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

The National Health

I wasn’t going to mention Melissa Mia Hall’s death here—this is economics and politics, not sf—but now it is clear that, as usual, there is an overlap:

If she had seen the doctor, most likely he would have suspected more than a pulled muscle and would have ordered a life-saving EKG.

As Texas lawyer, writer and Melissa’s friend, Laurie Moore, wrote to me, “She would’ve had a huge doctor bill she couldn’t pay, and would probably have lost her house over it, but she would be alive instead of taking pain pills and dying in the night. “

In the end, Melissa didn’t die from an overdose, not even an accidental one; Melissa died of the very heart attack she feared….

Melissa worked hard. She owned a home. She paid her taxes. She was trying to live a dream – the American Dream – that supposedly we as citizens are promised – the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. For her, that couldn’t be achieved in a traditional job that came with the perks of health care.

This is the quintessential “hard-working American” who gets talked about by The Teabaggers as if nothing ever goes wrong and they never need “government help.” (link h/t Dr. Black) This is the woman of whom Peter Cannon (via Rose Fox)* said:

Melissa contributed hundreds of reviews to PW, in all different genres, as well as dozens of Q&As. In recent years, ever reliable and diligent, she was reviewing three books a week for me…

This isn’t someone who was getting “fails to perform” ratings or “stealing” a house. This is someone whose every effort was aimed at making money and paying bills to keep what little she had gained. She used her skills—human capital, painfully developed—and made rational decisions.

And the rational ex ante decision not to use the medicines she needed or to have to pay out of pocket for an exam that may well lead to more expenses that are beyond her liquidity constraints are, well, exactly what we teach as “correct” in Ph.D. micro- and macro- Economics courses.

So this isn’t a science fiction post, because no one who reads and writes science fiction would believe that a hard-working, conscientious person with great skills, a positive personality, and diligent attention to opportunities would die because they couldn’t afford to live.

It’s an economics and politics post, one I wish I hadn’t had to write.

*Full disclosure: I’ve known Peter Cannon for years; he edited both myself and my wife at PW. (Full, full disclosure: he fired me, after having previously turned down my request to quit for a while. Both were good decisions on his part.) I’ve met Rose Fox several times and she edited my wife for a while when PW still paid something resembling minimum wage for the effort required.

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Other Voices, Other Blegs

We try to pretend we’re not actually human sometimes. And sometimes we have to decide not to pretend.

Many of the Life Cycle Theory models for economics assume limited borrowing constraints: you can’t borrow more than you will make (present valued), but you can borrow on future earnings.

You can only do that for so long until the projections start shifting and you hit a constraint even in a perfect modelworld.

This isn’t a perfect world. Four people who have recently hit constraints: Diane, Roy, Gary, and Lance. That’s probably in reverse order of need at the moment: people came through well for Diane over the weekend, and Roy has a wide audience.

So hit Lance’s tip jar if you can only hit one.

But remember: one of the things that happened in NYC after 11 September 2001 is that people started giving blood. People who didn’t normally give were donating; the place I usually give at was suddenly booked.

You know what happened next. Blood, unlike money, isn’t fungible or transferable. Six months later, there were shortages again.

If you can’t hit the tip jars now, but have a windfall later and are thinking about paying it forward: go read their blogs, and be ready for the next time. They don’t do what we do, but life isn’t only economics.

In the midst of the recovery, we need to give chances to as many starfish as we can.

And if, by chance, you are one of those starfish who needs help right now, Gary’s post here may be useful.

Or if you know of someone else who is in dire straights, mention it in comments (or send me an e-mail) so it can be added to this post.

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The Rich Stay Healthy, the Sick Stay Poor

Health and Economic Development Primer in one easy lesson (via SocProf’s Twitter feed):

This is not surprising to see the contrast between the prosperous (at least until now) areas, in green where chronic illnesses prevail but are diseases tied to aging, as opposed to the semi-periphery and periphery where infectious / parasitic diseases are prevalent along with accidental deaths. Obviously, to be born and live in a prosperous society makes life more secure on different levels.

Extending lifespans and expanding health has been, for the most part, a Macro story of discontinuities.

The rise of vaccines (with a possible contribution from the coincident rise of people getting a high school education) got the Developed World to the point where Major Organ Failure became a primary factor.

Lungs are first: pneumonia and tuberculosis don’t kill the young so often as they did. (Vaccines, testing).

The heart was next. Major advances in the immediate post-WW II (what the Europeans tend to call “post-war”) period—up to and through transplants and ever-advancing bypass surgeries—made it more difficult to die because your heart was weak or flawed.

The next step is the brain; rather more problematic, though progress gets made.

