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

What a Group to be In

Per the Health at a Glance Chart Set, Powerpoint, available here:

All OECD countries have achieved universal or near-universal health care coverage, except Turkey, Mexico and the United States

And it’s even more impressive when you go to Slide 36 (whose header is quoted above) and realise that the Public Coverage in those three states is:

    Mexico: 82.5
    Turkey: 67.2
    United States: 27.4

Any room to bend the curve? Certainly looks as if there might be:

Well, at least Turkey and Mexico can feel good about themselves. Happy Xmas!

EconTalk Jumps the Shark

Russ Roberts could at least pretend that Amity Shlaes (B.A., English Literature) had written a book related to economics, no matter how badly contrived and poorly researched it was.

But what’s his excuse for this (B.A., English Literature, Penn; MBA Chicago)?

Sadly, it appears he has stopped even pretending to be interested in economics, and has just decided to shill for the cheapest huckster.

A Difference in National Priorities

AIG is bankrupt, but Manchester United still wears their logo.

However, when Dutch bank DSB Bank NV filed bankruptcy, Stephen Colbert had to step in to sponsor U.S. Speedskating?

Maybe the Dutch understand Sports Economics and the Americans don’t?*

*J.C. Bradbury, Dennis Coates, Skip Sauer, to name just three, would dissent from the last statement. But they might believe the Dutch pay better attention.

PSA: D-Squared Rivals Quiggin

I recently mentioned D-Squared’s four-part review (evisceration?) of Freakonomics.

I had forgotten he wasn’t finished.

Part Five is now posted. And the conceit of the pieces—”that there is something terribly, horribly wrong with the state of modern economics”—that dates back to 2003(!) is all the more validated.

John Quiggin should include all five parts as an Appendix to his forthcoming Zombie Economics book. Just sayin’.

Thanks to Ben Bernanke, Ben Bernanke Doesn’t Need to be Reappointed as Fed Chair

by Tom Bozzo

Back in 2005, I argued at Old Marginal Utility that “Greenspan exceptionalism” was not very well founded in that observers rarely engaged in a proper counterfactual analysis of how well Alan Greenspan performed relative to the next best monetary policy technocrat. That’s a fairly stringent evaluation criterion, and even Brad DeLong’s glass-half-full response revealed what could be considered major errors in Greenspan’s judgment. 2009 hindsight of course shows that there was another major error in inflating the housing bubble, failing to recognize it, and allowing his Rand discipleship to overcome common sense in using Fed powers even to skim the froth.

Now some elite opinion favors Ben Bernanke’s reappointment, but politicians are irritated over Fed stonewalling of bailout oversight and others (e.g. Dean Baker) point out that Ben Bernanke who put the Fed throttles to the firewall to save the world is also the Ben Bernanke who carried over Greenspan policy until it was too late among other things.

So what should the counterfactual-based evaluation of Bernanke say? What would the hypothetical panel of smart graduate students have done? It seems even harder to suggest that Bernanke was essential than Greenspan — in this case, because well-read economists should have had it from Ben Bernanke the academician that in a depression-level crisis you don’t skimp on the monetary policy intervention. Meanwhile, Bernanke gets no points for prescient instincts as the save-the-world interventions have seemed to be firmly of the close-the-barn-doors-after-the-horses-have-bolted variety.

Meanwhile, significant elements like the opaque lending programs have the appearance if not reality of being in part the predator state (a la Jamie Galbraith) in action. There’s a line of ‘b-b-but Bernanke and Paulson saved the world’ opinion along the lines of this bit of fail from the often incisive Joe Nocera:

So why the anger? Why the suggestions of “cover-up” and “lies”? On Thursday, as I watched Mr. Paulson being castigated, it dawned on me. Seven months later, with the palpable fear of a financial collapse largely subsided, it really all boils down to how you view what happened last year. Was it, as Mr. Towns believes, a bailout of a handful of unworthy but too-big-to-fail institutions? Or was it, in the eyes of Mr. Paulson, a rescue of a teetering financial system? My vote is for the latter.

