“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, January 30, 2016

the solution-suck: Sanders single payer plan and the neo-liberal attack dogs

You will have noticed that Sanders single payer plan has been extensively attacked. It has been dismissed by Paul Krugman and savaged by Vox, which is turning into the 21st century version of the old New Republic (the Marty Peretz New Republic that marketed its liberal reputation to put across reactionary ideas).

These logic behind these political attacks is pretty simple. Sanders has been hammering on a problem, a massive problem, with healthcare in America. It is fantastically expensive; and, for the majority of people, that is, those who live in households thatmake below around 100 thousand, it is a subject of constant, rational worry, since it is precisely those households for which every rachet upward of the medical machine makes medical care ruinous.  32 million non-elderly Americans are still uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And even for those who are insured,  According to the Commonwealth Fund:

“New estimates from the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey, 2014, indicate that 23 percent of 19-to-64-year-old adults who were insured all year—or 31 million people—had such high out-of-pocket costs or deductibles relative to their incomes that they were underinsured. These estimates are statistically unchanged from 2010 and 2012, but nearly double those found in 2003 when the measure was first introduced in the survey. The share of continuously insured adults with high deductibles has tripled, rising from 3 percent in 2003 to 11 percent in 2014. Half (51%) of underinsured adults reported problems with medical bills or debt and more than two of five (44%) reported not getting needed care because of cost. Among adults who were paying off medical bills, half of underinsured adults and 41 percent of privately insured adults with high deductibles had debt loads of $4,000 or more.
Even this survey doesn’t represent the reality of the medical care burden. Those in the 19 to 64 group are connected by family ties to those in the 64 and above group, and often have to dip into what savings they have for medical expenses that the retirees can’t pay.
This survey received a lot of news coverage. It is relevant to the medical care crisis:
“Approximately 63% of Americans have no emergency savings for things such as a $1,000 emergency room visit or a $500 car repair, according to a survey released Wednesday of 1,000 adults by personal finance website Bankrate.com, up slightly from 62% last year. Faced with an emergency, they say they would raise the money by reducing spending elsewhere (23%), borrowing from family and/or friends (15%) or using credit cards to bridge the gap (15%).
It is in this environment of economic precarity that we are seeing a rather amazing rise in the cost of medicines: From Business insider:
“Cost trends for prescription drug coverage are projected to increase by 8.6% in 2015 and by 11.3% in 2016 for active plan and retiree plan members under 65, according to a survey released Thursday by benefits, compensation and human resources consulting firm The Segal Group Inc. That compares with an increase of 10.7% in 2014.
New York-based Segal predicts the cost trend rate for specialty and biotechnology drugs, which treat conditions like cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, will hit 19.4% in 2015 and 18.9% in 2016, the survey showed.”
This is of course an impressionistic survey of the medical landscape, but it is enough of one to pose the question: is there a problem here?
This question is not, however, posed by any of the attacks on Sanders so far. What one wants is a comprehensive survey of the costs to the American public of medical care, and then a comparison of the two plans, Clintons and Sanders, which address it. Instead, what we are getting is the well known solution-suck program. One concentrates on the flaws in a solution to the elimination of everything else. In this way, we forget that even if we have no plan, we have a crisis in costs in the US. The difference, of course, is in who is going to pay for it: whether it is going to continue to be on the backs of the working class, or whether the costs are going to be met through some universal medical care system. The second question is whether the costs can be mitigated or even lowered by government action.
What is never said about the later question is that the costs are siginificantly increased by government action. There are three drivers of cost in the US: guilds, monopolies and intermediaries. Guilds are labor forces that are artificially restricted by government required licences. Monopolies are both IP driven and trust driven. And intermediaries are complex interactions that include both insurance companies and health care providers. When I have to go to a doctor to get a prescription to get a drug, I am paying an intermediary premium.
We might well want doctors and nurses to be licenced, and patent protection to work. But this doesn’t mean that we have to have the system we have now. For instance, patents, as Dean Baker has suggested, should better be treated as a premium on licencing products. Instead of the inventors of x drug having a 20 year monopoly on producing it, Baker’s suggestion is that the government auction the design of the drug and give a percentage of the profits of the drug to the inventor from all those who bid to produce it. Thus, we would have both competition and a fair compensation for invention.
In any case, the solution-suck strategy is being pulled on Sanders. The way to fight back is to bring the conversation continually, obsessively back to the problem. Because in reality, the solution-suck strategy is simply neo-liberalism’s way of keeping things the way they are. And the way they are is becoming, increasingly, a horror.

