Posts tagged ‘EXACTLY’

Missing the Point

John Hinderaker says that Democrats have been unsuccessful in their anti-Koch brother campaign because only 25% of Americans have a negative opinion of the Kochs and that has not changed much in 6 months.

But that strikes me as missing the point.  The Democrats have raised tens of millions of dollars from those 25% inflaming them with anti-Koch rhetoric.  They will outspend Republicans this year largely on the back of a campaign that, for example, never failed to mention the Kochs in almost every email sent out.  Further, they have succesfully turned the words "Koch Brothers" into some sort of boogeyman.  The media even here in Red state Arizona breathlessly discusses every contact a Republican candidate has with Koch Brothers-funded organizations while never ever mentioning any large backers on the Democratic side.  Despite the fact that Democrats have raised more so-called "dark money" than Republicans, nearly 100% of the media stories on dark money are about Republicans.  Further, by successfully (and asymmetrically) making public life a living hell for prominent Republican supporters, the Democrats are doing important battle space preparation for future elections, giving second thoughts to future potential Republican donors.

That, in my mind, is a political success.

(Of course, it is a disaster for liberty, and demonstrates EXACTLY why anonymous speech and donations have to remain legal.  The campaign waged right from the floor of the Senate by Democrats like Harry Reid to vilify private citizens who have been out-front and transparent about exercising their free speech is an insult to liberty).

Previewing the President's College Rankings

Today, President Obama sort-of kind-of acknowledged a problem with Federal college student lending:  Federal loans are doing nothing to improve the affordability of colleges, as colleges are just raising tuition in lockstep with increased lending, thus leaving students massively in debt for the same old degree.

His proposed solution is to somehow tie the availability of Federal funds to some type of government scoring system for colleges.  The probability that this will do anything to reign in student debt is exactly zero.  But it will potentially give the Feds another vehicle for control (similar to what Title IX has given them) of even the most mundane university policies.  Why not, for example, give high scores to universities with the restrictive and politically correct speech codes this Administration favors, thus effectively denying money to students of universities that don't have Eric Holder-sanctioned speech policies?

If you think I am exaggerating, look at the recent Washington Monthly college rankings as a prototype for the Obama scoring system.  In their system, colleges are ranked higher if they have a higher percentage of Peace Corps*** graduates, if more of their Federal work-study grant money is used for jobs at non-profits rather than for-profits**, and if their school reports more community service hours.  This latter points to another issue -- a number of schools rank really low on community service hours, effectively all tied with zero.  This is obviously a reporting issue.  The Obama plan just about guarantees that universities will start to game all these metrics -- does no one pay attention to the fraud that has been found in the law school rankings?

They also have a ranking of the schools providing the best value.  The good news, I suppose, is the school my son attends is #1.  The bad news is that my alma mater Princeton is not even on the list.  I found this odd, because while the authors explicitly laud Amherst's generous program that helps fund students through grants rather than loans, Princeton actually was one of a few schools that did this first (update:  Princeton was the first school to eliminate loans from financial aid packages of low income students, and since has eliminated loans altogether from all financial aid packages.  If you can get in, you can graduate debt-free).

It says this of Amherst:

 It chose to tap its sizable $1.6 billion endowment to provide tuition discounts so generous that the annual net cost to students with family incomes below $75,000 is only $843, less than a third of the sticker price of a year at the average community college. Another elite liberal arts college, Williams, also makes our list. But instructively, none of the other prestigious, well-endowed private colleges and universities in America—not Harvard or Yale, Swarthmore or Smith, none of them—can make that claim.