To which the obvious response is, duh, who says it has to be one or the other? A reality-based critique of the bailouts allows them to be both effective at saving the world and unconscionable screw-jobs that kept an array of bad actors from paying for their greed and incompetence. (The latter clearly feeds a lot of the underlying sentiment of the tea partiers, even if it’s ultimately the greedy and incompetent who are marshalling it.) However, considering Team Obama’s political tone-deafness, it’ll be a pleasant but major surprise if they don’t let Bernanke go back to Princeton for some R&R.

(Cross-posted at Marginal Utility.)

PSA: WorldCon with an Economist

The first item on Charlie Stross’s World Science Fiction Convention schedule:

Thursday August 6th, 5pm (Location: P-511CF)
Title: In Conversation: Paul Krugman and Charles Stross
Description: 90 minutes of Charles Stross discussing SF, economics, and other topics with Paul Krugman. [link in original]

Those who might wonder why Krugman would be an appropriate guest at Anticipation (this year’s WorldCon, being held in Montreal starting six yearsdays [h/t Loyal Reader] after we move back to NJ*) are referred to this paper [PDF], which I previously discussed at Tom’s place.

*Which is why Shira doesn’t want to do the eight panels on which she was scheduled.

Another Cost of Low Prices

In the matter of externalities, accusing political enemies of being terrorists even after they are cleared of all wrongdoing is a feature of having economic power.*

Good thing it’s not being done by a country G-Mu dislikes, or we’d hear about this at Marginal Revolution. But they’re too busy arguing that the Greenspan Commission were liars with malice aforethought.

*Not that the United States would ever do that.

And Here I Thought Corporations were Rational

Ken Houghton lowers the level of discourse at AB by discussing the career of a porn star other than Adam West.

One of the primary tenets of economic theory is that corporations believe in nothing other than profits. Well, it’s not quite that stark—we use phrases such as “utility maximization,” “cost minimization,” and the like—but the basic idea is that corporations, even more than individuals (silly humans!), have as their sole target maximizing profits.

So I’m a bit confused by the Vancouver Sun’s poorly-edited* obituary for Marilyn Chambers.

Let’s put the timeline together:

  1. Chambers “began her onscreen career as an Ivory Snow detergent model.”
  2. Chambers made Behind the Green Door, released in 1972.
  3. The movie “prompted a run on boxes of Ivory Snow, which featured a photo of Chambers.”

    So far I follow this: actress tries a different role, reaches a whole new audience, and sales of her previous works soar. (Think Kristin Chenoweth going from Broadway to television. Or maybe not.) What I don’t understand is the reaction:

  4. [T]he scandal produced “a Marilyn Chambers clause in all modeling contracts, saying that you can never have posed topless or nude or been in any kind of adult film or Playboy or anything like that.”

Let’s review. MKarilyn Chambers (h/t Tony C.) causes a major spike in sales of Ivory Snow detergent. Better yet, some of those people probably aren’t even going to open the box, so they’re going to have to buy another detergent as well—and, even time they have to go shopping, they’re going to see that Ivory Snow detergent and, if they need detergent, they’ll have an identification with it.

UPDATE: Robert, in comments, notes that this may be a rational act, if we assume normal market segmentation and a lack of loyalty on the part of the spurt of buying.

I believe this is what economists refer to as a “win-win” situation.

So why would the result be a “business decision” specifically banning the possibility of developing such cross-marketing potential in the future?

*I say poorly edited because on things such as that the last sentence of paragraph three is “The L.A. County coroner is examining the cause of death, but a spokesman said foul play is not suspected.” and the closing of paragraph four is “The cause of death is under investigation but foul play was not suspected and an autopsy is pending,” which strikes as the equivalent of giving the reader a sense of deja vu through stereotomy glasses.