I say yes. A number of you have been asking me for comments on this now-famous Atlantic piece by Ezekiel Emanuel. You should read his whole argument, but here is one bit:
…here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.
Ezekiel basically wishes not to live beyond age 75. Not that he will do himself in, but he regards that as a limit past which it is probably not desirable to go. Just to be clear, I don’t read Emanuel as wishing to impose or even “nudge” this view on others, he is stating a personal vision. Still, it strikes me as a somewhat strange approach to understanding the value of a life or estimating when that value ends. The value of an individual life is to be sure somewhat ineffable, but for that same reason it is difficult for a life to lose so much of its value.
It is easy for me to see how a person could be a valuable role model for others past the age of seventy-five. I expect Ezekiel in particular to fulfill this function superbly. I still think frequently of the late Marvin Becker, the Princeton (later UM) Renaissance historian, who for me was an important role model at the age of seventy-seven. Marvin often used to say “Oh, to be seventy again!” He had more than his share of aches and pains, but he was always a comfort and joy to his wife Betty, and most likely to his children and grandchildren as well.
Or visit the list of words in Emanuel’s paragraph, cited above. Many people are “disabled” to begin with, and many other lives are “deprived” to begin with, for one thing most of the lives in the world’s poorer countries. But they are still, on the whole, extremely valuable lives. I don’t just mean that external parties should respect the rights and lives of those persons, but rather internally and individually those lives are of great value.
To pick another word from that paragraph, “creativity” is overrated and most of us do not have it in the first place. And if one does have it, perhaps its passing is in some ways a liberation rather than a personal tragedy.
I would rather be remembered as “that really old guy who hung on forever because he loved life so much” than as vibrant. At some points I felt this piece needed a…marginal revolution.
And to sound petty for a moment, I don’t want to pass away during the opening moments of a Carlsen-Caruana match, or before an NBA season has finished (well, it depends on the season), or before the final volumes of Knausgaard are translated into English. And this is a never-ending supply. The world is a fascinating place and I fully expect to appreciate it at the age of eighty, albeit with some faculties less sharp. What if the Fermi Paradox is resolved, or a good theory of quantum gravity developed? What else might be worth waiting for?
I cannot help but feel that Emanuel is overrating some key aspects of what are supposed to be making his current life valuable, and thus undervaluing his future life past age seventy-five. (See David Henderson too on that point.)
It was Dan Quisenberry who once said: “The future is much like the present, only longer.”
More to the point, and coming from the marginalist camp, there is Art Buchwald, who noted: “Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got.”
Letting someone get a job is not a kind of charity. It’s not a welfare program. It’s just the government leaving people alone to go and make something out of their lives. When most people are on earth are dealt such a bad hand, to try to stop them from bettering their condition seems a very cruel thing to do to someone.
My elevator pitch has no economics in it, because the economics is actually too subtle to really explain in an elevator pitch. If I had a little bit more time, I would say, “What do you think the effects for men have been of more women in the workforce?”
Are there some men who are worse off? Sure. But would we really be a richer society if we kept half the population stuck at home? Isn’t it better to take people who have useful skills and let them do something with it, than to just keep them locked up someplace where their skills go to waste?
Isn’t that not just better for them, but better for people in general, if we allow people to use their skills to contribute to the world instead of keeping them shut up someplace where they just twiddle their thumbs or do subsistence agriculture or whatever?
On the economics, David Roodman has a characteristically careful and comprehensive review written for Givewell of the evidence on the effect of immigration on native wages. He writes, “the available evidence paints a fairly consistent and plausible picture”:
Plaudits are due to Givewell. While others are focused on giving cows, Givewell is going after the really big gains.
…the cost of bureaucracy is in general vastly overestimated. Compensation of workers accounts for only around 6 percent of non defense federal spending, and only a fraction of that compensation goes to people you could reasonably call bureaucrats.
And what Konczal says about welfare is also true, although harder to quantify, for regulation. For sure there are wasteful and unnecessary government regulations — but not nearly as many as libertarians want to believe. When, for example, meddling bureaucrats tell you what you can and can’t have in your dishwashing detergent, it turns out that there’s a very good reason. America in 2014 is not India under the License Raj.
In other words, libertarianism is a crusade against problems we don’t have, or at least not to the extent the libertarians want to imagine.