Actually, we don't know if that last sentence is true because the authors left Harvard and Yale off the list entirely.   My impression is that Princeton makes is very inexpensive for families making less than $75,000 as well, so I could not understand the claim -- perhaps even without debt the tuition charges to low-income families are still unreasonably high.  But we will never know, because apparently Princeton is not even on the list -- not because it does not direct a lot of its endowment to need-based scholarships, but because it has only 10% students on Pell grants, and the authors decided that you could not be on the list unless that number was at least 20% "to make sure they aren’t just catering to the affluent."  This just points to how quickly such a system gets politicized.  What does "catering to the affluent" have anything to do with bang for the buck?  If they really trust their methodology, they would have included these schools and if they are really just over-priced rich kids' playgrounds, that should have come through in the ranking.  Instead, the author's have explicitly invented an unrelated criteria to weed Ivy League schools out, a criteria more related to admissions requirements than to financial aid requirements and affordability and value (the ostensible bases for the rankings).

By the way, if you want to get a really good laugh, this is supposed to be a value or "bang for the buck" ranking, but they only rank the costs.  There is absolutely no ranking of "bang".  Bizarre.  It is as if any degree of any type from any institution is equally valuable.  Which, by the way, is part of the problem in the student loan bubble -- just this assumption.

 

** This is EXACTLY the kind of incentive that will help pay off those future college loans -- lets make sure to encourage every student to work in non-profits rather than for-profits jobs.

*** Why the Peace Corps?  Why not a myriad of other useful and productive occupations?  If you want to have a service metric, why is Peace Corps there and, say, Teach for America not?

Progressives Suddenly Support Health Insurance Marketing

For years Progressives, led by President Obama during the legislative process for the PPACA, have attacked health insurance companies for their profits and overhead.  I never understood the former -- at generally 5% of revenues or less, even wiping health insurance profits out altogether would offset less than a year's worth of health care inflation.  The Progressive hatred for health insurance overhead was actually built into the PPACA, with limits on non-care expenses as a percent of premiums.

Progressive's justification for this was to compare health insurer's overhead against Medicare, which appears to have lower overhead as a percentage of revenues.  This is problematic, because lots of things that private insurers have to pay for actually still are paid for by the Federal government, but just don't hit Medicare's books due to funky government accounting.  Other private costs, particularly claims management, are areas that likely have a real return in fraud reduction.  In this case, Medicare's decision not to invest in claims management overhead shows up as costs elsewhere, specifically in fraudulent billings.

None of these areas of costs make for particularly fertile ground for demagoguing, so the Progressive argument against health insurance overhead usually boils down to marketing.  This argument makes a nice fit with progressive orthodoxy, which has always hated advertising as manipulative.  But health insurance marketing expenses mainly consist of

  1. Funding commissions to brokers, who actually sell the product, and
  2. Funding people to go to company open enrollments and explain health care options to participants

Suddenly, now that Progressives have taken over health care via the PPACA and federal exchanges, their tune has changed.  They seem to have a near infinite appetite for marketing money to support construction of the exchanges (which serve the role of the broker, though less well because there is no support)  and information about options to potential participants.  That these are exactly the kinds of expenses they have railed against for years in the private world seems to elicit no irony.  Via Cato

Now we learn, from the Washington Post’s Sara Kliff, “Sebelius has, over the past three months, made multiple phone calls to health industry executives, community organizations and church groups and directly asked that they contribute to non-profits that are working to enroll uninsured Americans and increase awareness of the law.”

This follows on from revelations in California (revelations that occurred before a new California law that makes PPACA costs double-secret).

[California] will also spend $250 million on a two-year marketing campaign [for its health insurance exchange]. By comparison California Senator Barbara Boxer spent $28 million on her 2010 statewide reelection campaign while her challenger spent another $22 million.

The most recent installment of the $910 million in federal money was a $674 million grant. The exchange's executive director noted that was less than the $706 million he had asked for. "The feds reduced the 2014 potential payment for outreach and enrollment by about $30 million," he said. "But we think we have enough resources on hand to do the biggest outreach that I have ever seen." ...

The California Exchange officials also say they need 20,000 part time enrollers to get everybody signed up––paying them $58 for each application. Having that many people out in the market creates quality control issues particularly when these people will be handling personal information like address, birth date, and social security number. California Blue Shield, by comparison has 5,000 employees serving 3.5 million members.

