Archive for December 2013

Laissez Faire and the Potato Famine

Via Cafe Hayek

As explained by historian Stephen Davies, after defeating James II in 1690, protestants subjected Irish Catholics to harsh restrictions on land ownership and leasing.  Most of Ireland’s people were thus forced to farm plots of land that were inefficiently small and on which they had no incentives to make long-term improvements.  As a consequence, Irish agricultural productivity stagnated, and, in turn, the high-yield, highly nutritious, and labor-intensive potato became the dominant crop.  In combination with interventions that obstructed Catholics from engaging in modern commercial activities – interventions that kept large numbers of Irish practicing subsistence agriculture well into the 19th century – this over-dependence on the potato spelled doom when in 1845 that crop became infected with the fungus Phytophthora infestans.

To make matters worse, Britain’s high-tariff “corn laws” discouraged the importation of grains that would have lessened the starvation.  Indeed, one of Britain’s most famous moves toward laissez faire – the 1846 repeal of the corn laws – was partly a response to the famine in Ireland.

Had laissez faire in fact reigned in Ireland in the mid-19th century, the potato famine almost certainly would never had happened.

Arnold Kling Provides An Interesting Framework for Economic Growth

I thought this was a useful simple picture from Arnold Kling, vis a vis countries and their economies:

Low Creation High Creation
Low Destruction Corporatist Stagnation Schumpeterian Boom
High Destruction Minsky Recession Rising Dynamism

He suggests the US may currently be in the lower-left quadrant.  Europe and Japan in the upper left.   My sense is that China is in the upper right, not the lower right (too much of the economy is controlled by the politicians in power for any real destruction to occur).

Once a government gains powerful tools for economic intervention, it becomes politically almost impossible to allow destruction to occur, no matter how long-term beneficial it can be.  The US is one of the few countries in the world that has ever allowed such destruction to occur over an extended period.  The reason it is hard is that successful incumbents are able to wield political power to prevent upstart competition that might threaten their position and business model (see here for example).

It takes a lot of discipline to have government not intervene in favor of such incumbents.  Since politicians lack this discipline, the only way to prevent such intervention is by castrating the government, by eliminating its power to intervene in the first place.  Feckless politicians cannot wield power that does not exist (though don't tell Obama that because he seems to be wielding a lot of power to modify legislation that is not written into my copy of the Constitution.).

Binge Listening 2013

I find it almost impossible to keep up with all the great music that has been enabled by digital distribution.  So I end up waiting for year-end best lists and then binge listening for a few days.  One of the lists I have come to trust as fitting my tastes pretty well is from LA writer and Coyote Blog reader Steven Humphries.  Here is his 2013 list.  I will echo that I really enjoyed the new Steven Wilson album,which I have had for a while based on his recommendation.  But I had never heard of Vertical Horizon and particularly enjoyed their album on the list.

By the way, this is not 2013-related, but if there are those of you out there who are 60's, 70's, 80's classic rock guys who struggle to engage with rap, a fantastic gateway drug is Girl Talk.  Their All Day album can be downloaded free.  This is the only modern album in my household that migrated from me to my kids rather than vice versa.

Wealth and China Through History

The media tends to talk about the growth of the Chinese economy as if it is something new and different.   In fact, there probably have been only about 200 years in the history of civilization when China was not the largest economy on Earth.  China still held this title into the early 18th century, and will get it back early in this century.

This map from the Economist (via Mark Perry) illustrates the point.

economic map


Of course there is a problem with this map.  It is easy to do a center of gravity for a country, but for the whole Earth?  The center in this case (unless one rightly puts it somewhere in the depths of the planet itself) depends on arbitrary decisions about where one puts the edges of the map. I presume this is from a map with North America on the far left side and Japan on the far right.  If one redid the map, say, with North America in the center, Asia on the left and Europe on the right, the center of gravity would roam around North America through history.

Wow, Thomas Friedman is A Total Joke

I missed this editorial from back in April, but it is a classic.  If you want one of the greatest illustrations of the phrase "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail", here is is.

