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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sending Myself To The Doghouse

I cannot at this precise moment be polite about the State of the Union speech, so there will be a brief irascible silence as I struggle with my inner child. I always shudder when I encounter the type of New Agey therapeutic stuff that wants you to let your inner child emerge. On its best days, my inner child is a nasty brat.

I am not afraid to criticize our president, but there were some hopeful tinges here and I would like to make sure that my irritation over certain things doesn't overshadow the positives.

The other day several people and I got into a long discussion over at No Oil For Pacifists. The post is here, and the discussion was between some sort of technically educated person (OBH), Carl, the blog's proprietor, me, and Thai (a physician). I want to post a follow-up to that. Most interesting to me is that Thai zeroed in on the question of marginal tax rates leading to government control of the economy. This is a huge issue in economic theory (government control of economies has usually worked out disastrously), but it confounded me that Thai would focus on this issue.

Thai had previously given me a link to the Covert Rationing blog (written by Dr. Rich), and I've been reading it for months with interest. I spent yesterday's hospital interlude wondering why a physician would focus on this issue, and then I remembered that the question of control has been recurring in Dr. Rich's posts. Not just in terms of government control, but also in terms of the creation of a medical bureacracy that would prescribe treatment options to the point of preventing the most cost effective and successful treatments for individual patients. And that has some linkage to SW's series of posts which begins here.

Finally, during the now nearly two decades that the SuperDoc has been treating me, I had slowly realized that the SuperDoc's method of treating untreatable illnesses is really a matter of building margin back into the body (and sometimes mind) to change its functioning enough to expand treatment options.

And it's not just me. Take the Chief. Whatever has caused his situation is truly mysterious; many very good doctors have taken a crack at him and come up with nothing. There is one more test result we are waiting for, and SuperDoc tells me that if that one doesn't show anything, he's out of ammo. But it doesn't MATTER, because whereas the Chief had been worsening rapidly, over the last few weeks he has changed trajectory and is now improving rapidly. The underlying condition may not have been found or even addressed, but the human body is a complex, self-repairing system. SuperDoc treated one of the Chief's symptoms and and one medical problem that hadn't been found, and SuperDoc appears to have tilted the balance back toward life, because the Chief seems to have entered an self-reinforcing upward spiral rather than the downward spiral. I wouldn't necessarily discount the prayers either....

So probably Thai's approach is not surprising; both the human body and the economy are complex, highly interactive systems which must preserve a certain level of balance to maintain function, both are dominated by a lot of unknown or very difficult to measure balancing processes, and meddling with such a system when you don't know what's really going on can be dangerous. In both, the apparent problem can be a symptom of a self-corrective process.

The boyfriend has the State of the Union speech taped for me, so I guess I'll have to see it at some point. I really don't much care what Obama says. I'm more interested in what he actually does. The hopeful thing, for us, is the idea of more small business loans. We have a couple of ideas that we'd like to develop.

I saw the financial reports last night for Netflix (where I work). There are some things they do that really would help most businesses. They hire for intelligence (including at the call center). They give creative people freedom to come up with new ideas and make mistakes. They innovate and keep it simple. All good practices but most companies fail at all of them.

Glad to hear about the Chief! There is so much that doctors don't know about how the body works. Sometimes, a tilt in the right direction is all you need.
Teri: How does Netflix manage to hire for intelligence? That, on the face of it, is illegal. I'm curious about how they set the criteria to achieve that goal.


I didn't really pay attention to the content of the SOTU, just the atmospherics, people's reactions to it. Obama almost always gives speeches that I can agree with, then runs out and does the opposite. So content is pretty meaningless to me.

I guess I'm not surprised that a doctor would catch on to the pernicious effects of marginal rates. What always astonishes me is that environmentalists don't.

They base their beliefs on the idea that the ecosystem is a fragile thing where the whole can be destroyed by small changes at the margins. Yet they insist that the economy will be unaffected by similar changes. Weird.
I should be sent to the doghouse as well.

I could not watch the Obama's speech. I slipped into "ignorance is bliss" mode. I did try to read some of it though, so as not to get caught up in "smooth talker" syndrome (not that I have anything against Obama, it's just that he is a much better speaker than Bush ever was).

Now, let me repeat: We cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college.

I thought I'd get some applause on that one.

As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas and food and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven't raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.

