Friday, October 19, 2007

Michael Kinsley Gets It

Michael Kinsely, as usual, gets libertarians more or less right- this time in Time. It's a rarity to see an article about libertarians that says something like the following- especially from someone on the left side of the political spectrum (and yes, I know that Kinsley is a bit different from other liberals):

Libertarians and communitarians (to continue this unjustified generalizing) are different character types. Communitarians tend to be bossy, boring and self-important, if they're not being oversweetened and touchy-feely. Libertarians, by contrast, are not the selfish monsters you might expect. They are earnest and impractical--eager to corner you with their plan for using old refrigerators to reverse global warming or solving the traffic mess by privatizing stoplights. And if you disagree, they're fine with that. It's a free country. [My emphasis]
Of course, Kinsley is slightly wrong in calling libertarians "isolationists," even if he is using the word in a non-judgmental way. Isolationism has two different definitions, depending on who you talk to or the dictionary you consult. It either means abstinence from international relations of any type or a policy of simply staying out of the affairs of other nations. Only the latter definition applies to most libertarians, who are obviously extremely firm believers in strong international trade without barriers.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Crack for Political Bloggers

Have fun.(It even has a fun animation that allows you to see the change in donations by region over time).

One thing that you may notice is that Obama beats the hell out of Hillary in most of the red states. Some other things: Mormons really, really like Mitt Romney. I didn't even think that many people lived in Utah! Also, Ron Paul is the only candidate below McCain who seems to have any national appeal whasoever.

(HT: Volokh Conspiracy).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Way to go, Dems!

So, you really had to pursue that entirely symbolic resolution these last few weeks, didn't you? Wasn't Bush doing a good enough job screwing up one of our most important alliances on his own? I guess not. Just when you think no one can be as bad at international relations than the Bush Administration, in swoop the congressional Dems....

Well, I hope you guys are happy with the results. And yes, the Turks' new best friend referenced in the article is the same Syrian President Bashar Assad that tried to prevent democracy in Lebanon and that we have (justifiably) labeled a supporter of terrorism. It's also the same Syria that Turkey almost went to war with less than 10 years ago. We can only hope that what Turkey is about to do doesn't completely screw up the one region of Iraq that actually understands what freedom and democracy are supposed to look like.

(Disclaimer: for the record, I'm not saying that the Turks are just going to enter Iraqi villages because of the Dems' resolution- frankly, the Turks have an independent right to do exactly what they're doing for their own protection, assuming of course their claims of cross-border attacks are accurate. However, they've been held at bay because of their historic relationship with the US and because of some weak assurances by the US and Iraq that they would pursue the PKK themselves. The timing of this news against the backdrop of the genocide resolution is in my mind a curious coincidence at best. I'm guessing that the resolution may have been a last straw).

**UPDATE, 9:47 AM: Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy has an interesting thread on the use of the word "genocide."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rudy Promises to Save the World

In a recent town hall meeting (aka, campaign speech where politician pretends to be one of "the People"), Rudy Giuliani assured a questioner that, under a Giuliani administration, the US will be prepared for responding to an invasion of space aliens.

Brian Doherty, one of those whacky libertarians at Reason Hit & Run, had this to say in response:

"Romney, worried that the invaders might be from Kolob, will be hesitant to strike quickly; of the GOP front-runners, it has to be Rudy if "will protect us from alien invaders" is your main political concern."


I think we should demand to know where all the candidates stand on this critical issue. I'm guessing Ron Paul would handle any such threat by hiring mercenary space pirates under his letters of marque rationale. Heck, I'm sure he already has Bill Pullman (aka "Lone Star") on speed dial for just this purpose.

What about the other candidates?

Some more on health care

Tyler Cowen this morning asked if there is any further government intervention that libertarians would support as being necessary to help someone. Since I am not an absolute anarcho-capitalist, and since I like to think I have a heart, I got to thinking about this question.

As I said in my McCain post, the McCain proposal strikes me as a step in the right direction; but this doesn't really answer Cowen's question, since what is good about the McCain proposal is a recognition of where government intervention has screwed up our health care system. In other words, what is good about it is primarily that it eliminates or reduces the role of government in certain areas of the system.

