Assorted Links (4/14/2012)

Here’s a list of articles that I have been reading lately:

Want to Save the Planet? Turn Right

“In The Wall Street Journal, Raymond Zhong interviews Roger Scruton, Britain’s foremost conservative philosopher, who offers a traditionalist manifesto to discomfit both the left and American free-marketeers.”

My Life as a Failed Country Gentleman

“P.J. O’Rourke on his fields of crabgrass, trout-free trout stream, Federalist-era wiring and dashed dreams of tweedy refinement.”  This essay features P.J. O’Rourke at his finest…

Why Airport Security Is Broken—And How to Fix It

“Air travel would be safer if we allowed knives, lighters and liquids on board and focused on disrupting new terror plots. A former head of the Transportation Security Administration, Kip Hawley, on embracing risk.”

How Big Is the U.S. Debt?

The numbers cited by Duquesne University economist Antony Davies in this video are at least one year behind. As bad as things are according to his video, they’re even worse now; e.g., he notes that total federal debt outstanding is $14.3 trillion; however, since we’re clocking annual budget deficits of around $1.4 trillion these days, the current number actually stands at around $15.7 trillion (source: US Debt Clock @ When you add in unfunded federal government obligations (i.e., Social Security and Medicare), professor Davies cites a $50 trillion figure, which represents the present value of 75-year projections that are published each year by the Social Security Administration. Thus the sum total of debt outstanding plus unfunded obligations is north of $65 trillion (or $207,429 for every person currently living in the United States).

I’ll conclude by noting that the official “Summary of the 2011 Annual Reports” published by the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees (source: includes the following caveat: “The financial conditions of the Social Security and Medicare programs remain challenging. Projected long-run program costs for both Medicare and Social Security are not sustainable under currently scheduled financing, and will require legislative modifications if disruptive consequences for beneficiaries and taxpayers are to be avoided.”

The banker behind RMS Titanic

Fascinating narrative concerning the financing and ownership structure of the company behind the Titanic; the ship was operated by a company called White Star Line, which in turn was owned by JP Morgan’s International Mercantile Marine Company. Edward Grenfell, who was a London-based business partner of JP Morgan’s “… would later remark that IMM had been one of Morgan’s “less fortunate schemes”.”

Christie: Government telling Americans to ‘stop dreaming’ and wait for ‘the next government check’

Quoting from this article, “New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie said America is “turning into a paternalistic entitlement society” where the federal government is telling individuals to “stop dreaming” and “stop striving,” a message Christie claimed is leading to “a bunch of people sitting on a couch waiting for their next government check.””

Demolishing Paul Ryan

“With the presidential battle begun, the Obama campaign has revived the Cold War nuclear strategy of launch on warning. At any suggestion that a conservative idea might be threatening its ideological fortress, the American left now launches ICBMs of rhetorical destruction.”

Cancer Care Grand Rounds

From an April 2012 Health Affairs journal article entitled “An Analysis Of Whether Higher Health Care Spending In The United States Versus Europe Is ‘Worth It’ In The Case Of Cancer” (cf., the authors “… compare U.S. oncology spending over the period from 1983 to 1999… with that in 10 European Union countries. Costs were lower overall overseas and grew by 16%, while they grew by 49% in the U.S. Yet U.S. cancer mortality rates are lower, despite higher cancer rates, and “We found that the value of survival gains greatly outweighed the costs, which suggests that the costs of cancer care were indeed ‘worth it’.”

The Real Reason for the Tragedy of the Titanic

“In The Wall Street Journal, Chris Berg writes that the disaster is often seen as a tale of hubris, social stratification and capitalist excess—but the truth is considerably more sobering.”

Quoting further from this article, “In the run-up to the 100th anniversary of this tragedy this weekend, there’s been a lot of commentary about who and what were to blame. Left unsaid is that the Titanic’s lifeboat capacity is probably the most iconic regulatory failure of the 20th century.” Not only was the Titanic fully compliant with regulatory safety standards promulgated by the British Board of Trade, it even exceeded the standard for the number of lifeboats on board (regulations at the time only mandated 16 lifeboats and the Titanic had 20). However, as the article points out, “The ship had carried 2,224 people on its maiden voyage but could only squeeze 1,178 people into its lifeboats.” The disconnect here was that the assumption behind the regulatory policy was that the purpose of the lifeboats was to ferry passengers to safety to another nearby ship and then go back and ferry yet more passengers. The article concludes by noting, “At the accident’s core is this reality: British regulators assumed responsibility for lifeboat numbers and then botched that responsibility. With a close reading of the evidence, it is hard not to see the Titanic disaster as a tragic example of government failure.”

