Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The McArdle View Of Current Events

Shorter Megan McArdle: Death spiral, revisited.


She is very neutral here. Since her capacity for spite has been amply proven, she is probably about to burst with repressed emotion.

The First Step

Conservative women usually abort their Downs Syndrome babies. As do most women who are pregnant with a baby with the syndrome. For pro-lifers, this must not stand.
New Down syndrome law ensures moms-to-be greater access to available help  
By Campbell North / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  
Ever since her birth, Chloe Kondrich has taken her family on an unexpected journey. Chloe, born with Down syndrome in 2003, has now led the family up the steps of the State Capitol.  
This morning in Harrisburg, Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign the Down Syndrome Prenatal Education Act, otherwise known as Chloe’s Law, named after the Upper St. Clair 11-year-old and spearheaded by her father.  
The legislation, which passed with a rare bipartisan vote, 50-0 in the Senate and 196-4 in the House, requires health care providers to make a woman who receives the prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome — a common genetic disorder that comes with mild to moderate developmental delays — aware that they can receive a full range of factual and supportive information through the Pennsylvania Department of Health.  
Information includes physical, developmental, educational and psychosocial outcomes as well as contacts for relevant resource centers, clearinghouses, support services and First Call programs. One service available is the state-funded early intervention program, which provides in-home service and therapy through qualified specialists.  
Shortly after her parents discovered Chloe’s condition they devoted themselves to early intervention efforts to help her physical and mental development and became advocates for other children and families whom Down syndrome affects.  
Her father, Kurt, left a career in law enforcement to work full time on advocacy efforts and is now on the Interagency Coordinating Council for Early Intervention.  
Her mother, Margie, credits Chloe for helping her brother Nolan, 15, know unconditional love and patience at such a young age.  
“I don’t want any expectant mother to feel that pain or confusion when they get a prenatal diagnosis. I want this law to give women hope,” Mrs. Kondrich said. “Chloe was a blessing.”
Unconditional love in childhood is very important but it must come from the parents, first and foremost. A sister is not a lesson in Christian values, she is a person. If the brother is being told that he can't have negative feelings towards his sister, he is just learning to repress his own needs for his parents' needs to find God's goodness in their difficulty.
Kishore Vellody, medical director of the Down Syndrome Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, echoed Mrs. Kondrich’‍s sentiment, saying he sees the necessity of the new law, which will outline physicians’ responsibilities in delivering the news of a Down syndrome prenatal diagnosis.  
“Published data shows that less than half of people felt like their training was accurate in communicating prenatal diagnosis,” he said. “Even in my med school textbooks, a lot of things we learned about Down syndrome was inaccurate because it takes so long to have them updated.”  
Within the past 30 years, the increase in information and standard medical care has been dramatic and is mirrored by the increase in life expectancy for people with Down syndrome, from 25 in the 1980s to 60 and beyond now.  
“Our goal in medicine is to make sure people receive balanced and accurate information when they make decisions about health care,” Dr. Vellody said. “That’s why we support endeavors to help expectant parents.”  
Mr. Kondrich spearheaded the advocacy effort for the legislation in September after discovering that more than 90 percent of women terminate their pregnancy after receiving a prenatal diagnosis for Down syndrome.
If you tell someone that their child will almost certainly outlive them but will still be in a state of child-like innocence and trust, that is not a good thing. That is exactly what would strike terror in a parent's heart. Obviously there is nothing bad in this law but the anti-abortion aspects of it are also obvious. This is the first step. There will be others. A waiting period, required classes, pressure, guilt, a greater burden instead of a lighter one.
Down syndrome occurs when someone is born with a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21 and results in distinct physical traits, increased risk for certain medical conditions and mild to moderate cognitive delays.  
However, “the more I interact with someone who has Down syndrome, the more I think I am the one who has one chromosome less, instead of them having one extra,” said Dr. Vellody. “They tend to be loving, caring and forgiving — features we are missing a lot in general society.”
Tell a woman she has to raise a child to pay for society's sins. That'll work.
The Kondrich family agreed. Down syndrome as a diagnosis doesn’‍t limit what Chloe can do.  
“She met Gov. Corbett and read to him. I mean she helped change a state law, helped make it a better place,” Mrs. Kondrich said.  
Chloe has also been reading since age 3 and reads at the same level of her sixth-grade peers at Boyce Middle School.
Mrs. Kondrich must find meaning where there is none, a blessing in a genetic error. It's how she survives. Come back in 30 years and see what she says then.
State Rep. Jim Marshall, R-Big Beaver, prime sponsor for the act, said, “We hope this will raise awareness to parents who may get the diagnosis and be initially afraid of what the result will be. I think it will raise awareness that their kid is going to be different, not imperfect. There really isn’t anything more perfect than a happy child.”
I find it very hard to believe that a kid is never unhappy. There's a pretty picture in pro-life peoples' minds of obedient, good-natured, sweet children with Downs Syndrome but that does not seem realistic. Kids have a full range of emotions. Youth or innocence or developmental delay does not equal sweetness and light. In fact:
Managing Behavior  
What Are Some Behavioral Challenges Typical In Persons with Down Syndrome?  
The definition of a "behavior problem" varies but certain guidelines can be helpful in determining if a behavior has become significant.  
##Does the behavior interfere with development and learning? 
##Are the behaviors disruptive to the family, school or workplace? 
##Is the behavior harmful to the child or adult with Down syndrome or to others?  
##Is the behavior different from what might be typically displayed by someone of comparable developmental age?  
The first step in evaluating a child or adult with Down syndrome who presents with a behavior concern is to determine if there are any acute or chronic medical problems related to the identified behavior. The following is a list of the more common medical problems that may be associated with behavior changes.  
##Vision or hearing deficits  
##Thyroid function ##Celiac disease  
##Sleep apnea  
##Anemia  
##Gastroesophageal reflux  
##Constipation  
##Depression  
##Anxiety  
Evaluation by the primary care physician is an important component of the initial work-up for behavior problems in children or adults with Down syndrome.  
The behavioral challenges seen in children with Down syndrome are usually not all that different from those seen in typically developing children. However, they may occur at a later age and last somewhat longer. For example, temper tantrums are typically common in 2-3 year olds, but for a child with Down syndrome, they may begin at 3-4.  
When evaluating behavior in a child or adult with Down syndrome it is important to look at the behavior in the context of the individual's developmental age, not only his or her chronological age. It is also important to know the individual's receptive and expressive language skill levels, because many behavior problems are related to frustration with communication. Many times, behavior issues can be addressed by finding ways to help the person with Down syndrome communicate more effectively.  
What Are Some of the Common Behavior Concerns?  
Wandering/running off The most important thing is the safety of the child. This would include good locks and door alarms at home and a plan written into the IEP at school regarding what each person's role would be in the event of the child leaving the classroom or playground. Visual supports such as a STOP sign on the door and/or siblings asking permission to go out the door can be a reminder to the child or adult with Down syndrome to ask permission before leaving the house.  
Stubborn/oppositional behavior A description of the child or adult's behavior during a typical day at home or school can sometimes help to identify an event that may have triggered non-compliant behavior. At times, oppositional behavior may be an individual's way of communicating frustration or a lack of understanding due to their communication/language problems. Children with Down syndrome are often very good at distracting parents or teachers when they are challenged with a difficult task.  
Attention problems  
Individuals with Down syndrome can have ADHD but they should be evaluated for attention span and impulsivity based on developmental age and not strictly chronological age. The use of parent and teacher rating scales such as the Vanderbilt and the Connors Parent and Teacher Rating Scales can be helpful in diagnosis. Anxiety disorders, language processing problems and hearing loss can also present as problems with attention.  
Obsessive/compulsive behaviors These can sometimes be very simple; for example, a child may always want the same chair. However, obessive/compulsive behavior can also be more subtly repetative, manifesting through habits like dangling beads or belts when not engaged directly in an activity. This type of behavior is seen more commonly in younger children with Down syndrome. While the number of compulsive behaviors in children with Down syndrome is no different than those in typical children at the same mental age, the frequency and intensity of the behavior is often greater. Increased levels of restlessness and worry may lead the child or adult to behave in a very rigid manner.  
Autism Spectrum Disorder Autism is seen in approximately 5-7% of individuals with Down syndrome. The diagnosis is usually made at a later age (6-8 years of age) than in the general population. Regression of language skills, if present, also occurs later (3-4 years of age). Potential intervention strategies are the same as for any child with autism. It is important for signs of autism to be identified as early as possible so the child can receive the most appropriate therapeutic and educational services.  
How Should Parents and Caregivers Approach Behavior Issues in Individuals With Down Syndrome?  
1.Rule out a medical problem that could be related to the behavior.  
2.Consider emotional stresses at home, school or work that may impact behavior.  
3.Work with a professional (psychologist, behavioral pediatrician, counselor) to develop a behavior treatment plan using the ABC's of behavior. (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence of the behavior).  
4.Medication may be indicated in particular cases such as ADHD and autism. Intervention strategies for treatment of behavior problems are variable and dependent on the individual's age, severity of the problem and the setting in which the behavior is most commonly seen. Local parent and caregiver support programs can often help by providing suggestions, support and information about community treatment programs.  
Psychosocial services in the primary care physician's office can be used for consultative care regarding behavior issues. Chronic problems warrant referral to a behavioral specialist experienced in working with children and adults with special needs.  
What About Behavioral Changes in Adulthood?  
These can be caused by a number of factors: difficulty with transitions into adolescence or young adulthood, with the loss of social networks, departure of older siblings, death of loved ones, move out of the home or transfer from a protective school environment into a work situation; sensory deprivation, either visual (e.g. cataracts) or auditory (hearing loss); emotional trauma; hypothyroidism; obstructive sleep apnea; depression; and Alzheimer’s disease. While Alzheimer’s disease occurs earlier and more often in adults with Down syndrome than in the general population, not every behavioral or cognitive change in an adult with Down syndrome should be ascribed to this form of dementia.  
The reversible causes enumerated above should be considered, sought after and treated.  
*** NDSS thanks special guest author Bonnie Patterson, MD for preparing this piece. - See more at: http://www.ndss.org/Resources/Wellness/Managing-Behavior/#sthash.nFbppAvz.dpuf
I don't see how any right-to-lifer will be able to stop with an information packet or a few words from a nurse or doctor. They will work on outlawing these abortions and they won't stop until they get it.