UNTIL we fully understand what turned two brothers who allegedly perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombings into murderers, it is hard to make any policy recommendation other than this: We need to redouble our efforts to make America stronger and healthier so it remains a vibrant counterexample to whatever bigoted ideology may have gripped these young men. With all our warts, we have built a unique society — a country where a black man, whose middle name is Hussein, whose grandfather was a Muslim, can run for president and first defeat a woman in his own party and then four years later a Mormon from the opposition, and no one thinks twice about it. With so many societies around the world being torn apart, especially in the Middle East, it is vital that America survives and flourishes as a beacon of pluralism....

So what to do?  We need a more “radical center” — one much more willing to suggest radically new ideas to raise revenues, not the “split-the-difference-between-the-same-old-options center.” And the best place to start is with a carbon tax.

Government Regulation and Incumbent Business Protection

Scratch "consumer" protection laws and you will almost always find the laws are really aimed a protecting incumbent businesses and traditional business models.  This time from France:

To the surprise of virtually everyone in France, the government has just passed a law requiring car services like Uber to wait 15 minutes before picking up passengers. The bill is designed to help regular taxi drivers, who feel threatened by recently-introduced companies like Uber, SnapCar and LeCab. Cabbies in the Gallic nation require formidable time and expense to get their permits and see the new services -- which lack such onerous requirements -- as direct competitors.

This is the interesting political ground where the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party have a lot of overlap.  That is why the Chamber of Commerce, which represents all these incumbent businesses, is working with both parties to keep the cozy corporatists in power against challenges from the Left and Right.  If you are a business owner, eschew the Chamber and join the NFIB and support the IJ.

Most Common Book Title?

I have no data on it, but "Dust" must be up there somewhere.  Was looking for a book of that name and found five zillion different ones on Amazon.

Thank God For The Internet

Reading about the Golden Dawn fascist party in Greece, I thought, "wasn't that the made-up terrorist group mentioned in Die Hard?"  It turns out I was wrong, it was Asian Dawn, but others have made this same mistake, and someone on the Internet was nice enough to write a whole article clearing this up.  Alan Rickman's eurotrash terrorist Hans Gruber is still one of my favorite movie bad guys.

Triangle Trade and Physics

You have heard of the Atlantic triangle trade in school.  It is always discussed in terms of its economic logic (e.g. English rum to African slaves to New World sugar).  But the trade has a physical logic as well in the sailing ship era.  Current wind patterns:



Real time version here.  Via Flowing data.

Seriously, click on the real time link.  Even if you are jaded, probably the coolest thing you will see today.  One interesting thing to look at -- there is a low point in the spine of the mountains of Mexico west of Yucatan.  Look at the wind pour through it like air out of a balloon.

Explaining the Flaw in Kevin Drum's (and Apparently Science Magazine's) Climate Chart

I won't repeat the analysis, you need to see it here.  Here is the chart in question:


My argument is that the smoothing and relatively low sampling intervals in the early data very likely mask variations similar to what we are seeing in the last 100 years -- ie they greatly exaggerate the smoothness of history and create a false impression that recent temperature changes are unprecedented (also the grey range bands are self-evidently garbage, but that is another story).

Drum's response was that "it was published in Science."  Apparently, this sort of appeal to authority is what passes for data analysis in the climate world.

Well, maybe I did not explain the issue well.  So I found a political analysis that may help Kevin Drum see the problem.  This is from an actual blog post by Dave Manuel (this seems to be such a common data analysis fallacy that I found an example on the first page of my first Google search).  It is an analysis of average GDP growth by President.  I don't know this Dave Manuel guy and can't comment on the data quality, but let's assume the data is correct for a moment.  Quoting from his post:

Here are the individual performances of each president since 1948:

1948-1952 (Harry S. Truman, Democrat), +4.82%

1953-1960 (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Republican), +3%

1961-1964 (John F. Kennedy / Lyndon B. Johnson, Democrat), +4.65%

1965-1968 (Lyndon B. Johnson, Democrat), +5.05%

1969-1972 (Richard Nixon, Republican), +3%

1973-1976 (Richard Nixon / Gerald Ford, Republican), +2.6%

1977-1980 (Jimmy Carter, Democrat), +3.25%

1981-1988 (Ronald Reagan, Republican), 3.4%

1989-1992 (George H. W. Bush, Republican), 2.17%

1993-2000 (Bill Clinton, Democrat), 3.88%

2001-2008 (George W. Bush, Republican), +2.09%

2009 (Barack Obama, Democrat), -2.6%

Let's put this data in a chart:

click to enlarge


Look, a hockey stick , right?   Obama is the worst, right?

