America is a terrorist.  Will Saletan in Slate:

Within days of the Fort Hood massacre, everybody and his brother was calling Hasan a terrorist. As Slate's Juliet Lapidos noted, even Sen. Joe Lieberman and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who should know better, said it was terrorism. Lieberman cited evidence "that Dr. Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and, therefore, that this was a terrorist act."

Therefore?
You mean, anybody who kills anybody in the name of Islamic extremism is
a terrorist? If that's all we mean by terrorism, then our enemies are
right: It's just a code word for people whose religion we don't like.

 Great point.  Would be nice to see the media be a little more responsible with the word.  I said, "nice," not "likely."

The Simpsons make the case against grad school

Just came across this terrific assemblage of clips courtesy of Big Steve.  I haven't found the Simpsons worthy of viewing a full espisode in a long time, but they seem to still have small bursts of very sharp satire.

The pharmaceutical scam

There was a great story on NPR this past week that used the case study of the "disease" of Osteopenia to demonstrate the way in which the pharmaceutical companies manipulate modern medicine.  Short version, public health officials and doctors created a category, Ostopenia, which refers to women with some bone loss as they age, but not significant enough to qualify as actual bone loss disease– Osteoporosis.   Apparently, the doctors did not consider osteopenia to be a "disease" needing treatment, but rather a useful statistical category for tracking populations.  Alas, Merck was looking for ways to make more money of its osteoporosis drug, Fosomax.  How better to sell tons more drugs than to convince patients and doctors that osteopenia needed to be treated, despite the lack of any medical evidence.  One problem, the bone scans for the diagnosis were rare and relied on expensive machines.  Thus, Merck actually undertook a major campaign to get newer, cheaper machines in doctors' office all over the country so that more women could be diagnosed with ostopenia.  Next problem: experts in bone density believe these machines give much less reliable results than the rarer, more expensive machines.  Oh well, what's a few extra hundreds of thousands of women on a drug they probably don't need. 

The story didn't go into it, but even for Osteoporosis, Fosamax is way over-used.  It is a great example of treating medicine by numbers.  For most women, it increases the number you get on your bone density score, but does nothing to actually reduce the risk of hip fracture– basically the whole point.  Apparently, it works to increase bone density in a way that it not as effective as the body's natural processes. I learned that tidbit in Overdosed America by John Abramson– a great book you should definitely check out if you are interested in the topic. 

Anyway, this is a really great example on how overly powerful pharmaceutical companies massively distort health care in this country.  Well worth a read or listen

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