And what all this means in turn is that libertarianism does not offer a workable policy agenda. I don’t mean that I dislike the agenda, which is a separate issue; I mean that if we should somehow end up with libertarian government, it would quickly find itself unable to fulfill any of its promises.
You can read his further points here. In fact I agree with many of Krugman’s observations in what I thought was overall a useful post. It’s just that I think a lot of other viewpoints are living in a fantasy world too.
That said, Krugman grossly underestimates the costs of government regulation. For one thing, government regulations are a major obstacle to the infrastructure improvements which Krugman is so keen on. To use Krugman’s own pick of the cherry, he wrote another post defending the DMV for its on-line service and reasonable wait times. It was not always so, but on top of that let’s not forget the Virginia DMV just tried to put Uber and other ride-sharing services out of business (Krugman himself wrote rapturously about Uber a few weeks ago and how it held out the promise of a society with diminished car ownership in some locales. I say bring it on.) Fortunately the regulators were temporarily overriden in this case, although they may reemerge as an obstacle in a subsequent bargain. More generally, taxi license and medallion requirements are a disgrace in many places, and who is in charge of that? Typically the DMV.
You might also ask whether DMVs underregulate where they ought to regulate more. The number of road deaths in the United States each year is so high as to be scandalous. I am not sure how much this problem can be pinned on the DMV (how easy is it to get very bad drivers off the road through legal/constitutional means?), but still it is hard to argue that in absolute terms these agencies are overseeing a successful regime of road safety.
classic, quasi-approachable hanson
When we use words to say how we feel, the more relevant concepts and distinctions that we know, the more precisely we can express our feelings. So you might think that the number of relevant distinctions we can express on a topic rises with a topic’s importance. That is, the more we care about something, the more distinctions we can make about it.
But consider the two cases of food and love/sex (which I’m lumping together here). It seems to me that while these topics are of comparable importance, we have a lot more ways to clearly express distinctions on foods than on love/sex. So when people want to express feelings on love/sex, they often retreat to awkward analogies and suggestive poetry. Two different categories of explanations stand out here:
1) Love/sex is low dimensional. While we care a lot about love/sex, there are only a few things we care about. Consider money as an analogy. While money is important, and finance experts know a great many distinctions, for most people the key relevant distinction is usually more vs. less money; the rest is detail. Similarly, evolution theory suggests that only a small number of dimensions about love/sex matter much to us.
2) Clear love/sex talk looks bad. Love/sex are to supposed to have lots of non-verbal talk, so a verbal focus can detract from that. We have a norm that love/sex is to be personal and private, a norm you might seem to violate via comfortable impersonal talk that could easily be understood if quoted. And if you only talk in private, you learn fewer words, and need them less. Also, a precise vocabulary used clearly could make it seem like what you wanted from love/sex was fungible – you aren’t so much attached to particular people as to the bundle of features they provide. Precise talk could make it easier for us to consciously know what we want when, which makes it harder to self-deceive about what we want. And having available more precise words about our love/sex relations could force us to acknowledge smaller changes in relation status — if “love” is all there is, you can keep “loving” someone even as many things change.
It seems to me that both kinds of things must be going on. Even when we care greatly about a topic, we may not care about many dimensions, and we may be better off not being able to express ourselves clearly.
You get into a state I think mentally where, you're just like out on an island ... You can see from that island another shore and all these people are there, but there's no way that you can get across [ ] or there is no way that you want to get across.The idea of bodily depletion was conveyed by Sally, whose son had recently been imprisoned for nine years. "It's like part of you gone, your heart, I don't know. Perhaps half my heart has gone away." Later she adds: "I don't feel like I'm part of my body when I'm down. [ ] It's like something's gone inside me and swept my happiness away."
I feel like sometimes my life is on hold. [ ] I'm going to be out of a job and that's my life over because [ ] [the company] has been my life for 20 years, you know, I've, I don't know anything else.The second key theme to emerge from the interviews was of "being shaken" - including experiencing overwhelming emotions ("I was waiting for that fearfulness to come on like a wave," said Paul); frenzied thinking ("It feels like my brain is just racing all the time and I'm trying to think all the time," said Ravi); and the sense of an uncertain self. Regards this last point, Stewart (who'd lost access to his son after a divorce), put it like this:
Depression for me is not liking yourself, having no confidence in yourself, seeking reassurance, hanging onto anything that you can, pretty much anything emotionally, get your hands on. Lacking courage.Reflecting on their analysis, Smith and Rhodes said it was clear that all the interviewees had in common that they felt alone, empty and that they had no future. The picture, the researchers explained, was not of a "steady, flat, fixed-state" but of a "fluctuating see-saw between long periods of descents into emptiness and moments of explosive emotion."
