Quick hits (part II)

1) We have a monopoly problem in this country.  Capitalism only works right when government properly sets the rules off the game.  That ain’t happening.  Vox, “America’s monopoly problem, explained by your internet bill”

There’s little denying that since the 1970s, the way antitrust has been approached in the United States has led to a landscape where a smaller number of big players dominate the economy. Incumbents — companies that already exist — are growing their market shares and becoming more stable, and they’re getting harder and harder to compete with. That has affected consumers, communities, competitors, and workers in a variety of ways.

Proponents of the laissez-faire, free market thinking of recent decades will say that the markets have basically worked themselves out — if an entity grows big enough to be a mega-corporation, it deserves its status, and just a handful of players in a given space is enough to keep prices down and everyone happy. A growing group of vocal critics of various political stripes, however, are increasingly warning that we’ve gone too far. Growth and success at the top often doesn’t translate to success for everyone, and there’s an argument to be made that strong antitrust policies and other measures that curb concentration, combined with government investments that target job-creating technology, could spur redistribution and potentially boost the economy for more people overall.

If two pharmaceutical companies make a patent-protected drug and then raise their prices in tandem, what does that mean for patients? When two cellphone companies talk about efficiencies in their merger, what does that mean for their workers, and how long does their subsequent promise not to raise prices for consumers actually last? And honestly, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to delete Facebook if there was another, equally attractive social media platform out there besides Facebook-owned Instagram?

We should be asking the government and corporate America how we got here. Instead, we just keep handing over our money.

2) Gotta say I’m getting pretty damn intrigued by the 16-hour intermittent fasting.  Should not be that hard for me to give up breakfast and eat between 11:30a, and 7:30pm.  But, I love my breakfast and it’s so healthy (Go Lean cereal, fresh raspberries, fresh blueberries, a little soymilk).

3) How is Charles Murray writing pseudo-intellectual stuff about race still a thing?!  Oh, this is how:

Outrage has been good to Charles Murray. Far from being the victim of “a modern witch burning,” as the neuroscientist and podcaster Sam Harris has described him, Murray has been able to cloak himself in the mantle of the embattled intellectual, the purveyor of forbidden knowledge, while comfortably ensconced at the American Enterprise Institute, the influential think tank, for three decades. His previous book, “Coming Apart,” which examined a balkanized America through the lens not of I.Q. but “cultural differences” between wealthy and poor white Americans, was warmly received. “I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important,” David Brooks wrote in his column in this newspaper. The violent actions of protesters when Murray appeared at Middlebury College in 2017 were widely deplored.

With “Human Diversity,” Murray tries to stoke some of the same controversy that powered “The Bell Curve” — which sold 400,000 copies in its first two months after publication — although more cautiously; “Human Diversity” is thick with reassurances to the reader, and caveats that individuals ought to be judged on their own merits. “I’m discussing some of the most incendiary topics in academia,” he writes, hastening to add that “the subtext of the chapters to come is that everyone should calm down.”

4) No, I don’t tire of pieces on William Barr’s awfulness:

This entire weaponization of DOJ investigations, prosecutions, and sentences to punish perceived enemies and to reward loyal factotums is a threat to the rule of law in America. Every judge and every lawyer in the country understands this intuitively. Despite Barr’s insistence, the ominous fault line isn’t between the president’s tweeted threats at the sentencing judge in the Stone trial and his silence. The real fault line is between what has happened, in the aggregate, on Barr’s cheerful watch—the Department of Justice has become another corner of the government that protects not the rule of law but this president, and not just this specific president, but this specific kind of president, the kind who believes himself immune to legal accountability…

The only remaining question is what to do about it, and specifically what lawyers, judges, and law students, all of whom know in their bones what is happening, should do about it. If ever there were a time for the American legal profession to put down its yellow pads and stand up for the rule of law, it’s today, en masse, and without waiting for someone, more senior, somewhere, to lead the way. The catastrophe unfolding at the DOJ transcends Barr and his TV spat with Trump. We are watching what happens when the law is warped to please a man who believes himself to actually be the law, and what happens when his enabler agrees with that project, and disagrees only on appearances.

5) The gender pronoun controversy on the Harvard campus.  One of those interesting areas where the reliably liberal readership of the NYT lets you know in comments that it’s not that liberal (and, yes, I’m a typical NYT reader in that regard).

6) Speaking of which, I’m totally good with NCSU having women’s history month.  As for womxn’s herstory month— oh please!!  This so does not help the cause of women’s rights.

7) Yes, hospital patients would be so much happier if we didn’t make all patients wear the hospital gown even in the cases where it clearly is not needed.

8) How “left digit bias” causes medical errors:

In a new study of physician treatment decisions, published on Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, we document signs of left-digit bias. This is the bias that explains why many goods are priced at $4.99 instead of $5, as consumers’ minds round down to the left-most digit of $4.