In fact there is a big problem with this analysis, even if the data is correct.  And I bet Kevin Drum can get it right away, even though it is the exact same problem as on his climate chart.

The problem is that a single year of Obama's is compared to four or eight years for other presidents.  These earlier presidents may well have had individual down economic years - in fact, Reagan's first year was almost certainly a down year for GDP.  But that kind of volatility is masked because the data points for the other presidents represent much more time, effectively smoothing variability.

Now, this chart has a difference in sampling frequency of 4-8x between the previous presidents and Obama.  This made a huge difference here, but it is a trivial difference compared to the 1 million times greater sampling frequency of modern temperature data vs. historical data obtained by looking at proxies (such as ice cores and tree rings).  And, unlike this chart, the method of sampling is very different across time with temperature - thermometers today are far more reliable and linear measurement devices than trees or ice.  In our GDP example, this problem roughly equates to trying to compare the GDP under Obama (with all the economic data we collate today) to, say, the economic growth rate under Henry the VIII.  Or perhaps under Ramses II.   If I showed that GDP growth in a single month under Obama was less than the average over 66 years under Ramses II, and tried to draw some conclusion from that, I think someone might challenge my analysis.  Unless of course it appears in Science, then it must be beyond question.

I Don't Always Photoshop, But When I Do, It's For Obamacare


In Case You Are Not on Twitter...

...This is the sensation of the moment, from Barack Obama's Twitter account (apparently real and not a spoof)


Expect this to be the most photo-shopped image of the next 24 hours.  My guess is that this is the new punishment for not being insured -- they send this guy to your house to watch MSNBC with you all day.


50% Discount for Ballet Arizona's Performance of the Nutcracker

Somehow I screwed this up before.  Here is the offer (pdf):  Ballet Arizona Nutcracker - Up to 50% off

I had a percent sign in the URL which screwed everything up, I think.

If You Don't Like People Saying That Climate Science is Absurd, Stop Publishing Absurd Un-Scientific Charts

Kevin Drum can't believe the folks at the National Review are still calling global warming science a "myth".  As is usual for global warming supporters, he wraps himself in the mantle of science while implying that those who don't toe the line on the declared consensus are somehow anti-science.

Readers will know that as a lukewarmer, I have as little patience with outright CO2 warming deniers as I do with those declaring a catastrophe  (for my views read this and this).  But if you are going to simply be thunderstruck that some people don't trust climate scientists, then don't post a chart that is a great example of why people think that a lot of global warming science is garbage.  Here is Drum's chart:



The problem is that his chart is a splice of multiple data series with very different time resolutions.  The series up to about 1850 has data points taken at best every 50 years and likely at 100-200 year or more intervals.  It is smoothed so that temperature shifts less than 200 years or so in length won't show up and are smoothed out.

In contrast, the data series after 1850 has data sampled every day or even hour.  It has a sampling interval 6 orders of magnitude (over a million times) more frequent.  It by definition is smoothed on a time scale substantially shorter than the rest of the data.

In addition, these two data sets use entirely different measurement techniques.  The modern data comes from thermometers and satellites, measurement approaches that we understand fairly well.  The earlier data comes from some sort of proxy analysis (ice cores, tree rings, sediments, etc.)  While we know these proxies generally change with temperature, there are still a lot of questions as to their accuracy and, perhaps more importantly for us here, whether they vary linearly or have any sort of attenuation of the peaks.  For example, recent warming has not shown up as strongly in tree ring proxies, raising the question of whether they may also be missing rapid temperature changes or peaks in earlier data for which we don't have thermometers to back-check them (this is an oft-discussed problem called proxy divergence).

The problem is not the accuracy of the data for the last 100 years, though we could quibble this it is perhaps exaggerated by a few tenths of a degree.  The problem is with the historic data and using it as a valid comparison to recent data.  Even a 100 year increase of about a degree would, in the data series before 1850, be at most a single data point.  If the sampling is on 200 year intervals, there is a 50-50 chance a 100 year spike would be missed entirely in the historic data.  And even if it were in the data as a single data point, it would be smoothed out at this data scale.