1. We cut taxes so there is more money available to pay for gasoline?

2. Gasoline's price goes up because the world suspects that we are borrowing more than we can ever pay back?

3. We applaud the process?

Don't even get me started on college costs. The more then government does to "help" the higher the costs seem to go. It seems much like housing. Flood the market with cheap loans and all you get is the same monthly payment with a much higher debt burden. How is that helping?
The SOTU just doesn't seem the same without the live entertainment from Code Pink.

Whatever happened to those guys?
I would long for the day when those in government figure out a embedded truth:
subsidize something = something goes up in price by the subsidy

The 8k home credit was good for an almost matching 8k mean pop in home prices, amazing! The dawn of mega college tuition costs began when, wait for it, the governemnt got into pell grants and student loans. Subsidize college by 10k for families (via tax break, not helpful to a higher earner) and college just upped tuition by 10k.
"Finally, during the now nearly two decades that the SuperDoc has been treating me, I had slowly realized that the SuperDoc's method of treating untreatable illnesses is really a matter of building margin back into the body (and sometimes mind) to change its functioning enough to expand treatment options."

Is that another way of saying that a detox diet cuts off most illnesses?

Seriously, detox does work. Been there, done that. Now having to deal with my father, who's just been admitted to hospital and prescribed morphine for suspected gallstones after years of MD quacks telling him that his liver was just fine.

Simplest solution is hardest to accept.

David Goldman (aka Spengler) has a column up at First Things where he compares President Obama's SOTU speech to a New Guinea cargo cult. I've got some nits to pick with his column, but the idea of Obama as a cargo cultist trying to bring back the roaring 90's by erecting straw versions of Bill Clinton's policies struck my funny bone.
My compliments on a fine post.
It, as you succintly put it, is a "matter of building margin back into the body". Sad that, under the guise of treatment, precisely the opposite is unfolding out there.
The juxtaposition of "Maxed out Mama" against her "Nasty Brat" inner child had me laughing. Good one that.
Delighted about the chief too.
I think Thai raises an interesting point about increased government share of GDP. But, I'm not sure how he ties it to healthcare--except inversely. The U.S. has higher cancer survival rates than still-more-government-controlled Europe and, in line with ShrinkWrapped's point, benefits enormously from its pharmaceutical industry, which is stifled in Europe.
Re: "a medical bureaucracy that would prescribe treatment options to the point of preventing the most cost effective and successful treatments for individual patients."

I am not sure I would put it quite so strongly. My point on this issue is that a committee which does chose treatments first has to define what they want to do before they actually do it. That is far far harder to do than it actually sounds.

Re: what % of the economy should the government be?

I have no idea. I figured this issue would be one conservatives had decided on already- apparently not.

As I said, I am simply unhappy with how we are using our resources as a society and as I know that the majority of spending is now done by government, I therefore want it changed. The word "government" per say is so threatening to me as it may be to many, yet A. I am tired of how we are spending some of our money and think we could do better (this is obviously from my own viewpoint) and B. I am not sure we want anyone/thing to have too large control (this is obviously a complex issue).

Yet if for discussion purposes a theoretical free market economy has 0% government control whilst a communist economy is 100% controlled, we are now over 50% so what does that make us?

I simply pointed out that I could not see how either you nor Carl could really call yourselves conservatives when you seemed to be espousing liberal ideas- e.g. maintain >50% government control but change the form of taxation from one type to another. This seems more a cosmetic than substantive imo. Further how can we possibly cut taxes to government (and not borrow more) and still maintain spending on things like health care or to assist people in need? You say you think we should spend even more on health care and not cut spending on people in need?
Is your solution we continue to borrow?

Indeed, please forgive me if you have answered me and I keep missing your response, but I don't get your solution. Again, this is obviously not my line of work so you may have told me in a way I do not understand and if this is the case, forgive me.

As for control?

I guess there is always the golden rule- e.g. "he with the gold makes the rules"- but this is not main issue other than I am unhappy with how we are spending things.

And Carl, though you may not see it, I am not making the inverse argument as you allege. Again, please think of the issue of "aspect" or "point of view". It is most definitely where you seem to be getting tripped up in this discussion around morality/viewpoint/correct answer, etc...

Remember Bill Clinton's famous reminder of how we can get fooled in discussion where there are misunderstandings around aspect and verb tense? e.g. "it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is".

You seem to have defined the correct point of view by which to look at the system and say "best". I say that point of view is most definitely in question as you and I both know we are borrowing an awful lot of $ to support it.

I do not see how all this math adds up.

In the interest of brevity I will stop here.