We hypothesized that doctors may be overly sensitive to the left-most digit of a patient’s age when recommending treatment, and indeed, in cardiac surgery they appear to be. When comparing patients who had a heart attack in the weeks leading up to their 80th birthdays with those who’d recently had an 80th birthday, we found that physicians were significantly less likely to perform a coronary artery bypass surgery for the “older” patients. The doctors might have perceived them to be “in their 80s” rather than “in their 70s.” This behavior seems to have translated into meaningful differences for patients. The slightly younger patients, more likely to undergo surgery, were less likely to die within 30 days.

Our study confirms previous work that found doctors are overly responsive to patient age when diagnosing illness, and that showed how seemingly irrelevant factors‚ such as the difference of a few weeks of age, could govern physicians’ decisions about treatment, with potentially life-altering consequences for patients.

Left-digit bias could affect many clinical decisions. For example, patients with hemoglobin levels of 9.9 grams per deciliter may be perceived as being substantially more anemic than patients with hemoglobin levels of 10.0 grams per deciliter (the difference in the two values has no clinical significance).

9) So many prosecutors are just the worst.  The idea that we can prosecute ourselves out of the opioid crisis is not only wrong, but morally disgusting.  The latest, “Naloxone Now Used as Evidence to Prosecute Indiana OD Victims”

10) There’s just so much damn awfulness every week that we are absolutely inured to it.  Any other president, the pardons would be an ongoing scandal.  Alas, now they’re just Tuesday.  NYT, “The 11 Criminals Granted Clemency by Trump Had One Thing in Common: Connections: The process bypassed the formal procedures used by past presidents and was driven instead by friendship, fame, personal empathy and a shared sense of persecution.”

11) This interactive graphic on how various diseases, including COVID-19 spread, is very, very cool.

12) Austan Goolsbee with the case that it’s not just the internet killing shopping malls:

Collectively, three major economic forces have had an even bigger impact on brick-and-mortar retail than the internet has.

In no particular order, here they are:

  • Big Box Stores: In the United States and elsewhere, we have changed where we shop — away from smaller stores like those in malls and toward stand-alone “Big Box” stores. Four years ago, the economists Chad Syverson and Ali Hortacsu at the University of Chicago analyzed the recent history of retail and found that the rise of warehouse clubs and supercenters was bigger than the rise of online commerce.

    They gave this telling example: Over the 14 years through 2013, Amazon added $38 billion in sales while Costco added $50 billion and the Sam’s Club division of Walmart $32 billion. Amazon had the higher growth rate, but the bigger problem for most brick-and-mortar stores was other, largerbrick-and-mortarstores. This continued in 2019.

  • Income Inequality: Rising income inequality has left less of the nation’s money in the hands of the middle class, and the traditional retail stores that cater to them have suffered. The Pew Research Center estimates that since 1970, the share of the nation’s income earned by families in the middle class has fallen from almost two-thirds to around 40 percent. Small wonder, then, that retailers aiming at the ends of the income distribution — high-income people and lower-income people — have accounted for virtually all the revenue growth in retail while stores aimed at the middle have barely grown at all, according to a report by Deloitte.

    As the concentration of income at the top rises, overall retail suffers simply because high-income people save a much larger share of their money. The government reports spending for different income levels in the official Consumer Expenditure Survey. In the latest data, people in the top 10 percent of income saved almost a third of their income after taxes. People in the middle of the income distribution spent 100 percent of their income. So as the middle class has been squeezed and more has gone to the top, it has meant higher saving rates overall.

  • Services Instead of Things: With every passing decade, Americans have spent proportionately less of income on things and more on services. Stores, malls, and even the mightiest online merchants remain the great sellers of things. Since 1960, we went from spending 5 percent of our income on health to almost 18 percent, government statistics show. We spend more on education, entertainment, business services and all sorts of other products that aren’t sold in traditional retail stores.

    That trend has continued for a long time. The federal government’s Current Expenditure Survey goes back more than a century. In 1920, Americans spent more than half their income on food (38 percent) and clothing (17 percent) and almost all of that was through traditional retail stores. Today, food eaten outside the home and in it accounts for 10 percent of spending and clothing just 2.4 percent.

    Economists debate theories of why we have shifted to services and away from goods but no one questions that it has happened. It means that over time, retailers selling things will have to run harder and harder just to stay in place.

In short, the broad forces hitting retail are more a lesson in economics than in the power of disruptive technology. It’s a lesson all retailers will have to learn someday — even the mighty Amazon.

13) How in the world in 2020 America are we still allowing pelvic exams on unconscious, non-consenting patients in the name of medical training?!

14) Speaking of dumb and evil prosecutors (and, yes, there’s plenty of good ones, but the bad ones do so much harm), this kind of thing is just evil and infuriating:

In October, he left the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola after serving 42 years of a life sentence for murder. He’d maintained his innocence from the start, and his departure should have been a joyous moment. Lawyers working on his case had discovered fingerprint evidence previously concealed by prosecutors that pointed to a wrongful conviction.

