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I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.

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Tuesday
Apr222014

Earth Day...An Industry Notable for Being Wrong!

Earth Day has lost its bloom, no pun intended. After 40+ years of warnings of imminent cataclysm the one thing we know for sure is that we're still here and going strong. In fact, by most measures the world is in better shape today than at any time in history. But environmentalism has become a very big industry, giving rise to a whole new cadre of preachy, self-righteous millionaires who rely on pseudo-science or jerryrigged statistics to scare a population into an agenda that is purely "progressive".  

Jon Gabriel offers a shocking indictment of these enviro-tyrants in their own words in his article The 13 Most Ridiculous Predictions Made on Earth Day 1970.

A few examples:

“Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”  — Harvard biologist George Wald

“Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.”— New York Times editorial

“Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions…. By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.” — North Texas State University professor Peter Gunter

“By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate… that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, ‘Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, ‘I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt

If nothing else, these professional doomsday prophets have lost any right to expect the benefit of the doubt. 

Monday
Apr212014

A Pee Puzzle in Portland

A few days ago, the chuckling segment of the nightly news reported on a kid who stopped during a run to urinate into Portland's open, already-treated water reservoir. Stupid, but Portland turned the story from a sidebar focusing on a stupid act into an example of the pure insanity by what passes for government. Here's Time's story, (Young Man Pees in Portland Reservoir, Millions of Gallons Drained) so it's documented for our great-grandchildren to confirm we of the 21st century were completely nuts!

Dailymail.com.ukWas the water authority's decision to drain 38 Million gallons of water appropriate? Fortunately, Laura Helmuth, Slate's science and health editor, took the time to look beneath the surface; she did the math, explored the scientific implications and came to a startling conclusion. She calculated that that 19-year old would have needed to pee for 40 days nonstop to warrant draining the reservoir as unsafe. You see, urine is 95% water, and only a small amount is a nitrate (nitrogen).

Assuming that the risk comes from the nitrogen in the urine, to hit the EPA's limit on nitrates in drinking water, 10,000 parts per BILLLION, the young gent would need to have peed about 3,332 more times to impact the reservoir's safety.

 Finally, Laura notes that the entire thing could have been easily prevented:

Draining the reservoir is paranoid, illogical, and expensive. But the most frustrating thing to me about the whole episode is that there is actually something Portland could do to its water supply that would have an immediate, positive, and repeatedly scientifically validated impact on public health: Add fluoride. Paranoia is not healthy.

The article is quite thorough and, at its core, absurd. But it IS a commentary on bureaucrats and decision-making. Urine in Portland: How Dangerous is Pee in Drinking Water?

Sunday
Apr202014

Happy Easter!

Father James Martin, a Jesuit, had an interesting article in The Washington Post's "5 MYTHS" series in which he discusses those 5 myths about Easter. They are, he says:

1. Jesus didn’t literally rise from the dead.
2. After the Resurrection, Jesus first appeared to Saint Peter.
3. Lent is all about sacrifice.
4. Easter eggs have nothing to do with Easter.
5. Easter is not as important as Christmas.

It's worth a few minutes to read the article, which you can do here.

Another good article about Easter is on Vox, by Brandon Ambrosino. In it, Ambrosino offers brief examinations of a number of Easter "issues", including the origin of the Easter egg and the Easter bunny. (Is Easter About Jesus or Bunnies? Both, Actually.) It may surprise that there are actually connections between what many people see as the religious and secular underpinnings of our Easter celebrations.

Saturday
Apr192014

Libertarianism is Surging!

David Boaz of the CATO institute recently published an excellent article in Politico Magazine, The Libertarian Surge.

In that article, Boaz reviews the events since 2008 which seem to be causing a rise in libertarian leaning and acceptance as a viable political philosophy that finds its heart in liberty and not in partisan positions which ultimately look to restrain liberty. He believes that the recognition in libertarian thought is a natural consequence of the American character:

(D)istrust of government is in America’s DNA. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in condemning the Alien and Sedition Acts: “Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism. Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jealousy, and not confidence, which prescribes limited constitutions to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power.”

It is, unfortunately, also a result of the overreaching steps taking by our government over, especially, the last 5familysecuritymatters.org years or so. From the wars in the Middle East to the TARP bailouts, our government has done the bidding of lobbyists even in the face of overwhleming public disapproval.

If young people begin moving towards libertarianism--an informed and thoughtful libertarianism--perhaps that will be the demographic which finally pushes government back to the limited role our Founding Fathers forged for it to play in our lives.  

Friday
Apr182014

Well, Of Course It Won't Work...

There's an old business axiom that "you get what you incent". Conversely, if you disincent behavior you will likely NOT get that behavior. Naturally, this assumes we're dealing with people who make decisions that are rational; i.e., that people make decisions that are in their own best interests. 

And, so, it should be absolutely no shock to anyone that Obamacare's design actually provides a disincentive to earning more income. "WHAT?!", you say. Why would taxpayers ever want to design a program that actually encourages people to remain employment-locked. It's not only absurd, it is so clearly against the American character of being "makers, not takers". Let's first look, then, at where this disincentive exists; then, why would legislators ever legislate it.

