Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics, and sports by Paul Tuns. I am editor-in-chief of "The Interim," Canada's life and family newspaper, and author of "Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal" (2004) and "The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau" (2015). I am some combination of conservative/libertarian, standing athwart history yelling "bullshit!" You can follow me on Twitter (@ptuns).

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Sunday, July 23, 2017
 
Douthat on medical care and tough cases
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on the issues raised by the Charlie Gard case: who gets to make decisions on extraordinary health care and "when illness and death should be allowed to take their course." This might be the best column I've read about this issue -- not just the Gard case, but who and how nearly futile cases are decided.
There is an important philosophical point:
The rights of parents are essential to a free society’s architecture, and fathers and mothers are far more likely than any other party to have their child’s best interests close to heart. To intervene on behalf of experts against the family is sometimes necessary but always dangerous, fraught with totalitarian temptations to which the modern West is not immune.
We need to remember that even when it is necessary to put the decision in the hands of expert it is still dangerous to proscribe the rights of individuals (and families, churches, companies, or local communities). I don't mean we should go through some faux hand-wringing exercise when liberties are violated. It means the authorities and advocates should genuinely consider and acknowledge the harms done by their decisions.
The totalitarian temptation goes further:
The second institutional temptation is not toward active wickedness but toward sclerosis, groupthink and stagnation. Establish an iron triangle of doctors, insurers and government boards, tell them they must establish predictable standards for what treatments will be covered, and they will inevitably resist many of the experiments through which medical progress advances. In which case it will become more necessary than ever to allow families and individuals the freedom to refuse the consensus, and to pay for more radical options if they can.
None of this is to say that families -- or insurers or government -- must always choose extraordinary or experimental care. Costly overtreatment is also a problem in the west. There are certainly cases where families have chosen treatment that seems hopeless in which patients have been put through cruelty to sustain meager hopes of elongating a loved one's life.
Putting aside the moral and philosophical issues, Douthat says there is a pragmatic issue that arises from discouraging medical care moonshots:
And in this dark territory it is not expert confidence but a mix of hope and desperation that leads to breakthroughs and to cures.
An extra treatment for poor Charlie Gard will probably not lead anywhere. But if a cure is someday found for his condition, it may well happen because somebody, or a succession of somebodies, tried things that the experts said would never work.
It is for that future’s sake, as well as for the sake of their rights as Charlie’s parents, that the Gards should be allowed to try one last time to heal their baby son.
This is an excellent column. You should read and ponder it.


 
Musk's hyperloop announcement
A couple of days ago, Elon Musk went to Twitter to announce: "Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins." Sure. Government giving verbal approval isn't a thing. Tyler Cowen has a number of reactions, including this one:
There are some people who on Twitter will just “fuck with us.” Precisely because they have done a lot in the so-called “real world,” they just don’t take Twitter that seriously.
In other words, Musk is trolling the public, especially the science nerds.


 
Rent-seeking kennel-owning bastards
The New York Daily News reports that the Big Apple has banned pet sitting apps using existing bylaws that prevent anyone other than licensed kennels from caring for pets:
Health Department rules ban anyone from taking money to care for an animal outside a licensed kennel — and the department has warned a popular pet-sitting app that its users are breaking the law.
“The laws are antiquated,” said Chad Bacon, 29, a dog sitter in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with the app Rover. “If you’re qualified and able to provide a service, I don’t think you should be penalized.” ...
The health code bans boarding, feeding and grooming animals for a fee without a kennel license — and says those licenses can’t be issued for private homes.
Bacon is a former zookeeper and animal researcher. He would probably know what he's doing. The ban on non-licensed kennels is ostensibly justified to protect animals, but it ultimately protects kennels from competition. Individuals caring for pets without a license in New York City face a minimum $1000 fine.


