“Not enough people pay attention to scholarly history. They never did, and I don’t believe they ever will.”
“What people believe to be true about their past is usually more important . . . than truth itself.”Michael Kammen
Thursday, December 05, 2013
There is a good post by Sarah Kliff on the WP Wonkblog about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
Most Americans already have health insurance: 49% through their employment, 16% through Medicaid, 13% though Medicare, and 1% through other public programs.
Five percent have individual policies that they have purchased for themselves on the open market; it is a portion of these who are finding their insurance cancelled. As Juan Williams says, it is the companies that have chosen to cancel the policies rather than bring them up to code. I suppose some of the people whose current policies are being cancelled will pay more for the replacements, but they may get more for their money. Others will shop wisely on the exchanges and get comparable coverage at lower cost.
16% of Americans are now uninsured.
17 million Americans are expected to qualify for new tax subsidies under Obamacare.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the number of uninsured will go down by 25 million because of Obamacare by 2023, but 31 million left without medical insurance at the end of the decade.
Will the demand for health care services increase? I don't know. Improved access to preventive services will probably reduce the demand for curative (often more expensive) services. Will the 25 million newly insured people actually use more services (especially those receiving tax subsidies) than they would otherwise? Perhaps, but we have social standards that hospitals have to give care to those who need it, whether the patients can pay or not. Moreover, some of those uninsured folk would pay out of pocket for the services that they use.
Will the health sector cost more than it would have without Obamacare? I doubt it. The rate of increase in health costs has gone down as a result of Obamacare. If there is an increase in demand for services, which might tend to increase prices, there will also be elements of Obamacare which tend to decrease costs of health services.
|Source: The Washington Post|
It would be possible to reduce emissions by public policies, but politicians are unwilling or unable to negotiate the reforms. In part that is due to the fact that so many deny the scientific evidence. Others I am sure think that they will take immediate benefits from bad policies and be dead before our descendants suffer the consequences.
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
I quote from President Obama's speech today:
I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: Making sure our economy works for every working American. It’s why I ran for President. It was at the center of last year’s campaign. It drives everything I do in this office. And I know I’ve raised this issue before, and some will ask why I raise the issue again right now. I do it because the outcomes of the debates we’re having right now -- whether it’s health care, or the budget, or reforming our housing and financial systems -- all these things will have real, practical implications for every American. And I am convinced that the decisions we make on these issues over the next few years will determine whether or not our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real.
Now, the premise that we’re all created equal is the opening line in the American story. And while we don’t promise equal outcomes, we have strived to deliver equal opportunity -- the idea that success doesn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege, it depends on effort and merit. And with every chapter we’ve added to that story, we’ve worked hard to put those words into practice.
It was Abraham Lincoln, a self-described “poor man’s son,” who started a system of land grant colleges all over this country so that any poor man’s son could go learn something new.
When farms gave way to factories, a rich man’s son named Teddy Roosevelt fought for an eight-hour workday, protections for workers, and busted monopolies that kept prices high and wages low.
When millions lived in poverty, FDR fought for Social Security, and insurance for the unemployed, and a minimum wage.
When millions died without health insurance, LBJ fought for Medicare and Medicaid.
Together, we forged a New Deal, declared a War on Poverty in a great society. We built a ladder of opportunity to climb, and stretched out a safety net beneath so that if we fell, it wouldn’t be too far, and we could bounce back. And as a result, America built the largest middle class the world has ever known. And for the three decades after World War II, it was the engine of our prosperity.
Now, we can’t look at the past through rose-colored glasses. The economy didn’t always work for everyone. Racial discrimination locked millions out of poverty -- or out of opportunity. Women were too often confined to a handful of often poorly paid professions. And it was only through painstaking struggle that more women, and minorities, and Americans with disabilities began to win the right to more fairly and fully participate in the economy.Perhaps that right to an equal opportunity should have been enshrined visibly in the Declaration of Rights. Certainly some of the reforms of our country of which we are justly proud are those which ended slavery, offered civil rights to racial minorities, and started to even the playing field for women and the disabled.
A brief time-lapse history of religious rule and expansion from 3000BC to present day; Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam. Enjoy the map and music. Beautifully made.For some reason I have not thought much about the expansion of Christianity from the Mediterranean north in Eurasia, nor the expansion of Christianity into Sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, Australia and New Zealand in the Colonial period.
