Posts tagged ‘turkey’

Other Countries Have Higher Minimum Wages. They Also Have Higher Something Else...

Kevin Drum argues our minimum wage in the US is really low

blog_minimum_wage_median

 

A few quick thoughts:

  • I have a constant frustration that we never see these comparisons just on a straight purchasing power parity absolute dollar number.  Numbers related to income distribution are always indexed to a number that is really high in the US, thus making our ratio low.  I seriously doubt Turkey has a higher minimum wage in the US, it just has a much lower median wage.  Does that really make things better there?  I have this problem all the time with poverty numbers.  The one thing I would like to see is, on a PPP basis, a comparison of post-government-transfer income of the US bottom decile or quintile vs. other countries.  Sure, we are more unequal.  But are our poor better or worse off?  The fact that no one on the Left ever shows this number makes me suspect that the US doesn't look bad on it.    This chart, from a Leftish group, implies our income distribution is due to the rich being richer, not the poor being poorer.

  • Drum or whoever is his source for the chart conveniently leaves off countries like Germany, where the minimum wage is zero.  Sort of seems like data cherry-picking to me (though to be fair Germany deals with the issue through a sort of forced unionization law that kind of achieves the same end, but never-the-less their minimum wage is zero).
  • All these European countries may have a higher minimum wage, but they also have something else that is higher:  teen unemployment (and I would guess low-skill unemployment).

click to enlarge

Admittedly this only has a subset of countries, but I borrowed it as-is from Zero Hedge.  By the way, by some bizarre coincidence, the one country -- Germany -- we previously mentioned has no minimum wage is the by far the lowest line on this chart.

The Meaning of Health "Insurance"

Megan McArdle has a column I am going to excerpt at great length (sorry Ms. McArdle).  This is great article on a topic I have tried to explain many times here

After all, the insurance company has to make money.  That has to mean that the expected value of the claims they pay out is lower than the expected value of the premiums their customers pay in.  In some sense, then, the expected value of your insurance premium is negative.

But insurance does make everyone better off, because it covers very large costs that most people would have trouble paying.  Even most really good savers would have a hard time replacing the value of their house, or paying off a $250,000 judgement for an auto accident.  The expected value of those incidencts is very, very negative--more than just the value of the cash, you have to factor in the horror of being homeless or bankrupt.  When you factor in the homelessness, the bankruptcy, and so forth, the slighly negative expected financial value is more than outweighed by the positive value of being protected against personal catastrophe.  Not to mention the peace of mind one gets from not having to worry about homelessness, etc.

This is the magic of risk pooling.  But notice that it's the catastrophe which makes insurance a good deal.  You wouldn't get much value from buying "grocery insurance".  At best, you'd be paying an extra administrative fee to route your routine expenses through an insurer, rather than paying them directly.  At worst, you'll end up with bills skyrocketing as all sorts of perverse incentives appear.  After all, if the insurer is paying all your grocery claims, why not load up on filet mignon instead of ground turkey?

But insurers try very hard never to sell insurance for less than the cost of your expected claims.  If you expect to buy $10,000 worth of groceries next year, it will not charge you less than that for a "grocery policy".  And if we all drive up the costs of grocery insurance by consuming more, the insurer can do one of two things: raise everyone's "insurance premiums" to cover a filet mignon budget, or create a list of "approved groceries" that it will cover, and start hassling anyone who tries to file an excessively expensive claim.

Sound familiar?

This is why you should always have liability insurance, but should think twice about collision damage coverage.  It's why high deductibles are a good idea--for small expenses, it's better to self insure.  And it's why "catastrophic" health plans, which only cover the sort of extremely expensive events that most people would have difficulty financing, are a much better deal than the soup-to-nuts plans that most people get through their employers.  Those plans are expensive, both because they're paying for a higher percentage of your expenses, and because they drive up utilization--which means that they drive up next year's premiums even more.  Imagine what your car insurance would cost if it covered gasoline, routine maintenance, and those little air freshener trees you hang from the rearview mirror.  Then stop asking why health insurance costs so much.

But Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of HHS, thinks that catastrophic insurance isn't really insurance at all.

At a White House briefing Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said some of what passes for health insurance today is so skimpy it can't be compared to the comprehensive coverage available under the law. "Some of these folks have very high catastrophic plans that don't pay for anything unless you get hit by a bus," she said. "They're really mortgage protection, not health insurance."

