Politics

13th August
2009
written by simplelight

The WSJ has an interesting article on Safeway’s healthcare plan:

Safeway’s plan capitalizes on two key insights gained in 2005. The first is that 70% of all health-care costs are the direct result of behavior. The second insight, which is well understood by the providers of health care, is that 74% of all costs are confined to four chronic conditions (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity). Furthermore, 80% of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is preventable, 60% of cancers are preventable, and more than 90% of obesity is preventable.

8th August
2009
written by simplelight

While I was at Stanford in 1998 I took a course called “The Making of the Western Mind”. It was the first time the course was offered at Stanford and the new course had been approved only after the professor secured the support of the provost at the time, Condoleeza Rice. It was offered to both undergraduates and graduates and attracted students from the Stanford law school, the business school, and the graduate engineering programs.

It was one of the best courses I ever took at Stanford and received the highest student ratings ever in the Stanford humanities department. It was fortunate I took the course when I did because it was the only time it was ever offered as it was discontinued immediately.

I was not surprised then, to read another account of the suppression of western civiliation study in American universities:

For six years, I [Robert Koons, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin] was involved in efforts at the University of Texas at Austin to create a program in Western Civilization and American Institutions. Our vision was to offer to all undergraduates a sequence of Great Books seminars, beginning with the Bible and the works of ancient Greece and Rome, and culminating with the classics of the American founding. We sought approval of a certificate through which students could satisfy eighteen of their forty-two hours of general education requirements.

We made considerable progress. Perhaps as a result of that progress, we faced opposition from the major humanities programs (especially English, history, American studies, and religious studies), beginning in the spring of 2007. A New York Times article on September 22, 2008, “Conservatives Try New Tack on Campuses,” accelerated and consolidated that opposition, because it included our program and a quotation from me.

So, even though we secured a “concentration” for our program (a step below but toward a major), introduced a new field of study on campus, raised over $1 million, and hired four postdoctoral teaching fellows, the life of the program was brief.

In November of last year, I was dismissed as director, and in the spring the administration and faculty replaced our program with one on Core Texts and Ideas. The new program lacks any list or criteria for “core texts,” and the goal of a required sequence of courses has vanished.

Our program was rightly perceived as a threat to the monopoly of what I call the Uncurriculum, which prevails at UT and at most universities today. It is the absence of required courses and of any structure or order to liberal studies. The Uncurriculum dictates that students accumulate courses that meet a “distribution” standard—a smattering of courses scattered among many categories. Even within majors, the trend has been to eliminate required sequences.

The perfecting of the intellect and the formation of character through the attainment of what John Henry Newman called “liberal knowledge” have given way to engorgement with miscellaneous information. The suggestion that higher education should have something to do with acquiring moral wisdom is invariably met with the sophomoric query, “Whose ethics?” As Anthony Kronman has so well documented in his book The End of Education, nothing in the Uncurriculum encourages students to think through the great questions of life in a systematic manner, with the great minds of the Western tradition as their guides and interlocutors.

The Uncurriculum free-for-all gives undergraduates only the illusion of choice. In reality, the Uncurriculum model is entwined with the interests of the professoriate. If there are no courses students are required to take, there are no courses that professors are required to teach. [...]

There was an interesting comment from a member of the faculty steering committee regarding the naming of the new center:

Tom Pangle emphasized that the proposed name of the new school was a major source of his objections to the school per se. As he told a Daily Texan reporter, these, these words, American, Western, and Civilization were just too “right-wing.”

If the words ‘American’, ‘Western’, and ‘Civilization’ are now right-wing (!) then what constitutes the left-wing these days?