Do you really think that there was never a 100-year period in those last 10,000 years where the temperatures varied by more than 0.1F, as implied by this chart?  This chart has a data set that is smoothed to signals no finer than about 200 years and compares it to recent data with no such filter.  It is like comparing the annualized GDP increase for the last quarter to the average annual GDP increase for the entire 19th century.   It is easy to demonstrate how silly this is.  If you cut the chart off at say 1950, before much anthropogenic effect will have occurred, it would still look like this, with an anomalous spike at the right (just a bit shorter).  If you believe this analysis, you have to believe that there is an unprecedented spike at the end even without anthropogenic effects.

There are several other issues with this chart that makes it laughably bad for someone to use in the context of arguing that he is the true defender of scientific integrity

  • The grey range band is if anything an even bigger scientific absurdity than the main data line.  Are they really trying to argue that there were no years, or decades, or even whole centuries that never deviated from a 0.7F baseline anomaly by more than 0.3F for the entire 4000 year period from 7500 years ago to 3500 years ago?  I will bet just about anything that the error bars on this analysis should be more than 0.3F, much less the range of variability around the mean.  Any natural scientist worth his or her salt would laugh this out of the room.  It is absurd.  But here it is presented as climate science in the exact same article that the author expresses dismay that anyone would distrust climate science.
  • A more minor point, but one that disguises the sampling frequency problem a bit, is that the last dark brown shaded area on the right that is labelled "the last 100 years" is actually at least 300 years wide.  Based on the scale, a hundred years should be about one dot on the x axis.  This means that 100 years is less than the width of the red line, and the last 60 years or the real anthropogenic period is less than half the width of the red line.  We are talking about a temperature change whose duration is half the width of the red line, which hopefully gives you some idea why I say the data sampling and smoothing processes would disguise any past periods similar to the most recent one.

Update:  Kevin Drum posted a defense of this chart on Twitter.  Here it is:  "It was published in Science."   Well folks, there is climate debate in a nutshell.   An 1000-word dissection of what appears to be wrong with a particular analysis retorted by a five-word appeal to authority.

Update #2:  I have explained the issue with a parallel flawed analysis from politics where Drum is more likely to see the flaws.

Is Israel Really The Worst Country On Earth?

The American Studies Association has voted to initiate an academic boycott of Israel ostensibly to protest its denial of civil rights to Palestinians in the occupied territories.   Forgetting for a moment Israel's unique security concerns (what would the US do if Mexico routinely lobbed rockets and artillery shells into US border towns), the implication is that the Palestinians in Israels have it worse than any other group in the world, since this is the first and only such boycott the ASA has ever entered into.  Is it really worse to be a Palestinian in Israel than, say, a woman anywhere in the Arab world** or about anyone in North Korea?  Do academics in Cuba have more ability to write honestly than they do in Israel?  I doubt it.

The only statement the ASA makes on the subject that I can find is in their FAQ on the boycott

7) Does the boycott resolution unfairly single out Israel? After all there are many unjust states in the world.

The boycott resolution responds to a request from the Palestinian people, including Palestinian academics and students, to act in solidarity. Because the U.S. contributes materially to the Israeli occupation, through significant financial and military aid - and, as such, is an important ally of the Israeli state - and because the occupation daily confiscates Palestinian land and devastates Palestinian lives, it is urgent to act now.

A couple of thoughts.  First, I am not sure why US material aid is relevant to choosing a boycott target.  I suppose the implication is that this boycott is aimed more at the US than at Israel itself.  But the question still stands as to why countries like Saudi Arabia, which receives a lot of US material aid as well, get a pass.  Second, the fact that Palestinian academics can seek international help tends to disprove that their situation is really the worst in the world.  I don't think the fact that the ASA is not hearing cries for help from liberal-minded academics in North Korea means that there is less of a problem in North Korea.  It means there is more of a problem.

I am not a student of anti-semitism, so I can't comment on how much it may explain this decision.  However, I think it is perfectly possible to explain the ASA's actions without resorting to anti-semitism as an explanation.  As background, remember that it is important for their social standing and prestige for liberal academics to take public positions to help the downtrodden in other countries.  This is fine -- not a bad incentive system to feel social pressure to speak out against injustice.  But the problem is that most sources of injustice are all either a) Leftish regimes the Left hesitates to criticize for ideological reasons or b) Islamic countries that the left hesitates to criticize because they have invested so much in calling conservatives Islamophobic.

