Monday, October 31, 2016


I don't watch Walking Dead, mostly because I think Rick is (perhaps appropriately) a cartoon character and not particularly likable.  That said, zombies are fun.  This zombie infection calculator is neat, but I think it is missing something, namely, transportation.  While a zombie may cover ground at a walking/running pace an infected but not yet zombie could get in a car and move lots faster.  

The actual infection rate would probably depend pretty heavily on awareness and countermeasures.  So that calculator is probably wrong but it's not clear how to make it better.

In Which I Discuss Krugman and Economics

Short post this, as it's really a thought more than an actual discussion or criticism.  Out of this post of Krugman's--a comment on transportation costs and technologies--is this bit:
As I see it, we had some big technological advances in transportation — containerization, probably better communication making it easier to break up the value chain; plus the great move of developing countries away from import substitution toward export orientation. (That’s a decline in tau and t in my toy model.) But this was a one-time event. Now that it’s behind us, no presumption that trade will grow faster than GDP.
That sounds, at some level, right, but it is backwards looking only and seems to ignore the phenomenon that is the internet.  Yes, if I order a good chef's knife from Amazon then that has to be transported to me.  But if I order a book for Kindle/Nook or a digital video game off Amazon or Steam, then I'm still getting something, and that is a something that would have required transportation even 10 years ago (in most cases) because the digital online sales of those items just didn't really exist yet.

The transportation cost of digital items is approaching zero--there is a bandwidth cost, so it's not = 0 but it's pretty damn close.  Krugman doesn't seem to be able to envision a future where technological improvements could do something similar for physical items--odd for a sci-fi fan.  There are people who thought that 3D printers might make the same thing happen for actual physical objects...and they still could, but only if they get a lot better--don't think 3D printers, think Star Trek replicators.

There a whole lot of economic questions/problems with this happening, but it isn't something that can't happen.  We're already partway there with information related things (games, books, music).

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Obamacare Problems Shouldn't Surprise Anyone

Ok, first thing, I feel I need to say whenever I discuss the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare): it is a Republican plan.  It is the conservative answer to the question: "How do we provide health coverage for everyone?"  The liberal answer can take a few forms but the easiest is "single payer" (aka: medicare for everyone).

ACA's 3 legged stool is straight forward:

  1. Require insurance companies cover everyone (no preexisting condition exemptions).
  2. Mandate everyone get insurance (otherwise, because of 1. the sensible thing is to not get insurance until you are sick/injured, which doesn't work for, I think, obvious reasons--if not obvious: this would devolve to just paying for health care, i.e. no meaningful insurance at all)
  3. Provide subsidies for those who can't afford and penalties for those who can to make sure everyone gets insurance.

There are a couple ways for this this to breakdown but they amount to the same thing: too many people or insurance companies opt out.  This is exactly what is happening.  Healthy people not covered via employers are just not getting insurance on the exchanges, which means those that do purchase are in worse health than average, so the costs to cover them are higher than expected and so we see the combination of insurance companies dropping out of the exchanges and/or raising fees dramatically.

The public option would have done quite a bit to fix this: by making it possible for people to buy into Medicare (essentially) on the exchange, you wouldn't have to worry about insurance companies leaving, and the costs would be fairly low since they could be leveraged with Medicare and/or Medicaid.  Problem solved...except insurance companies did not want this because they feared (and liberals hoped) that the public option would be cheaper and provide better coverage than insurance plans, and so, over time, people would leave the insurance companies for the public option.  Basically this is a back door slide into single payer.  Not sure it would have worked but it wasn't just the liberals who thought it might: insurance companies agreed.

If there is no public option then there are a couple other mechanisms for fixing this, but both amount to the same thing: anyone that "opts out" has to pay the equivalent of a bronze tier insurance coverage.  While this technically could mean increasing the size of the penalty or just giving everyone insurance and then billing them, it would probably need to be the former.  At that point, why pay a penalty and not get insurance when the cost is the same?  So people would sign up in larger numbers.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Good Conversation With One Oddity

This conversation between Ezra Klein and Molly Ball is pretty good overall (though it doesn't really address what to do about things) but for a very odd point Molly made near the end.  She said
It’s his celebrity, it’s his money — so many of his positions are so antithetical to the interests of the donor class in the Republican Party that only someone with his own money and visibility could have done that. And, as you said, his shamelessness: He doesn’t care what people think of him.
That’s rare, particularly among rich, famous people. Most rich and famous people care very much about their image. And he doesn’t, and that’s a remarkable quality.
But he does care...a lot.  He carries grudges against people who say that he is a bad businessman or that he cheats (taxes, contractors, whatever) or that he is only where he is because of a rich father...or that he has short fingers.