Romney Trails Obama, but Key Numbers Break His Way

The unit of analysis really matters in political polling (and more generally, for any kind of statistical analysis). For purposes of actually winning an election, “likely” voters is a more appropriate unit of analysis than registered voters or all adult Americans. “Likely” voters is obviously a subset of the other two categories…

The Obama Rule

This is a repeat of a policy debate that we had in April 2011 concerning whether we should retain the Bush era tax rates for the “non-rich” (defined as families earning less than $250,000 per year and individuals earning less than than $200,000 per year) and revert back to the Clinton-era tax rates for the “rich”. Congress kicked that can down the road past the 2012 election by basically extending the status quo through December 31, 2012, and at this point if no changes are made to the tax law, then virtually everyone at all income levels is scheduled for substantial tax rate increases, effect January 1, 2013.

It’s important to note that the actual tax burden assumed at various levels of household income depends upon a host of factors in addition to the tax rates that are applied. The March 2011 Tax Foundation article entitled “No Country Leans on Upper-Income Households as Much as U.S.” (see documents that the U.S. already has by far and away the most progressive personal income tax system amongst 24 OECD countries. Quoting from the Tax Foundation article, “…the top 10 percent of households in the U.S. pays 45.1 percent of all income taxes (both personal income and payroll taxes combined) in the country. Italy is the only other country in which the top 10 percent of households pays more than 40 percent of the income tax burden (42.2%). Meanwhile, the average tax burden for the top decile of households in OECD countries is 31.6 percent.” Thus, in the U.S., the current policy is to have “…the wealthiest households in this country pay a share of the tax burden that is one-third greater than their share of the nation’s income.”

Political Word Games

Hat tip to my former Baylor student Jason Gould for bringing this superb article by Thomas Sowell to my attention!

Burkhauser on the Middle Class

This podcast blew me away; quoting from Econtalk’s description of this podcast “Richard Burkhauser of Cornell University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the middle class. Drawing on recently published papers, Burkhauser shows that changes in the standard of living of the middle class and other parts of the income distribution are extremely sensitive to various assumptions about how income is defined as well as whether you look at tax units or households. He shows that under one set of assumptions, there has been no change in median income, but under a different and equally reasonable set of assumptions, median income has grown 36%. Burkhauser explains how different assumptions can lead to such different results and argues that the assumptions that lead to the larger growth figure are more appropriate for capturing what has happened over the last 40 years than those that suggest stagnation.”

Venezuela After Chávez

“In The Wall Street, Americas columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes that even with Mr. Chávez gone, may live on—and analysts now talk of the possibility of a power struggle between the military and armed civilian factions.”

Who Deserves Credit for the Improving Economy?

“In The Wall Street Journal, former Federal Reserve governor Kevin Warsh writes that American households are proving to be more prudent than their government.”

The Myth of America’s Decline

“In The Wall Street Journal, Walter Russell Mead notes that rising powers such as China, India, Brazil and Turkey make life more complicated for the United States—but America remains chairman of a larger board.”

The Wrong Way to Help the Disabled

“In The Wall Street Journal, James Bovard writes that the proposed 7% hiring quota for federal government contractors is unfair and unwise.”

California Declares War on Suburbia

“In The Wall Street Journal, Wendell Cox writes that government planners intend to herd millions of new state residents into densely packed urban corridors. It won’t save the planet but will make traffic even worse.”

Complexity Is Bad for Your Health

“In The Wall Street Journal, Information Age columnist Gordon Crovitz asks: If even Supreme Court justices can’t fathom ObamaCare, where does that leave the rest of us?”

Great article from today’s Wall Street Journal which echoes many of the same points that I made in an August 2009 blog posting entitled “My preferred approach for reforming health care…” (see I especially like the following quote, “True enough, ObamaCare was built on an unworkable foundation. The original sin in health care goes back to the wage and price controls in effect during World War II. The federal government let employers avoid wage controls by adding health insurance as an untaxed benefit for employees. Employer-provided insurance has since insulated most Americans from the cost of care. The predictable result is endless demand for increasingly inefficient services.”

Can This ‘Online Ivy’ University Change the Face of Higher Education?

“Meet The Minerva Project, the chest-beating, Silicon Valley-spawned, Larry Summers-backed “E-lite” college that just might reshape the worldwide market for education.”

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