So these leftish academics have a need to criticize, but feel constrained to only strongly criticizing center-right or right regimes.  The problem is that most of these are gone.  Allende, the Shah, Franco, South Africa -- all gone or changed.  All that's left is Israel (which is odd because it is actually fairly socialist but for some reason never treated as such by the Left).  So if we consider the universe of appropriate targets -- countries with civil rights and minority rights issues that are not leftish or socialist governments and not Islamic, then the ASA has been perfectly consistent, targeting every single country in that universe.

** To this day I am amazed how little heat the gender apartheid in the Arab world generates in the West in comparison to race apartheid in South Africa.  I am not an expert on either, but from what I have read I believe it is a true statement to say that blacks in apartheid South Africa had more freedom than women have today in Saudi Arabia.  Thoughts?

Update:  I twice emailed the ASA for a list of other countries or groups they have boycotted and twice got a blurb justifying why Israel was selected but with no direct answer to my question.  I guess I will take that as confirmation this is the first and only country they have ever targeted.  They did want to emphasize that the reason Israel was selected (I presume vs. other countries but they did not word it thus) had a lot to do with he fact that Israel was the number one recipient of US aid money (mostly military) and that it was this American connection given they represent American studies professors that made the difference.  Why Pakistan or Afghanistan, who treat their women far worse than Israel treats Palestinians, and which receive a lot of US aid, were not selected or considered or mentioned is not explained.  Basically, I would explain it thus:  "all the cool kids are doing it, and we determined that to remain among the cool kids we needed to do it too".  This is a prestige and signalling exercise, and it makes a lot more sense in that context, because then one can ask about the preferences of those to whom they are signalling, rather than try to figure out why Israel is somehow the worst human rights offender in the world.

By the way, by the ASA logic, it should be perfectly reasonable, even necessary, for European academic institutions to boycott US academic institutions because the US government gives aid to such a bad country like Israel.  This seems like it would be unfair to US academics who may even disagree with US policy, but no more unfair than to Israeli academics who are being punished for their government's policies.   I wonder how US academics would feel about being boycotted from European events and scholarship over US government policy?

IRS and the Filibuster

Glen Reynolds brings us this bit from a letter to the WSJ about the IRS and 501c4's:

For example, if an IRS official subjects citizens to incredibly burdensome demands for irrelevant information just to harass them for their political or religious beliefs, no 501(c)(4) group could later criticize that official’s nomination to be IRS commissioner, without engaging in restricted activity. That’s because the IRS’s proposed regulation defines even unelected government officials, like agency heads and judges, as “candidates” if they have been nominated for a position requiring Senate confirmation. The IRS’s proposed rules are an attack on the First Amendment that will make it easier for the government to get away with harassing political dissenters and whistleblowers in the future.

The part about classifying Senate-confirmed officials as "candidates" seems to be part of the same initiative as the changes to the filibuster to make it easier for the President to confirm controversial judges and administrators.  I wonder if this is a general effort or battlespace preparation for a specific confirmation battle.

Judge Finds That NSA Domestic Spying Likely Unconstitutional

Not Feeling So Good About Coyotes Today

This weekend our family dog, the world's largest Maltese at over 12 pounds but still a small dog, was attacked by a coyote.  They redid the golf course nearby into a links course and ever since we have had an enormous pack of coyotes out there -- the other night I saw a dozen hanging out together.

Yesterday the coyote got into a fenced area and grabbed Snuggles (please no name jokes today) in its jaws and was carrying her off when my daughter saw it and screamed and yelled until it dropped our dog and went away.   If my daughter had had a gun, that coyote would have been blown away -- my daughter was in total mama bear mode.

We took the dog to the emergency animal hospital, and eventually to their surgery center.  Snuggles was put on oxygen and an IV and within a few hours had a surgeon operate on her chest, stitching closed holes in her chest wall on both sides of her body.   So that is how we spent our weekend.

Today she is doing OK, but is still sluggish and won't eat.  We are hoping for the best, and that she will beat the odds (most dogs this size are DOA from coyote attacks).  Here she is with her pink bandages, still in the oxygen tent.


Postscript:  It was interesting to go through the process of getting emergency care in the veterinary world.   At each step of the process we got a detailed cost estimate in advance of the charges we could expect.  We were able to request her medical records at any time, and they were both detailed and impressive.  Every step was documented.  We saw her x-rays and got pictures and video from the surgery to show us exactly what damage had to be repaired and how they did it.  The two locations we have been to (the local hospital and the surgery center) both are part of VCA,  It has not been cheap, but the care has been impressive.