There have been plenty of stories (I doubt this was the first, but maybe) saying the reason he got into the race in the first place was because Obama slighted him at the White House Correspondents' Dinner (I don't know if a better argument that that event shouldn't exist could be made).  His entire net worth is a judgement on what the value of the "Trump" brand is.

He cares.  He's just way too stupid to understand what he should do to actually get the respect he craves.

Sounds Good to Me

I'm not sure I agree about the $20 but yes, the main use of the $100 and $50 bills are illegal (tax evasion and illicit purchases/sales).  So drop them.  Of course if we're going to start changing up our money system we should also drop the $1 bill in favor of $1 coins and start minting $2 coins, drop the useless penny and really drop the almost as useless (and also money losing) nickel (note the only multiples of 5 cents that can't be made without a nickel are $0.05 and $0.15).

A part I thought was interesting that I would guess most people aren't aware of was when Rogoff said:
The tax evaders are at the upper part of the income distribution. Payment recipients, like cleaners, don’t owe taxes. And if they’re paid under the table, then when they reach retirement age and try to get their Social Security, there isn't any.
The general understanding of immigrants taking jobs, being paid under the table and not paying into the system is really a case of employers cheating the tax system.  Bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, will help prevent this possibility.  I would guess that it would do a better job than abolishing the $100 and $50 would.

Incidentally after that statement the next back and forth was somewhat nonsensical (going from 2% to 4% inflation target would confuse people but negative interest is perfectly sensible?!?).  I think both issues would actually be solved by NGDP level targeting (say 5%) that doesn't have the inflation only "confusion" (which is really banker hysteria) or the goofiness of negative interest.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What Your Vote Says About You

In this person's case, it mostly says they are A Idiot.

I'll admit I'm somewhat sympathetic to 3rd party candidates and voters.  The problem is most of them are represented by this person whose decision is just stupid.  On a related note I also found John Oliver's bit on 3rd party candidates to be off the mark (quite unusual) while Samantha Bee has been spot on (not unusual).

The problem with 3rd party candidates is our elections.  We don't have a parlimentary system where 15% of the population voting for Green party would translate to 15% Green party in Congress.  It translates to zero.  More because most districts don't require a majority to win (i.e. you can win with a plurality...which could technically be as low as 34% but more likely in the mid 40's) the only function a 3rd party candidate really performs is to siphon votes away from the major party candidate that is closest to them in terms of policy.

If all states/districts did run off elections whenever a leading candidate got less than 50% then there would be a stronger argument to vote for 3rd parties.  It would help give a more complete picture of what the electorate really wanted.

Almost by definition in a 2 party system, neither party is going to represent you as well as some (real or fanciful) potential 3rd party could.  That's just going to happen when the two major parties are trying to figure out how to get 50% of the vote.  It's hard to get 50% of people in this country to agree on any single issue much less a whole slate of them.  Unfortunately, in our electoral system where we vote for individuals for all offices in winner take all type elections, a 2 party system is the only one that makes sense.  There are a very small number of reasons to vote 3rd party:

  1. Both politicians really are the same (think Simpsons episode where aliens replace the 2 party candidates) and it doesn't matter so much who wins.  Note: this was Nader's argument in 2000 which I thought was crap at the time.  This is a pretty hard argument to make today, if only for procedural reasons (whether government will function).
  2. One party has put forth a particularly horrid candidate and that party's members can't vote for their candidate.
  3. Non-voters only: people who don't vote but get inspired by some particular candidate.  This can happen for main party candidates too (see: Obama) and yes, everyone should vote, but some people just don't.  Ever.  Showing up to vote for a 3rd party is better than not voting at all.  If you have ever voted D or R this category does not apply to you.

In fairness to the A Idiot there is also a piece by a Gary Johnson supporter.  I disagree with that person on the main issues brought up but that person is not A Idiot.  This is a weird election and this falls firmly into the point 2 above.  If it were a standard Republican on the ballot instead of the Lilliputian fingered, Brobdingnagian-egoed orange one then that person would be A Idiot too, but it isn't.  In this election Republicans and conservatives voting Gary Johnson make sense, Democrats and liberals voting Jill Stein (or Johnson) are A Idiots.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

WA I-732 Climate Bill

No, I hadn't heard of it before either.  It is an interesting story to say...well, something about it.  I'll admit I'm rather partial to both sides of this.  A strong push could have actually accomplished something and rather than seeing the glass as half full, should be supportive liberal groups have rather--HULK SMASH--so, ok.