Friday, January 29, 2016

trump and white euphemism culture

In the advent of Donald Trump, I have been thinking, we are seeing both the result and the decline of White Euphemism culture.
White Euphemism culture accompanied the liquidation of traditional liberal-left policies in the post-Cold War era. As the mass incarceration of blacks and hispanics got into high gear, and as the precarious economic gains of black household either stagnate or collapsed, the governing class promoted a politics of linguistic civil rights. Reading the Ferguson Report (a small paperback that nobody included on the "Books we Love" list last year, putting in question, I think, the notion that books should be loved, or that the love of books actually maps the effect of books) one notices that - as Rand Paul, of all people, remarked in the debate - the predominantly black population is not only poor, but is subject to an enormous machinery of fines and petty imprisonments that is exactly the same as the Jim Crow era. And Ferguson is hardly alone. Go to anyplace with similar conditions - a black majority population and a white majority police force or court house or judicial system - and you will find the same thing. This is how America administers its Sowetos.
At the end of 2008, the neo-liberal culture went into overdrive about this wonderful ‘post racial’ nation we had here.
However, anybody who has any acquaintance with the internet (and I’ve had a blog going, continously since 2001, which has made me very aware of Internety things) knows that the forces of misogyny, racism and psychosis were definitely abroad in the land. I’m reminded of this fact reading Joan Walsh’s piece in the Nation about her support for Clinton.
Joan Walsh has been on the Internet for longer than my blog has been up, since Salon's salad days in the Clinton impeachment era. In the article, Walsh justly points out that the smears and the threats that she has received for being for Clinton, and that her daughter has received, go beyond sexist and reach psychotic. She’s 100 percent right. The rape by comment culture is alive and well, and certainly finds expression among some Sanders supporters. But I had one caveat, which is that, as Walsh well knows, no matter what the ideology one supports as a woman on the Internet, the rape by comment people will be there. I have read, on supposedly liberal or left blogs, that Ann Coulter, the far right figure, was a dyke, should be raped, should be shut up with a bullet, should have her body dismembered, was a whore, etc., etc. I am pretty sure that female Sanders supporters get the same treatment.
The hope of the euphemism culture was that, without interference from the state, the private sector would not only pump out growth and prosperity for all, but that it would, with proper nudging, bring about a “post-racial, post-gender” society. Now, it isn’t that there has been no progress. But the progress has not been enough, not nearly enough, in comparison with the older liberal interventionist model.
Trump has torn off the bandage. But what was underneath is not new.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

adventures in subpar parenting

While Adam Smith was propounding the elements of capitalist anthropology – that it is in the nature of humans to truck and barter – Rousseau was imagining teaching a child different elements altogether. Rousseau’s Emile might break his furniture and his window – but he must bear the consequences of broken furniture and cold winds. “It is better that he should have a cold”, Rousseau says, “than be crazy.” Fou – by fou Rousseau meant, be like other children of his century.
Notice, though, that there is no substitution here – no trucking and bartering. There is no – if you break your chair, you can’t have dinner. Because this introduces both an equivalence – furniture/dinner – and a mode of thinking in which all objects dissolve into substitutes in an exchange.
Now, myself, I have always been impressed with the idea of ‘deal-less’ childrearing. Although I’m definitely not going to leave a window broken, I do like making it clear that there are natural implications for action, rather than implications that depend upon the whim of the parent.
With these notions, I was naturally setting myself up for failure.
A couple of days ago, I had one of those moments of parental discouragement. Adam did not want to take a bath. He did not want to so much that there were tears and tantrums. He did not want to so much that there was kicking. He did not want to so much that talking wasn’t working – nor a bit of yelling. There was a part of me that admired his stubbornness, I must admit, but mostly, I was getting worn down.
So I bartered. I told him that if he didn’t take a bath, we were going to put him to bed with no stories and with the lights out immediately.
You will notice that there is zero connection between taking a bath and telling a story. That is, until I made it. Until I made a deal.
Adam folded. This was a relief. However, I do feel like I am starting a pattern of easy discipline, of truck and barter, that can’t be good. On the other hand, Emile’s tutor was simply that – he seems to have no other function. While me, as a parent, I do have many other functions. I don’t have infinite patience. I for one thing wanted to start dinner.  I had a schedule I was following that evening.