She said this in response to a report from the American Society of Actuaries arguing that premiums are going to rise by 32% when Obamacare kicks in, as coverage gets more generous and more sick people join the insurance market.  Sebelius' response is apparently that catastrophic insurance isn't really insurance at all--which is exactly backwards. Catastrophic coverage is "true insurance".  Coverage of routine, predictable services is not insurance at all; it's a spectacularly inefficient prepayment plan.

The last two lines are why I knew from the very beginning that the promise I would get to keep my health insurance was a lie.  Because I have true insurance, rather than a pre-payment plan for incidental health-related expenses, and the folks who wrote Obamacare think of insurance as pre-paid medical care (in fact, I believe they think of private insurance as a Trojan Horse for all-inclusive single payer government health care).

Patent Process Officially Broken

Google awarded a patent for changing the Google logo on particular days with date-relevent doodles.  Really.  From the patent award

A system provides a periodically changing story line and/or a special event company logo to entice users to access a web page. For the story line, the system may receive objects that tell a story according to the story line and successively provide the objects on the web page for predetermined or random amounts of time. For the special event company logo, the system may modify a standard company logo for a special event to create a special event logo, associate one or more search terms with the special event logo, and upload the special event logo to the web page. The system may then receive a user selection of the special event logo and provide search results relating to the special event.

Put a turkey on Thanksgiving in your website banner, and just wait for the Google lawyers to call.  Outstanding.

Far Be It For Me To Disagree, But...

I love Arizona and the Phoenix area.  However, I thought the NY Times listing of Scottsdale as one of the #9 place to visit this summer to be a bit odd.  Next up will be the suggestion to visit Buffalo in February.  Yes, there are a lot of screaming deals at luxury hotels with great spas, so if want two days of spa treatments and proximity to lots of good restaurants, go for it.  But expect to find something like Paris in August (but with better attitudes).  You may be here but we'll all be gone, if we can afford it.  Typical summer temperatures every day are 108-112F, with occasional excursions higher into territory that is stupid-hot.  Yeah, its dry heat, and that is exactly what we tell our turkey every Thanksgiving.  And yeah, the wind blows a bit -- feels just like a hair dryer. 

I Guess this is an Achievement, sort of

How in the world do you make a 1,145  calories, 71 g fat turkey burger??

I Honestly Don't Understand Where We Are on Foreign Policy

I don't even pretend to be very knowledgeable about foreign policy so I seldom write about it.  But the dialog around Turkey honestly has me confused.  Nancy Pelosi argues that we need to call out Turkey right now in order "to restore America's moral authority around the world."  So I get the moral dimension of calling out bad people for bad actions.  But it was my understanding that this was what Democrats found facile in Bush's foreign policy, that Bush called out countries like North Korea and pre-invasion Iraq for being part of an axis of evil.  Is it then Pelosi's position that morality in foreign policy consists of pointing out evil actions committed by our allies eighty years ago, but avoiding calling out current evil actions by our enemies?

Worst Law I Have Seen In A While

From San Francisco, of course! via Market Power

Prop. G obligates the
Planning Commission to conduct a hearing for any chain store (also
known as "formula retail") proposed in neighborhood commercial
districts.

Formula retail is defined as any retail sales establishment with 11
or more stores in the United States that maintains two or more
standardized features, including decor, facade, color scheme, uniforms,
signage or a trademark.

Incredibly, freaking 58% of the voters passed this turkey.  It's hard to know where to start, but here are a few thoughts:

  • Equal protection?  Anyone?  Buehler? 
  • One of the most obvious punishments of success I have ever seen.  If you only have one store, you are fine.  But if you are succesful and your concept flourishes and you have many stores, then you are automatically penalized.
  • One of the single most anti-consumer pieces of legislation I have ever seen.  Stores using a proven formula that has been succesful in other areas have a sort of consumer good housekeeping seal of approval.  They are by definition retail establishments where many consumers have already voted with their wallet "we like this."  So in effect, proven customer favorites are penalized vs. less proven concepts.  What an odd zoning concept when you put it that way -- we don't want anyone doing business here that has already proven themselves to be succesful with customers.  We only want you if you have no proof customers want what you are selling.