New York is off to a similar start. New York has received two grants totaling $340 million again just to set up an enrollment and eligibility process.

These are EXACTLY the same sorts of marketing costs progressives have railed on for years in the private world.

People Constantly Amaze Me

My company has an email list folks can join to get emails if we have jobs available.  We have about 15,000 people on the list and get hundreds of applications whenever there is a new job, even though we probably have fewer than 20 openings a year.   I got this email today from someone I suppose must have added his name to the list:

Do you know that since I signed up with youI have not recieved ONE e-mail from you about jobs ???  Are you holding out jobs for friends ? Do you just get people to sign up then forget them for fun ??  Or is it that you have no job leads ???
Why did I waste my time signing up with you ????????????

Certainly this man's willingness to turn the smallest frustration into an enormous imagined slight with hints of conspiracy is EXACTLY what we are looking for in our customer service staff.

Most Honest Government Web Site

Congrats to New Mexico for this picture on their Department of Revenue site.  This is EXACTLY how I feel when I am trying to track down some bizarre new tax I have just found out that we may owe.

The Chicago Political Paradigm

Over the last few weeks I have been following the story of the city of Glendale, AZ, in order to protect a previous $200 million public investment in our hockey team, proposing to issue another $100 million bond issue to help subsidize the purchase of the hockey team out of bankruptcy.

The real furor began when the Goldwater Institute, a local libertarian-conservative think tank, said they were considering suing over the bond issue because it violates the gift clause of the Arizona Constitution, which basically bans municipal governments from providing direct subsidies or lending their credit to private institutions.  The gift clause has been frequently breached in the past (politicians do love to subsidize high-profile businesses), but of late Goldwater has successfully challenged several public expenditures under the gift clause.

I won't rehash the whole argument, but I found this bit from Senator McCain interesting

He called on the Goldwater Institute, a Valley watchdog that intends to sue to block the deal, to sit down and negotiate to keep the team

The buyer Matthew Hulsizer and his staff have taken this position throughout the deal -- they have lamented that they are more than willing to "negotiate" with Goldwater, and they are frustrated Goldwater won't come to the table with them.

This claim seems bizarre to me. If Goldwater thinks the deal is un-Constitutional, what is to "negotiate?" I don't know Hulsizer or anything about him, but it strikes me that he is working from a Chicago paradigm, and is treating Goldwater as if it were a community organizer. In Chicago, community organizers try to use third parties to protest various deals, like the opening of a Wal-Mart or a new bank. These third-parties are nominally protesting on ideological grounds, but in fact they are merely trying to throw a spanner in the works in order to get a pay off from the deal makers, almost like a protection racket. The payoff might be money or some concession for the group (e.g. guarantee of X% jobs for this group in project, $X in loans earmarked for group, etc).

Everything I have seen tells me Hulsizer is approaching Goldwater in this paradigm.  Even going out and rounding up the most prominent politician in the state (McCain) to put pressure on Goldwater is part of this same Chicago paradigm.

Here by the way  is what Hulsizer is apparently offering

As one part of the deal, Glendale would sell bonds to pay Hulsizer $100 million, which the Chicago investor would use to purchase the team for $210 million from the National Hockey League.

Hulsizer said he notified Goldwater he would guarantee the team will pay Glendale at least $100 million during its lease on the city's Jobing.com Arena through $75 million in team rent and fees and by covering $25 million in team losses that the city promised to pay the NHL this season, which is included in the hockey team's purchase price.

"We need to move forward now," he said. "I expect that Goldwater and other people who have come out against this deal will hopefully recognize the benefits of it and will now use all of that energy and tenacity and aggressiveness to go out and help us sell these bonds and make hockey work in the desert forever."

Hulsizer said Goldwater had not yet responded to him.