One odd conclusion to this is that there is something to be said for the old-style communal hospital ward vs. the private rooms of today. One of the reasons I feel good that they are keeping an eye on Snuggs (as the men of the household call her to avoid embarassment) is that all the critical animals are essentially in cages and enclosures in the same room, where someone always is there to see immediately if they are in distress.

Update:  Got the bill today for the surgery.  Pretty much exactly what they promised in advance.   Not cheap -- I think I am going to rename this dog Steve Austin

Update #2:  I don't really blame the coyote - nature red in tooth and claw and all that.  Anger at the coyote is just cover for my personal guilt that we did not make things safer for her.  We are making changes right now to give her a safer area to run around and do her business.


Best Bridge Book Ever (IMHO) Back In Print

One thing I think I have never mentioned before on this site is that in college, I was a fanatical bridge player.  I developed this odd social life of bridge in the afternoon and beer pong at night.  When I got tired of playing other students, my friend and I would go into town and play the local residents, who were sharks.

Anyway, people new to bridge are always intimidated by bidding, and certainly there is a learning curve there (which I made worse by using the Precision rather than the Goren standard system).  But with some time, bidding becomes rote.  Only perhaps in one in ten or twenty hands is the last increment of bidding expertise really useful, and then usually only when playing duplicate where even a few extra points really matter.

Once your bidding is mostly up to snuff, the game is all about card play.   A good player will play out the entire hand, with guesses as to which cards are held by which players, before the first card is led.

The single best book I have ever read on card play is Card Play Technique by Mollo and Gardener.  Thirty years ago there was about one source for this often out-of-print book and I bought a dozen copies, slowly giving most of them away over time.  Now, however, it is back in print.  If you play bridge, you have probably read this book, but if not, buy yourself a copy for Christmas.

When Private Enterprise is Inflamatory

When people ask me about my business, one of the things that is hard to explain is just how deep and visceral the skepticism of private enterprise can be.  I constantly have people take single words I might have uttered in the immediacy of a live TV interview and try to craft straw man positions for me out of them**.  Sometimes it is not even something I said, but something where some lazy journalist has poorly paraphrased my position.

Here is a great example, where a Flagstaff writer (who by the way knows me and my phone number quite well but did not bother to interview me) tries to take my opposition to the government shutdown to paint me with some sort of entitlement.  She lectures me that I don't actually own the land on which I operate, as if that is somehow news to me.  You can read my comments if you are interested, but the issue with the shutdown was the lawlessness of Administration officials, not any sense that I am entitled to the land any more than my lease contract allows me to be.  (As an aside, she seems to be expressing a strong theory of landlord rights, that my landlord (the US Forest Service) should have the absolute right to shut me down whenever they want.  Why is it that I don't think she has the same position vis a vis other tenants and landlords?)

By the way, compare her straw man to my actual position on public land, which is likely to the Left of many of my readers:

In my history of public discussions on private operation of public parks, it is no surprise that I run into a lot of skepticism about having any private role at all.  But I also run into the opposite -- folks who ask (or demand) that the government sell all the parks to private buyers.  So why shouldn't privatization of parks just consist of a massive land sale?

The answer has to do with profit potential.  Over time, if in private hands, a piece of land will naturally migrate towards the use which can generate the highest returns.  And often, for a unique piece of land, this most profitable use might not be a picnic area with a $6 entrance fee -- it might instead be something very exclusive which only a few can enjoy, like an expensive resort or a luxury home development (think: Aspen or Jackson Hole).  The public has asked its government to own certain unique lands in order to control their development and the public access to them.

Public ownership of unique lands, then, tends to have the goal of allowing access to and enjoyment of a particular piece of land for all of the public, not just a few.  Typically this entails a public agency owning the land and controlling the types of uses allowed on the land and the nature and style of facility development.  I call these state activities controlling the "character" of the land and its use.  (One could legitimately argue that private land trusts could fulfill the same role, and in fact I have personally been a supporter of and donor to private land trusts.  However, I am not an expert in this field and will leave this discussion to others).