The parents are the ones who must live with the decision so the parents must be the ones who make the decision, without pressure from anyone else.


When pro-lifers start voting to increase social services we can start believing that they are just trying to help.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Economic Predictions

Megan McArdle's output has been odd of late; unusually short posts, infrequent posting, and especially very rare early posting leads one to wonder what is going on in the little scamp's life. Her latest post states that we should not blame Obama for DC's gentrification, which is extremely generous of her considering that for years she has been predicting Obama will end the world as we know it.


Usually McArdle comes out with a Happy Job Announcement after such attempts to be fair-n-balanced; she markets herself as above the petty partisan fray and therefore she might be searching for a new position or other money-making opportunity. However she might just be dashing off a few posts between peddling her book in the media, so we will just have to wait and see.


Last week McArdle lovingly described the stacks and piles into which she has placed all her wonderful money while telling her envious audience that she is trying to pay down her mortgage very swiftly. Some people might think it a bit tacky to describe one's wealth in such detail right after informing us that the poor are unfortunate road-kill on her superhighway to prosperity, but McArdle is not one of those people.  One wonders what P. Suderman, boy gamer, thinks of her financial plans; is he thrilled to Silas Marner his pay like McArdle, watching the growing electronic numbers glitter like gold, or is he dreaming of community property laws?


Wait and see, my friends. Wait and see.


THRILLING UPDATE! McArdle did an "international radio interview," according to her twitter.


SECOND DAY OF THRILLING UPDATES!:


Heh!
random_eddie • a day ago


  "We figure it will take us a little less than three years to recoup our refinancing costs, which included points to buy down our rate."  
When I was shopping for a mortgage, I assumed that I'd be paying points to buy down the rates. Low rates are good, right? Especially over the long run, right? It just makes sense, right?  