Be well
Oops, typo government is NOT so threatening
The body will try to heal itself if it can; so too, people will try to make their lives work if they can.

Y'all are behind the times, by the way; I was due for the doghouse in 2008.
But not, never, NO, regressive taxation. The social problems it will create, and the unfairness make that the worst possible option.

MoM, you mention the much higher taxation for lower income people in Europe.

But you make the mistake of only using base taxation - income, property, and sales. There are gobs of other taxes that lower income people pay in the forms of fees: look at a utility bill for example. Also, look at things like the requirements of items like air bags and pollution control equipment that jack up the price of all cars - and those added costs are a disproportionate part of lower priced models. Also look at things like the jobs program called The War On Drugs which places more economic costs onto lower income people. Things like traffic tickets are flat-fee costs which hit lower incomes especially hard. Some states handle car registration based on the value of the car - but then impose all sorts of clean air regulations which essentially force people to replace their cars more often so even driving a clunker is an expensive option.

By comparison, a sales tax that excludes food and clothing isn't regressive at all. Then again, the exception piled onto this - like restaurant meals, for example - are certainly regressive. (It's nice to think that lower income people can buy food at a grocery store to avoid restaurant taxes, but lower income people are usually the ones working minimum wage jobs, traveling farther to their jobs, and working second part-time jobs and therefore have less time to prepare meals at home and; taxing restaurants as if McDonald's and Outback are both luxury items is silly.

You can go back and forth endlessly on which taxation is "fair" and which isn't. But it avoids the substantive issue which is "What services should government be providing and what services should NOT be provided by government?" The more services you want government to provide, the more unfair taxation you will have.

It sucks to be poor, but biting the hand that feeds only makes you poorer.

This too was part of my original point (as I suspect you picked up from my original comment) but I let it go in the interest of brevity.

It is hard to get a complete picture on the nature of progressive/regressive taxation without understanding all these "fees", etc...

Something can be called red when they are really blue but since we call them red, they don't get counted as the blue they truly are.
Good points all - look, I traced some of my problems to a very insidious trojan after I got back from the mechanic this morning (check engine light popped on), I am having to run a bunch of scans and do manual fixes. I've been on the trail of this one for about 10 days now, and only now are some of the virus programs even catching it.

After I get done here, I am going to go to SuperDoc's tomorrow because I HAVE DARK SUSPICIONS about one of those computers.

So it may well be Sunday or so until you hear from me again, by which time I should be a human adult rather than a grumpy toddler.

And we can all be grateful for Linux and Mac! I hate Windows. I haven't tried 7 yet, but I am afraid I am totally prejudiced.
I have never had a problem getting in touch with my inner child.Getting in touch with my inner adult is a different matter,I have been working on that for decades...I am delighted to hear that the Chief is getting better! as far as Windows seven,umm,I can't say anything nice about it.MS is about as well run as Harley Davidson was in the 1970's.
How large should the federal budget be? Just large enough to pay for defense (which should be the lion's share, internal and external), Department of State, Department of the Interior (for federal lands and a few other things) and Treasury. If other things don't belong in one of those, they don't belong in the Federal budget. Old-age pensions should be private, with perhaps some help from tax laws. Education should be an agency under Interior whose job is to provide a clearinghouse/coordination forum for the states. Agriculture, FAA, FCC, CDC, and maybe FDA go under Interior on the grounds that there are some functions that can only be done effectively at the national level. Likewise some funding of large highways and air- and water- ports (via trust funds that CANNOT be diverted for other purposes, including mass transit that does not directly serve those ports). Other things are the purview of the States, and if those States see fit to destroy their economies, ruin their cities, and turn their streets over to criminals their citizens should be as free to make that choice as to vote the criminals into the statehouses and city halls.

While we are at it, we should repeal the Seventeenth Amendment and let the State governments hold the reins of the Senators.
Most call centers are interested in how cheap someone will work. Netflix prefers to hire people with college education in their call centers. (I realize this does not guarantee intelligence, but it's a start!) If you read the website (http://www.netflix.com/Jobs?lnkceData=22&lnkce=ftrlnk&trkid=912834), you'll see that their criteria is a little bit different than most places. There are times when I've gone ahead and done something for a customer, figuring that I would hear about it. I never have. They do want us, within reason, to use our own judgment. From everything I can see, it's a well run company.

That makes sense. A college degree is the closest thing to an intelligence test anyone is allowed to require. I like their "values" slideshow.
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