Note that the key assumption in all of the above is access to and use of the available advances. In a system that de facto rations by ability to pay (the U.S.), there is a greater likelihood that the rich will live longer—or, more accurately, that the poor will die unnecessarily sooner. Which is what has been happening.

This post dedicated to the memory of Isaac Asimov, who survived a heart attack for fifteen years and a triple-bypass that gave him nine more years of writing (though with collateral effects that would not occur today).

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My Kids Have School Today: An Inequality Survey

The kids in the next town over don’t.  Indeed, the place where my Eldest Daughter’s swim team practices is closed because it’s a holiday, and their schools are.  But not here: the banks are closed, the government offices are closed, the local libraries are closed. (Heck, the New York Public Library is closed.)  But the schools are open.

For more than three years, the teachers worked without a contract.  While the Administration grew—and paid itself very well, taking an ever-increasing share of the budget—the teacher showed good faith.  They continued to negotiate, continued not to strike.  It wasn’t until the third year that they started cutting back on the extra effort they put in—things such as displaying children’s art projects in the hallways–.

Finally, two years ago, a contract agreement was reached.  One of the things no one bothered to specify—since the schools are public, and therefore a government institution—was that Federal and State holidays would not be school days.  The teachers might work some of them—teachers, as with most academics, do more work outside of the classroom (in preparation, in training, in research) than in it, so there might be a training day on some of the minor ones—but there would not be classes.  No Administration would be crazy enough to schedule classes on a Federal holiday, when many of the parents would have planned three-day weekends.

Except ours, to punish the teachers for having the temerity to negotiate for a contract, would do exactly that.  And it has for the past few years.

While taking my usual walk from Penn Station to Times Square, I saw more than the usual amount of tourists: a marginal effect of the holiday, as economists would note.  And that marginal effect is marginally reduced by the families whose children had to go to school today, even though their parents have the day off.  By the Law of Large Numbers, economists won’t even notice the difference—though individual stores and businesses might.

Columbus Day may be a minor Federal holiday. An NCIS “Undercover Marathon” on the USA network does not a unique celebration make.  And explaining why it is a holiday may become problematic. (“Well, white men with guns came here because like most men they were really lousy at asking for directions. And unlike the previous white men, they stayed, more or less.” is so much less doggerel or open to misinterpretation than “In 1493, Columbus sailed the Deep Blue Sea.”)  But explaining that the kids have to go to school, not the beach, because the superintendent wants to punish the teachers and the kids are collateral damage, well, that’s an economics lesson that will abide.

Especially when you tell them the punch line: Despite more than containing teacher expenses, the school budget has exploded for the past several years as more and more Administrators have been paid more and more money. And the result of this is that the Superintendent who is responsible for that got a five-year contract extension, bloating the budget even more, with even less of it allocated to children’s education (since the Superintendent is a Fixed Cost).

From there, explaining the growth of income inequality is at worst a lay-up.

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A Dramatic Reading of My Novel

Most of time when I write something, I sign it. A piece in the first Great American Baseball Stat Book. The first three editions of a book called Interest Rate Trends and Comparisons put out by the bank at which I worked in the late 1980s.* Review pieces in various publications. A piece in Institutional Investor last year on the opportunities for clean water and sewage investment in Emerging Market countries. Blog posts, such as this one.

There are two exceptions to this. I reviewed for several years for Publishers Weekly, back in the days when they paid better and protected anonymity by fiat. So while I claim to have been the first person to use “fuck” or “cunnilingus” in a PW review, I can’t be certain that’s so—and, more relevantly, no one else can be certain it was me.

The other is a collaborative novel entitled Atlanta Nights, whose sole author credit is Travis Tea. You may have heard of it. While I did write one chapter of it (Chapter 16; by the way, I did not play midfield for Hull in the 1960s, no matter how Wikipedia links), you’ll find no attribution of that in the book itself. (Nor did any of the other authors take credit; it was a charity work. How the Google book deal will handle such work is left as an exercise.)

I like the book, and am very happy to have had a small part in its development. But I certainly didn’t expect that someone (“manwithoutabody”) would do a Dramatic Reading of, apparently, the entire book, and post same on YouTube.

My wife’s chapter is below, for your enjoyment. Or, possibly, use in the next Eschaton/Sadly No video battle.

cross-posted from skippy, the bush kangaroo

*I believe I may be listed as “Research Associate” in the 1986 edition.

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Bleg of the Day, or Noted for the Record

So I ran DataFerret in Batch mode. (I’m using other data and thought I would be nice. Never again, apparently.)

Got the popup that said, “We’re gonna do it, dude. You can pick it up later at URL.”

And the URL was (1) complicated and (2) not copyable from the popup.

Haven’t gotten an e-mail saying the data is ready, and haven’t been able to duplicate the URL.

Anyone who can tell me if I just have to Start Over, or if there is a way to find it?

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