A new report from the Migration Policy Institute calculates that:
The US government spends more on its immigration enforcement agencies than on all of its principal criminal federal law enforcement agencies combined. In FY 2012, spending for CBP, ICE and US-Visit reached nearly $18 billion. This amount exceeds by nearly 24% total spending by the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Secret Service, US Marshals Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) which stood at $14.4 billion in FY 2012.
In other words, the Federal government spends more on preventing trade than on preventing murder, rape and theft. I call it the anti-nanny state. It’s hard to believe that this truly reflects the American public’s priorities.
some really good pieces linked here
Annihilation has no terrors for me, because I have already tried it before I was born — a hundred million years — and I have suffered more in an hour, in this life, than I remember to have suffered in the whole hundred million years put together. There was a peace, a serenity, an absence of all sense of responsibility, an absence of worry, an absence of care, grief, perplexity; and the presence of a deep content and unbroken satisfaction in that hundred million years of holiday which I look back upon with a tender longing and with a grateful desire to resume, when the opportunity comes.
– Mark Twain, Autobiography
Black males, overall. Abigail K. Wozniak has a new NBER paper on this topic:
Nearly half of U.S. employers test job applicants and workers for drugs. A common assumption is that the rise of drug testing must have had negative consequences for black employment. However, the rise of employer drug testing may have benefited African-Americans by enabling non-using blacks to prove their status to employers. I use variation in the timing and nature of drug testing regulation to identify the impacts of testing on black hiring. Black employment in the testing sector is suppressed in the absence of testing, a finding which is consistent with ex ante discrimination on the basis of drug use perceptions. Adoption of pro-testing legislation increases black employment in the testing sector by 7-30% and relative wages by 1.4-13.0%, with the largest shifts among low skilled black men. Results further suggest that employers substitute white women for blacks in the absence of testing.
There is an earlier ungated version here.
a bummer of a post that strikes me as mostly otm
…it is notable that in a time of deeply depressed labor markets, our biggest thing is long-run inequality.
Or closer to home, I do of course track how my columns do on the most-emailed list; and there’s no question that inequality gets a bigger response than demand-side macro.
This doesn’t mean that we should (or that I will) stop trying to get the truth about depression economics across. But it’s an interesting observation, and I think it has implications for how politicians should go about doing the right thing.
This is a very interesting point (link here), but it differs from my view. I see the inequality issue as having high salience for NYT readers, for Democratic Party donors, and for progressive activists. It has very little salience for the American public, especially with say swing voters in southern Ohio or soccer moms. Unlike in Singapore or South Korea, where the major concentrations of wealth are pretty hard to avoid for most people, American income inequalities are well hidden for the most part.
McLean is one of the wealthiest towns in Virginia, but if you drive through the downtown frankly it still feels a bit like a dump. I’ve never wanted to live there, not even at lower real estate prices. You don’t stumble upon the nicest homes unless you know where to look. Middleburg is wealthier yet, but it has few homes, feels unreal, and most people don’t go there anyway. If they do, they more likely admire well-groomed horses and still read Princess Diana biographies. They are not choking with envy over the privileges of old money rentiers, and there is no Walmart in town to bring in the masses (who probably would not care anyway).
Perhaps ironically, to the extent that inequality as a phenomenon consists of the top 0.01% pulling away from the pack (not my prediction, by the way), general public resentment against the very wealthy will be especially hard to generate. Out of sight, out of mind.
What swing voters really hate is inflation, probably irrationally so. That does mean the aggregate demand argument won’t have much political salience, but as a result I see the Left as not quite knowing what to do next. We’ll get pre-school in more cities, a $15 minimum wage in Seattle, and lots of action targeted at high cable bills, which for the intelligentsia will be tied to net neutrality and various mergers. As the de Blasio reign indicates, blue cities may be the new laboratories for trying out bad ideas. The states which won’t expand Medicaid may yet budge, but most of them are firmly in the “red” category. The political influence of the local hospitals will matter more than intellectual discourse.