I tend to have thought about the conflict between Christianity and Islam in terms of the Crusades in the Middle East and the Reconquista but not much in terms of the boundary between the Christian south and Muslim north in Africa -- which of course has been violent and in the news lately.
The boundary between Islam and Hinduism, especially now between India and Pakistan is put into better light by this video.
Of course, this doesn't show the divisions within religions -- Roman versus Greek and other Eastern Catholic churches and Protestantism, Sunni versus Shiite, etc.
Still the obvious thing shown by the video is that certain religions have spread very widely, and very fast in terms of human history.
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
The United States posted mostly average scores on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, a study comparing math, reading and science proficiency of 15-year-olds. The graph compares US performance to a selection of top performers from the from 65 countries and economies that participated. Read the related story in The Washington Post.
The United States wants to compete internationally by working smart, not by working cheap. The competition in the future in international markets will be from the countries teaching their kids to work smart -- and they seem to be the Asian tigers, Japan and Korea, and some of the European countries. Not good news for those Americans who expect to live for the next 40 years or more (the folk under 40). If you are a young parent, the poor job our schools are doing will affect your retirement income.
The perception of risk seems to reflect many things other than the probability of death and injury. Familiar risks like those of gun violence and auto accidents don't seem to be as worrisome as risks related to recent events that got a lot of media attention -- 9/11 and mass shootings.
The news media of course focus on "newsworthy events" rather than continuing social problems; the more likely the images relating the events are to generate an emotional response and draw viewers, the more likely they are to be played over and over on television, placed above the fold on newspapers, and featured on web pages.
Ideally we would like to see Congress allocate public funds in such a way as to do the most good. If it can save 1000 lives with one program but only 100 with an alternative program at the same cost, we want the most cost-effective program to be funded. But if voters mistakenly believe that their risks are greater from the less cost-effective program, legislators may get away with voting for the less cost effective alternative.
If voters don't know how much a program costs then they have even less opportunity to judge whether it is cost effective. Thus the intelligence agencies that have secret budgets don't get the voter scrutiny that would encourage them to be cost effective.
People also like simple solutions to simple problems. Drone strikes against terrorist leaders are easy to understand; the use of soft power to reduce extremist anger against the USA is harder to understand and harder to measure the impact.
And of course, politicians respond not only to the expressed concerns of their constituents, but also to the interests of the major donors to their campaigns and to the lobbyists who help them raise money and obtain (one sided) information on issues. Put billions of dollars into a secret intelligence industry, and don't be surprised if politicians become seized with the urgency of funding the contracts given by the government intelligence agencies.
Monday, December 02, 2013
|Source: "Presidents and the Economy: A Forensic Investigation" via|
"Causality and Policy Outcomes: The Case of Presidents and Economic Growth"
So how have the Republican presidents done in comparison with the Democratic presidents. The graph shows GDP growth for 28 years of Democratic administrations and 36 years of Republican administrations.
During the 64 years that make up these 16 [presidential] terms, real GDP growth averaged 3.33% at an annual rate. But the average growth rates under Democratic and Republican presidents were starkly different: 4.35% and 2.54% respectively.Roger Pielke Jr.suggests that there are problems with the analysis, but is your belief in the claims of economic policy superiority by Republicans reduced by the data? Mine is!
Good news from a couple of economists.
GDP per capita in Sub-Saharan Africa dropped significantly from the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s, and extreme poverty was much higher at the end of that period than at its beginning. That was the bad old news.
Now analysis indicates that per capita GDP has increased rapidly and consistently for more than a decade, and extreme poverty has dropped accordingly.
Check out the source for more detail on the effect of mineral wealth and access to the coast.
President Coolidge once asked me, in discussing these men, what was my estimate of Roosevelt. “Well,” I answered, “I happen to know that Mr. Roosevelt said the cutting of the Panama Canal was the greatest and most important service he rendered to the nation.” Mr. Coolidge jumped to his feet and, with his index finger pointing upward, he said, “Have you forgotten that he was the only President who dared to tell big business, “Thus far you can go, and no farther, for the safety of our country”?President Calvin Coolidge, that paragon of Republican values, gave the speech at the beginning of work on Mount Rushmore, and in so doing honored Teddy Roosevelt for striving to add economic freedom to political freedom.