Wrong. Turns out you can calculate how much of a return you're likely to get on the points you pay, based on how long you think you're going to hold your mortgage (i.e. how long until you pay it off, refinance, or sell). There are calculators on the Internet that will give you either a) the break-even period (this is NOT the same as the three years you mentioned above) or b) the effective rate of return. If the break-even period is longer than you expect to hold the loan, or conversely if the effective rate of return is lower than you expect to earn on your marginal investment, then paying points is a losing proposition.  


I shopped rates. On all quotes from all lenders, the rate of return from paying points was mediocre at best; close enough to the long-run market return that paying points wasn't an obvious slam-dunk win. So instead I kept my cash, figuring that between increased marginal savings and the opportunity cost of liquid funds (especially when buying a house - moving costs, new carpet, fixing the thousand natural shocks that houses are heir to), if the interest rates make it a toss-up situation then cash on hand comes out ahead.


   
Bullitt315   • a day ago
Congratulations on your introduction to finance 101.  
random_eddie   • 20 hours ago  
It may be simple and basic, but it seems a lot of people - including our hostess - don't know about it.


Bullitt315  • 20 hours ago
She's knows it. People aren't finance 101. The snark was uncalled for but I put more in my mortgage now because I rather not spend too much time on personal finance. Ballpark is usually 3-5 years and I know i'll be in my house for longer than that and I also know I ballpark my savings. I could divert the same extra payment to a savings or investment account but if times get lean, I might have to tap it in a down market. I know I shouldn't eat cheetos so I don't buy them. I don't put them on the counter and say "Bullitt, don't eat!"


  
random_eddie  • 19 hours ago
  This is the Internet; snark is always called for. :)


 
Megan is exactly the sort of person who can understand the math AND form a long-term plan AND have the discipline required to stick to it. She's already talked about how she and Peter have been setting aside uncommonly-large portions of their paycheck and putting it into emergency funds, long-term savings, and their mortgage principal. That kind of math+discipline is exactly what's needed to make a 30yr-plus-invest-the-extra pay off vs. a 15yr.  


If you do the math and have the discipline, it adds up to some hundreds of thousands of dollars. Megan is certainly welcome to give up that money if she wishes. But it seems like an odd thing to do, especially since (as she put it) "I don’t know about you, but I could find something to do with an extra $200,000."   
 
McMegan  • a day ago  
We expect to be in the home 15 years from now, so this is not an issue for us.
 
random_eddie   • a day ago Even at fifteen years, it may not pay off as much as you think.  



An actual example, using rate quotes I got last week from a major national retail bank:  
15yr fixed, held for 15 years
Zero points: 3.38%
0.75 points: 3.25%
33% marginal tax rate  


Rate of Return Over 15 Year Holding Period:
Pre Tax 5.41%
After Tax 4.51%  


That's a lousy return on your investment. Maybe the specific deal that you got has better numbers, but if you didn't run them through a calculator (specifically, a calculator such as you might find on the internet by searching for "mortgage points return on investment calculator") then you may be surprised at how little your investment in points is actually paying off.


Doesn't he know that her calculators never work?




ADDED: Snicker

Friday, July 18, 2014

Too Bad So Sad

Shorter Megan McArdle: Corporations are making it impossible for workers to make enough money to live. Shrug.


Some snips:
As I’ve written before, I don't find problematic the existence of jobs that do not pay enough to support a family. Retail jobs have never paid well, because retail margins tend to be pretty slim. The problem is not that retail is a low-wage job, but that an increasing number of people can’t find any other sort of job....  
Unfortunately, the weakness in the labor market has coincided with yet another market development: scheduling software and technology that allows retailers to manage their workforce as another just-in-time input....  
Greenhouse reports that lawmakers are considering rules to combat the practice -- requiring companies to offer a certain amount of notice to workers or minimum shift sizes. I don’t find these laws as obviously troubling as doubling the minimum wage, but the problem is that some hourly jobs genuinely require on-call (certain kinds of nursing, say), and presumably there are teenagers who would like to work for a couple of hours after school. We don’t want to outlaw those benign practices or raise retail prices to the point where many jobs disappear entirely.
When faced with the choice between lower profit margins for the rich or people being able to feed their families and have a semi-decent life, McArdle chooses the corporations, of course. And she continues to pretend that consumer spending does not drive the economy.


It's terribly generous for McArdle to say that workers should be able to feed the kids but she ruined the momentary impression of fake sympathy in the end.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Deranged

Megan McArdle's support for corporations is more than a little nuts; corporations should have all the power and none of the responsibility. One of her pet causes is eliminating corporate taxes.
But while I don’t agree that we need to make corporations pay their “fair share,” I do agree that jettisoning the corporate income tax would be expensive. So here’s my proposal: Eliminate the corporate income tax and take the money from people. That’s what you’re doing anyway, so do it in a simpler, fairer and more progressive way, by raising income taxes on the wealthy and taxing capital income (dividends plus capital gains) more like ordinary income. And stop wasting everyone’s time and money on this insane, unwinnable chess game.
She also said it would be impossible to get individuals to pay more tax but whatever. It's not like we read McArdle for logic, consistency or ethics anyway.


We read for the funny. Let's step into Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine and review McArdle's venomous fury over the passage of the ACA.


First, however, let's see what Mr. Paul Krugman has to say about people with Obamacare Derangement Syndrome.
Health Care Hatred
 
The good news about Obamacare so far shouldn’t be considered disputable. Enrollments really are above target; multiple independent surveys show a sharp drop in the uninsured population; health care cost growth really has slowed dramatically, whatever the reason; the newly insured are generally satisfied with their coverage. If you want to insist that big problems lie ahead, fine (but please explain), but the facts so far are pretty good.
But what I’m getting — and what you get whenever you suggest that things are going OK — is an outpouring, not so much of disagreement, as of fury. People get red-in-the-face angry, practically to the point of incoherence, over the suggestion that it’s not a disaster. 
What’s that about? Partly it may be Obama derangement syndrome. I was struck by mail I received after my last column accusing me of shilling for Obama and refusing to admit what a disaster he’s been — when the column didn’t so much as mention the guy. Obamacare was a label stuck on the Affordable Care Act by its opponents, to tie the president to the disaster to come; now they’re livid that it, and he, are turning out OK.