Saturday, July 22, 2017
 
Politics and friendship
The Washington Post: "Nearly half of liberals don’t even like to be around Trump supporters." The Pew Research Center's report found that liberal Democrats are more likely to have problems with friends who voted for Donald Trump:
Most of the public says learning that a friend voted for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would not have any effect on their friendships. About one-in-five (19%) say that knowing a friend had voted for Trump would put a strain on their friendship; 7% say knowing a friend had voted for Clinton would strain their friendship.
About a third (35%) of Democrats and Democratic leaners say that, if a friend had voted for Trump, it would “put a strain on [the] friendship;” a smaller share of Republicans and Republican leaners (13%) say the same about learning a friend had voted for Clinton ...
There is a division on ideological lines among Democrats on whether a vote for Trump would strain a friendship. Liberal Democrats are about evenly divided between saying say their friendship would be strained (47%) if a friend said they voted for Trump and saying it would not have any effect (51%).
This survey didn't ask about whether or not Democrats and Republicans could be friends with supporters of the opposite party, but rather whether voting for a specific Republican or Democrat affected their friendships. With this in mind, I think there are several possible, non-exclusive explanations for Pew's findings.
1. Liberals and Democrats are less tolerant of other points of view than conservatives and Republicans more generally (sense of superiority, strong conviction they are right and others are wrong, repugnance of other views).
2. Conservatives and Republicans are more tolerant of other points of view because they feel they are persecuted for their own political views. Extending this courtesy is necessary for them to survive in today's predominantly progressive Left culture.
3. Liberals and Democrats find support for a particularly repugnant President (because of both his views and actions) a more disqualifying personality trait than conservatives and Republicans find support for Hillary Clinton.
4. The views on political friendships might have been reversed if Hillary Clinton won last November. Liberals and Democrats might be more embittered because their candidate lost to such an unworthy candidate, but conservatives and Republicans would probably have been similarly bitter if Trump had lost.
5. Conservatives and Republicans are lying and are just as intolerant.
6. Liberals and Democrats are lying as a form of virtue signaling, and politics haven't affected their personal relationships.
Also, Pew found:
A majority of the public finds talking with people who have a different opinion from their own about Donald Trump to be a stressful and frustrating experience: About six-in-ten (59%) say it is stressful and frustrating, while about a third (35%) say it is interesting and informative.
I think 35% are lying.
I'm anti-Trump and anti-anti-Trump. Nineteen out of 20 conversations I have about the US President frustrating and stressful, but informative about the the person with whom I'm having a discussion.


Friday, July 21, 2017
 
'9 ways Britain could stay in the European Union'
Politico Europe: "9 ways Britain could stay in the European Union." They include the highly unlikely (another UK election followed by a new referendum, or EU reform that convinces the UK to stay) and the merely improbable (Tory dissent scuttling negotiations). Even if staying had the "legitimacy" of a new referendum with a 55% victory (or whatever), imagine what that does to those voters who supported Brexit and had their wishes ignored. I agree that Brexit means Brexit (Theresa May) and that "either you are in the European Union or you out" (Jacob Rees-Mogg on whether the UK can leave the EU but stay in the common market or customs union). But there are (unsatisfactory) degrees of soft Brexit that would appear to take the concerns of Brexit voters seriously, and I'd guess that's where May and David Davis lead the country. Staying in as is would be a political disaster, and one that would embolden Brussels (and Berlin and Paris) in the bullying of member states.


 
Holding the line on euthanasia and assisted suicide
At SpikedOnline Kevin Yuill says that the United Kingdom's High Court should not strike down the 1961 Suicide Act because 1) Parliament overwhelmingly upheld the statute just two years ago, 2) the law works well, 3) the law reflects the value British society puts on human life, and 4) once any jurisdiction permits the medical killing of some people, it is almost impossible to put meaningful limits on that particular license. This last point is important and Yuill notes that Canada's law was no sooner passed than it was challenged as being insufficiently tolerant of killing more people; the government immediately announced it would review expanding the criteria for assisted-suicide and euthanasia and a number of individuals with various maladies that fell outside the requirements for "MAiD) launched legal challenges. This happens everywhere. Another name for a restriction on euthanasia is discrimination. What legislators or the (ill-informed) public consider a safeguard is, in fact, discrimination against some group of people from accessing what has been determined a legal right for others. Never mind that discrimination is another name for discerning, and that not everyone can enjoy all rights (we don't allow minor children to vote or the blind to drive). With euthanasia, once the principle that all human life should be protected is violated, the next "hard case" that falls outside the limits of the law will challenge our "compassion" and the restrictions will be relaxed. In the Netherlands, the list of those whose lives can be terminated has steadily been expanded since the practice became legal in 2002, and now authorities there are considering expanding euthanasia to those who have lived "full" or "complete" lives. That is, perfectly healthy individuals who are ready to "step out of life" because ... well, for whatever reason: they fear old age, don't want to be burden, think life will never again be as good as it is right now. This seems like a psychiatric condition requiring help, not a doctor rushing to exterminate a human life. But Yuill's point that it is hard to hold the line of euthanasia once it becomes permissible seems impossible to refute. Better to not concede the principle that human life is precious and deserves legal protection than allow the suggestion that some people are better off dead.


