Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
"4. Lots of policy problems can be solved with clever policy solutions. But Washington isn’t very good at passing or implementing clever. Simple programs and rules are often better in practice, even if they’re worse in theory."
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
"I think golf and cocaine would more constructive ways to spend one’s free time time than negotiating with Democrats on spending restraint."
"TV: I think we would have fewer people. There’s a value system there. Service is important for rural folks. Country is important, patriotism is important. And people grow up with that. I wish I could give you all the examples over the last two years as secretary of agriculture, where I hear people in rural America constantly being criticized, without any expression of appreciation for what they do do. When’s the last time we thanked a farmer for the fact that only 6 or 7 percent of our paycheck goes to food? We talk about innovation and these guys have been extraordinarily innovative. We talk about trade deficits and agriculture has a surplus.
EK: I feel like I hear a lot of paeans to the good people of rural America. I feel like politics is thick with tributes to farmers and to the heartland -- and that’s fine with me. Which isn’t to say I doubt what you’re telling me. But I guess I’d offer a hypothesis: Some of the frustration you hear is because of the subsidies that go to rural America. If rural America wasn’t getting these subsidies but was flourishing, they’d get more of the respect you’re saying they deserve. But as long as they’re heavily subsidized, people are going to feel that there’s something wrong.
extraordinarily innovative. We talk about trade deficits and agriculture has a surplus.
TV: I don’t know if it’s that. I think one of the reasons that there’s a safety net for American farmers is that we don’t really want to be so dependent on other countries for our food. How much more do we spend on the military in order to protect our ability to get oil? I make the same argument on immigration: One reason we need immigration reform is that 50 percent to 75 percent of our food is, at some point or another, touched by immigrant hands. Growing our own food is important. That’s where I come from in my attitude that there should at least be some acknowledgment of the role that farmers and ranchers play in our country. You may be right that politicians speak up for these folks, but I have a hard time finding journalists who will speak for them."
Monday, March 07, 2011
"I think you should do some posts on the lack of transparent pricing of medical services. My girlfriend just injured her knee. Her primary care physician referred her to a sports medicine doctor who said, it doesn’t appear to be major, but I think you should get an MRI. When she makes an appointment for an MRI she learns that it may cost at least $900 out of pocket because her health insurance has a $2,500 deductible. I tried to look online to see if there were any websites that provided comparative pricing for MRI services and could find nothing. She called her insurance company and they said they were unable to provide her with pricing information for the various providers in the area. When you call the providers themselves and ask, they say Ask your insurance company. I think one way we could improve health care in the US is to require providers to post the prices of their services so that you can compare. There are at least 15 providers in the immediate area (Chicago) so it is not for a lack of competition that prices are out of whack, it a result of opaque pricing that leaves the consumer of medical services powerless."
Yglesisas goes on to make the point the PPACA has provisions which are supposed to improve transparency in pricing. I agree that this is a good thing. It is fundamental to cost control. However, you also need to have the incentive to economize, not just the information that enables you to do so. In the shared scenario the person seemingly has a high deductible health plan and has an incentive to comparison shop because she actually has to pay for the care herself. She presently lacks the information to comparison shop but has the incentive to do so. PPACA will invert this problem by effectively getting rid of HDHPs so while people will have the information to comparison shop they will no longer have the incentive to do so.
It's actually not hard to argue that defined benefit plans should be done away with; the second clause in the excerpted statement tacitly makes the argument. As politicians are irresponsible as evidenced by chronic underfunding of pension funds (and improving benefits in the future that they have no intention of funding) a better retirement policy would be to shift towards defined contribution plans where politicians cannot kick the can down the road. Not difficult. I think Ezra puts in a lot of good reasons why defined benefit plans are good, but the political economy considerations remain the same. If the media were more vigilant about accurately reporting on deficits (you have not posted a surplus of $x if you have skipped a pension payment of $x or $x+1) then I would probably be more amenable to defined benefit pensions because when they are run properly and when they are funded adequately they are a superior solution. But I think the incentive will always be for politicians to promise more benefits in the out years and skip funding in the present creating problems for future taxpayers and retirees alike.
Update: Andrew Samwick and Megan McArdle have great posts on defined benefit plans and retirement savings more generally. One of the the things both discuss in their posts is how people get screwed when they switch employers in a defined benefit context. I think this is an underappreciated aspect of pensions. Once upon a time it was more likely for folks to stay with a single employer for their whole career, that is less and less the case.
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
"The issue is not me sitting here and saying, 'Geez, it might be too hard. I don’t think I can win.' I see the opportunity both at the primary level and at the general election level. I see the opportunity. But I’ve got to believe I’m ready to be president, and I don’t. And I think that that’s the basis you have to make that decision."
That type of self awareness and humility is not something that you find too often among politicians.
Update: I agree with his self-assessment on his electoral chances. I do believe that he would be the favorite in the Republican primary and if the economy continues to be weak just about anyone will have a fighting chance against Obama.