Video of the day

I was telling David and Evan yesterday about some really cool research where 4 month old human babies are equally responsive to human talking in mother-ese and a lemur call (which is preferred to a human voice played backward).  But by 6 months, human babies clearly prefer the human voice to the lemur.  The boys were curious about a lemur call.  This is surely not what the babies heard in the experiment, but it is pretty damn cool.

Obamacare premiums

The latest news on Obamacare is that it is actually working better than expected.  Here’s the NPR story:

Premiums in the health insurance exchanges set to open next week will be lower than anticipated, the Obama administration announced Wednesday.

According to a report released by the Department of Health and Human Services, “premiums nationwide will … be around 16 percent lower than originally expected,” and 95 percent of uninsured people live in a state with average premiums that are lower than expected.

Why?  Because of that good old “competition” thing that Republicans supposedly love:

One reason for the lower-than-expected premiums is higher-than-expected participation by insurance companies.

All year, it seemed that many insurance companies would stay on the sidelines, at least for this first year of the program. A few states and some counties within states will only have spotty competition. But administration officials say people in the 36 states where the feds are in charge will have an average of 56 different plans to choose from, offered by multiple insurance companies.

And competition is key to those lower rates.

“Parts of the country that have a number of insurers participating and competing for business, are coming in with lower premiums,” says Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, who’s been studying the development of the exchanges. “So the market appears to be working.”

Alas, since nothing in life is free, there is a reason for the lower-than-expected rates:

But it seems that another reason that the rates are lower — at least some of them — is that insurance companies have limited the size of their doctor and hospital networks in some of the cheaper plans.

“The lowest-cost plans are coming in a lot lower than people were predicting, because the networks are coming in with a lot fewer doctors and hospitals than people were predicting,” says Robert Laszewski. He’s an insurance industry consultant and longtime observer of the health care system.

Because the law requires all insurers to basically offer the same package of benefits, varying the size of the network was about the only tool they had left to try to create a less expensive plan.

You know what?  Is this ideal?  No.  Would we like people to have a greater choice of doctors and hospitals?  Yes.  Is it a hell of a lot better than not being able to afford health insurance at all?  Hell yes.  Look, I love a couple of my kids’ providers.  I would hate, hate, hate to lose their pediatrician.  That said, I know there’s actually a lot of great pediatricians out there and if it was the difference between an affordable insurance plan or not you bet I would make that trade.  You can’t have your cake and eat it too.  Welcome to life.  Or hey, if you are really upset by this government interfering with who your doctor is note that there’s an average of 56 plans to choose from which include different networks of doctors.  And of course, if we simply had single payer– like most liberal wonks advocate– we wouldn’t have this problem at all.

Have more kids. Or not.

Well, you all know where I stand on the subject.   But I found this Gallup report on the issue of whether or not to have kids, ideal family size, etc.  The key finding they tout is that as fertility rates are approaching an all-time low, as many Americans as 20+ years ago say they want to have children.

Americans' Desire to Have Children, 1990-2013

I was kind of amazed that only 5% simply don’t want children.  I really would have expected more.  And despite what you may have heard, not many parents actually seem to regret it (though some may have preferred fewer):

If you had to do it over again, how many children would you have, or would you not have any at all? August 2013 results

I do love that 3% of non-parents would have liked to have had 6+ kids.  Infertile Mormons?

And why not more kids?  Too expensive.

What do you think are the main reasons why couples do not have more children? August 2013 results

Personally as for my answer I’d go with some combination of time-consuming and children are hard work.  Though many people out there would face genuine hardship by adding another child I would suggest that this does not truly apply to 64% of Americans.  But hey, to each their own cost/benefit.   Which works out to a preferred 2.6 per person.

Trend: Average Ideal Number of Children per Family

Photo of the day

These super close-ups of bees and wasps in Behold are amazing.


Halictus ligatus, female, Morris Arboretum, Philadelphia (USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab)

How legislators view their constituents

Apparently, when legislators are asked to estimate the political views of their constituents, they are systematically wrong in thinking their constituents are more conservative than they actually are.  Even liberal legislators make this mistake.  That doesn’t help.  Tomasky:

 Last year, they asked more than 2,000 state legislative candidates from around the country what they thought the political leanings of their constituents were. Specifically, they asked the candidates to estimate what percentage of the voters in the districts where they were seeking office supported: same-sex marriage; a government-run universal health-care program; the abolition of all federal welfare programs. Then they matched those to existing polling.

Answer? From the authors:

 When we compare what legislators believe their constituents want to their constituents’ actual views, we discover that politicians hold remarkably inaccurate perceptions. Pick an American state legislator at random, and chances are that he or she will have massive misperceptions about district views on big-ticket issues, typically missing the mark by 15 percentage points.

What is more, the mistakes legislators make tend to fall in one direction, giving U.S. politics a rightward tilt compared to what most voters say they want.

Not surprising, in a way. But startling. The typical conservative candidate in their survey overestimated the district’s conservatism by 20 points. The typical liberal candidate overestimated the conservatism by around 5 percentage points.

The authors didn’t really get into why candidates have these perceptions beyond saying that politically active citizens tend to be older and more conservative, but I think it’s pretty obvious that a whole set of factors in most places creates this misperception. Conservatives are often more vocal. Liberals, especially outside cities and university towns, are probably a little cowed. In most places the local social establishment that dictates the agenda will tilt right.

In addition to the profound impact of a systematic conservative bias, the big takeaway for me is just how far off conservative legislators are in their assessments.  One thing Tomasky does not suggest is simple projection and it seems to me conservative legislators are surely projecting their own views onto their constituents to a considerable degree.  I’m also going to hypothesize that the conservative legislators keep themselves in an opinion bubble far more than the liberal legislators do (hard to see how they’d get the conservative biased estimate if they were in a liberal bubble).

And, yet, another clear example how in American politics all is not symmetrical.

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