Monday, February 28, 2011

More pain, less gain

Why even RomneyCare (ObamaCare) is better than none

Here's the quoted post and discussion from Brad DeLong's blog.

While you might think you can negotiate cash discounts for all the medical people you see (if you don't have insurance), it might not be so easy when you need to see numerous referred sub-specialists.

That's my experience too.  I found I could get $100 knocked off a ridiculously padded $2300 outpatient-procedure bill, but that was about all.  Meanwhile, insurance may only be paying $700.  They have hardball negotiators, and it's not just about one patient but potentially gaining or loosing a whole stream of patients.

And then, even with plenty of money on hand, if you are not in an insurance pool of some kind, even the smallest ailments may make it virtually impossible to buy ANY kind of health insurance.

In a system with private insurance, you're much better off having insurance though a pool of some kind.  So those without access to such a pool are toast.

That's why we need at least the kind of healthcare reform that passed last year.  Of course, single payer or national health service would be far far better.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Krugman debates Galbraith on Deficit Limits

The difference is, Galbraith essentially says the deficit is virtually incapable of being a serious problem in comparison with other serious problems we face (like unemployment, Global Warming).  A sovereign state which runs it's own currency cannot go bankrupt or become insolvent, and he explains the reasons why.  There is risk of inflation, but Galbraith sees regular inflation as normal and not an important problem.  The only serious problem like that would be hyperinflation, and Galbraith (and other economists, btw) say that risk is very low, it requires very special circumstances which are not applicable to America in the foreseeable future.

Krugman takes a more standard Keynesian counter-cyclical view that when the economy heats up again, the government should back off to minimize inflation.  But neither he (nor other economists I read) sees this as a problem.  Even if somehow Congress can't shut the money off, the Fed has (and will use!) tools to prevent or stop inflation once the economy heats up again.

In this earlier blog entry, Krugman gives a more wonkish rebuttal to Galbraith. (Note that previous link was essentially Galbraith's response to this one.)

Funny that self-proclaimed Saltwater economist Krugman stoops to using rather crude Freshwater "quantity theory of money" formula to prove his point.

But perhaps I'm even framing the issue wrong.  Here's a defense of Galbraith's MMT/neo-Chartalism which rephrases what Galbraith has said (e.g. to Congress).

Galbraith's main point is that the horror scenarios such as bankruptcy and insolvency are impossible, not that inflation is impossible.  As an aside, most economists I read say that hyperinflation, another horror scenario, is extremely unlikely (and doesn't happen very often) for the USA in the foreseeable future.

What Wikipedia says about Galbraith.

Code Word Definitions

"Deficit Reduction" really means Democracy Reduction, reducing the ability of the demos to spend money for the public good.

By the same token, the infamous "Starve the Beast" strategy of Grover Norquest really means "Starve Democracy."

As Noam Chomsky pointed out in article I linked yesterday, in political discussions the word "jobs" really mean "PROFITS".  The policies usually discussed around increasing jobs usually have to do with increasing profits, not jobs.

Whether you agree with "ignore the deficit" James Galbraith or not, many leading economists (Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, Dean Baker, Mark Thoma, and many others) do not believe the US deficit is too high right now, rather they believe it is too low right now.  The long term deficit is almost entirely in healthcare spending, which is already addressed considerably by the healthcare reform package passed last year, but would be better addressed by a Single Payer healthcare system.

Also I strongly agree with Galbraith on the important issues that should be discussed, like unemployment and global warming, instead of deficit reduction.  Those issues are far, far more important for the future.

The vast Koch Bros Right Wing Media Conspiracy

The Koch Bros, whose father founded the John Birch Society, today have a great purchase on state governments and the American mind.  Their businesses revolve around the relentless extraction of wealth created by millions of years of biological processes, so is it no wonder they are the among leading funders of climate denialism?

But beyond that, the Koch Bros and their peers, have done an incredible job of convincing people the merit of their far right ideas.  This is not merely by being so intune with facts, but also the way a private media system operates to the advantage of wealth.

In some sense, I could feel relieved that my prediction that Capitalism is system which cannot succeed is proving more and more true.  Through ownership of the media, capitalists will succeed in brainwashing enough to get their way.  The result can only be endless catastrophe.  There is no doubt in my mind that people in the future will regard Capitalism with about as much respect as the Third Reich.

Nevertheless, I must do everything I can to stop the train-wreck, even if at the expense of making the obviousness of my claims less apparent.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Discussion Party for March

I've hosted a monthly 6 hour discussion and movie party since 2001 on the last Sunday of each month except December starting at 3pm.  (Eventually, a whole list of previous topics will be added to this site.)   Please leave reply if you are interested in attending.

This month:


Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Wisconsin.


Call it Democracy (2008)

A discussion of America's electoral process,
examines controversial elections of the past.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why large business fears active Keynesian policies

While I was reading blogs on The Oil Drum over the weekend, I noticed that literally everyone seemed to have a reasonable grasp of Keynesian economics.  They were often talking about things like the different multipliers to account for changing employment under different energy trajectories.