 
A news addict
Lionel Shriver writes about her addiction reading and watching the news -- needing not only to avoid missing out on an important story but knowing first -- for the newly launched Unherd (Tim Montgomerie's promising new site). Shriver describes the depths of her addiction:
My name is Lionel Shriver, and I am a news-aholic.
I begin my day in London loading The Daily Telegraph on a tablet. Eschewing the features, I knock back most of the hard news (which chimes chillingly with hard booze) and always treat myself to the letters (the best part). But that’s just the start. I move on to the New York Times app. Since America’s “paper of record” could occupy my entire day, chugging maybe fifteen articles, putting away a few shots of the Opinion pages, and gulping a goodly proportion of “Most Popular” passes for restraint. Frightening myself, before finally getting to work, I sneak a furtive sip of the Guardian webpage.
I’d like to claim that the above takes “only” a couple of hours. But we’re often talking three.
In the effectual oyster of my afternoon, I will often take nips of the New York Times webpage, just to make sure nothing big has happened.
I begin the evening by switching on the TV – incriminatingly, already tuned to Sky News, of which I take a bracing slug. After hitting Channel 4 News (55 minutes), I’ll down Newsnight (45 minutes) with my co-dependent husband (both shows on series record). Before bed, we’ll indulge in an informational nightcap: the CBS News from the US (30 minutes). Should Sky once more not have broadcast the programme in defiance of its schedule, rage ensues: the telltale tantrum of the addict denied her substance.
To come completely clean, I also keep on hand a six-pack of news-related documentaries. I subscribe to The Spectator, Standpoint, and The New Yorker; finally letting subscriptions to The Week and The Economist lapse last year constituted my quail-sized version of cold turkey. But even excluding these top-up sources of binge consumption, two hours of newspapers + 2.5 hours of broadcast news = 4.5 hours minimum of drinking in news, news, news every bloody weekday, and often a great deal more.
I get this. I don't watch much television news -- I PVR the evening Canadian political panel shows and fast forward to watch what I need and want. I stopped watching all American panel shows (daily and Sunday) long ago. As a teen I taped "Crossfire" and "This Week" and re-watched them, sometimes months later. But papers -- oh papers -- I read, it seems, ever more. I subscribe to the dead tree editions of all four Toronto papers. I often buy the Financial Times, especially on weekends. I subscribe to the twice weekly Hill Times that covers Canadian Parliament. I have online subscriptions to the New York Times, Washington Post, Daily Telegraph and the (London) Times. I check in on them multiple times a day. Same with the Guardian, Bloomberg, Reuters, Washington Times, and Washington Examiner. Politico, Politico Europe, Conservative Home, the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, and Montreal Gazette are acquaintances I like to drop by to see regularly. If something is happening locally or if I have time I check the Vancouver Sun and Edmonton Journal and the op-ed sections of the Waterloo Region Record and Winnipeg Free Press. I refresh the CBC politics page a couple times daily. If a story is breaking in Manitoba or Atlantic Canada, I'll check the regional CBC coverage. I try to start each morning dropping by National Review Online, the Weekly Standard, The Spectator (British version), Bloomberg View, and the New Statesman. If time permits, The Week and Prospect, too. UnHerd will join that routine. I drop by NRO and Bloomberg View again at noon and might see what's at Politics Home and Brexit Central. I make time for First Things and The Public Discourse. SpikedOnline and Commentary is visited regularly but not daily. I seldom check the New Yorker anymore except for their book reviews unless a blogger links to something that sounds interesting. I usually save LifeSiteNews until the evening. I check Instapundit, Hot Air, and various news aggregators (and Twitter) lest I miss anything. This doesn't take into account the opinion sites, better blogs, and book reviews. Nor does it account for sports news. August to October is particularly difficult with both baseball and football competing for my attention.
After reading a story on a topic, I quickly skim similar articles in other publications and websites. Quite often it is possible to skip the first half of a story to find slightly different takes and sources. I no longer need to know the editorial opinion of the Times and Post, and I'm becoming more selective about columnists. I no longer feel the need to see what's happening at The New Republic, Salon or Slate, and generally only peak at them when others are commenting on an article there. I've gotten out of the habit of reading Maclean's online and only briefly scan the monthly edition that arrives at my home. I let my Economist subscription lapse a few years ago. I would still often buy it at the newsstands but less so since they increased the cost to $9.99. I no longer auto-buy Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The National Interest, and The American Interest, instead making my purchase based on what the articles are each issue. My regular newsstand buys are limited to Commentary and The Spectator. This is perhaps progress in addressing my news addiction.
I'd like to think that my own voracious consumption of news would be lessened if my professional obligations did not require it, but my intellectual curiosity would probably lead me to read more of some stuff (American political scandal) and less of other topics (some social and educational issues at the provincial and state level in Canada and abroad). The problem one might see it is that I don't see a problem. It's not the cost of the addiction, it's the time. My compromise with the world is that the news can wait between supper preparation and when we get the children to bed. But then I'm promptly back on my laptop.
For the most part, Shriver is not apologetic for her addiction and doesn't see it as a terribly bad thing, but does see a self-congratulatory, even vain, aspect to it:
I grew up in a liberal American household much invested in being “interested in the rest of the world,” if this lofty internationalism was sometimes priced at my parents’ diminished interest in the world closer to hand: their own kids. In my family, we’ve long used politics as filler and distraction. Affairs of state provide a range of happily inexhaustible default topics. Trading predictable, broadly unanimous opinions mercifully substitutes for raw interaction with one another. We thereby steer clear of real emotions, not all of which would be pretty. These days when I visit my elderly parents and discussion runs dry, we can always resort to Trump. Our convergence on the same dismay reinforces our joint sense of virtuous perspicacity, fortifying a clubby, self-congratulatory us-versus-them dynamic painfully standard in the United States. Mutual huffiness helps us to believe in the moment that we have more in common than we do.


