Not Excusing But Not Over-Generalizing, Either

I agree with the editors of the Washington Post’s assessment of the newly-elected representative from the state of Montana:

“GIANFORTE GRABBED Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.” That was Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna’s account of how Greg Gianforte allegedly assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, the day before Mr. Gianforte won a special election to fill Montana’s at-large congressional seat. Along with an audio recording of the incident, the eyewitness accounts confirm that the now-congressman-elect engaged in brutish behavior. That he subsequently tried to blame Mr. Jacobs for the incident, in which the reporter was merely asking an honest question, makes Mr. Gianforte’s actions all the more inexcusable.

Inexcusable means inexcusable. The House, led by Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who said “there’s never a call for physical altercation,” should have made clear that Mr. Gianforte would not be welcome in the chamber.

Historically, the Houses of Congress have had the power to limit their own membership. Ever since Powell v. McCormack the only grounds that either house of Congress has had for refusing to seat a member has been those specifically laid out in the Constitution. Shoving a reporter isn’t one of them.

I think that Paul Ryan should make it very clear to Mr. Gianforte that he’s not welcome in the House and do whatever lies in his power to follow through with that. Regardless of your feelings about reporters in general or the particular reporter involved, resorting to physical altercation is beyond the pale. Having principles means acting on them even when it goes against your interests.

Claims that this incident in Montana is emblematic of Republicans in general or of a grave disorder in our politics seem overwrought to me. There are more than a half million elected offices in the United States which means that there are more than a million candidates for office. One incident of battery doth not a trend make and claiming that it does sounds more to me like opportunism than analysis.

BTW, based on my experience as a juror in a case of battery, don’t be surprised if Mr. Gianforte is never convicted of anything or, if convicted, is merely given a nominal fine and probation. Battery is harder to prove than you might think. If my experience is any gauge it’s as indicative of malice on the part of the plaintiff as it is miscreance on the part of the defendant.


“Yelpifying” Health Care?

I cannot say that I think particularly highly of the impending “Yelpification” of health care, as remarked on at the Health Affairs Blog:

Yelp is beginning to play a role in helping patients with their health care decisions. But whether Yelp ratings will drive patients in the right direction—toward high-quality providers—is still unclear.

In an April 2017 New York State Health Foundation (NYSHealth)-funded study, the Manhattan Institute explored the extent to which Yelp ratings of hospitals in New York State correspond to objective outcomes measures across all of a hospital’s patients. The study found that higher Yelp ratings are correlated with better-quality hospitals and can offer consumers a useful, clear, and reliable tool that can be easily accessed. In short, for one very important measure—potentially preventable readmissions—Yelp ratings appear to have a moderately strong correlation with that measure. That is, higher Yelp scores for hospitals are associated with lower readmission rates. These results build on prior evidence that found a similar relationship between Yelp scores and Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) patient experience measures for the hospitals in the study.

But while this research has helped to move the needle on validating Yelp as an important asset in the tool chest of health care quality tools, there are still important questions left unanswered.

In fact, I think that the effect of the Internet, especially patients diagnosing their own conditions using Google, has probably to increase the cost of health care, at least at the margins.

The diagnosis or treatment that you want is not always the diagnosis or treatment that you need. I doubt that motivating physicians to accede to patients’ wishes is the right way to go. “Give the lady what she wants” is fine in retail. In the professions, not so much.


Walking the Walk

The only thing I can add to this Reuters article on the health benefits of walking is that I walk between three and five miles a day every day, 365 days a year. Having dogs will do that for you.


Seek and Ye Shall Find

This article at Circa by John Solomon and Sara Carter on the FBI’s abusing the power it had been given by sharing the data it had received from warrantless wiretaps with third parties doesn’t really tell us anything we shouldn’t have already known. Governments can’t just be trusted with power. It will inevitably be abused because governments are composed of people not archangels.

It also suggests to us the likely outcome when protecting your institution is the highest value, a common failing of bureaucracies. It’s truly amazing what can be overlooked when your job depends on your overlooking it.