Partly it may be general hatred for any kind of program that helps the less fortunate, especially if they happen to be, you know, not white. Such programs must be disasters — don’t bother me with evidence. 

And partly, I suspect, there’s now an element of shame. If this thing is actually working, everyone who yelled about how it would be a disaster ends up looking fairly stupid.
But, you know, sometimes looks don’t deceive.


 Shame, I doubt. Fury at being thwarted--yep. McArdle was livid when ACA passed:


Regardless of what you think about health care, tomorrow we wake up in a different political world. 

Parties have passed legislation before that wasn't broadly publicly supported.  But the only substantial instances I can think of in America are budget bills and TARP--bills that the congressmen were basically forced to by emergencies in the markets. 

One cannot help but admire Nancy Pelosi's skill as a legislator.  But it's also pretty worrying.  Are we now in a world where there is absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority?  Republicans and other opponents of the bill did their job on this; they persuaded the country that they didn't want this bill.  And that mattered basically not at all.  If you don't find that terrifying, let me suggest that you are a Democrat who has not yet contemplated what Republicans might do under similar circumstances.  Farewell, Social Security!  Au revoir, Medicare!  The reason entitlements are hard to repeal is that the Republicans care about getting re-elected.  If they didn't--if they were willing to undertake this sort of suicide mission--then the legislative lock-in you're counting on wouldn't exist.   

Oh, wait--suddenly it doesn't seem quite fair that Republicans could just ignore the will of their constituents that way, does it?  Yet I guarantee you that there are a lot of GOP members out there tonight who think that they should get at least one free "Screw You" vote to balance out what the Democrats just did. 

If the GOP takes the legislative innovations of the Democrats and decides to use them, please don't complain that it's not fair.  Someone could get seriously hurt, laughing that hard. 

But I hope they don't.  What I hope is that the Democrats take a beating at the ballot boxand rethink their contempt for those mouth-breathing illiterates in the electorate.  I hope Obama gets his wish to be a one-term president who passed health care.  Not because I think I will like his opponent--I very much doubt that I will support much of anything Obama's opponent says.  But because politicians shouldn't feel that the best route to electoral success is to lie to the voters, and then ignore them. 

We're not a parliamentary democracy, and we don't have the mechanisms, like votes of no confidence, that parliamentary democracies use to provide a check on their politicians.  The check that we have is that politicians care what the voters think.  If that slips away, America's already quite toxic politics will become poisonous.


 Long after predicting that Obama and the Democrats would be sorry they ignored the will of Republicans, McArdle also predicted that bad economic news was going to scuttle Democratic hopes. When some good economic news came out she did not say that it was good news for Democrats, however. Ignoring the good news on Obamacare means she can also ignore any benefits that might accrue for Democrats. A lot of poor people saw their health insurance premiums go down, and no matter what they say, they know who put more money in their pocket and who tried to prevent Democrats from doing anything.


We know that people who support the rich will never suffer financially for trying to screw over the poor, even when they say they can't wait to screw over the people trying to help the poor. There is no shame. There is only mercenary calculation. And knowing McArdle, she won't be able to get those numbers right either.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Assessing Failure: The Death Spiral Revisited

Let us take an analytical look at the death of Obamacare, from the point of view of an expert on failure. Mrs. Megan McArdle, author or The Up Side Of Down: Why Looking Down On The Poor Cheers Me Up, has written approximately 95 posts since September of last year on why Obamacare would be a complete and utter falure. She has written 0 posts on Obamacare recently, which is odd since McArdle surely wants to compare her predictions to tentative results. Some of those predictions, carefully hedged, were:


1. Obamacare will limit your choices when it forces insurers to leave the market.
2. The poor website rollout "could destroy Obamacare -- and possibly, the rest of the private insurance market."
3. Obamacare was in a "death spiral."
4. Obamacare was like Three Mile Island because it was doomed to fail from the start.
5. Obamacare was "dying of old age"; young people would not sign up.
6. Obamacare will "pull the plug" on medical innovation. Yes, she is still making this claim.
7. Obama destroyed Obamacare.
8. Obamacare won't lower costs.
9. Young people aren't signing up and won't sign up later.
10. A slowdown in health spending is due to the recession, not Obamacare.
11. "Watch Obamacare make Health Care Costs Soar"


McArdle did say that we would have to wait until the Census to determine if Obamacare was working but one would think that she would be interested in the latest report of its progress.


