Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Congratulations to Kim Kardashian

From the World Economic Forum:

Kim Kardashian is an unlikely champion of statistics, but a tweet from the reality TV star in January 2017 contained a startling figure that has been named International Statistic of the Year.

She shared a table showing a range of violent or unexpected ways people meet their deaths annually in the United States. Kardashian’s aim was to highlight how many more Americans are killed by fellow citizens with guns, than by terrorists.

The Pro and the Con of Obamacare

I’ve been trying to learn a bit more about PPACA (aka, Obamacare) and its effects. It hasn’t been something that has interested me a great deal until the last week or so, so I am approaching this from a position of ignorance. But I have been reading through as much material as I can find.

Basically, I think the biggest factor in favor of PPACA is the big reduction in the number of uninsured. 14.7% of Americans were uninsured in 2008, the last year before Mr. Obama became President. As shown in the graph below, by 2016, that figure had dropped to 9%. (All figures from table 1.1.b in this CDC report.)

(Click to embiggen)

In terms of actual numbers of people – according table table 1.1.a of the aforementioned report – we went from 43.8 million uninsured people to 28.6 million uninsured people in 2016. This was a huge increase in the number of people with health insurance, and a tremendous benefit for a lot of people.

The biggest factor against PPACA is its cost. According to the Department of Health and Human Services:

Comparing the average premiums found in 2013 MLR data and 2017 CMS MIDAS data shows average exchange premiums were 105% higher in the 39 states using in 2017 than average individual market premiums in 2013. Average monthly premiums increased from $232 in 2013 to $476 in 2017, and 62% of those states had 2017 exchange premiums at least double the 2013 average.

As a backdrop to all of this, two additional things are worth noting. The US was already an outlier when it came to healthcare spending as a share of GDP even before the Obamacare provisions kicked in. That despite the fact that many countries that spend a lot less than we do already had something like universal coverage by then.

And speaking of universal coverage and costs, Mr. Obama, in his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in 2008, said this:

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums.

Of course, this didn’t quite happen… more Americans have access to health care, though there are still over 28 million uninsured. And of course, for quite a few (just about all?) of us, this promise of lowered premiums hasn’t happened. Quite the opposite, in fact.

So what is the end state? Why does the system we have fail so many people? How can we make it better?


Update…  The graph at the bottom of this article from the Washington Post is quite informative.

Changes in Healthcare Costs

I had a post the other day trying to make sense of changes in healthcare costs. Based on some of the comments to that post, a bit more thought, some data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the CPI-All Urban Consumers, I think my point distills down to this graph:

(click to embiggen)

The graph shows the annual YoY change in real healthcare costs defined three three ways. The green line shows the annual change in total healthcare expenditures (adjusted for inflation). The blue line shows the annual change in healthcare expenditures (adjusted for inflation) per capita. The red line is the same as the blue line, but looks at the annual change in personal healthcare expenditures (adjusted for inflation) per capita.

Anyway, what the graph shows is that the rate at which inflation adjusted healthcare costs (I provided three flavors to show they all behave more or less the same) increased fell reasonably consistently from 2002 to 2008.  I.e., costs continued to increase until 2007, but at a decreasing rate.  And in 2008, real healthcare costs were actually lower than in 2007!!  There was a spike in 2009, and then prices started coming down again…  until 2011.  After that, they rose until to 2015 and dropped again in 2016.  Is 2016 a blip, a fluke, or the start of a new trend?  Time will tell.   This isn’t a topic I know enough about to make a prediction.  That said, right at this moment, the graph doesn’t look to me like what I’d expect to see if 2010 marked the passage of a law that bent the cost curve.  Or rather, not like a law that bent the cost curve in the right direction.

If you want my data, drop me a line at my first name (mike) period my last name (only one m people!!!) at gmail period com. I’m sticking a time limit of one month from this post going up on the request.  Beyond that point, you might get lucky but I don’t guarantee anything.

Update… 7:40 PM PST Jan 3, 2017. Due to some of the comments on the earlier post, I added the paragraph that begins “The graph shows the annual…” plus other minor edits for clarity.

Healthcare Costs – I Got Confused by Some Graphs

I don’t follow healthcare as much as others at this blog. I started playing around with some graphs at FRED and got a bit confused. I don’t mind being confused, but I like to clear up that confusion eventually. So perhaps someone can tell me what’s going on.

First, this graph of healthcare expenditures / GDP which seems to indicate that Obamacare bent the cost curve:

(click to embiggenize)


But looking at the annual change in healthcare expenditures / GDP, things become less clear:



(click to embiggenify)

Here, it looks like the rate of increase in costs declined through the early oughts, went up as the economy tanked (i.e., healthcare costs continued rising but GDP fell), and then stayed more or less constant (through 2014,the last year with this series).   This graph doesn’t say Obamacare didn’t help, but it doesn’t scream that it does either.

But this next graph is a real problem.  It shows healthcare expenditures per capita:


(click to embiggenificate)

The rate of at which healthcare costs per capita have been increasing have been declining since 2001…  well before PPACA took effect.  Additionally, it kind of looks like healthcare costs per capita stopped declining after the passage of PPACA.  Worse, the rate of increase of healthcare costs per capita may have begun picking up since then.  That would imply that if there was any bending of the curve, it was the wrong way.