What’s the Right Policy?

In his Christian Science Monitor article Laurent Belsie curtly summarizes the state of the solar panel industry:

Chinese-owned competitors are flooding the global market with cheap, subsidized products. Manufacturers in the United States, which invented the technology, are so battered by imports that they’re on their last legs.

and then goes on to touch on the factors that might be taken into consideration in the federal government’s response to the situation including:

  • free trade
  • maximizing the number of U. S. jobs
  • maximizing the number of solar panels installed
  • the course of future technological development in solar energy

So, what’s the right policy?

I know what I would do. I’d impose a Pigouvian tax to offset the price effects of China’s subsidies, its labor laws, its failure to enforce its own environmental protection laws, and the benefits it’s derived from raiding U. S. technology. I’d also end subsidies to the domestic solar industry. Then I’d let whatever happens happen.

However, that reflects my values and objectives. It’s certainly not a minarchist solution. Countering the mercantilist actions of the Chinese government requires action by the U. S. government.

What’s the right policy?

1 comment

Take Your Pick

The BBC reports that British intelligence agencies have stopped sharing information with the United States because of U. S. intelligence leaks:

Police investigating the Manchester Arena bomb attack have stopped sharing information with the US after leaks to the media.

UK officials were outraged when photos appearing to show debris from the attack appeared in the New York Times.

It came after the name of bomber Salman Abedi was leaked to US media just hours after the attack, which left 22 dead.

Theresa May said she would tell Donald Trump at a Nato meeting that shared intelligence “must remain secure”.

The US’s acting ambassador to the UK “unequivocally condemned” the leaks in a BBC radio interview.

“These leaks were reprehensible, deeply distressing,” Lewis Lukens said.

“We have had communications at the highest level of our government … we are determined to identify these leaks and to stop them.”

Who’s responsible?

  1. Trump
  2. Obama
  3. Hillary Clinton
  4. NeverTrumpers in the U. S. intelligence services
  5. The U. S. news media
  6. There are so many to choose from

China’s Credit Downgrade

As you may or may not know Moody’s has downgraded China’s credit rating. Remarks Michael Schulman at Bloomberg:

On Tuesday night, Moody’s Corp. downgraded China’s sovereign credit rating for the first time in 28 years. In doing so, the rating agency is acknowledging the dragon in the room: China will have to pay the price for its epic debt binge, whatever policymakers do from here.

The burning question in China these days is whether the government is serious about tackling the debt pile that’s exploded since the global financial crisis. Total outstanding credit grew to around 260 percent of GDP at the end of last year, from 160 percent in 2008 — one of the biggest and fastest expansions ever. Officials say they’re keenly aware of the need to deleverage, and there’s evidence that recent efforts to deal with the problem are starting to have an impact. What’s uncertain is whether the government has the will to push ahead with reforms even as companies start to default and the economy slows.

Here’s my question. China is a monetary sovereign, almost all of its debt is internal, and the government has a majority ownership of most of its banks. What difference does its credit rating really make?

Just for perspective, the U. S. does not have the very highest credit rating. That’s reserved for countries like Canada, Australia, Luxembourg, and Switzerland.


Boosting Self-Image

I found Virginia Postrel’s post at Bloomberg on the boosterism of China’s “Belt and Road” program entertaining:

As a product of the New South, I know boosterism when I see it.

I recognize the underlying insecurities, frequent wastefulness, and over-eager efforts to demonstrate importance. I also understand boosterism’s valid purposes and claims. Boosters have something to prove — to themselves as well as outsiders — but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong to make the effort. Their offended pride often drives achievements surpassing those of more established and complacent places. Jaded westerners may cringe at the video of multicultural children singing praises of the Belt and Road, but it’s hardly the worst way for an ambitious world power to assert its ascendency.

China’s authorities need a victory for domestic political purposes and as victories go the “Belt and Road” program seems pretty benign. And, as I’ve noted before, they write a heckuva good press release.


