Entries tagged with “scott sumner”.
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Fri 22 Apr 2011
Posted by Brian Moore under philosophy, science, taxes
This kind of debate is absolutely and endlessly fascinating to me. Go ahead, read ‘em all. I’ll admit that the original Landsburg example was very counter-intuitive to me, even though I generally agree with him. But that’s not the interesting part — it’s that there is such an amazing divide. And not a polite one either, Krugman actually implies that Landsburg doesn’t really deserve his Ph.D.
That there can be such a debate over (what seems to me) to be a very basic principle of the field is totally astonishing. Physicists might argue over whether string theory is valid or not, but that’s pretty advanced stuff — they all basically agree on how simple stuff like inclined planes work. Now, I understand that there are no political implications in the area of inclined planes — if there were, (is friction conservative or progressive?) there might be more debate. But even in fields with heavily charged issues — take climatology or evolutionary biology — the tendency seems to be for the field to develop a consensus and then mock the outsiders who disagree. But this seems to be a pretty bedrock disagreement amongst a number of well-respected (though politically opposed) industry insiders.
This seems to have pretty scary implications for the science. And even if the debate is not over the actual theory and definitions, but rather over the potentially implied policies of that theory, that brings up an equally uncomfortable conclusion: that at least one side of this debate thinks that the theory must be presented in a way that supports their policy goals.
I really wanted to title this post: “Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Tax Forms.”
Wed 14 Apr 2010
Posted by Brian Moore under education
Scott Sumner on vouchers. The thing that always confused me about vouchers is that opponents always seemed to be making the case in the mode of ”I am a parent choosing whether to send my kid to a voucher or non-voucher school” and thereby weighing the relative virtues. They then conclude “non-voucher schools are better!” and then… conclude we should forbid everyone else from choosing them. This gets to the point:
He [Matt Yglesias] makes the following observation:
The choice program does seem to lead to a lot of consumer satisfaction, but not actual improvements in performance.
In other words, actual parents like the results, and are trying to get their kids into the program[.]
Yet Yglesias (I assume) is still against allowing voucher schools, at least by the tone of his last sentence:
But you can’t just throw some procedural switch [i.e. switch to vouchers] and fix everything, especially if the process you put in place doesn’t even specifically focus on improved academic achievement.
Yet with nearly everything else in life, we let people choose what they want, because we accept that even if the people in charge have figured out which policy is best, it’s rarely best for every single person. Yglesias seems to recognize this implicitly in this line:
It’s sort of like when people switch to a “low fat” version of a product, find it’s surprisingly delicious, and don’t pay attention to the fact that it actually has just as many calories as the old variety.
But we actually allow people (even those who purchase the low-fat product with their government-provided welfare check, to equate it to government-funded education) to choose which they buy. But if you’re against vouchers, you want to make (keep) that low-fat version illegal. Why is it that the burden of proof is on the people advocating more choice, and not on those who are trying to restrict it? In almost any other scenario Yglesias would come down firmly on the side of letting the individual choose, even if the government thinks it’s a bad idea — see gay marriage, sodomy laws, freedom of speech, protesting, pot use, flag-burning, what country they want to live in — yet here he doesn’t think so. Why?
This seems like another example of the lack of granularity in the “left-right” divide. Poor inner city parents want to choose where to send their kids to school, and rich suburban families disapprove of granting them this freedom — yet the left agrees with the latter and the right with the former.
Thu 24 Dec 2009
Posted by Brian Moore under healthcare
This is great stuff:
We lost. They won.
Progressives who favor a single-payer system
Libertarians who favor HSAs
Moderate economists who favor cost control to free up money for other societal goals
Private prepaid health plans (for some odd reason referred to as “insurance companies”)
Medical device makers
And many other special interest groups
Minor quibble with “doctors,” as certain specialties will benefit and certain ones will not, but still, that basically covers it. What’s most interesting (at least for me, because confirmation bias is lots of fun) is his comments on the (completely insane) idea that regular health maintenance (doctor’s visits, normal drugs) and catastrophic care (car accidents, cancer) are still being treated as the same thing:
Private prepaid health plans (for some odd reason referred to as “insurance companies”)
The way to achieve this is with a combination of HSAs and catastrophic insurance.
His “odd reason” above highlights the insanity: insurance is for low risk, high cost events. It should not cover doctor’s visits or birth control. This is not to say that you can’t (or shouldn’t) have a plan that pays for those things, but it is emphatically not insurance, and should be treated and regulated differently.
I also like his proposed alternative (take that, reformers who say no one else has any better ideas!):
Sometimes I think the two political extremes blew an opportunity. Let Medicare take over catastrophic insurance for everyone, and let HSAs cover 95% of health care bills. Then provide a subsidy to low income workers’ HSAs. Voila, no private insurance companies.
That would work, (the vital component is the different treatment of maintenance and catastrophic healthcare) but again, at the risk of being nitpicky, I’d split the “catastrophic” care segment, by establishing some dollar amount “medicare opt-out” that you could elect to take. That way, if you felt like you could do better on your own, you could go that route, but you’d be ineligible for medicare forever. Oh, and no healthcare reform (well, you know, other than the one we just passed) is complete without repealing the current bias in the tax code for employer provided insurance over individual provided. Still, these are minor nitpicks.
What it comes down to is this: libertarians warned that this hallmark of progressive policy making would end up getting completely corrupted by precisely those groups progressives hate most, to great financial and political gain. And they were right. But then, maybe I just want thousands of poor people to die, so who are you to believe?
Wed 2 Sep 2009
Posted by Brian Moore under media
Everything Scott Sumner writes is good, but this is some of the best:
[...] the obvious choice for most successful prediction [of the past 20 years] is Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 claim that “history was ending,” that the great ideological battle between democratic capitalism and other isms was essentially over, and that henceforth the world would become gradually more democratic, peaceful, and market-oriented.
Good news is never news. No one ever wants to hear about how things are getting better. Who would we blame? What political goal would this serve?
Mon 20 Jul 2009
Posted by Brian Moore under Uncategorized
This is why Scott Sumner’s site is amazing:
Will, Thanks for that very informative discussion of Rawls. I guess I am the typical economist who wants to reduce everything interesting in life to mathematical criteria. Even so, I still end up with the same problem with the maximin principle that you and Scanlon apparently have.
I was vaguely aware of the importance Rawls placed on human rights.
I have this bizarre view that the “behind the veil” thought experiment treats all of humanity as if it were a single individual. Thus a person doesn’t much care which brain cells in his mind are “happy” as long as he is happy, then if you didn’t know which person you would be, the analogous choice would be to maximize total utility. I think Borges once said that in a sense each person is every person. But this stuff is so far removed from reality as to be no help in public policy formation.
You can read the whole discussion (regarding Will Wilkinson’s inequality paper), which is great, but I’m just focusing on the style: he actually is trying to respond to each and every commenter. I’ve actually seen him apologize when he misses a comment. Plus, he also is completely open about things he doesn’t understand or know about, or stating if he thinks he has a weird way of looking at things. He’s literally just typing the things as they pop into his head, as far as I can tell. I wish I were this honest; if someone references something that I don’t know about, I just google it until I get a decent understanding, then respond.