Thursday, July 20, 2017
 
What I'm reading
1. Looking For Bootstraps:: Economic Development in the Maritimes by Donald Savoie. And "Revisiting the Minimum Wage in Atlantic Canada," an Atlantic Institute for Market Studies policy paper by Matthew Lau and Marco Navarro-Génie.
2. One Nation Under Baseball: How the 1960s Collided with the National Pastime by John Florio
3. "Reallocation and Secularization: The Economic Consequences of the Protestant Reformation," a paper by Davide Cantoni, Jeremiah Dittmar, and Noam Yuchtman
4. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's "2016 Annual Human Rights Report"


 
Rent-seeking car dealership bastards
Reason's Alexis Garcia on state-level restrictions on buying a Tesla -- or any other car directly from manufacturers:
Unlike the big car companies, Tesla doesn't have a network of independent dealerships that sell its cars. The company runs its own showrooms, but in Texas—along with Connecticut, Michigan, Louisiana, Utah, and West Virginia—the government makes it illegal to walk into a Tesla store and buy a car.
Tesla employees at these showrooms aren't even allowed to give pricing information or to direct customers to the company's website. Test drives require a special permit from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
Almost every state has some sort of restriction on directly purchasing cars from manufacturers. The purpose of these franchise laws, which date to the 1930s, is to prevent car buyers from cutting out the middlemen—a big political constituency. The Lone Star State has nearly 1,300 franchised car dealerships employing about 100,000 people.
The National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) has repeatedly argued that the current system of franchised dealers is necessary to protect consumers and ensure fair competition. In a speech before the Automotive Press Association last October, NADA chairman Jeff Carlson stated that consumers preferred the dealership sales model and that dealership networks were "the best, most efficient, and most pro-consumer way of selling new cars and trucks."
But if car buyers really preferred going through third-party dealers, why do they need government protection?
That's text taken from Garcia's short video on the topic.
Don't cry too much for Elon Musk; his car company benefits from government subsidies, payouts to predominantly wealthier individuals who can afford his brand of luxury electrically charged vehicles.