In short, you can expect a series of totally unsatisfying political debates, and they will further distort the discussions of economists, on both sides of the political ledger.
relevant to some interests
Excellent interview with George R. R. Martin at Rolling Stone:
How did you come up with the Wall?
The Wall predates anything else. I can trace back the inspiration for that to 1981. I was in England visiting a friend, and as we approached the border of England and Scotland, we stopped to see Hadrian’s Wall. I stood up there and I tried to imagine what it was like to be a Roman legionary, standing on this wall, looking at these distant hills. It was a very profound feeling. For the Romans at that time, this was the end of civilization; it was the end of the world. We know that there were Scots beyond the hills, but they didn’t know that. It could have been any kind of monster. It was the sense of this barrier against dark forces – it planted something in me. But when you write fantasy, everything is bigger and more colorful, so I took the Wall and made it three times as long and 700 feet high, and made it out of ice.
and some political economy:
A major concern in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones is power. Almost everybody – except maybe Daenerys, across the waters with her dragons – wields power badly.
Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?
In real life, real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with. Just being a good guy was not the answer. You had to make hard, hard decisions. Sometimes what seemed to be a good decision turned around and bit you in the ass; it was the law of unintended consequences. I’ve tried to get at some of these in my books. My people who are trying to rule don’t have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn’t make you a wise king.
man i JUST chided someone on twitter for being upset about the selfie song and now this! i don't know how to stop being mad at people for this reaction and I certainly don't know how to convince them to stop having it :/
Comic URL: http://www.lefthandedtoons.com/1640/
I put my hand in my mouth after I touched all of that money. Could that be bad?
Not a surprise to me but yikes nonetheless:
In the first comprehensive study of the DNA on dollar bills, researchers at New York University’s Dirty Money Project found that currency is a medium of exchange for hundreds of different kinds of bacteria as bank notes pass from hand to hand.
By analyzing genetic material on $1 bills, the NYU researchers identified 3,000 types of bacteria in all—many times more than in previous studies that examined samples under a microscope. Even so, they could identify only about 20% of the non-human DNA they found because so many microorganisms haven’t yet been cataloged in genetic data banks.
Easily the most abundant species they found is one that causes acne. Others were linked to gastric ulcers, pneumonia, food poisoning and staph infections, the scientists said. Some carried genes responsible for antibiotic resistance.
“It was quite amazing to us,” said Jane Carlton, director of genome sequencing at NYU’s Center for Genomics and Systems Biology where the university-funded work was performed. “We actually found that microbes grow on money.”
This was, by the way, a relatively frequent complaint in 19th century monetary writings, with the advent of banknotes.
good news imo, tho that is a gut reaction and I may be wrong
“We understand that we doctors should be and are stewards of the larger society as well as of the patient in our examination room,” said Dr. Lowell E. Schnipper, the chairman of a task force on value in cancer care at the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
In practical terms, new guidelines being developed by the medical groups could result in doctors choosing one drug over another for cost reasons or even deciding that a particular treatment — at the end of life, for example — is too expensive.
More from the NYTimes.
we are all going to die
In any case, according to most analysts — see, e.g., Bloomberg, “The Future of China’s Power Sector”, Aug. 2013 http://about.bnef.com/white-papers/the-future-of-chinas-power-sector/ — China won’t stop putting in coal plants. Indeed. Bloomberg projects that 343-450 gigawatts of new coal generation will be built in China over the next fifteen years, more than the total capacity of the entire US coal base (300 gigawatts). China’s power needs are so big that even if it installs solar and wind facilities faster than any other nation has ever emplaced them, the nation will still bring online 1 large 500 MW coal plant *per week* from now until 2030.
Even if somehow China *could* build enough solar and wind plants in time, it still would be building coal plants, too. The basic reason is that solar panels in China typically produce <20% of their annual peak capacity (China has few sunny regions) and wind 80% of peak capacity and do it all the time, so to get reliable power you have to build vastly more peak capacity from renewables than coal, and China can’t afford that.
There is more, including more from Mann, here.
classic hanson, man
Imagine that this weekend you and others will volunteer time to help tend the grounds at some large site – you’ll trim bushes, pull weeds, plant bulbs, etc. You might have two reasons for doing this. First, you might care about the cause of the site. The site might hold an orphanage, or a historical building. Second, you might want to socialize with others going to the same event, to reinforce old connections and to make new ones.