Yet Brooks, now 62, didn’t walk out of Angola an innocent man. To secure his freedom, he had to “make a deal with the devil.” Rather than languish even longer as he tried to clear his name, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, forfeiting his right to sue, in exchange for immediate release.

“I cried at night in Angola,” confesses Brooks, sitting on his couch next to a pillow with “Blessed” stitched on its front. “I ain’t never thought I was going to get out. So I took the deal. It ain’t right, but that’s the way of the world. It’s a crooked world like that.”

Across the country, the number of exonerations has risen sharply since 2000, especially for homicide cases. The increase is partly attributed to a shift in attitude among some local prosecutors, who have created specialized divisions to review questionable convictions. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner freed 12 wrongfully imprisoned people in his first two years in office. In Baltimore, the Conviction Integrity Unit of the state’s attorney’s office pursued a decades-old case that last November resulted in the exoneration of three men. Each was a teenager when he went to prison.

Other prosecutors still push back, however, even when evidence overwhelmingly supports exoneration. According to Ellen Yaroshefsky, a professor of legal ethics at Hofstra University, money is the most common reason. Wrongful convictions, especially those involving prosecutorial misconduct, often lead to multimillion-dollar lawsuits. If a prosecutor can persuade the incarcerated person to plead guilty in exchange for freedom, the risk of a costly settlement goes away.

15) How are we still fighting about phonics?!  It just works better than anything else for most kids.

16) Drum on Bloomberg and NYC crime:

I had lunch with a friend yesterday and I promised him that I’d dig up the violent crime figures for New York City. Here they are:

This chart alone should provide you with pretty good clues to the answers to these questions:

  1. Did David Dinkins have a pretty good record on crime?
  2. Was Rudy Giuliani’s adoption of broken windows policing responsible for NYC’s crime decline in the 90s?
  3. Did Mike Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policing reduce crime in the 2000s?
  4. Did Bill de Blasio preside over an upsurge in crime in the aughts?

Here are the answers:

  1. Yes: violent crime declined 20 percent on his watch. But nobody knew it at the time because no figures later than 1991 were available during the 1993 mayoral race.
  2. No. Nothing special happened to the crime rate when Giuliani took over. Violent crime was already declining strongly when he became mayor and continued declining after he left. There’s no reason to think that Giuliani had any special impact.
  3. No. Violent crime declined only modestly during his three terms in office.
  4. No. Stop-and-frisk ended and nothing happened. Violent crime stayed low.

17) Really like this on Elizabeth Warren’s approach to capitalism.  Sounds pretty much like I’ve long thought about it without realizing it had a nice theory behind it.  Damn, I wish she were going to be the nominee: “Socialists Will Never Understand Elizabeth Warren: The Democratic candidate is part of a long intellectual tradition that’s gone forgotten in the West: pro-market leftism.”

Warren’s politics are so confusing because we have forgotten that a pro-capitalist left is even possible. For a long time, political debate in the United States has been a fight between conservatives and libertarians on the right, who favored the market, and socialists and liberals on the left, who favored the government…

Warren is reviving a pro-market left that has been neglected for decades, by drawing on a surprising resource: public choice economics. This economic theory is reviled by many on the left, who have claimed that it is a Koch-funded intellectual conspiracy designed to destroy democracy. Yet there is a left version of public choice economics too, associated with thinkers such as the late Mancur Olson. Like Olson, Warren is not a socialist but a left-wing capitalist, who wants to use public choice ideas to cleanse both markets and the state of their corruption…

Now, Warren wants to to wash away the filth that has built up over decades to clog the workings of American capitalism. Financial rules that have been designed by lobbyists need to be torn up. Vast inequalities of wealth, which provide the rich with disproportionate political and economic power, need to be reversed. Intellectual property rules, which make it so that farmers no longer really own the seeds they sow or the machinery they use to plant them, need to be abolished. For Warren, the problem with modern American capitalism is that it is not nearly capitalist enough. It has been captured by special interests, which are strangling competition…

Yet this is a distinctly capitalist variety of radicalism. Socialists will inevitably be disappointed in the limits to her arguments. Warren’s ideal is markets that work as they should, in contrast to the socialist belief that some forms of power are inherent within markets themselves. Not only Marxists, but economists such as Thomas Piketty, have suggested that the market system is rigged in ways that will inevitably favor capital over the long run. The fixes that Warren proposes will at most dampen down these tendencies rather than remove them.

 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

3 Responses to Quick hits (part II)

  1. puffinfreely says:

    Good to see this, found it informative and certainly raised both my eye brows!

  2. R. Jenrette says:

    #2 Better to eat breakfast and lunch and skip supper.
    Remember this: eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and supper like a pauper.

    Thank you, Adele Davis.

  3. R. Jenrette says:

    #17 Elizabeth Warren – the FDR of our times!

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