By the way, I hesitate to trust the Arizona Republic to report such deal terms correctly, but if what is reported above is correct, the offer appears to be non-sense

  1. What kind of guarantee is he offering?  Is it a guarantee by the corporate vehicle buying the team, because if it is, this is worthless.   The last team ownership group promised to pay the lease for 30 years -- what does that mean once they went bankrupt?  I am sure Borders Books promised to pay a lot of real estate owners money for leases, and many of them are going to end up empty-handed in the bankruptcy.  If this is a personal guarantee, that is a nice step forward, though not enough because....
  2. The $75 million in rent is largely irrelevant to the new bond issue -- these rents support the old $200 million bond issue.  What they are saying is "issue a new $100 million bond issue for us and we will guarantee you can make 40% of the payments for the old bond issue."   So?  When Balsillie wanted to move the team, he didn't ask for an additional bond issue and agreed to pay off $50 million of the old one as an exit fee.
  3. At the end of the day, if the $100 million is not a subsidy, not at risk, and fully backed by guaranteed cash flows, then Hulsizer should go out and get a $100 million private loan.  Period.

Unfortunately, this might be enough to get the deal through the courts.  Glendale will argue that for the $100 million, they will get $100 million paid against their existing bond issues that would not otherwise be paid if the team folds or leaves town.  This may fly with the courts, unfortunately, but it still sucks for taxpayers.   At the end of the day, nothing about this offer makes the $100 million bond issue any safer.   If the team goes bankrupt, it is lost.  That is an equity risk the city is taking with taxpayer funds, and equity risk for which we are getting no equity.  See here for full discussion of the risks and problems.

Postscript: The following is pure speculation, but I think it is close to correct.  The team is worth about $110 million at best (remember, it has never made money in AZ).  Forbes values it at $117 million but several similar franchises have sold for under $100 million lately.   The reason it is selling for $210 million is that the NHL, which bought it out of bankruptcy, guaranteed its other owners the league would not lose a penny on the team.   But the team has been racking up losses, and the accumulated cost to the NHL is now $210 million.  The NHL is insisting on a price that is $100 million north of where it should be.  In effect, the taxpayers of Glendale are bailing out the NHL for this crazy promise to its owners.

I can just see the negotiation.  Hulsizer, who by every evidence is a savvy financial guy, is not going to pay $210 million for an asset worth $110 million.  Glendale has way too many chips on the table to fold now, so it rides in and says it will contribute the $100 million difference.  In fact, the best evidence this is a subsidy is the difference between the purchase price and any reasonable team value.  Someone has to make up the ridiculous gap between the NHL asking price and reality, and Hulsizer is too smart to do it.   I have been calling this a subsidy of Hulsizer, but in fact this is really a subsidy of the NHL.   The NHL has Glendale by the short hairs, because Glendale knows (from the Balsillie offer, among others) that the only way the NHL can get a $210 million price is from a buyer who wants to move the team.

This, by the way, is EXACTLY the reason I opposed the original stadium funding deal.  Once they built the stadium, and then went further and lured businesses to develop around it, they were wide open to blackmail of this sort.

The problem with doubling down at this point is that the team has never made money and has no real public plan for doing so.  I have talked to NHL executives and none of them see how the turnaround is possible.  So how many years will it be before the new owners tire of their plaything and throw the team back into bankruptcy, so that Glendale will be in the exact same spot except $300 million, rather than $200 million, in debt.

US vs. Europe: Standard of Living

NY Times | Paul Krugman | Learning From Europe

Europe's economic success should be obvious even without statistics. For those Americans who have visited Paris: did it look poor and backward? What about Frankfurt or London? You should always bear in mind that when the question is which to believe "” official economic statistics or your own lying eyes "” the eyes have it.

This is just silly.  Its like walking out on a single day and saying, "well, it doesn't seem any hotter to me" as a rebuttal to manmade global warming theory.  I am sure I can walk the tourist and financial districts of a lot of European cities with their triumphal centuries-old architecture and somehow be impressed with their wealth.  But the number of upscale shopping options on the Champs-Élysées has little to do with the standard of living of the average Frenchman.