So if amateur economists "get it", why can't Washington or The Media get it?  Why can't they seem to grasp any economics with roots later than 1829 when JB Say himself repudiated his earlier Say's law with his analysis of the recession he saw then.  The Media and Washington keep insisting that the answer is austerity.  The best theory and evidence says that austerity will make the problem worse, in fact, the problem we face was caused by an austerity of only a slightly different kind (declining relative income growth for most people, and therefore growing inequality).

Of course the only answer is, rulers and their lapdogs don't wanna get it.

Over at Brad DeLong's blog I saw this interesting post from Duke Dixon:

A major reason why large businesses are proponents of austerity is because they worry about the effects of active fiscal and monetary policy on the static industries in which they hold a dominant, often monopolistic, position. These businesses believe that large-scale government spending and credit-creation could benefit competitors, shift consumer preferences, or make their industries technologically obsolete. Those outcomes are plausible, because the government has enough money to profoundly alter industry dynamics if it enters that industry (either as a consumer, producer, or financier); and though those outcome are improbable, even the slightest uncertainty is enough to scare a firm accustomed to largely controlling industry-level dynamics. Consequently, despite witnessing their revenues stagnating, and knowing full well (in most cases) that Keynesian policies would help the macro-economy, these large businesses would rather try to weather recessions living off their profit margins. They attempt to preserve those margins by, among other things, boosting productivity (laying off workers) and lobbying for lower corporate and high income tax rates (the latter benefiting the business' senior executives).

How could we have missed this

I see now that "mainstream" analysts with oil companies and Wall Street are starting to talk about peak oil and its consequences.

I had learned about the concept of peak oil in 1998 after finding the slightly unhinged but nevertheless informative DieOff website, and my best friend at the time thought I was nuts.  Of course, King Hubbert published his original thesis in the 1950's (IIRC), so it's nothing new.

I learned about Global Warming around 1974 when I took a "Futurology" course (one of my favorites) at Pomona College (taught by Dr. Rexford Tugwell).  At the time, however, there was also concerns about coming ice age, and I preferred the ice age story for quite awhile until I became familiar with recent facts.  Also, my academic advisor (Dr. Corwin Hansch) when I was a Chemistry major in 1975 told personal stories about some of the scientists involved in unfolding the global warming story in the 1960's and 1970's.  In his narrative, they were some of the best.

Somehow "mainstream" analysts never learn about these things until, perhaps, it's become time to make a huge profit from them, or they are no longer interfering with business as usual.

One rule of sustainability

If we are not doing things sustainably (as with renewable energy), there must be something else wrong that needs fixing too, and perhaps first.

Other things that need fixing:
1.  Plutocracy.
2.  Imperialism/Neoliberalism
3. Hyperindividualism

I see these all of a piece, in one word, Capitalism.  What we need is:

1.  Democracy (unlimited, the economic is political, there are no individual rights to property that transcend the needs of society, and transparency is essential)
2.  Equality.  The first aim of every society should be to ensure the needs of every person to reach their greatest potential are met with the greatest degree of equality possible.  It is not surprising on many levels that greater equality leads to a progressive society (as from 1933-1968 in USA), greater inequality leads to a regressive falangism.  And there is no such thing as "equal opportunity", either you have equality or you don't.
3.  Love.

Shell oil projects long energy crisis in future

Shell Oil projects that shortages of fuel (peak oil, etc.) will lead to hugely serious social problems in the 2020-2030 time frame.  After that, around 2030, these problems will be resolved.

Here is one quotation from the FT article:

High domestic prices and exceptionally demanding standards imposed by governments provoke significant advances in energy efficiency. Eventually, locally developed alternative supplies -- biofuels, wind, and thermal solar -- also contribute on a much greater scale than before. By 2030, healthy economic growth is restored, with particular vibrancy in the new energy sector that has received a massive stimulus to innovation through this difficult period.

I'm not so sure about any resolution by 2030.  And I hope that once we are dealing with an energy crisis for real, we no longer waste any effort on biofuels which are likely to be a niche player at best from non-food sources like cellulose waste.  And I think it's interesting that they don't highlight one of the hottest areas of technological development: photovoltaic.  The longstanding calculation has been that wind power is cheap (but fluctuating) and photovoltaic is too expensive to pay for itself.  But continuing improvements in photovoltaic seem to have no end, their production curve matches the demand curve in most areas, and everything else is catching up in price.

As for me, for the past 10 years I have bought Windtricity and for the last 4 years I run my entire house on 100% Windtricity.  As a result of people like me, Texas is a leader in wind energy production.

You can probably do the same: buy "green power" of some kind from your utility.  It's a lot cheaper than doing your own rooftop (though I intend to do that real-soon-now) or backyard generation.  It would be nice if governments could simply mandate increasing renewable shares...but that doesn't seem to be happening very fast.