What am I missing?

Protests in Iran

This is well outside anything I can claim to know much about, so I can’t vouch for it other than that it sounds right to me. From an Al Arabiya article entitled All you need to know about the Iran protests in 20 points:

1 On Tuesday, December 19, the Iranian government announced a new austerity plan.

2 The plan imposed a 50% increase in the price of fuel.

3 The government decided to cancel the monetary support of more than 34 million people.

6 In this same austerity plan, the government decided to increase the budget for military armament.

7 Most of the military armament budget goes to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

8 The IRGC operates on foreign lands, supporting the Houthi militia in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Popular Mobilization Unit in Iraq and supporting the Assad regime in Syria.

9 The number of poverty-stricken individuals under the lifting of subsidies rose from 20 million to 54 million.

10 On Wednesday, December 27, citizens went out on a limited demonstration to demand that the government backtrack on the austerity plans.

And… its grown from there.

My limited understanding of Iran is that the religious authorities have kept a grip on power -despite being disliked by the urban intelligentsia – by maintaining support among the poor. That makes choosing guns over butter particularly stupid.

Update 12/31/2017, 9:43 AM PST:   Here is another piece on the protests in Iran from the same website.

The Upcoming Liberation of Mexico (and Parts of Africa)

As many academics and community activists – in fact, anyone woke – will tell you, the US is a racist society steeped in the white supremacy of its majority population. White people are haters who keep ruining things. Which is why reading this story in the LA Times about people from Africa trying to cross from Tijuana into San Diego is so hearbreaking.

The article describes African refugees who have fled their homeland for safety, who have braved all sorts of hazardous conditions just to get where they are, and who are desperately trying to get out of Mexico even if it means ending up in the US.    But we all know the US is going to be awful for them.  The US is  a country where even the Justice system is built to humiliate and oppress black men as described in the headline to this article. It is a country where police kill black males with impunity as documented in this article. And then there are a myriad of other forms of aggression both large and micro.  So imagine how bad Mexico must be for these for refugees from Africa. A hint, a shadow, a crumb of that iceberg appears in the LA Times piece:

He doesn’t care where he lives in the U.S. as long as he is allowed in.

“I want safe. I want peaceful,” Tesfaldet said.

Some of the migrants from African countries expressed frustration that they were the ones left outside after Mexican officials intervened.

“We are human beings,” said another man from Eritrea. “They don’t respect. I’m feeling racism here, a big discrimination here. We don’t want to be here in Mexico. Our target, our way is U.S.A.”

But the reality is, it isn’t just Africans who are suffering in Mexico. It must be pretty bad for Mexicans too. Estimates vary wildly, but somewhere in the neighborhood of a tenth of Mexico’s population is in the US, some legally and some not. Additionally, over a million Mexicans have filled out paperwork to come to the US legally. Who knows how many would go through the effort if the odds seemed less daunting?

To put those numbers in context, there are no signs that anywhere close to 10% of the North Korean population is trying to make its way to South Korea, and yet, North Koreans who manage to do so are welcomed with open arms to a country with the same language and same cultural traditions.  Plus the weather is better in South Korea. On the other hand, so many Mexicans are trying to get to a country where they are discriminated against, and where their contributions are at best ignored. And then there’s the weather. I’ve met immigrants from Mexico (and from African countries) living in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin; that can’t be easy for someone who grew up in a warmer, more comfortable climate.

All of this, taken together, suggests that Mexico is an awful place for Mexican and non-Mexican people alike.  And yet, the land has so much promise.  Plus great weather.  The humane and socially aware solution is obvious: the government of Mexico must be overthrown. Ideally, it would be replaced by indigenous, peaceful, inclusive, tolerant, non-racist, intersectional, organic and home-grown Mexicanx policies and traditions. Obviously, in Mexico, that would be a social structure derived from Aztec culture.  That would be the ideal outcome.  However, given the conditions people in Mexico are willing to tolerate to get to and live in the US, the bar is very, very low. That means the odds of making things worse are infinitesimally small.

So for this operation, the  likelihood of success is large, the probability of failure is tiny, and the benefits are huge.  What’s not to like about regime change in Mexico?  Furthermore, the benefits of this regime change wouldn’t accrue just to Mexicans and African refugees who are currently trapped in Mexico. Even white supremacists – who because they are in the majority in the US would bear the bulk of the cost in blood and treasure – would have a benefit: penance. The karmic load they carry would diminish slightly, and they might even develop some empathy. Some white supremacists might stop and think about how the world could have turned out but for their accident of birth. With a different history, America’s white supremacists would have all ended up in Mexico. Conversely, the Mexican population (together with America’s minority population and the few white Americans who are racially aware) might have ended up living in the US, perhaps even a US operating along pre-Columbian Mexican norms.