South Bend Seven put it well:

Okay, where did you go in London? Covent Garden? St. James? Soho? Westminster? The City?

Oh, you didn't go to North Peckham, or Newham, or Hackney? You went to the rich areas of the most prosperous city in the country, and not, I don't know, Liverpool, or Leicester, or Middlesbrough? No, you've never been to those places, have you?

Well several million people live there, and no offense to them, but they're not quite as charming as the tourist districts in London. I don't think they'd look to kindly on some rich American spending a vacation watching the Changing of the Guard and taking in a show on Haymarket and concluding he knows about their country and their life.

This really gets back to my post the other day on triumphalism.  This is EXACTLY why states build pretty high-speed trains and grand municipal buildings and huge triumphal arches  -- as a way to distract both their own citizens (and outsiders) from their own well-being relative to others.  Its the magician waving something shiny around in his left hand to take your eyes off the right.  And it is pathetic that not only does a former Nobel Laureate fall for it, but he doubles down by telling everyone else to fall for it.

Relevant actual data, via Mark Perry (click to enlarge, this is 1999 data from a 2004 Swedish study but I don't think the relative positions have changed):

EUUSAHOUSEHOLDS

Triumphal arches and high-speed trains don't make people wealthy.  Wal-Mart has done far more to make the average person wealthier than any number of government projects you can mention.

Along these lines, I have said for years that one of the reasons we spend more on health care than Europe is because we can.  We are wealthier, and (rationally in my mind) people choose to spend this incremental wealth on their health and well-being.

Yes, It's a Tax

Obama continues to deny that the health insurance mandate which is backed with a penalty to be collected by the IRS is a "tax."  He says "For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase."  Three responses:

  1. Asking people to take individual responsibility for their health care expenses is not a tax.  Asking them to do so via a particular method, in this case the purchase of an insurance policy rather than, say, just paying expenses as they go, is a tax.
  2. Obama might argue that since people are getting value for the policy they have to buy, there is not net tax but just a (forced) exchange of value.  But this is the classic technocratic fault, to assume that the central planner's definition of value is the same as every individuals.  But its not.  Many folks don't get value from a policy, which is why they don't buy one today
  3. Even if Obama were right in #2, he would still be wrong given the rules embedded in this bill.  Young, healthy people will be forced to subsidize the old and those with pre-existing conditions by the rules imposed on insurance companies.  These rules effectively make it impossible to charge full cost to the old and sick, so that the young and the healthy will have to pay more.  Because the young and the healthy will not see values in policies at the prices they will be paying (given these transfers), they won't value the policy with is EXACTLY why the law has to force them to buy it.  Which is why it is a tax.

John Stoessel via Carpe Diem

Competition is a "discovery procedure," Nobel-prize-winning economist F. A. Hayek taught. Through the competitive market process, we producers and consumers constantly learn things that force us to adjust our behavior if we are to succeed. Central planners fail for two reasons:

First, knowledge about supply, demand, individual preferences and resource availability is scattered -- much of it never articulated -- throughout society. It is not concentrated in a database where a group of planners can access it.

Second, this "data" is dynamic: It changes without notice. No matter how honorable the central planners' intentions, they will fail because they cannot know the needs and wishes of 300 million different people. And if they somehow did know their needs, they wouldn't know them tomorrow.

My Answer on Private Health Insurance

A Cafe Hayek Reader asks:

Imagine we had entirely private health insurance market "“ no Medicare or Medicaid.  If I live to be sixty-five, I will probably have a personal and/or family history that indicates a strong probability of developing an expensive chronic condition. I would wager that is true of almost all sixty-five year olds.

So here is my question: which insurer in their right mind would take on my risk?

I suspect none. Once philanthropy and savings were exhausted, I would surely risk a painful life and preventable death.