I can't understand the negativity about wind power that seems to have arisen recently but echoing old falsehoods.  Up to a certain level, say 20% of total generation, wind power can simply be added to power utility to displace fossil fuel usage.  Beyond some level, you need to start developing energy storage and demand management systems.  Those sorts of things will need doing in the future in any case.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Much gas leaks when you frack

Another of the big issues discussed in the blog following the article on Fracking I linked below is that much Shale Gas leaks out in any Fracking operation.  Another article on The Oil Drum examines this and many other issues:

The importance of this is that "100 years of gas" proponents (and of course the 100 years is bogus at anything like projected use, or even more if it takes the place of oil and coal) always claim that natural gas is relatively clean and (in the old days) produced less CO2 per unit of energy delivered than coal.

There are many problems with this claim, but one I had overlooked is Shale Gas is the dirtiest natural gas ever, not just in terms of producing enormous amounts of toxic waste, but in the CO2.

Much natural gas can leak out during fracking, right at the wellhead during various phases of the fracking process.   And for global warming considerations, natural gas (methane) causes more than 10x as much global warming as CO2 itself.

And then there are the trucks.  Any fracking operation involves trucking in vast amounts of water and chemicals, and then trucking out vast amounts of highly toxic spent fracking fluid.  Those trucks typically burn oil and produce CO2.

So by some considerations, it seems likely that Shale Gas is as horrible as King Coal.

Other analysts point out the futility of using Natural Gas from fracking as a "transition fuel".  We need to make the transition to renewable energy now, not after we've burned a bunch of other bad stuff, or built even more cities and infrastructure around an outdated energy model.

Tax the Rich!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yes, the left is often anti-sex and needs to change this

The late pro-sex feminist Ellen Willis is my hero on this.  She observed first hand the rise of 2nd wave anti-porn feminists like Gloria Steinem and declared herself to be a different kind of feminist, pro-sex.

Many of the most famous 2nd and 3rd wave feminist luminaries are misandric as well as anti-sex (Dworkin comes to mind), and this is often transparently obvious when reading their writings.  I fully support the concepts of first wave feminism, including a right to free and safe abortion.  However, that doesn't seem to buy a cup of coffee in the cafeteria of second wave feminism (some of whom may even be anti-abortion), whereas my possession of any legal photo of a woman useful for masturbation fantasy would be grounds for being banned from the vicinity.  One 2nd wave feminist friend of mine told me that even the mental thought of a woman during masturbation would be immoral, unless the thinker had gotten permission from that particular woman to think those those thoughts first.  She was ardently anti-Christian, but the idea that such thoughts can be immoral sounds awfully Pauline Christian.  So left and right conveniently come together when it comes to women having monopoly control over men's sexual fantasies, which means ultimately men's sex itself.

If you think women on the left are "loose", that is the opposite of my experience.  For greater enjoyment of sex, I have often wondered if I would have had lots more sex staying Christian and Republican.  I suspect one is more likely to find a sex parter at a fundamentalist church than any left organization you can think of.  The religious have service organizations that do mating as one of their primary charters, we on the left have debating societies, and after the debate ends, you're back on your own.

Activism also becomes a great excuse not to have sex, and usually it's not clear that it accomplishes anything other than sex avoidance.

Readings for Feb 16

Everyone should ponder this graph from the 2010 CBO report.

Former NBER economist Brad DeLong discusses the Federal budget situation for the short, medium and long terms..  Short term we need bigger deficit (more federal spending), long term we need to contain healthcare costs, and the graph is shown how healthcare costs grow over time to consume nearly entire federal budget.  (BTW, in case you didn't know, through Medicare and other programs, the US government already pays well more than half of the total medical costs in the USA.  Private insurance covers younger healthier people, more profit in that.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The crime of Sodom was selfishness

Among the myths and legends in the bible is the story of Sodom.  Conventional wisdom has it that the inhabitants of Sodomy were involved in some kind of unacceptible sex, hence we now have the word "sodomy" (often used to refer specifically to homosexual sex).

However, it turns out that according to one of the most authoritative Jewish books (Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer), which expands upon a verse in Ezekiel, the crime of Sodomy had nothing to do with sex.  It was about selfishness.

Rabbi Zeera said: The men of Sodom were the wealthy men of prosperity…[and] Rabbi Nathaniel said: The men of Sodom had no consideration for the honor of their Owner by (not) distributing food to the wayfarer and the stranger, but they (even) fenced in all the trees on top above their fruit so that they should not be seized….Rabbi Joshua, son of Korchach, said: they appointed over themselves judges who were lying judges, and they oppressed every wayfarer and stranger who entered Sodom by their perverse judgment, and they sent them forth naked as it is said, ‘They have oppressed the stranger without judgment (Ezek 22:29).

I had heard this long ago from the left liberal Rabbi Michael Lerner, and I am glad that it turns out to be true.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Free Electricity !

I'm not kidding.  This must be the new program, to eliminate unemployment, and build a sustainable future.

The government begins a $2T/yr investment in the production and distribution of electricity to everyone and for every purpose (especially, as fast as possible to replace all transportation with electrified transportation).

All new electricity is generated from fully renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal.  (It can be done according to many leading studies in the USA.)  Sophisticated energy storage and demand management (including grid-managed EV's and Hybrids) deal with the fluctuating nature of renewable energy.

In the meantime, the government claims ownership of all existing electricty production capacity, in exchange for reduction in payments for previously caused environmental damage.