The other night I was staying in Arcadia, CA (a suburb of LA near Pasadena) on what I was told was the old Route 66.  There were a ton of restaurant choices, many of which I did not recognize, and there was a Chile's, which I grew up with in Texas.  I am positive some of those restaurants would have provided me a more satisfying meal than Chile's.  I am also sure some would have been worse.  Sometimes I am in the mood to find something new, but that night I just wanted a predictable experience.  All that stuff San Francisco is trying to penalize -- those standardized features -- bring real value to many consumers.

Regulate Thyself

Arizona Watch has a great post today about our state government's foray into amusement park regulation after several folks were stuck on a local ride for a couple of hours. 

There are no major amusement parks in Arizona, although two large
ventures are apparently planned. Currently, inspections are handled by
insurance companies, who have a serious financial stake in maintaining
the safety of the rides. Insurers can't afford to have unsafe rides at
their client's amusement park. Compare that to the state, that has
exactly what at stake?

As an aside, Phoenix is an awful place for a roller-coaster and amusement park fan like myself to live.  Basically, we have no real amusement parks  (though there are some great ones about a 6-hour drive away in LA).  I have sat and pondered this a lot - why does a city this large with such a strong tourist economy not have a Six Flags type attraction?

The answer I guess is  that our season is wrong.  Our season is November-April, when the weather is nice.  Unfortunately, the kiddies are in school then.  During summer vacation months, Phoenix is a bit, uh, toasty (but its dry heat, as we tell our Thanksgiving turkey each year).  This answer is not totally satisfying, as uncomfortable summer cities like San Antonio and Houston have major theme parks.  Also, Phoenix has no real world class water parks (just a couple of places with 2 slides and a pool).  Maybe its because all the developpers here have golf courses on the brain.

Where do Phoenix people go for fun in the summer?  Well, if you are ever in San Diego or LA during the summer, check the license plates.  Then you will know where we are.

That Awkward Global Test, Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I didn't talk much about the "global test" but rather spent some time giving my views on the war in Iraq. In brief, I opposed this war, but for reasons very different than that of most anti-war activist. I appreciate the need for the US to use force in the world from time to time, not the least for the quite salutary effect it can have on other miscreants who foresee that they might meet with the same fate (e.g.m see "Lybia").

One argument that I did not ever find compelling was the fact that we did not have enough allies or a large enough coalition. First, those putting forward this argument tend to go so overboard that they tend to insult those who did join us as "coerced" or "bribed". I think we owe a lot more to countries like Great Britain, Australia, Poland, Italy, and Spain (v1.0) than to intimate that they were suckers to join us. And what's with the strategy of saying that we did not have a large enough coalition, then actively trying to reduce it?

My hypothesis from day 1 of the war was that France was an ally of Iraq, and never going to join us, but that it didn't matter one way or another because alliances in the Muslim world would be much more important than with countries of fading glory in Western Europe. Therefore, the rest of this post will address two issues:

1. How realistic or unrealistic it was to expect help from our "traditional allies" and
2. Our mixed record of success with the allies that may matter more

Germany and Japan

Germany and Japan spent much of the 20th century unsuccessfully attempting to export totalitarianism to their neighbors by force. Both countries are rightfully reluctant to send their forces on cross-border adventures (in fact, Japan in prohibited in doing so by the constitution the US wrote for it). I have no problem with both countries taking a 100-year or so timeout on foreign adventurism.

France and Russia

The evidence continues to flow in. France and probably Russia were active allies of Saddam and the Baathist dictatorship in Iraq. Period. No amount of diplomacy, short of maybe a nuclear threat, was going to cause them to support an invasion of Iraq. They were no more likely to join in on an attack on Iraq than Mussolini and Italy were likely to join the Allies in WWII against Germany. The evidence emerging includes:

1. France and Russia were given a deal not long before the war to split the development rights to all of the oil in Iraq. Though it was not known then, the Duelfer report shows this to have been a direct strategy of Saddam to gain their security council vetoes. MSNBC had an article BEFORE THE WAR discussing the deal with France and Russia. Incredibly, America Haters, and even the author of this article, spend more time talking about the US going to war in Iraq for the oil. There has never been a scrap of evidence that the US went in for the oil, and very clear evidence that France and Russia were given lucrative oil deals to prevent the invasion. So who was acting for the oil?
2. France and Russia were easily the largest arms suppliers to Iraq. We knew this before the war and we have confirmed it in spades today. Every day our troops get attacked by French weapons, most of which were shipped to Saddam AFTER the embargo was in place and many within months of the start of the war. Iraq is not the only place where this is happening. While the US has in the past been careless or outright irresponsible in some of the places its weapons have ended up, today France, China, and Russia are not the key arsenals of totalitarianism.
3. France and Russia were key enablers in the UN, both passively, by defeating safeguards, and actively, by playing a direct role, of Saddam Hussein's stealing billions of dollars from the oil for food program. This story is still unfolding, and at this point I will leave aside the payments of oil vouchers to individuals, because it is not clear whether these acted as bribes (though they sure look like them). However, even without this aspect, the rape of the oil for food program is a miserable story of corruption, as detailed in part here and here.

The Scotsman has been on top of this story, and has a couple of great articles here and here.

Other Nations?
What about other nations. China? Yeah, right, the boys from Tiananmen square love promoting democracy over totalitarianism. Their actions to protect the Sudanese government from criticism over the current genocide there (again, in part, to protect their oil rights) have shown their true colors. And who else is left? Send in the Peruvian Air Force? The answer is, no one who could really help. When people say that we did not have a coalition, they primarily mean France, and you can see how likely that would have been. As an aside, I find it incredible that liberals of all stripes want to align themselves with French Foreign policy, perhaps the most illiberal in the last 50 years of all the wester democracies and certainly the country most responsible for making colonialism a bad word.

Allies that Really Matter in this War

In attacking Afghanistan and Iraq, the allies that should really matter are its powerful neighbors. I would argue that Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are all more important allies in these wars than France. So how have we done with these countries - the answer is a mix of successes and failures.

In Pakistan, we probably have had our greatest diplomatic success. Certainly, on 9/12, as we were trying to decide what to do next, Pakistan seemed to be more of a problem than part of the solution, and certainly their nuclear program was worrisome. But the Bush Administration has done a good job at turning Pakistan into an ally (at least in the near-term), with Pakistan agreeing to base troops and fighters in the country, agreeing to renounce ties to the Taliban, and, perhaps most amazing, agreeing to actually use its troops and security personnel to help hunt down hiding Taliban members. Without Pakistan on our side, defeat of the Taliban would have been impossible, with Pakistan acting as a safe harbor for terrorists much like Laos and Cambodia did in the Vietnam war. Even better, all this has been achieved without ruffling too many feathers in India, which is in itself a diplomatic victory, similar to wearing a Yankees shirt in Fenway Park and not starting a fight. I know that Pakistan still has a ton of problems, but we are getting as much as we could ever expect from them in the near-term (heck, even allying with Stalin made sense for a few years get reach some key goals).

In countries like Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, we probably reached about a diplomatic draw. Neither country would be highly enthusiastic about either an invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq, but both provided at least modest logistics support. Neither, however, have ceased being tremendous breeding grounds for terrorism or have done much to deter those in their countries supporting terrorism. Certainly a reckoning is coming sometime in the future with Saudi Arabia, but, for now, they have been about as supportive as necessary (and no more).

It is difficult to paint our diplomatic efforts with Turkey in the run-up to the war as anything but a failure. Turkey clearly had many concerns about the war, from negative economic impact to encouraging their own Kurdish minorities to get frisky should Iraq's Kurds gain their freedom. However, given our good relations with Turkey over the last half-century, we should have been able to find a diplomatic formula to secure their cooperation. Even more, our failure was particularly deep given that Turkey's support seemed to fall apart at the eleventh hour, when these type of things should already have been worked out.

In Summary

It still flabbergasts me that so many people run around worrying about France's participation in our alliance. It strikes me that France's participation was both stupendously unlikely as well as of little practical value (beyond their UN veto). Much more important was our success with Pakistan and failure with Turkey. A new type of war in different parts of the world will require different alliances than the European wars of the 20th century.

UPDATE

Interesting post from Captains Quarters about the complicated nature of our relationship with Pakistan and the change in Al-Qaeda strategy to try to drive Pakistan out of its alliance with the US.