18th June
2009
written by simplelight

Here’s something to think about:

In 1917 the breakdown in consumption for a typical family ( 38 year old working father, non-employed mother, 13-yr old boy and 8 yr old daughter ) was:

Food – 41%
Housing – 27%
Clothing – 18%
Healthcare – 5%
Transportation – 3%
Other – 7%

By 1987 this had changed to

Housing – 33%
Transportation – 26%
Food – 19%
Clothing – 5%
Healthcare – 4%
Other – 12%

You might ask: how do we reconcile this with the 17-20% of GDP ( ~$8K per person ) that we are spending on healthcare today? First, it’s interesting to note that the average citizen took the money they saved on food and clothing (the basic necessities of life) and ploughed it straight into bigger houses, more expensive cars and (probably) an increased level of entertainment. Along the way, though, we gradually socialized the cost of healthcare so that despite saving 20% of our consumption on food (not to mention the saving on clothing), we are now unable to find that same 20% to pay for our healthcare.

However, I don’t think it is a problem, per se, that we are spending an increasing amount on healthcare. It seems as though it’s a trend that is irreversible and given the continuing decline and commoditization of the other line items in the typical family budget, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Healthcare is one of the industries where we continue to spend R&D dollars for new products and an expanded menu of options is inevitable.

The real problem is that neither “the American people” nor their elected representatives and the Chairman, are willing to put aside the $8K per person per year that we’re currently inclined to spend. The future price of US 10 yr notes is left as an exercise for the reader.

16th June
2009
written by simplelight

Twubs is a great website for tracking a specific Twitter hashtag. For instance, you can follow the post-election chaos in Iran in real time. The window below shows the current activity surrounding the election in Iran. It was getting over 1000 messages per minute on June 16, 2009.

4th June
2009
written by simplelight

So Bush speaks of the “wonder-working power of volunteerism” and the Left has a conniption but Obama quotes straight out of the Koran  and no one so much as murmurs. People are never threatened by those who don’t believe what they say.

14th April
2009
written by simplelight

This graph of the Iraqi stock market index says it all:

2004 - Feb 2009

2004 - Feb 2009

25th February
2009
written by admin

What is the responsibility of the government in times of recession? What is meant by “stimulating the economy”?

US GDP (in the long run) = number of working people * productivity of each working person.

Thus there are three levers the government can pull today to  increase GDP by 2025.

  1. Increase the number of people
  2. Increase our productivity
  3. Increase the number of people willing to work

The first would require increased immigration or a higher birth rate. The second is a function of education and the capital stock (which the government is in the habit of depleting) and the third (in the case of full employment) is a matter of personal choice.

Over the long run, there is very little the government can do to increase per capita GDP other than ensuring optimal productivity of the workforce and creating conditions which would ensure full (or close to full) employment without inflation. Sacrificing productivity is always the long term peril as labor is shifted to the public sector.

On the demand side of the equation, the government has the option of preventing people from saving and enforcing spending. Of course, in the longer run, the only option is preventing people from spending or saving and allowing the government to do the spending for them. Consumption is merely shifted from the private sector to the public sector with no net increase in demand on the generous assumption that government spending is as efficient as private spending.

Hayek gave a convincing critique of government action’s ability to stimulate “aggregate demand.” Hayek viewed the boom and bust of the business cycle as primarily a monetary phenomenon created by governments’ artificial inflation of money and credit.

Sound money policy, conversely, allowed the disparate knowledge of millions of economic actors to be conveyed through the price system, rationally allocating capital and labor through relative prices. The problem with government attempts to manipulate the economy through fiscal policy — spending that takes resources away from those who are productive and redistributes it to politically favored interests — is that it is audacious. It assumes that government knows better how to spend and invest than individuals acting in their families’ best interest.

“The real question,” according to Hayek, “is not whether man is, or ought to be, guided by selfish motives but whether we can allow him to be guided in his actions by those immediate consequences which we can know and care for or whether he ought to be made to do what seems appropriate to somebody else who is supposed to possess a fuller comprehension of the significance of these actions to society as a whole.”

The usual retort to this argument is a variant on “in the long run we are all dead”. In the short run, then, the role of the government is to act as a counter-cyclical economic agent. Short runs turn easily into long runs, though, and short-lived is the president who decides the economy needs not “stimulating” but … what? We don’t even have a word for it.