Imagine that instead of being assigned to work in particular areas, each person was free to choose where on the site to work. These different motives for being there are likely to reveal themselves in where people spend their time grounds-tending. The more that someone wants to socialize, the more they will work near where others are working, so that they can chat while they work, and while taking breaks from work. Socializing workers will tend to clump together.
On the other hand, the more someone cares about the cause itself, the more they will look for places that others have neglected, so that their efforts can create maximal value. These will tend to be places places away from where socially-motivated workers are clumped. Volunteers who want more to socialize will tend more to clump, while volunteers who want more to help will tend more to spread out.
This same pattern should also apply to conversation topics. If your main reason for talking is to socialize, you’ll want to talk about whatever everyone else is talking about. Like say the missing Malaysia Airlines plane. But if instead your purpose is to gain and spread useful insight, so that we can all understand more about things that matter, you’ll want to look for relatively neglected topics. You’ll seek topics that are important and yet little discussed, where more discussion seems likely to result in progress, and where you and your fellow discussants have a comparative advantage of expertise.
You can use this clue to help infer the conversation motives of the people you talk with, and of yourself. I expect you’ll find that almost everyone mainly cares more about talking to socialize, relative to gaining insight.
first real knockout of March MODOK Madness 2014
Robin Hanson's farther died and even in this he is so very Robin Hanson
Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.
Last night my father died. And I am sad. This wasn’t a big deal in the scheme of things. But, you see, this was MY little finger. And more.
nice sash, prince
infographics in the 19th century
This chart, devised in 1869 by French civil engineer Charles Minard, illustrates the disastrous toll suffered by Napoleon’s army on its foray into Russia in 1812. 615,000 men marched east, and 10,000 emerged five months later.
In a single image the map shows the path of the army, its geographical coordinates, its dwindling size, and the weather conditions (the graph at the bottom shows the plunging temperature during the retreat from Moscow, when “Generals January and February” killed thousands of starving soldiers). Yale political scientist Edward Tufte said Minard’s illustration “may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.”
social mobility in america is mostly a myth but maybe it's mostly a myth everywhere, all of the time
Another remarkable feature of the surname data is how seemingly impervious social mobility rates are to government interventions. In all societies, what seems to matter is just who your parents are. At the extreme, we see in modern Sweden an extensive system of public education and social support. Yet underlying mobility rates are no higher in modern Sweden than in pre-industrial Sweden or medieval England.
There was one case where government interventions did seem to promote mobility, which was in Bengal, in India. There the strict quota system in educational institutions had benefited significantly people with surnames associated with the Scheduled Castes.
But the bizarre element here is that these quotas did not help those truly at the bottom of the social ladder. Instead, the benefits went to families of average social status whom the British had mistakenly classified as Scheduled Caste. These families have now become a new elite. The truly disadvantaged, such as the large Muslim community, have been correspondingly further burdened by being excluded from these quotas.
Interestingly, in China, the extreme social intervention represented by the Communist Revolution of 1949, which included executing large numbers of members of the old upper class, has not resulted in much of an increase in social mobility. Surnames of high status in the Imperial and Republican era continue to be overrepresented among modern elites, including Communist Party officials.
The families that have high social competence, whatever the social system is, typically find their way to the top of the social ladder.
The interview is interesting throughout. And you will of course note the new Chetty results — created with entirely different methods and data — showing economic mobility has not much changed in the United States for decades.
For the initial pointer I thank Samir Varma.
tyler cowen thinks los angeles is the best city in the world, apparently?
I wrote this email, which in the interests of varying the “voice” on this blog I have not in the meantime edited:
Best food in the US, no real comparison especially adjusting for price.
Best driving for classic routes and views and also availability of parking along the way (NYC is awful for the latter).
Best walking city in the US (really), and year round.
The city has its own excellent musical soundtrack, Beach Boys, Byrds, Nilsson, etc., has aged better than the SF groups I think.
Incredible architecture and neighborhoods, almost everywhere.
Everyone goes to the movies.
First-rate concert life, including classical and contemporary classical.
Very interesting art galleries.