Paul Krugman notes this phenomenon in the media in general:
How many Americans know how health reform is going? For that matter, how many people in the news media are following the positive developments?  
I suspect that the answer to the first question is “Not many,” while the answer to the second is “Possibly even fewer,” for reasons I’ll get to later. And if I’m right, it’s a remarkable thing — an immense policy success is improving the lives of millions of Americans, but it’s largely slipping under the radar. How is that possible?  
Think relentless negativity without accountability. The Affordable Care Act has faced nonstop attacks from partisans and right-wing media, with mainstream news also tending to harp on the act’s troubles. Many of the attacks have involved predictions of disaster, none of which have come true. But absence of disaster doesn’t make a compelling headline, and the people who falsely predicted doom just keep coming back with dire new warnings.
 That's because billionaires keep hiring and paying them. The fun part of Mr. Krugman's article is the way in which McArdle fits his exemplary conservative hack examples.
Consider, in particular, the impact of Obamacare on the number of Americans without health insurance. The initial debacle of the federal website produced much glee on the right and many negative reports from the mainstream press as well; at the beginning of 2014, many reports confidently asserted that first-year enrollments would fall far short of White House projections.
Yes, McArdle said that there was no way Obamacare would enroll enough people to meet its goals.
Then came the remarkable late surge in enrollment. Did the pessimists face tough questions about why they got it so wrong? Of course not. Instead, the same people just came out with a mix of conspiracy theories and new predictions of doom. The administration was “cooking the books,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming; people who signed up wouldn’t actually pay their premiums, declared an array of “experts”; more people were losing insurance than gaining it, declared Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
McArdle made the first two claims as well. In fact, she made them in the same words.
Is Obama Cooking the Census Books for Obamacare?  
By Megan McArdle  
For several months now, whenever the topic of enrollment in the Affordable Care Act came up, I’ve been saying that it was too soon to tell its ultimate effects. We don’t know how many people have paid for their new insurance policies, or how many of those who bought policies were previously uninsured. For that, I said, we will have to wait for Census Bureau data, which offer the best assessment of the insurance status of the whole population.
McArdle has a lot of influence and did her very best to kill Obamacare. Fortunately she is an expert on failure and did not succeed, but not for lack of trying.
... I’ve been seeing some claims on the right that the dramatic reduction in the number of uninsured was caused by economic recovery, not health reform (so now conservatives are praising the Obama economy?). But that’s pretty lame, and also demonstrably wrong.  
For one thing, the decline is too sharp to be explained by what is at best a modest improvement in the employment picture. For another, that Urban Institute survey shows a striking difference between the experience in states that expanded Medicaid — which are also, in general, states that have done their best to make health care reform work — and those that refused to let the federal government cover their poor. Sure enough, the decline in uninsured residents has been three times as large in Medicaid-expansion states as in Medicaid-expansion rejecters. It’s not the economy; it’s the policy, stupid.
Lame, stupid, demonstrably wrong. That about sums it up. As linked above, McArdle did this as well.
What about the cost? Last year there were many claims about “rate shock” from soaring insurance premiums. But last month the Department of Health and Human Services reported that among those receiving federal subsidies — the great majority of those signing up — the average net premium was only $82 a month.
Yes, McArdle predicted that as well. Krugman also says:
And as I suggested earlier, people in the media — especially elite pundits — may be the last to hear the good news, simply because they’re in a socioeconomic bracket in which people generally have good coverage.
That, and all the anti-government regulation money sloshing around.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Megan McArdle Is A Big Fan Of Price Gouging

Megan McArdle has covered Uber's trials and travails for some time; she seems to love the idea of having a chauffeur on call in a luxury vehicle at all times, without the imposition of paying him when he is not actually driving. As she is habitually dishonest, her support of Uber is necessarily dishonest as well. We know it is dishonesty and not ignorance or error because she is so very careful to deceive through elision. Let's join the fun!
Uber Makes Economists Sad  
By Megan McArdle, Princess of The Land Of Money  
New York just killed every economist’s favorite thing about Uber: surge pricing. Sure, many economists also love convenient car service at the touch of a button. But black-car services have been around for a long time. Explicit surge pricing -- which both creates new supply and rations demand -- has not, but it’s long been a core feature of Uber Technologies Inc.’s business model. While it can be annoying at times (during a recent rainstorm, I noticed a sudden epidemic of drivers canceling rides, which I suspect was due to the rapidly rising surge price), it also allows you to be sure that you will be able to get a taxi on New Year’s Eve or during a rainstorm as long as you’re willing to pay extra.
Which economists? Alas, we will never know. McArdle links to a Hayek essay; perhaps Hayek told her he has a sad every time the government passed a law. She also links to herself, writing about the wonders of jacking up prices until only her own class can afford them, providing her with a bounteous array of luxury cars to serve her at the snap of her smartphone.

The biggest elision McArdle pulls off is an important one. People who can't afford price gouging will be unable to get transportation. This is their own problem, not McArdle's. McArdle didn't force them to make less money than she and if they want private cars they can just work harder to get them.

After all, it's just rain or a long line. The less fortunate can always use some alternate method of transportation, as her commenters say at length. McArdle is not biased, however. She acknowledges that people will have to pay a lot more for surge pricing. This is not a problem however because she has more than enough money to pay the surcharge, and when she benefits, everyone benefits.

So it's perfectly fine if cars want to cancel her call for a car even though McArdle has said that one of Uber's greatest benefits is the quick service. She's happy to wait while drivers delay pick-up until demand rises and prices are pushed to six times their usual rate. After all, she knew what she was getting into.
Sadly, no one else loves surge pricing as much as economists do. Instead of getting all excited about the subtle, elegant machinery of price discovery, people get all outraged about “price gouging.” No matter how earnestly economists and their fellow travelers explain that this is irrational madness -- that price gouging actually makes everyone better off by ensuring greater supply and allocating the supply to (approximately) those with the greatest demand -- the rest of the country continues to view marking up generators after a hurricane, or similar maneuvers, as a pretty serious moral crime.
"Price gouging actually makes everyone better off." Let this join the panoply of McArdle sayings, such as we are better off not having health insurance because you might catch something if you go to a hospital, and that "young people" should rush a gunman firing bullets at their heads because gun legislation is impossible. Price gouging ensures that only people with a lot of money will be able to afford things during an emergency. This is obvious, which is why McArdle commits another offense against logic, conflating emergencies with busy taxi times.
Some of the outraged people happen to be legislators, who then go and make laws against price gouging in emergencies, which apparently include needing to get a taxi in a bad snowstorm.
Like that. If you read Megan McArdle you will leave believing that the government is once again putting its jackboot on the neck of the Consumer-American. Legislators want to control prices during bad snowstorms! Except she is lying. Uber was criticized for price gouging during Hurricane Sandy. If McArdle did not know this she is merely an incredibly lazy ideologue instead of a liar, who can't be bothered to learn the basic facts before she runs over to the computer to breathlessly gin up an anti-government conspiracy.