In early February, 2014, the Congressional Budget Office issued a report on Obamacare that estimated the economy would lose the equivalent of 2.5 Million jobs as a result of the act....

The reduction in CBO’s projections of hours worked represents a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024 … The decline in full-time-equivalent employment stemming from the ACA will consist of some people not being employed at all and other people working fewer hours

There is a difference between losing 2.5 Million jobs and losing the "full-time equivalent" (FTE) of 2.5 Million jobs. Losing 2.5 Million jobs means that number of people are now unemployed. Losing 2.5 Million FTEs means (assuming, conservatively, that an FTE accounts for 1800 hours in a year) means the economy will effectively lose 4.5 Billion productive work hours. Of course, characterizing it as FTEs means that some employees may choose not to work at all; and for each one of those, we'd lose 1800 hours and 1 FTE. And, some employees may choose to cut back on their work schedules by, say, 5 hours/week or slightly more than 250 hours per year. So the "mix" represented by these 2.5 Million FTEs is anybody's guess.

Naturally, Democrats have characterized this as wonderful news, that because of this some people will now have the "freedom" not to work if they so choose. And that freedom comes from still receiving medical coverage through Obamacare. In essence if you're "lucky enough" to be close to the Federal Poverty Level you can get nearly-free coverage. On its face, that is a distinctly un-American proposition.

Now, what's driving this? It can be laid directly at the doorstop of Obamacare's design, specifically, the ACA's provision that the amount of subsidy declines, and deductibles and co-payments increase, with income. Economists knew this would create a problem, but those warnings went unheeded. Even Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist and "progressive" economist, has acknowledged that less hours worked must necessarily equate to less output in the economy, resulting in lower GDP. (Krugman's estimate is that reduction to be about .5%.)

Here's the details. ACA requires that people buy insurance or a pay a "tax". That insurance includes provisions that certain people may reasonably conclude will have little value to them, like a childless person who must pay for pediatric dentistry or a young man who must pay for birth control coverages. In addition, Obamacare has built-in adverse selection.

It requires insurers to ignore what they do best--estimating risk based on actuarial tables and experience--and requires that they artificiallyskew rates against younger, healthier customers to subsidize the cost for older, usually less healthy customers. (I wrote about this on April 7th, Hey Young People! They Think You're Irrational!) Now, combine this adverse selection with the rather inefficient design of subsidies and you have a perfect storm of disincenting work by young people, since the young are typically lower income. And that gives rise to a vicious cycle in which these early-career people put themselves at a competitive disadvantage for progressing into better and more lucrative positions.

Why would this happen? Here's the illustration I'd used earlier for Pennsylvania:

So let's take a scenario in which a young woman gets her first job earning $23,500/year. After a year she gets a very healthy raise of 9% to $26,700. (The typical matrix for pay usually provides larger percentage increases the lower the employee's "penetration" into that low-to-high matrix.)

Before the raise her "net income" might be about $18,800 ($23,500 less federal income taxes of say 12% and FICA tax of 8%), from which she would be required to pay $1,620, or 8.5% of her net income, for Obamacare premiums. Then she would be at-risk for another $600 which she would pay FIRST toward her deductible, followed by another $1,650 to meet her out-of-pocket maximum. And the net result is that her actual net income would be $17,180 and she could be liable for ANOTHER $1,650. If she had some heavy medical costs her net income could be as low as $14,930. If she had ZERO medical expenses--not an unusual assumption for a young person--her net income would be $17,180. (Remember, the premium required is much higher than an arms' length cost since Obamacare mandates that insurers over-charge young people to subsidize older people.)

And then comes the good news! She gets that raise. If we use exactly the same tax rates as before the raise, her "net income" would be $21,360. Then she would pay $2,328 in premiums, be at-risk for the deductible of $4,000 and additionally at-risk for another $5,200 in out-of-pocket costs.

So, her after tax income from the raise increases her net by $2,560. But her Obamacare premium increases by $708. Her deductible increases by $3,400 and her out-of-pocket exposure jumps by another $2,950. So that $3,200 raise cost her--with ZERO medical expenses--another $708 for sure and potentially as much as $7,058

In short, for the $3,200 raise her net income actually increases by just $1,852, after premiums (which get paid regardless of your claims) with an exposure for an ADDITIONAL $6,350. 

 So might a rational young lady go to her generous boss and explain that that raise could potentially end up costing far more than its value to her. Perhaps if you reduced that increase to $24,900 or a 6% increase she'd be better off. Or she could reduce her hours by 6% or about 2 hours per week. And if 17 similarly-situated employees did the same thing the effect would be to eliminate the output of one FULL-TIME EMPLOYEE!

Now, this is very poor design with a ridiculous result. It has a built-in, and very real, possibility of actually harming the employee herself by putting her in the position of two bad choices, between a very large increase in potential liabilities or reduced hours and/or compensation. Also, is it appropriate that taxpayers subsidize such a scheme, when it works to our economic detriment. Don't we want our people, especially the young, working and progressing, and finding their footing early in their careers? 

On many levels I find this another consequence of the ACA that was caused by a rush to passage and a lack of careful thought. I become more convinced the deeper I consider this law that it may be the most ill conceived and dangerous piece of social and fiscal engineering in our history.