Assorted Links (8/13/2013)

Here’s a list of articles that I have been reading (and podcasts and videos I have been listening to and viewing) lately:

BBC – Tim Harford: Pop-Up Ideas

Economist Tim Harford tackles important problems (e.g., how to foster innovation, alleviate kidney shortages, avoid nuclear war, improve environmental quality, etc.) one theorem at a time!

Now Let’s Try Real Student Aid Reform

“Federal student aid is largely self-defeating when it comes to prices, and likely hurts low-income people more than anyone else.”

This article does a nice job of explaining how subsidies end up hurting the very people that they are intended to help. In the case of higher ed financing, subsidies which are intended to benefit students end up getting captured instead by colleges and universities in the form of higher prices for higher education than would otherwise exist in the absence of such subsidies…

Americans Are Far More Compassionate than “Socially Conscious” Europeans

“Turns out that “selfish and greedy” Americans are the most generous people in the developed world.”

Gene-Sequencing Transforming Cancer Treatment

“A growing number of cancer practices are sequencing the DNA of tumors to uncover their genetic abnormalities. The aim: to pair a drug with the specific mutation fueling a patients disease. UC San Francisco’s Dr. Trever Bivona discusses.”

Weingast on the Violence Trap

This is a remarkable podcast which manages to offer solutions for the world’s problems as well as provide a sweeping overview of world history over the past 300+ years; as viewed through the lens of political economy. After listening to this podcast, I felt as if I had missed my calling by pursuing a financial economics rather than a political science academic career!

Here’s the summary (from the EconTalk website) of Russ Roberts’ “Violence Trap” interview with Stanford Political Science professor Barry Weingast:

“Barry Weingast, the Ward C. Krebs Family Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and a Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the role of violence and the threat of violence in maintaining destructive economic policies that reduce growth and development. Weingast argues that the threat of violence encourages leaders to create monopolies and other unproductive policies to pay off special interests that would otherwise threaten a coup or revolution. Weingast shows there is a surprising amount of violent regime change in modern times and discusses how this discourages growth-enhancing economic policies. The conversation closes with an analysis of similar ideas in Book III of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.”

Cronies and capitols

The Economist writes, “Businesspeople have become too influential in government”.

The Budget Sequester Is a Success

“Good news–now that Obama’s spending blitz is over, the deficit is on the path to drop steadily, writes Stephen Moore.”

5 Myths About Libertarians

“What you think you know is wrong.”

The Problem With Federal Food-Labeling Laws

“Why markets are superior to government mandates when it comes to food labeling.”

Take Back Your Pregnancy

“Modern pregnancy comes with a long list of strict rules, but does it have to? Economist Emily Oster examines the data and finds room for choice amid the familiar limits.”

Emily Oster is particularly skilled at using statistical methods in a way that enables her to differentiate between actual causation and mere correlation.  As a case in point, Professor Oster’s explanation of the apparent correlation between coffee consumption and problem pregnancies is masterful; quoting from this article,

“We know that nausea is a sign of a healthy pregnancy, but … it also causes women to avoid coffee. This means that the pregnant women who drink a lot of coffee also are more likely to be the ones who aren’t experiencing nausea. So here we may well be mistaking a correlation for an underlying cause: The women who drink less coffee have fewer problems not because they limit their caffeine intake but because they tend to suffer from nausea, which inhibits coffee drinking.”

Got a great health plan? Get ready to kiss it goodbye

“If your insurance comes from your employer, expect some painful changes related to Obamacare. Companies will pay a steep price for offering ‘Cadillac’ plans.”

Here’s a direct quote from the transcript of a speech that President Obama gave at an American Medical Association meeting on June 15, 2009 (source:

“I know that there are millions of Americans who are content with their health care coverage – they like their plan and they value their relationship with their doctor. And that means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what. My view is that health care reform should be guided by a simple principle: fix what’s broken and build on what works.”

Thomas Sowell – The Left’s Central Delusion

“Its devotion to central planning has endured from the French Revolution to Obamacare.”

Pindyck on Climate Change

This is one of the best EconTalk episodes ever. Here’s the description of this podcast episode:

“Robert Pindyck of MIT talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the challenges of global warming for policy makers. Pindyck argues that while there is little doubt about the existence of human-caused global warming via carbon emissions, there is a great deal of doubt about the size of the effects on temperature and the size of the economic impact of warmer climate. This leads to a dilemma for policy-makers over how to proceed. Pindyck suggests that a tax or some form of carbon emission reduction is a good idea as a precautionary measure, despite the uncertainty.”

Pindyck also notes that other potential catastrophes such as bioterrorism, nuclear terrorism, and mega-viruses are more threatening than climate change, because they may happen sooner and could impose much larger costs upon society…

Don’t Mess with Taxes

John Oliver’s 3 part (~10 minute) parody of the US tax code from Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” is not only highly entertaining but also quite informative…

The IRS Attack on Political Speech

“In The Wall Street Journal, former FEC commissioner Bradley Smith says that the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS is part of the long-time assault by campaign-finance scolds on the First Amendment.”

This (non-gated) WSJ article explains important subtleties associated with how non-profit organizations “qualify” under various sections of the Internal Revenue code (specifically, Sections 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4), and 527) and implications for First Amendment rights…

Obama’s False History of Public Investment

Quoting from this WSJ article,

“In all of these examples, building infrastructure was never the engine of growth, but rather a lagging indicator of growth that had already occurred in the private sector. And when the infrastructure was built, it was often best done privately, at least until the market grew so large as to demand a wider public role, as with the need for an interstate-highway system in the mid 1950s.”

 China–EU Solar Trade Agreement Shuffles Winners and Losers

“The international solar panel market is a big fat mess, and this agreement merely shifts government-granted privilege from one group of special interests to another.”

Members Only

“How the White House is weaseling Congress out of ObamaCare.”

The Scientism of Steven Pinker

“In which an attempted rehabilitation of the term “scientism” actually vindicates scientism’s critics.”

How to Help Fast-Food Workers

“Raising the minimum wage will hurt, not help.”

Return of the Jesus Wars

“Reza Aslan, Fox News and the Christianities that might have been.”

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