 
Jacob Rees-Mogg on Ali G
In 1999, before becoming an MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg was on Ali G talking about classes and how to be upper class. He describes himself as a commoner, and then proved he wasn't.
There is a precedent for appearing alongside Sacha Baron Cohen and then becoming leader of one's country:


Wednesday, July 19, 2017
 
GOP post-Obamacare repeal & replace debacle implosion
It always seems the Republican Party is in the middle of or on the verge of an existential crisis. This time, the reason du jour is the inability of the Republican Congress to fulfill the party leadership's campaign promise and seven-year political crusade of repealing Obamacare and replacing it with ... something.
The problem for the Republicans is that they are actually a big tent, a broad coalition of voters that don't naturally coalesce other than they are actively rejected by the bottom-left quadrant of hardcore progressive Democrat leadership and left-of-center professional opinionists. The Republican base of voters and its constituency parts (think tanks, magazines, opinion leaders) consist of libertarians, nationalists, free market enthusiasts, moderate conservatives, ideological conservatives, anti-elitists, the Religious Right, and more. It's hard getting things done when one's voters are all over the map. So is the Republican caucus. So are conservative intellectuals. Polling and survey data (from the Voters Study Group, for example) suggest that there are about an equal number of Democrat and Republican voters, but that there is more intellectual or values diversity among GOP voters. Whatever the Republicans do will upset some largish subset of their own constituency (largish being defined as an essential 5% of their base).
The Republican Party's coalition includes working class (white) voters that want a government safety net for their health care. It's hard to satisfy this group and, say, the libertarians, a point made in a somewhat harsh (and giddy) article by the Washington Post's Dan Balz. This is an electoral necessity for the GOP -- Republicans lose elections when large numbers of these voters either stay at home or migrate to the Democrats for an election or two. But it makes governing damn difficult. It doesn't help that Congressional Republicans generally want free market solutions and less government, while Donald Trump campaigned making sounds about universal coverage (while being silent in the the details about how). Repeal is one thing. Replace is another. Replace with what? Republicans are all over the map.
Again, this is arguably a reflection that the Republicans are better at attracting a wider array of voters. But viewpoint diversity within a party, while theoretically admirable, presents problems when it tries to govern. The Tories in Britain are finding out the same thing on Brexit, which is why Theresa May wanted a larger majority so losing a portion of her own caucus would be of no serious consequence. If the Republicans had five more senators, health care reform would be less problematic.
William Galston of the Brookings Institute is usually very perceptive. In this week's Wall Street Journal column, he is correct to say that Republicans are good at winning majorities but not good at governing. Sadly, he moralizes rather than analyzes. He castigates the GOP leadership for failing to "coalesce around a replacement" and wasting the last seven years. "Campaigning is one thing, governing another." Obviously. But rather than finger-wagging, he should look at why, especially for Republicans, governing is hard. There is something easy and even enjoyable about opposing and it can become habit-forming. But there is more to governing difficulties than that. Galston briefly acknowledges the "coalition disagrees on fundamentals." Galston says the GOP leadership should have worked on bipartisan solutions, but how likely was a Republican leadership unable to bridge the gap amongst Republican lawmakers to bring in Democrats to their solution?
New York Times house conservative Ross Douthat is exasperated with the Republicans and writes, "a party that offers nothing, whose ideological sclerosis and internal contradictions allow it to offer nothing, might as well just go pass a tax cut and call it a day." Fair enough, but not quite right. The GOP coalition -- again both voter and opinion-leaders -- doesn't agree on tax reform, either. But tax cuts might be the easiest and only thing the Republicans can agree on, so some modest reductions in rates and, if someone shows real leadership, some modest reform might be possible. But I wouldn't hold my breath.
The Republicans own policy right now and don't have many excuses. They are likely in tough electoral shape in the next few election cycles. But the implosion of the party some pundits are predicting (and some writers at the New York Times and Washington Post are cheering) is simply reflecting the cyclical ups and downs of political parties because it is always easier opposing and campaigning than governing. Always.