Few book stores (though disappearing everywhere, these days) and the people have no real sense of humor, but nowhere is perfect!
really awesome longform on the ad council, keep america beautiful, and public service ads as efforts to ward off public regulation: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/3642/
To amuse themselves in 1907, librarians Edmund Lester Pearson and John Cotton Dana published The Old Librarian’s Almanack, a pamphlet they alleged to have been written originally in 1773 by Jared Bean, “curator or librarian of the Connecticut Society of Antiquarians,” and evidently a man of strong opinions:
So far as your Authority will permit of it, exercise great Discrimination as to which Persons shall be admitted to the use of the Library. For the Treasure House of Literature is no more to be thrown open to the ravages of the unreasoning Mob, than is a fair Garden to be laid unprotected at the Mercy of a Swarm of Beasts.
Question each Applicant closely. See that he be a Person of good Reputation, scholarly habits, sober and courteous Demeanour. Any mere Trifler, a Person that would Dally with Books, or seek in them shallow Amusement, may be Dismiss’d without delay.
The book was reviewed seriously in the New York Sun, the New York Times, the Hartford Courant, Publisher’s Weekly, the Newburyport Daily News, the Providence Sunday Journal, and even the Library Association Record, which asked “what librarian would not at times in his secret soul sympathize” with Bean’s irritation with patrons who disturbed his reading time.
Finally Helen E. Haines of the Library Journal discerned the hoax, and the library community realized it had been had. Public Libraries wrote, “We congratulate the author of the book on being so clever to project himself into the past, as to deceive even the very elect. The book is well worth owning and reading. Let us be thankful that one with humor, imagination and sympathy has created for us dear old Jared with his gentle comradeship and his ardent love of books.”
Here's a great example from Elisabeth Rosenthal of the kind of scary price problems in American health care. It costs more to have a conventional delivery in the United States than it costs to have a cesarean in France or Switzerland or the Netherlands.
And note that this graphic is very careful to look at the actual all-in final amount of money paid. This is not a question of how the cost is allocated between the patient, the insurance company, the government, and the patient's employer. It's a question of how much money gets handed over from the people who pay for health care (patients, insurance companies, employers, governments) to the people who perform health care services. And Americans hand over a lot.
Perhaps someone will make the argument that America is gaining some important quality advantage over Swiss and Dutch childbirths in exchange for our money. But if you accept that we aren't, note that there isn't anything mysterious about the reason prices are so much higher in the United States than elsewhere. What other countries do is they write laws capping the price of health care services. The economic justification is that in all countries the purchase of health care services is heavily subsidized (because one of the best things a society can do with its material prosperity is ensure that sick people get better) so you need to use regulation to ensure that the incidence of the subsidy falls mostly on patients rather than on health care providers. In America, health care prices are largely uncapped so they get very high.
yglesias throwing shade at robin hanson at the end there
Josh Green had a fascinating story the other day about the difference between the Obama campaign's (accurate) internal polling data and Gallup's wildly off-base data. He delves into exactly how Gallup thinks they got it wrong, but looking at the chart I'm struck by how good Gallup's polling was at doing what Gallup's polls are supposed to do—drive media interest in Gallup polls.
You see two big things from the Obama campaign data. One is that on a day-to-day basis nothing matters and nothing changes. The people who follow campaign events are mostly strong partisans whose minds don't change, the swing voters whose minds might change aren't interested in politics so they don't know these things are happening. Even worse, the Obama data shows that even the things that do matter don't actually matter. The "bumps" Obama got from the Democratic Convention and the 47 percent tape were almost precisely offset by Obama's terrible performance in the first debate. This is a picture of how US presidential campaigns play out that's validated by scholarship on the history of elections, so it should give us some confidence that the Obama team knows what they're doing.
But what they're doing isn't what Gallup is doing which—again—is trying to drum up media interest in Gallup polls. And compared to the Obama numbers, the Gallup numbers are really interesting. You could write lots of articles about those numbers, while the Obama numbers tend to suggest that you shouldn't bother.
I'm not a huge fan of the "we should be gambling all the time about everything" school of thought, but it would be useful in this realm. If public polls were released by people who were placing large financial bets on the outcome of the campaign, then pollsters would work to purge their models of excessive volatility. But in the world that exists, the incentives are all wrong. "Incumbent President presiding over economic growth and falling unemployment will probably win and nobody's paying attention to the campaign" is a terrible news story. It just happens to be true.