Objectives in Afghanistan

In an op-ed at Admiral James Stavridis, formerly the NATO Supreme Allied Commander, outlines the objectives for our military commitment to Afghanistan:

Which brings us to another key point: what does success look like? Afghanistan is not going to resemble Singapore anytime soon; but it can have a functioning democratic government, general control over much of its borders, the ability to minimize impact from the insurgency, armed forces with high public approval, and a reduction in both corruption and narcotics — the latter two issues posing a longer term threat to the nation than even the Taliban. Getting to that point of success will require security and thus the additional forces.

Frankly, I’m skeptical of the practicality of all of those objectives but that isn’t my question. Leaving aside the vital questions of whether we should have troops in Afghanistan at all and how many, does that sound like “mission creep” to you? It certainly does to me. Actually, it sounds to me as though Admiral Stavridis were casting around for objectives.

There’s a way of evaluating movie sequels that goes something like this. If the sequel had been made first, would it have justified a sequel? Perhaps we should start thinking about wars something like that. Would we have gone to war with those objectives? In the case of Afghanistan I don’t think so.

Either we should withdraw from Afghanistan or adjust our objectives there to things we would have gone to war to achieve in the first place.


The Guard Dies But Does Not Surrender!

I found this piece by Peter Zeihan on what he sees as the collapse of the center-left not just here but in Europe as well interesting:

The only significant country where the Left is holding any ground is Germany, a country artificially re-constructed after World War II to have a very specific — and durable — political system. And even there the Social Democrats are on course to lose their fourth consecutive election this fall. (Yes, the center-left actually rules Canada — the only place of note that it still does. but Canada both lives in strategic nirvana and is disastrously complicated from a domestic political organizational point of view so I’d not draw too many lessons from the Great White North.)

What’s left of the economic Left is being subsumed by populism, a movement that broadly speaking is unhappy with the current state of affairs, thinks that everyone is out to get them, wants change, wants it now, and wants to use a mass government overhaul in order to force the issue (in the 1930s we would have called this national-socialism). Populism has managed to capture much of the Left’s thunder in a wide variety of countries including — but hardly limited to — Hungary, Poland, Austria, Finland, Israel, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Yes, Trump is a symptom of the Populist rise. But so too are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. (There are many types of populists. None have ever ended up delivering what they promise.)

It is tempting to say that politics is cyclical and the Left will recover, or that it botched the chance to rule in the past two decades and it just needs a little time in the wilderness to reconnect to its roots, or that the Left can embrace other issues like identity politics and social issues to reinvigorate itself. But that misses the point. The economic Left has lost power everywhere. The grab bag that remains is important and will obviously color political and social evolutions, but it cannot define the era. Such awkward coalitions can garner votes, but not in the quantities sufficient to govern. The term “Left” itself may be appropriated by new and varied causes — the most likely is to support the coalition of those devastated by Apple, Amazon, Uber and the rest — but those are not workers, but instead the opposite. The rubric that has defined the Left for nearly two centuries is gone.

One incidental point: both Germany and Canada operate in protective cocoons we’ve devised. Neither is emblematic of anything other than Germany and Canada.

As I’ve said before I think I don’t think we’re seeing a collapse of the Left. I think we’re seeing a much broader political realignment. Yes, progressives in the United States continue to believe, without a great deal of evidence, that bargaining organizations established for craft workers and industrial workers can be expanded to cover unskilled service workers effectively and those will heal a wide variety of ailments. But conservatives have their own articles of faith, for example that tax cuts in the top marginal rates always produce robust economic growth.

I think the realignment has multiple causes including the pace of change in the modern world, China’s entering the global scene, and the failure of the established political parties to see today’s world for what it is. You can’t expect a dichotomy laid out in the 18th century to be relevant forever.

Our problem is that regardless of state of denial or relevancy our political parties continue to hold power. Power without relevancy. There’s an idea to conjure with.