So, turning to Cowen's actual question, I think there is some justifiable government intervention to help the neediest of the needy. One thing that maybe would be workable would be a government program under which government agrees to reimburse insurance costs over a certain percentage of household income- this is of course effectively a tax credit, but one that is more situation dependent than an outright flat credit of x dollars. To make things fairer, we could also make it a graduated system- so, the reimbusability threshold would be, say, 10% of a household's first $25,000, 20% of the next $25,000, 30% of the next $50,000, and so on. This would be fair because it would essentially be a self-limiting program- over a certain level of income, reimbursable coverage would be effectively impossible. Moreover, the lower your income, the more your insurance is reimbursable, and vice versa. So, a household making $100,000 would have to have $22,500 in necessary insurance costs to be eligible (almost $2000 a month). On the other hand, a household making $20,000 would only need $2000 of insurance premiums before reimbursability would kick in (about $170 a month).

I acknowledge some inherent initial problems with this scenario, not least of which is the question of how long it will take for government to reimburse beneficiaries of the program. Maybe we could create the equivalent of a reverse W-4 for insurance companies, which would allow the insurance companies to deduct your excess insurance costs from your monthly bill; if it turns out that you have more gross income at the end of the year than you report to the insurance company, then you owe the government for the unreimbursed amount when you file your tax return.

Another inherent problem with my hypothetical program is the question of preventing people from gaming the system by getting more expensive insurance than they actually need (which would then create an incentive for insurance companies to charge far more for insurance than the real value of the insurance). Perhaps you could get around this by requiring particular insurance plans to be certified as reimbursable, which admittedly has its own set of problems.

I'm sure there are plenty of other inherent problems, but conceptually, I think it is a proposal that is fair and is not overly offensive to libertarian or conservative principles (although administrability may be a fatal flaw). I'm sure there will be dissent, though, which I would be happy to hear.

Monday, October 15, 2007

McCain on Health Care

Every once in awhile, John McCain reminds you that he remembers what being a Republican used to mean. His plan isn't perfect by any stretch, but it's important because it actually is based on the question of "why are so many without insurance?" The answer of course is that: A. insurance (and healthcare more generally) is exceedingly expensive in this country; and
B. Some percentage of people just don't want insurance almost regardless of the cost.

As Michael Moore's precious World Health Organization study found, the US is tops in the world in quality of care; the reason our overall ranking in terms of quality of system is that: 1. the ranking is biased (by presupposing socialized medicine is better), and, more importantly, 2. the US has ridiculously high overall costs. McCain's plan focuses on those overly high costs; most other plans, including Hillary's and Romney's, focus solely on getting the uninsured insured- in other words, they treat one symptom as if it were the entire disease. Importantly, McCain seems to recognize that much of the cause of high costs in our system isn't too little regulation- it's too much.

In any event, here is what I like about the McCain proposal:
1. Shifting responsibility for some care to nurses (and away from doctors)- if you've ever talked to an experienced nurse at length, you will come to quickly realize that their experience makes them extremely knowledgeable about many medical procedures and diagnoses (often more so than even a doctor who's been around for a few years). Of course, we already have a nursing shortage, but increased workplace freedom for nurses would alleviate this a little bit; additionally, it would increase the amount hospitals are willing to pay their nurses (since they are saving more money on paying slightly fewer MDs).
2. Elimination/reduction of cross-state licensure requirements- this is just common sense (why should medicine be practiced differently in different states); it would only have a minimal effect on costs, probably, but cross-state licensure requirements are just silly to begin with. (I acknowledge there is a federalism concern here, though).
3. Permission for re-importation of drugs from Canada. I acknowledge that this creates problems of intellectual property protections; however, the effect of this will be to ultimately even out drug prices between the US and Canada to reflect a more accurate market value for both (right now, the US insurance market is effectively subsidizing Canadian prescription drugs, as well as prescription drugs in other countries with price controls and universal medicine).
4. Patent reform- I'd like to hear more specifics on this, but our current patent regime is way too restrictive
5. Shifting of tax credits from employers to individuals- I've long said that the employer-based tax credit system creates a perverse set of incentives that results in high overall costs and often inadequate coverage, which effectively pushes overall costs even higher.
6. Elimination of prohibitions against purchase of out of state insurance. Again, there are federalism concerns here, but the wide variations in state insurance coverage requirements are foolish and arbitrary and result in a significant reduction in competition; additionally, this is a legitimate interstate commerce issue.
7. A recognition that a properly functioning market would have competititon for people with pre-existing illnesses, rather than a generalized reluctance to cover such people.