She loves her work so.
New York has such a law, and its attorney general was preparing to go after Uber for violating it. In response, the company has announced that it will cap its surge-pricing rates, not just in New York but throughout the country.
There is no link to how the attorney general of New York was "preparing to go after Uber" because there is no evidence. According to news reports he "criticized" Uber's price gouging and Uber voluntarily agreed to cap its surge pricing during emergencies. McArdle does her best to confuse this last point.
This is going to make many people worse off: the drivers who would have liked to make extra on rides, and the riders who don't get rides because some drivers couldn’t be lured out of their warm beds on a cold and needy night. Of course, the people who manage to get rides will be better off, but there will be fewer of them, and it'll be harder to predict whether they’ll succeed in getting a cab. It’s the difference between a raffle ticket and a charity auction.
There will also be fewer people getting rides if the prices are jacked up beyond most people's ability to pay, but they don't count. And Uber can still jack up prices astronomically on "a cold and needy night," they just can't do it when finding a ride could be a matter of life and death.
Yet when it comes to these sorts of transactions, we seem to instinctively prefer the raffle ticket. Michael Munger argues that this is because we don’t see them as “euvoluntary,” or truly voluntary. The aspect of great need makes them feel coercive, even if the person fulfilling the need is not the person who created it. So we’d rather that no one gets ice after a hurricane than see entrepreneurial people get rich selling it to willing buyers. So while this latest development is not economically optimal, it was probably politically predictable.
I've been through hurricanes. The last thing you need after a hurricane is some libertarian-type trying to get rich off of others' misfortune. I found ice at a grocery store in a rich neighborhood after the hurricanes, at the regular price. If I remember correctly there was a two-bag limit, which everyone accepted because they wanted ice too. The poor stood in long lines in the Texas heat for free ice and other supplies. I would not have contributed one thin dime to an "entrepreneur" trying to get rich off of a natural disaster.

Megan McArdle knows this. She read the Little House on the Prairie books. In The Long Winter the sole shopkeeper jacked up prices during their emergency, when people were starting to starve. The townspeople informed him that if he ever wanted another customer after winter ended he had better stop gouging his neighbors. This was the same schmuck who chased off the only animals around because he was a lousy hunter. Too bad he was born so long ago; he would have been a perfect libertarian.

All the world's a sucker waiting to be taken by a clever free-marketer, to these people. Price gouging. What a thing to support. Yet another reason why Megan McArdle is one of the worst people in the world.

(still having computer issues, which makes linking difficult)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Age Of The Corporate-American

"How is not buying you something imposing on you?" asks Megan McArdle while discussing the Hobby Lobby ruling. How can people think they can tell other people what to buy?


Cards on the table: I think that institutions Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor are obviously correct -- they are being forced by the government to buy something that they don’t want to buy. We can argue about whether this is a good or a bad idea, but the fact that it is coercive seems indisputable. If it weren’t for state power, the Little Sisters of the Poor would be happily not facilitating the birth-control purchases of its employees; the Barack Obama administration has attempted to force them to do otherwise. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that this coercion violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and it must therefore cease.

If the government had only butted out of religious people's lives there wouldn't be a problem, McArdle says. By forcing insurance companies to cover birth control the government got what it deserved.

You have a negative right not to have your religious practice interfered with, and say your church forbids the purchase or use of certain forms of birth control. If I have a negative right not to have my purchase of birth control interfered with, we can reach a perhaps uneasy truce where you don’t buy it and I do. But if I have a positive right to have birth control purchased for me, then suddenly our rights are directly opposed: You have a right not to buy birth control, and I have a right to have it bought for me, by you.


Now, isn't that reasonable and fair? People have the right to practice their religion as they see fit. The government has the right to pass laws. It's just a matter of fairness. Hobby Lobby as a corporation should have the same rights as Mr. and Mrs. Green as individuals and Hobby Lobby should be able to run according to the religious beliefs of its leaders.

Why only birth control? Because pre-marital sex is wrong according to the Greens' religion. Now, this is where I admit to some confusion. Health insurance covers Viagra and some of the men who use Viagra are not married. That is wrong and, inexplicably, has escaped the notice of the owners of Hobby Lobby. We know it is okay to profit from the manufacture of Viagra and refuse to cover the cost of Viagra because some of its takers are single. It is only wrong to help pay for Viagra, and yet our religious personage we know as Mr. Hobby Lobby does not refuse to pay for it at all. Why could that be?

 State power is forcing Hobby Lobby's owner to put out money for birth control and they don't want to. They will profit from owning stock in birth control manufacturers. They will profit by refusing to pay for drugs that they are being reimbursed for. That's okay. No problem with facilitating the taking of birth control there. But partially paying for birth control--that is wrong.

McArdle states in this article, "This post is also already too long for me to explain that I’m aware that I’m simplifying quite a lot here and to explore some of the potential complications." But she was able to explore the complications in the past, so let's take a look at the McArdle Justifications For Corporate Religiosity:

People on the Internet seem to have a lot of thoughts and questions about Hobby Lobby. Here are some answers, to the best of my ability.  
1) What can stop a company from arguing that it is against the owner's sincere religious beliefs to pay workers a minimum wage? The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not a blank check to religious groups to do what they want. The law says that the religious belief must be sincerely held, and also that the government can burden the exercise of that belief if it has a compelling state interest that cannot easily be achieved in any other way. That's why no one has successfully started the Church of Not Paying Any Taxes, though people have been trying that dodge for years.  
2) How can we tell if a belief is sincere? Hobby Lobby closes its stores on Sundays and otherwise demonstrates a pretty deep commitment to fairly stringent Christian values, of which opposition to abortifacients is often a part. There will always be some gray area, of course, that allows people to claim special treatment for spurious beliefs, but the government has done a fair job over the decades of sorting out genuine beliefs from obvious attempts to dodge the law. Hobby Lobby seems to fall pretty squarely within the "sincere belief" camp.
Phew! That's a relief! So because Hobby Lobby is closed on Sunday, we don't need to question any of its owners' beliefs or practices. Such as:
Before the court case, the Greens were already considered a first family of Pentecostalism because of their largesse and the example they set as Christian business owners. Hobby Lobby, based in Oklahoma City, has about $3 billion in yearly revenues and donates millions of dollars in profits to charity. The Greens close their stores on Sundays so employees can attend church or be with family, and they pay full-time employees a minimum of $15 per hour. The family buys full-page newspaper ads each Christmas and Easter to emphasize the religious beliefs behind the holidays and advertise a Christian ministry they support called Need Him. They have spent tens of millions of dollars to buy vacant buildings, land and entire campuses, which they have given away to churches and religious colleges.  
Yet the family's profile began rising far beyond Christian circles around 2008, when Mart Green, David's son, spent about $70 million of the family fortune to rescue Oral Roberts University, the Pentecostal school in Oklahoma that was engulfed in a spending scandal and burdened with tens of millions of dollars in debt. Mart Green told The Associated Press that year he stepped in because, "if ORU goes down it affects all the Christian colleges." The Greens drew even more notice for their plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create a Bible museum on land near the National Mall in Washington, which will display the family's massive collection of biblical artifacts, including ancient texts. Steven Green, David's other son and president of Hobby Lobby, is also spearheading the Green Scholars Initiative, which intends to place a Bible-based academic curriculum in the nation's public schools.
So when Hobby Lobby says that their property taxes should only pay for vouchers for religious schools or charter schools and not go to secular school, that's okay. After all, it's against their religion and they are very obviously sincere, and the government still gets its property taxes to pay for education.