Do I want this? Does anyone? Isn't "socialized" medicine for older people an unpleasant moral necessity for our wealthy society? Please note I am deeply suspicious of most arguments cast in moral terms in discussions of politics and economics. I ask these questions guardedly.

I answer in the comments:

Imagine we had entirely private life insurance market "“ no government options at all. If I live to be sixty-five, I will probably have a pretty high probability of dieing in the next 15 years or so. I would wager that is true of almost all sixty-five year olds.

So why would anyone insure me?

Because the life insurance market has developed a very reasonable solution to this -- you negotiate a term life rate for X number of years. Your rate might be Y a year for 10 years, or 1.5Y a year for 20 years, or 2Y a year for 30 years. The longer the rate guarantee, the higher the rate. You are explicitly paying higher rates than you might have in younger, less risky years to make sure you get a coverage guarantee at an affordable rate in later, risky years.

Of course, if you play the grasshopper and never buy insurance until you are 65, your price is going to be awful. But I don't think it is a reasonable role for government to do all kinds of individual-liberty-defying and costly things just because you did not take responsibility for your old age earlier in life. However, saying that, I of course know that this is EXACTLY what the government does with Social Security.

I have a high deductible individual insurance plan from Assurant who specializes in insuring individuals, and they have been evolving to a pricing model sort of similar to the term life model I listed above, though they are not quite there yet.

To the folks that say this is no solace for folks already 65, that is an implementation transition issue, not an argument against the market's ability to deal with this. Certainly a lot of folks have paid Medicare taxes for years and are counting on it. Some kind of phase out, possibly where the government redirects Medicare funds to make up the difference in policy prices for having not started locking in earlier, is possible. But the question was not an implementation question - it was a question of whether the market inherently fails for 65-year olds, and I think the answer is that it does not. We have a perfectly serviceable analog in life insurance to prove it

I call this the "failure of imagination" argument against free markets.  Some sector of the economy (such as education) has been dominated by government for so long that folks can't imagine a private model.  For example, when I argue for private grade school education, I can't tell you how often people say "private schools are all really expensive, no one could afford them."  Private schools are expensive because in the current government model, the only market niche for private schools is for families that can afford to pay the government for education they don't use and then pay a second time for a private school.

When Energy Cutbacks are Frightening

Via TJIC:

Harvard plans to sharply reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the
next eight years, Drew Faust, the university president, said.

The initial, short-term goal for the university will be to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from a 2006 baseline by
2016, Faust said yesterday in a statement.

In the winter of 1990, my Harvard-owned apartment had its heating fail.  I called the administration for weeks before anyone would show up to look at it.  By this time, I actually had ice on the inside of my window panes.  Walking into my freezing apartment, a maintenance guy placed a thermometer in the center of my room, and then just stood there staring at it for 5 minutes.  At this point he had not asked me about my problem, nor looked at anything remotely connected with the heating system.

He suddenly sprung into action, looked at the thermometer, and started to walk out of the room.  "Wait," I said.  "What is wrong?  Do you know how to fix it?"  The Harvard maintenance guy says "Your room is only 53 degrees -- by state law we don't have to do anything unless it is below 50.*"  And then he walked out, with me screaming at his back.  Only when I sent a letter to the University, copied to the fire marshal, explaining that all was well because I found the room stayed pretty warm if I kept the oven on "broil" 24 hours a day and left the oven door open all the time, did I get any action to fix my heating.

It is scary to think that a university so reluctant to spend any money on heating rooms even 20 years go now wants to reduce its energy use by 30%. 

Of course, we all know how these things work:  creative accounting.  The Enron guys were saints compared to the accounting games played in the carbon accounting and offset world.  Harvard will probably say that "Well, we were planning to build a massive coal-powered electricity plant right in the middle of Harvard Yard, and by cancelling the project, we have reduced our emissions 30% over what they would have been and therefore made our goal.  Don't laugh - the UN and EU are doing EXACTLY this every day.

* Note that I cannot remember the exact legal standard quoted to me, but I think it was 50.