David Brooks expressed this thought succinctly, if somewhat belatedly, with his call for “epistemological modesty”

25th January
2009
written by simplelight

H1-B visa holders are the Palestinians of American politics (with apologies to the Palestians). Each side uses them for their own interests. One side wants to protect them from being exploited and the other side wants to prevent them from exploiting. Neither side has their best interests at heart.

U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, sent this letter to Microsoft [emphasis mine].

January 22, 2009

 Mr. Steve Ballmer

Microsoft Corporation

One Microsoft Way

Redmond , WA   98052-6399

Dear Mr. Ballmer: 

I am writing to inquire about press reports that Microsoft will be cutting approximately 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months.  I understand that the layoffs will affect workers in research and development, marketing, sales, finance, legal and corporate affairs, human resources, and information technology. 

I am concerned that Microsoft will be retaining foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American employees when it implements its layoff plan.  As you know, I want to make sure employers recruit qualified American workers first before hiring foreign guest workers.  For example, I cosponsored legislation to overhaul the H-1B and L-1 visa programs to give priority to American workers and to crack down on unscrupulous employers who deprive qualified Americans of high-skilled jobs.  Fraud and abuse is rampant in these programs, and we need more transparency to protect the integrity of our immigration system.  I also support legislation that would strengthen educational opportunities for American students and workers so that Americans can compete successfully in this global economy.

Last year, Microsoft was here on Capitol Hill advocating for more H-1B visas.  The purpose of the H-1B visa program is to assist companies in their employment needs where there is not a sufficient American workforce to meet their technology expertise requirements.  However, H-1B and other work visa programs were never intended to replace qualified American workers.  Certainly, these work visa programs were never intended to allow a company to retain foreign guest workers rather than similarly qualified American workers, when that company cuts jobs during an economic downturn. 

It is imperative that in implementing its layoff plan, Microsoft ensures that American workers have priority in keeping their jobs over foreign workers on visa programs.  To that effect, I would like you to respond to the following questions:

*          What is the breakdown in the jobs that are being eliminated?  What kind of jobs are they?  How many employees in each area will be cut?

*          Are any of these jobs being cut held by H-1B or other work visa program employees?  If so, how many?

*          How many of the jobs being eliminated are filled by Americans?  Of those positions, is Microsoft retaining similar ones filled by foreign guest workers?  If so, how many?

*          How many H-1B or other work visa program workers will Microsoft be retaining when the planned layoff is completed?

My point is that during a layoff, companies should not be retaining H-1B or other work visa program employees over qualified American workers.  Our immigration policy is not intended to harm the American workforce.  I encourage Microsoft to ensure that Americans are given priority in job retention.  Microsoft has a moral obligation to protect these American workers by putting them first during these difficult economic times.

 Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

United States Senator

Of course, no mention of Microsoft’s moral obligation to its shareholders. And I don’t remember anyone caring about “the American workers” when we tied Microsoft up in court for years and drained their coffers. Maybe those laid off can dust themselves off and volunteer at Mozilla, the organization “dedicated not to making money”.

If US immigration policy is not intended to harm Americans then who is it intended to harm? 

 

 

 

21st January
2009
written by simplelight

Small, incremental change is hard to detect but accumulates over time:

From a distance, it looks like an apparition: a huge multi-colored hot-air balloon floating in the Baghdad sky, bearing a large poster of Jesus Christ. Below it, an Iraqi flag. Welcome to the first-ever public Christmas celebration in Baghdad.

[...]

Many of the people attending the Christmas celebration appear to be Muslims, with women wearing head scarves. Suad Mahmoud, holding her 16-month-old daughter, Sara, tells me she is indeed Muslim, but she’s very happy to be here. “My mother’s birthday also is this month, so we celebrate all occasions,” she says, “especially in this lovely month of Christmas and New Year.”

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