We who sail the Snark are not the first to point out the problem with birth control profits. McArdle addresses this as well.
3) But Hobby Lobby buys stuff from China, which has a horrible one-child policy that forces abortions! We're in pretty complex moral territory here, but everyone -- EVERYONE -- is at least remotely commercially associated with something they find appalling. Almost no one extrapolates out their moral beliefs to the most stringent possible application, else those of us who believe that charity is a moral obligation would be forced to sell everything we own until we were as poor as the poorest peasant.  
Hobby Lobby seems to be drawing a line at "after I give cash money to another adult human, I'm not responsible for what happens with the money," which is a reasonable line that many people draw, lest they have to spend all their time investigating the morals and habits of their lawn-care professionals. They may also think -- probably correctly -- that buying stuff from China has no impact on the number of abortions, except possibly to drive them down as the country gets richer. At any rate, no, you have not discovered some enticing "gotcha" that means Hobby Lobby is a big, fat, insincere hypocrite.  
4) But Hobby Lobby invests in companies that make birth control! They don't have a problem with IUDs when they can turn a profit, apparently!  
I don't blame you for saying this, because everyone else who read that somewhat overwrought Mother Jones article seems to have gotten the same impression. However.  
What Hobby Lobby does is outsource its 401(k) to a company that provides mutual funds; those mutual funds invest in companies that make birth control. There are all manner of reasonable distinctions here. First, Hobby Lobby is self-insured, so they are actually paying for the objectionable birth control. They are not, on the other hand, running a mutual-fund company, because that is illegal unless you are registered to do so with the government.  
Hobby Lobby may think that once it has passed off the cash to the employee, it's none of the company's business what the employee buys with it (that seems to be company policy on the disputed birth control). It may also think that the fact that this is done through an intermediary makes it different. Or it could take the stance -- common among evangelicals -- that because the stock does not actually promote the production of the birth control in question (money paid for stock goes to the owner of the stock, not the company), it does not have the same moral obligations as it does when it is a customer of those same companies. Those are three separate reasonable distinctions it could be making, or it could be making a different distinction that I don't know about. Or Hobby Lobby simply may not have realized what investments the proffered mutual funds were in; do you know what’s in your Vanguard S&P 500 Index Fund? I don’t exactly, and I spend most of my day writing about business and public policy.  
At any rate, given all those possible legitimate reasons to make the distinction Hobby Lobby has made, the Mother Jones complaint is pretty weak tea.
In other words, it's okay to pay for birth control if it's in cash but not if it's in benefits. That seems to be utterly arbitrary.

But the big problem lies with McArdle's other mental exercise. If Hobby Lobby has moral rights and obligations, don't pharmaceutical companies as well? If it's immoral to buy birth control, why is it moral to buy birth control stock? McArdle says "money paid for stock goes to the owner of the stock, not the company." But "[a] stock is an ownership share in a corporation. [1] Each of these shares denotes a part ownership for a shareowner, stockholder, or shareholder, of that company."

So either Megan McArdle doesn't know what a stock is or she is attempting to make a transparently false case for Hobby Lobby. I pick door number 2, although underestimating McArdle's ignorance is always a potential danger. In any case, the corporation is now a person. There is no difference between the morality of the corporation and the morality of its owners. Buying stock in companies that facilitate birth control is every bit as wrong as buying birth control, using Hobby Lobby's own logic.
5) But Hobby Lobby used to cover birth control before this lawsuit! It says it didn't realize it covered IUDs. That's quite possible; the list of covered benefits in these plans is now veeeeeerrrrry long.
For the second time McArdle says it's okay to be wrong as long as you weren't sure you were wrong. Which explains her lack of research. But it seems overly generous to religious folks to let them us "I forgot" or "I didn't know" as an excuse. It eliminates that whole sincerity clause. Now it doesn't matter if Hobby Lobby can prove its sincerity; all they have to do is say they meant to do that. Call it the Peewee Hermann clause.
6) Can the Catholic Church now hire undocumented immigrants because it believes in amnesty? No, because see above: Religious freedom gets balanced against the government's interest in secure borders. The church is very likely to lose if it tries this, which it won't.
Why is McArdle answering stupid questions that have nothing to do with the issue at hand? Perhaps she thinks her audience is stupid and therefore must be reassured that their stupid fears are just stupid.
7) Why does the Supreme Court think corporations are people? Isn't that obviously ridiculous?  
The Supreme Court does not think that corporations are people in the sense that you mean -- the Supreme Court will not be ruling that Wendy's has a Title IX right to play college sports. But we extend corporations many of the rights that people get because otherwise the results would be horrifying: The government would have the right to shut down the presses at the New York Times; search Google's servers without a warrant whenever they liked; tell churches (usually organized as corporations) what they could believe; deny nonprofits the right to organize protests; and otherwise abridge fundamental human rights. In this case, the ruling is that closely held corporations (companies where five or fewer people own more than half the stock) are in some sense an extension of their owners, and therefore enjoy the same rights as sole proprietors and partnerships to exercise their beliefs.
Actually, McArdle's reasoning is entirely wrong. "The ruling was reached on statutory grounds, citing the RFRA, because the mandate was not the "least restrictive" method of implementing the government's interest. The ruling did not address Hobby Lobby's claims under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.[29]" But as I said earlier, we all know how McArdle feels about research. (It's unnecessary and just complicates things.)
The court argued that the purpose of extending rights to corporations is to protect the rights of shareholders, officers, and employees.[30] It said that "allowing Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel to assert RFRA claims protects the religious liberty of the Greens and the Hahns."[31]
McArdle says that nobody needs to worry about religious-based discrimination because the government won't allow it.
8) What if I declared that it was my religious belief to discriminate against gays? Actually, that's legal in many places, no matter what your religious beliefs. But if you live in one of the places where it's illegal, you're likely to lose that challenge, because again, the government has a compelling interest in preventing discrimination, and anti-discrimination rules are probably the least restrictive way of achieving that end.
So discrimination against gays is legal; there is no federal law. But the federal government will prevent discrimination because they have a compelling interest to prevent discrimination against gays, even though they do not prevent discrimination against gays. And now the Supreme Court says that the government, which declared that it had a compelling interest in providing poor women with easier access to birth control, must give way to religious practice instead.