Gutzon Borglum (sculptor of Mount Rushmore)
All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.Republicans might think of this before they refuse to pass a budget and shut down the government, or try again to block the Affordable Care Act implementation.
George Washington, The Farewell Address
Incidentally, before the Republicans again threaten to force the nation to default on the public debt, they might consider this from Washington, also in the Farewell Address:
As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit.
Sunday, December 01, 2013
This instrument was based on an idea first proposed by Leonardo Da Vinci. People had produced versions over the centuries, but none had survived in playable state. Starting in 2009, Sławomir Zubrzycki created the harpsichord-shaped, bowed, stringed instrument he plays in the video above.
There is a big difference between having an idea for an invention and reducing it to practice.
Incidentally, I played this YouTube video using my laptop computer via Chromecast on my TV )for the better sound). I hope Da Vinci would have appreciated that possibility.
|The earliest known portrait of Thomas Bayes, |
which may not actually be of the originator of Bayes Theorem
What does it mean to presume innocence? If you assume a priori that there is zero probability of guilt, then no amount of evidence would result in a probability of guilt above zero. Perhaps the base assumption is that all the members of the community have equal probability of the criminal behavior. So in a town with 1000 people, one might start out with the assumption that the accused had one chance in 1000 of being guilty, while in a city of a million inhabitants that a priori probability might be one in a million. Somehow that doesn't seem to get at the fairness we assume to be the basis of our judicial system; why should small town citizens be treated as more probably guilty than big city ones? Moreover, we know that men, and especially young men are more likely to commit crimes than women, and old women are especially unlikely criminals.
What probability of guilt corresponds to "beyond a reasonable doubt"? What odds would you want to get to bet that the accused was guilty? An even bet seems clearly to imply a reasonable doubt. How about 2 to 1? 3 to 1? 5 to 1? 10 to 1? Does "reasonable" depend on the characteristics of the accused? Would you want a young person whose life might be ruined by conviction of a major crime to be more clearly guilty than an older person accused of a minor crime?
How good are jurors in assessing the weight of evidence? Eye witness testimony seems to be convincing, but we know that eye witnesses are often wrong. How often? We also know that some people are face blind, and their eye witness testimony seems less credible than that of other people. How about the circumstances of the identification -- how long between the crime and the identification, and the role of the police with the witness. Those are things that we expect a defense attorney to bring out in confrontation with the witness.
Expert testimony seems similarly difficult for jurors to properly evaluate in probabilistic terms. We know that there have been problems with fingerprints, and that jurors (perhaps influenced by popular fiction) tend to believe all fingerprint evidence is equally credible and strong, while in fact much is flawed. Polygraph data was once believed a gold standard, and is now banned, yet it too could provide some information to the jury if properly interpreted.
I got to thinking about this in terms of DNA evidence. It is one of the few kinds of evidence that can strongly incriminate a person on the basis of physical evidence obtained from the scene of a crime. Experts have testified that matching a large number of points in a genetic profile, each with several alternative possible values gives astronomical odds against false matches. On the other hand, having spent time debugging complex computer programs, I know that bugs can exist in even well vetted programs. Moreover, people make mistakes -- then send the wrong sample to the lab, they send the wrong results from the lab to the police. What is the chance that there are identical twins, the wrong one of which is the accused in court? Certainly less than one in a trillion which has been cited as the odds against a false match of modern DNA matching. Apparently our courts do not require that the attorney for the accused have the right to confront all the people involved in the chain of DNA evidence, so the jurors don't have full opportunity to assess probabilities.
And of course, we know that people are not good at betting, especially if they have not learned how to assess odds. They are especially poor at assessing odds for very likely or very unlikely events. People bet more on long shots at horse races than experts feel that they should, making it possible for expert punters to profit even after the track takes its cut from the parimutual pool.
We also know that a group of people making a joint decision is likely to do a better job than an individual. In the one time I served on a petit jury, the members took their responsibility seriously, and I thought did a good job. Maybe the jury system is the best we can do.
On the other hand, maybe schools should prepare people for doing a good job when serving as jurors. Understanding how to evaluate evidence and how to judge probabilities might help the students later in life, not only when serving on juries, but in business and as voters.