Having established a role for the government in setting the character of the lands we call "parks," we can then legitimately ask, "does this goal require that government employees actually staff the parks and clean the bathrooms?"

** Postscript:  A couple of years ago I was asked to do an interview with Glen Beck on my proposal to keep open, via private operation, a number of Arizona parks slated for closure.  It was the first time I ever did live TV, and a national show to boot.  I had never seen his show but he had the reputation of being freaky and unpredictable, which just made me more nervous.   Anyway, during the interview I said that typically an agency would contract with us for a group of parks, instead of just one, so the stars could help cover the cost of the dogs.  This terminology is from a framework many business school students learn early, often called a BCG matrix (named after the Boston Consulting Group).  It is a two by two matrix with market share or profitability on one axis and market growth on the other.  Anyway, the profitable high revenue units within a company are stars and the unprofitable stagnant ones are called dogs (the profitable stagnant ones were cash cows and I can't actually remember what was in the fourth box).  You can see this nomenclature is so established they actually put little pictures of stars and dogs in the boxes.

Anyway, it was a poor choice of wording, but the nomenclature is wired do deep in my now it just came out.  The context of the entire interview was that I cared deeply about the parks and that I was offended that the legislature was going to let them close when there was an easy solution at hand.  No matter.  The #2 guy at Arizona State Parks took the video and make the rounds of the state park staff, highlighting my use of the word "dog" and inflaming their rank and file that I thought their parks were bad places and I was bent on destroying them, or something.  Anyway, none of the Arizona Park Staff I have ever talked to has ever seen an operations manual for their parks but they have all seen the video of me saying "dogs."

Postscript #2:  Don't ever think that consulting is different from any other business.  When I was an McKinsey, we had piles of frameworks we used (the 7S organization framework being perhaps the most common and actually fairly useful, as its intent was to take focus away from structure alone in organizational work).  Anyway, McKinsey had to have a growth-share matrix, but to try to differentiate this product a bit they had a 3x3 matrix rather than a 2x2.

Since I am somehow oddly onto a consulting tangent here, the single most useful thing I garnered from McKinsey was the pyramid principle in persuasive and analytical writing.  I have talked to a lot of other ex-McKinsey folks, and almost all of them wonder why the pyramid principle is not taught in high school.  I am not a believer in business books -- I am looking around my office and I don't think I see even one here.  But if I had to offer one book for someone who wanted a business book, this is it.

Schadenfreude: New York's Cultural Elite Loses Their Health Insurance

Via the NYT:

Many in New York’s professional and cultural elite have long supported President Obama’s health care plan. But now, to their surprise, thousands of writers, opera singers, music teachers, photographers, doctors, lawyers and others are learning that their health insurance plans are being canceled and they may have to pay more to get comparable coverage, if they can find it.

They are part of an unusual informal health insurance system that has developed in New York in which independent practitioners were able to get lower insurance rates through group plans, typically set up by their professional associations or chambers of commerce. That allowed them to avoid the sky-high rates in New York’s individual insurance market, historically among the most expensive in the country....

The predicament is similar to that of millions of Americans who discovered this fall that their existing policies were being canceled because of the Affordable Care Act. Thecrescendo of outrage led to Mr. Obama’s offer to restore their policies, though some states that have their own exchanges, like California and New York, have said they will not do so.

But while those policies, by and large, had been canceled because they did not meet the law’s requirements for minimum coverage, many of the New York policies being canceled meet and often exceed the standards, brokers say. The rationale for disqualifying those policies, said Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was to prevent associations from selling insurance to healthy members who are needed to keep the new health exchanges financially viable.

Siphoning those people, Mr. Levitt said, would leave the pool of health exchange customers “smaller and disproportionately sicker,” and would drive up rates.

Alicia Hartinger, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said independent practitioners “will generally have an equal level of protection in the individual market as they would have if they were buying in the small-group market.” She said the president’s offer to temporarily restore canceled polices applied to association coverage, if states and insurers agreed. New York has no plans to do so.

Donna Frescatore, executive director of New York State of Health, the state insurance exchange, said that on a positive note, about half of those affected would qualify for subsidized insurance under the new health exchange because they had incomes under 400 percent of the poverty level, about $46,000 for an individual.

I still do not understand how anyone could consider it a "positive" that 50% of people who were previously self-reliant now become wards of the state.