I've also likely got a white dude perspective on this, but if various liberal/social groups state that they want x, y and z and some white dudes write up a bill that includes x and y but not z (even if said white dudes didn't expressly talk to them) why is that so bad?  Yes, I get the seat at the table aspect, but, in the end it comes off as "I want these things, you are giving me some of them, but you didn't talk to me and aren't giving me everything so fuck you and your plan."

On the other hand: anyone who wants to push for any legislation that helps with climate change that preemptively concedes language/policy to imaginary "sensible Republicans" is pretty much a idiot that deserves their inevitable defeat.  You want Republicans to be invested, you have to force them to it.  You are better off with the liberal super fantastic bill that you can really get everyone who is currently supportive of your primary motive(s) behind.

Oh, and also, too: revenue neutral plans are only useful if you have plenty of revenue already, which isn't really true in most of the US, including Washington and if you don't then they're for shits. So: bad fucking idea.

I don't live in WA, but if I did I suspect I'd be pissed at everyone involved but vote for the bill.

Monday, October 17, 2016

We Couldn't Function if We Remembered

I understand where this post is coming from and what the author is trying to convey, but there is a very good reason we don't keep horrors in mind for long: we wouldn't be able to function if we did.  The fact is that keeping in mind bad things happening a long way away isn't useful.  Most people can't really do anything about the crisis.  Yes, as a nation we absolutely should, but individually, there just isn't a lot a person can do...even giving money, which can be useful for lots of problems isn't really doing much here.  Most of the problem needs to be solved by nations: ending the crises that are producing the refugees and, more immediately, helping those refugees get out of bad situations and allowing them in to nations/places where they can start their lives back up again.

It's actually one of the great adaptations of humanity that, by and large, we get over very bad things, even when they happen to us.  It allows us to keep functioning, and to live.  The image and the reality of that dead baby is horrible, but if you have to remember and carry that with you every day, how could you possibly go on?  Especially when there isn't much of anything you can do to prevent that going forward.

I suppose the press has a responsibility to keep the pressure on by keeping awareness up, but at this point, everyone knows there is a crisis.  It seems to me that the writer remembering that baby is really just inviting suffering into her life.  She may be in a better position than me to "do something" in that she has an actual audience and can keep writing about it, but even if she does, I'm not sure that would really help.  We need decent people in power in politics (in the US and Europe)...

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

I. Don't. Get. His. Supporters.

Yea, yea, lots of them are deplorables, many of the rest are stupid, and some (maybe the rest?) are, for lack of a more specific descriptor: evil.  Really, though, even for supporters in the first two categories, isn't the idea of this person as President of the United States enough of an embarrassment that they just couldn't bring themselves to vote for him?  So maybe not I don't get his supporters as much as I don't get how they could actually turn that support into voting for him for president.

By definition a country that would elect a Donald Trump it's president can't be great.  It is obviously, seriously flawed.  And it may happen!  I don't think it will, but it could.  

I'm actually kind of surprised that more conspiracy theories haven't surfaced so my unsubstantiated but every bit as probable as a Trump presidency seemed 4 years ago theories...  

1.  Donald bet $[1, 5, 10]bn that Hillary Clinton would win the presidency in 2016, and decided to become the Republican nominee to make it happen (figuring that a typical Republican may actually win since so many voters have such a poor opinion of her).  Had been going well, but the Russians are on the other side of the bet so they are trying to interfere in support of Donald and not have to pay out.

2. Less fun bur more likely... Aside from the more sensible Republicans who have thrown support to Hillary (or at least said they would not vote Donald)--a group that actually includes Dubbya--and the sycophants who have turned into Donald cheerleaders (Giuliani and Christie) the overall republican establishment is lining up in "support" of Donald's candidacy with no actual intention of letting him be president.  How?  Well in order of decreasing niceness (and, oddly enough increasing benefit to Republicans)...

Nice version: they already have the impeachment documents drawn up and will be ready to go with them the day after he is inaugurated.  Less nice is blackmail adjacent: they have his tax returns and will threaten to release them if he does not resign immediately after being elected--clearly he will do just about anything not to have those released.  Really not nice: well, Donald doesn't seem like someone to take orders quietly does he?