Well, I know you can’t raise a child against all the social currents that one lives within. But there are moments of … what shall I call it? Moral disarmament in parenting, I guess, that are discouraging. Or at least peal off a bit of the gilding of the little icon you make of yourself as the good parent. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The electability argument doesn't say what you think it says, Paul Krugman

I have a strong distrust of electability arguments, because they are usually made by people who are not making an observation, but beating the drums for a cause. In fact, it is a mathematical truth, in the modern American system, that one of the candidates from either the Republican or Democratic party will win the election. It is another truth that the GOP or Dem candidate will have won the majority of the primaries. Is it, however, true that the person who wins the primaries in a party isn't always the most electable in the general? What that means, what that should mean, is not that the candidate who lost the primaries could lose less the general, but that the candidate who lost the primaries could have won the general. Personally, I think this is totally unlikely. The argument of electability is usually manipulated by Democratic centrists, and they usually pick McGovern for their punching bag. The problem is evident, however. For if Mcgovern was a uniquely bad choice, what they are contending is that his opponents - basically, Humphrey and Muskie - were better. But when you go back to the Gallup polls, there's absolutely no evidence for this. Humphrey and Muskie both did worse against Nixon in the polls in May, 1972, than McGovern. Intuitively, it seems more probable that the winner of the primary is probably the most electable candidate that the party has running. This intuition is borne out, partly, by the fact that it is rare (in fact, I can't think of an instance) that a person who lost his party's nomination in one election cycle to a person who lost the general was elected in the next cycle by the party and defeated the incumbent in the general. To give an example that is less muddy: say, Kerry had lost to Gore in 2000, who lost to Bush, and then Kerry won the Dem nomination in 2004 and defeated Bush. In fact, most of the time, those who lose in the primaries never get a chance to be nominated - unless they are VPs. Humphrey lost in the 1960 primary, and did get a chance in the 1968 election. Even so, he lost.
Now, given this, I think it is important to note that the electability argument has been used to promote a buncha egregious losers to the Democratic coronation: Humphrey, Mondale, Dukakis, and Kerry. All we were told were electable - in fact, before any substance, this is what they were supposed to be. But they weren't. They were losers.
That said, I do think Clinton is electable, though I am for Sanders in the primary. But she is a bit like Humphrey, which is a bit frightening to me.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Neurath, Krugman and prediction

“Imagine sailors who, far out at sea, transform the shape of their clumsy vessel from a more circular to a more fishlike one. They make use of some drifting timber, besides the timber of the old structure, to modify the skeleton and the hull of their vessel. But they cannot put the ship in dock in order to start from scratch. During their work they stay on the old structure and deal with heavy gales and thundering waves. In transforming their ship they take care that dangerous leakages do not occur. A new ship grows out of the old one, step by step -- and while they are still building, the sailors may already be thinking of a new structure, and they will not always agree with one another. The whole business will go on in a way we cannot even anticipate today. That is our fate.”
This is a famous passage from Otto Neurath, the socialist and logical positivist. It is grounded in Neurath’s sense that prediction is a network effect – that it exists as a hypothesis in a network of other hypotheses, and that we should judge it in terms of that network.
Because we all possess the future tense, we are all prophets. However,  good prophecy – honest prophecy - requires something more than grammar. It requires a certain predictive integrity. That is, it requires that one not make predictions based on the isolation of one hypothesis as if the others did not exist.
Poor prophecy is the rule in politics. Because prophecy is entangled with the very mechanism of advancing political figures and policies, the best we can expect is that some acknowledgement of Neurath’s raft will trail behind the prophet. Some notion, that is, that for x to become true, not only do we have to be right about current mechanisms that would lead to x, but we have to acknowledge the x effect – the fact that it comes true changes the way things are. We can’t transpose one massive change into a background that we assume stays, otherwise, stable. It is like predicting a large earthquake in a locale and assuming that all the buildings and roads will remain the same.
This is what I felt when I read the recent series of Krugman posts criticizing Bernie Sanders. Leaving aside the economic content of the criticism, it is the political content that seems to ignore utterly the context of the predicted event.
Bernie Sanders becoming the nominee of the Democratic party would be a large earthquake. I don’t expect it to happen. But when I imagine it happening, I know that I have to imagine a lot of unanticipated shifts in circumstance. As well, I would have to re-evaluate the present mechanisms that would lead to that event.
Krugman as an economist knows this. But Krugman as a supporter of Clinton has tossed these variables in the garbage. And that isnt good. It puts him at the level of those people, those multitudes of people, who comment or blog on –line with absolute certainty, and absolute lack of intellectual integrity. This is easy to confuse with stupidity, but it is far from stupidity. It is, rather, a moral blindness – a blindness to the fact that thinking has any integrity.

It is one of the expected casualties, I guess, of an election year. However, it really doesn’t do much for Clinton, much as the serious people think it does. People have very good intuitions about moral blindnesses, whether they suppress them or not.