We Should Do A Lot More Than A Handshake

I am not sure the exact date it started, but our embargo on Cuba is over fifty years old.  At what point do we declare failure?

Sure, the communists and Castro and Che Guevara all suck.  But how much longer are we going to punish Cuba's leaders by making their citizens miserable?  History has shown that communist countries become less communist by interacting with the (quasi) capitalist democracies.  The most stable dictatorships (think North Korea) are those who are the most obsessive in masking alternatives from their citizens.  How much longer are we going to continue doing the Castros' work for them?

Open up our relations with Cuba, not because they have somehow gotten better or deserve our respect but because this is the only way they are going to get better.

Douthat, Brennan, even McArdle Making 3 Mistakes in Looking at Exchange Subsidy Numbers

Ross Douthat in the NYT quoting Patrick Brennan

About one-fourth of the people who have entered their income information on their applications were deemed eligible for subsidies on the exchanges (about 900,000 out of about 3.6 million), which is lower than the number we saw in October alone and remains really far from what was projected. The CBO projected that just 1 million out of the 7 million people to enroll in the exchanges in the first year would be ineligible for subsidies, so the ratio is way off from what was expected (15–75 vs. 75–25). I had some thoughts on that surprising fact a month ago, and I’ll add a couple now: Unsubsidized customers (basically, those above the national median income) are generally savvier and more likely to have the resources to enroll and make their payments ahead of time, so maybe this is understandable and doesn’t say anything about who will eventually enroll. On the other hand, it may demonstrate that the people to whom insurance was supposed to be expanded — the uninsured, who tend to be low-income and not well educated — aren’t getting to the exchanges at all, and covering them will be a much longer term project.

There is a huge, enormous analytical problem with this-- they are looking at entirely the wrong numbers.  Incredibly, Meghan McArdle makes this same mistake, and I generally respect her analysis of things.   I am going to pull out my summary chart of the Exchange numbers to try to make things clear (click to enlarge):



There are 3 major mistakes, each worse than the one before.

MISTAKE 1:  The 3.6 million total applicants number is in line 3 (3,692,599).  This is the wrong number.  The number he should use is line 4, the number of people who have had their eligibility processed.  So the denominator should be 3.1 million, not 3.6 million.

MISTAKE 2:  He leaves out the Medicaid piece.  Seriously, if we looking at numbers that are partially subsidized, why leave out numbers (Medicaid and CHIP) that are entirely subsidized?   This means the applicants eligible for subsidy are 803,077 + 944,531 or 1,747,608 which is 56% of the processed applicant pool.  The subsidy number may be lower than expected but I get the sense that the Medicaid percentage is higher than expected.

MISTAKE 3:  They are looking at the application pool, not the sign-up or enrollment pool.  That is understandable, because the Administration refuses to give the subsidy percentage breakdown of those who have selected a plan (a number which they certainly must have).  My guess is that people are putting in applications just to see if they are eligible for subsidies.  If not, they quit the exchange process and go back to their broker.   That is what I will probably do (out of curiosity, I would never accept taxpayer money for something I am willing to pay for myself).  The people who actually sign up for coverage are almost certainly going to skew more towards subsidized than does the applicant pool.

Making reasonable assumptions about the mix of subsidies in the "selected a plan" group, one actually gets numbers of 80-90% Medicare and CHIP and subsidies in the enrollment pool.

I do think McArdle is correct in saying that the uninsured numbers were both exaggerated and mis-characterized.  I have been saying that for years.

Missing the Forest for the Trees

I can understand the man bites dog appeal of a story about the press turning on Obama.  But seriously, their biggest problem with this President's transparency is that he does not allow enough pictures of himself?

Special Discount for Our Readers to the Nutcracker by Ballet Arizona

I may have mentioned in the past that my wife is on the Board of Ballet Arizona.  Phoenix has a reputation as a cultural wasteland, but our Ballet is certainly an exception to this.  Our artistic director Ib Andersen is fabulous, garnering top reviews even from the fussy New York press.  We have several young dancers, including one young lady who recently defected from Cuba, who are astonishing and whom you should frankly come see now before they are lured away to the bright lights of New York or Washington.

Anyway, they have a promotion running for the Nutcracker this holiday season and have allowed me to offer this same promotion to our readers, with discounts up to 50% on tickets.  See this pdf for details: Link Fixed to Ballet Arizona Offer.