Now, this opportunity for racist white people to achieve some small measure of redemption doesn’t have to stop with Mexico. In fact, it shouldn’t stop with Mexico. From the LA Times article, it is clear there are people in countries in Africa who could be spared having to flee their homeland if the white supremacists in the US would develop a small measure of humanity and overthrow their governments too. Now I know what you’re thinking… we heard a similar “we will be greeted as liberators” line about a decade and a half ago. But it was different then. The motives were selfish. Our leaders thought they were acting to make Americans safer, and to make matters worse, they didn’t even bother to differentiate between the safety of the racist majority who should just die already and those who are worthy of such safety.

The most important difference between then and now, though, is this: how many Afghans and Iraqis had fled their respective countries in 2001 and 2003 before we invaded? The answer is: a small fraction relative to those who have fled since. Which leads to another obvious conclusion: we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq too early. The time to liberate those countries and to knock off their governments is now!

And if the time to do good is now, the converse is also true. Any delay, and anybody urging delay, is a racist. Let’s get started.

Update:  If it isn’t obvious, and apparently to some reader it is not, this post is not meant to be taken seriously.  I do not advocate for an overthrow of the government of Mexico or any other country.

Changing Energy Costs

From a Department of Energy report entitled Revolution… Now; The Future Arrives for Five Clean Energy Technologies – 2016 Update a nifty graph:

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If the graph is remotely accurate, these are large cost reductions.

Accompanying the graph is this verbage:

Decades of investments by the federal government and industry in five key clean energy technologies are making
an impact today. The cost of land-based wind power, utility and distributed photovoltaic (PV) solar power, light emitting diodes (LEDs), and electric vehicles (EVs) has fallen by 41% to as high as 94% since 2008. These cost reductions have enabled widespread adoption of these technologies with deployment increasing across the board. Combined, wind, utility-scale and distributed PV accounted for over 66% of all new capacity installed in the nation in 2015. [6] Total installations of LED bulbs have more than doubled from last year, [5] and cumulative EV sales are about to pass the half-million mark. [7]

These technologies are now readily available and our country has already begun to reap the benefits through their increased adoption. As these clean technologies are broadly deployed there is a reduction in the emissions that contribute to climate change, the air we breathe is better quality because of a decline in air pollutants, and we are expanding economic opportunities for American workers and manufacturers. In 2014 the manufacturing sectors for wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, lithium ion batteries, and LEDs have added $3.8 billion dollars in value to the U.S. economy. [8]

As we continue to advance international action on climate change under the Paris Agreement – which established a long-term worldwide framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions – these five technologies have and will play a critical role in providing opportunities to reach global climate goals. The technologies highlighted in this report exemplify how the clean energy revolution is already underway, is already providing real-world benefits, and continues to promise new solutions on the horizon to address our most pressing energy challenges.

Through the Mission Innovation initiative announced in 2015, 20 countries and the European Union have committed to double their respective clean energy research and development investment over five years. This surge will surely lead to breakthroughs in other clean energy technologies that today still seem futuristic, just as many of the technologies in this report seemed just a few years ago.

We have seen incredible achievements from these technologies, but we must continue to strive to innovate and develop the technologies that remain to be unlocked.

There’s a lot more at the link.

The National Debt Disappeared

Other than a small number of fiscal conservatives who are ignored by their own party, it doesn’t seem like anyone really cares about the National Debt any more. That’s a relatively new thing. Doing something about the Debt was one of the platforms of the GW Bush campaign in 2000. Of course, what he actually did to the Debt was the precisely the opposite of what he told us he was going to do. Then came Obama, whose economic policies – certainly with respect to anything that could affect the Debt – could best be described as a continuation of what GW started. Why anyone would look to a disaster as an example to follow, I cannot say, but people who become President tend to be unusual.

At present, it seems that we have entered a period of unholy alliance between most Democrats and most Republicans. The former want to spend taxpayer money on social programs, the latter want to cut taxes and to spend taxpayer money on things that aren’t social programs, and both groups essentially get what they want the most. At least for now. Which brings me to the point. I can’t tell you how all this ends, but I can tell you that the longer it goes on, the less well it ends.

All I Want for Christmas is No Bombing

Its almost Christmas.  What seems to be different in the last couple of years is that we now have to contend with the joy of violent Christmas plots of one sort or another.  Just the other day, some $#%& with a scheme to shoot up San Francisco for the holidays was arrested.  Not that the growing terrorism in parts of the West is a seasonal thing, mind you.

Putting up bollards seems to be a growth industry these days. But there has to be a better way than waiting around for the the next group of jihadis to find a better way to slaughter them some infidels. I can think of a few ways cause some real carnage with items most of us have at our disposal provided one is willing to be a $#%&. It is only a matter time before one of those $#%&s stumbles on one of them. Not all of them are stupid, after all.

If waiting around doesn’t work, placating doesn’t either. Heck, even countries that reliably condemn Israel at the UN, haven’t had a colony in hundreds of years, and offer generous assistance to causes and people dear to the average jihadi, not to say to the average jihadi himself (and most are male), find themselves targeted these days. Perhaps, in fact, such countries are disproportionately targeted.

Now, while it isn’t hard to find someone who will complement a pig for its tasteful make-up, the fact is, there are no positives to this state of affairs. And if nothing changes, things won’t get better on their own. But there will be more dead victims.