Discriminating against the hiring of gays is merely refusing to sanction homosexuality, which is a a religious practice, says some religious groups.

Mr. President: Protect Rel Freedom in Ex Order June 25, 2014 · by Stanley Carlson-Thies · in ENDA, Religious Freedom Some 160 leaders of faith-based organizations and churches sent a letter Wednesday (June 25) asking the President to include strong religious freedom protections in the Executive Order he is preparing that would ban LGBT job discrimination by federal contractors. The letter does not endorse the planned Executive Order as the best way to curtail wrongful job discrimination but instead reminds the President of the need to honor the religious freedom of faith-based organizations, many of which partner with government to serve the needy and all of whom make a distinctive and important contribution to the common good. The letter recommends the religious freedom protections that the Senate accepted in its ENDA bill last November, but requests additional protections. Now, when the federal government is taking special steps to protect against wrongful job discrimination against gay persons, it is essential to also honor the legitimate rights of religious organizations that have long and deep convictions about marriage and sexuality. (This story was updated June 27; the linked letter has additional signatures, received after the letter was originally sent. The additional signatures have also been sent to the President.)

How can anyone deny these freedom-loving and faith-based people and Corporate-Americans who are begging for special protection from laws that protect gays in hiring? They are sincere and should not be forced to support the gay lifestyle by hiring gays. It's a matter of economic and religious freedom. If the courts can dismiss the government's interest in one right, why not in another?
The court concluded by addressing "the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction". The court said that their decision "provides no such shield", and that "prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal."[41] The court also said that the requirement to pay taxes despite any religious objection is different from the contraceptive mandate because "there simply is no less restrictive alternative to the categorical requirement to pay taxes."[42] The court acknowledged the dissent's "worries about forcing the federal courts to apply RFRA to a host of claims made by litigants seeking a religious exemption from generally applicable laws...", noting that this point was "made forcefully by the Court in Smith". The court responded by saying, "Congress, in enacting RFRA, took the position that 'the compelling interest test as set forth in prior Federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests'...The wisdom of Congress’s judgment on this matter is not our concern. Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful."[43]

McArdle continues:
9) Why is it any of my employer's business what birth control I use?  
It's not, but once you make them pay for it, you make them a party to the transaction. You can't, on the one hand, mandate that someone pay for something, and on the other argue that it is a matter of supreme indifference to them. Hobby Lobby self-insures, so there's no question that the company itself would be paying for contraception, which it says it finds morally abhorrent. That puts them in RFRA territory. If you endorse universalizing your own beliefs -- for example, “Brendan Eich should be fired because he spent his own money on opposing gay marriage” or “Women have a right to the fullest contraceptive access” -- then it shouldn’t surprise you that other people might not be content to privately not use abortifacients while buying insurance for its employees who pay for same.
Why should Hobby Lobby pay for same-sex health benefits, benefits for illegitimate children, STD treatments, vasectomies, tubal ligations, emergency D&Cs to save the life of the mother, in-vitro fertilizations? Why should they be forced to pay millions of dollars for anything they find morally abhorrent?

McArdle ridicules the critics who point out that benefits are part of our salary, not a gift from our employer.
10) What if your employer decided it didn't want you spending your salary on IUDs because they're paying for it?  
Why does so much of this argument end up in ludicrous hypotheticals? First, no employer that we know of does this; second, they couldn't do this, because of health-care privacy laws; and third, if they tried to argue from RFRA, the Supreme Court would not side with them, because again, the liberty promised under RFRA is balanced against other interests, not absolutes. RFRA has been around for 20 years, and we haven't legalized, say, pedophilia.
Where are health-care privacy laws when it comes to birth control? "Nobody does it" is a stupid response to a new ruling. Perhaps the Supreme Court would not side with them, but who thought the Supreme Court would declare corporations are people?
11) What if Hobby Lobby is wrong about the science?
McArdle accurately states that it doesn't matter if the Corporate-American is right or wrong, it just matter that he seems to believe it.
12) What if my employer says it has a sincere religious belief in human sacrifice -- can he kill me?  
Yes. If your employer has a deeply held religious belief in human sacrifice, they can strap you in a cage, reach into your chest with their bare hands to pull out your still-beating heart, then drop the cage into a fiery pit. It’s a tough break, but from time to time, the Tree of Liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots. Sorry about that.
It's big of McArdle to look at this whole matter with such glib disdain. But she doesn't have a dog in this hunt so she can afford to yawn and dismiss alarmed lice and scum. She isn't gay and assumes she'll never have so little power that her employer can pick and choose which health benefits suit his conscience and which don't. She isn't poor and can pay for her own birth control, not that she has to.

It's a tough break for married women working at low-paying jobs who were legally entitled to that benefit, but now Corporate-Americans are finally free at last.