Here is what I don't like:
1. Tort reform- I may just need more details on this, but usually "tort reform" isn't really reform in the proper sense- it usually means creating statutory or bureacratic protections against common law liability. On the other hand, if he means elimination of existing laws and regulations that artificially encourage lawsuits by creating false definitions of standards of care, then I can get on board with this proposal.
2. The one-size-fits all tax credit. I don't know how you can make this more flexible without creating a bureaucratic nightmare, but the size of the credit is massive. While I'm never opposed to significantly reducing the amount the government can take from people, a one size fits all tax credit may amount to a several hundred billion dollar entitlement program unless it is properly implemented.
Areas where I would like to see more details:
1. Encouragement of walk-in clinics at places like Wal-Mart- this is a promising area, but I am generally suspicious whenever the government talks of "encouragement."
2. His Health Savings Account plan- what is the interplay with his tax credit scheme? I am suspicious of his use of the phrase "tax-preferred."
3. Medicare reform- in principle, he is certainly correct about what Medicare should and should not be paying for; however, making this distinction in the real world may mean a choice between arbitrary lines and an even bigger bureacratic mess.

On the whole, McCain's proposal is a logical step forward, and mostly makes sense because it actually begins with a question (to wit: what is wrong with our healthcare system) rather than an assumption (ie, we have too many uninsured people).

I continue to have a difficult time understanding why so many conservatives (especially neo-cons and theo-cons) continue to view McCain as a "RINO." Except for McCain-Feingold (which, by the way, conservative darlings Pres. Bush and Fred Thompson supported) and a couple other notable exceptions, McCain has been a reliable voice for historically conservative positions- maybe even the most reliable such voice in the campaign. For some reason, he is still viewed as being pro-choice (despite a profoundly pro-life record) because of one statement he made in the 2000 campaign that was taken completely out of context and then used by Karl Rove to destroy him in South Carolina.

***UPDATE, 11:59PM*** I foolishly and stupidly forgot to mention McCain's strong support of gun control. However, I don't see how Rudy is any more conservative in this regard. I'm sure there's other issues where he isn't particularly conservative. The immigration issue is one where conservatism has backed further and further away from old-fashioned conservatism, and therefore McCain. But compared to Giuliani or Romney, he's Ronald Reagan reincarnated.

On Hollywood Republicans

Kyle's comment the other day about Fred Thompson being representative of a number of Hollywood Republicans in elected office (Thompson, Eastwood, Schwarzenegger, Reagan, Sonny Bono) or running for elected office got me thinking a little bit. It is certainly fairly anomolous that there are so many (comparatively) Republican politicians with deep Hollywood backgrounds, and so few Democrat politicians with similar backgrounds (only Al Franken comes to mind).

One possible explanation for this, I think, is that Democrats are able to take most of Hollywood's substantial financial support for granted. Republicans, on the other hand, cannot. Since Hollywood has a huge amount of potential campaign money, as well as a lot of ability to create more subtle influences on politics (through movies, tv shows, high-profile endorsements, etc.), Hollywood is a valuable resource that cannot be ignored by either party. Since Republicans have a rather small overall presence in this community, it makes sense for them to put forward candidates with Hollywood backgrounds in order to get at least a little bit of the Hollywood pie. Otherwise, you could argue that Republicans would be almost entirely shut out of that pie.

It occurs to me that the Democrats may face a similar dilemma (historically) with the wealthier business interests (and the obviously massive pie they represent). As a result, do they tend to run more corporate businesspeople? I don't know if there's a good way of putting together reliable data on this, but an extremely quick and cursory perusal of prior careers of Members of Congress seems to argue in favor of my completely speculative theory. At the very least, there are far more Dems with big business backgrounds than you would expect if you looked solely at voting and contribution habits.

On Jurisprudence and the New Deal

A question I've had on mind lately that I would love a response to:

Why is it that most New Deal-era jurisprudence (1937 and later) was ever regarded as Constitutionally sound precedent. Moreover, why is it that this jurisprudence, particularly regarding the powers of the federal government, continues to be viewed as binding precedent?

The basis for my question is that this jurisprudence primarily resulted as a direct or indirect result of Roosevelt's various court-packing schemes. Wasn't this an interference with the independence of the federal judiciary that should be a cause for considerable skepticism of any post-1937 decision pertaining to the powers of the federal government?

I know that there is a certain general need for certainty in the law-hence the generalized respect for precedent. However, these decisions (and their progeny) in my mind create uncertainty by almost completely ignoring or rewriting the text of the Constitution. Is the problem just one of being unable to put the toothpaste back in the tube? Or do judges now view this decisions as having a perfectly legitimate basis despite FDR's illegitimate influence on them? Or is the problem really just one of lack of courage on the part of the judiciary branch, Con Law professors, and members of the SCOTUS Bar?