 
Robots in the classroom
Tyler Cowen had an interesting Bloomberg View column a couple days ago: "Let robots teach American schoolkids." It is worth reading in its entirety, but there are three points which stand out.
This:
A big debate today is how we can teach ourselves to work with artificial intelligence, so as to prevent eventual widespread technological unemployment. Exposing children to robots early, and having them grow accustomed to human-machine interaction, is one path toward this important goal.
And:
You might think we should not proceed with robot education until it is thoroughly tested and shown to cause no harm to any child. Yet we did not apply comparable standards to, say, the use of textbooks.
And:
Human teachers sometimes feel the need to bully or put down their students. That’s a way of maintaining classroom control, but it also harms children and discourages learning. A robot in contrast need not resort to tactics of psychological intimidation.
The first two points are wise and true. Insisting on standards of absolute safety and beneficence is a standard reaction to new technologies (self-driving cars) that we do not apply to the status quo and we would do well to temper such demands. People should become more familiar with AI, and it might be more prudent to have schools do the introductions than the private sector (through toys, more example) if one is worried about oversight and sufficient study of the new technology. But the last point is debatable. I agree that teachers often resort to bullying and intimidation to exert their authority, but I see no reason why robots would be any different than humans.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017
 
You can't have gay rights and religious rights
The Daily Mirror reports:
GAY and lesbian couples should "bloody well" be able to get married in church, the Commons Speaker declared tonight.
John Bercow - whose role requires him to be politically neutral - voiced his passion for LGBT rights at a reception to mark 50 years since homosexuality was legalised.
Bercow needs to learn to shut the fuck up, but he is forcing Brits to confront a fact: gay rights and religious rights are at odds. If gays have a right to marry, why can't they marry in the church of their choosing even if that church opposes their nuptials? There are good reasons: private property rights (I can do or not do whatever I want on my property) and respecting religious freedom (churches get to set their own rules). But it was fanciful to believe that these rights were not on a collision course and that the courts would ultimately decide whose rights will win. I wouldn't bet on the churches and ministers. The libertarian principles of live and let live sounds fine in theory, but it doesn't work if someone wants to live with an Anglican or Catholic wedding and their local pastor won't sanction it. It will be interesting to see how a case involving a gay Muslim wanting a mosque wedding will be adjudicated.
I assume its only a matter of time until these conflicts arise in Canada and the United States, but in 2005 I assumed that it would take less than a decade. It's been 12 years. I doubt it will be another 12 years until courts are invited to decide the issue.


 
Turkish democracy
On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wrote in The Guardian: "The thwarting of the coup marked a turning point in the history of democracy."
Today, Turkish authorities arrest six human rights activists including Amnesty International’s Turkey director Idil Eser. The pretense is that the activists were "committing crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member."


 
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a kumquat
In the Toronto Sun, Gerry Nicholls describes what he calls the "Kumquat Principle of Political Publicity":
This totally scientific principle (which I made up about five minutes ago) states: “If you want a brief mention in an obscure business journal, write a 500 page report on reforming infrastructure spending; if you want to make international headlines, take a selfie next to the world’s largest kumquat.”
In other words, what lures media attention isn’t boring policy, it’s interesting visuals.
And this in a nutshell explains why Trudeau is such a media darling.
It’s not because of some pro-Liberal bias in the media; it’s not because the media loves Trudeau’s ideas or ideology; it’s because when reporters and editors look at Trudeau they basically see the equivalent of a giant kumquat.
I think many in the media are unhappy with Justin Trudeau failing to live up to some of his political promises, but the PM is a glamorous kumquat, so all is forgiven.


 
Reynolds on longer, healthier lives
Glenn Harlan Reynolds writes in USA Today about how "although lifespan has increased, Americans’ 'healthspan' — the length of time you stay healthy — hasn’t kept pace." He says polls indicate people are not excited about the prospects of live longer and he wonders if "maybe they’re afraid that living longer just means an extended period of illness and decline." If healthspan begins to catch-up to lifespan, it could have a massive influence on public policy:
We’re probably a ways from curing aging but even modest progress in extending people’s healthy years could be enormously valuable to the United States — and many other nations — as we face a coming tsunami of pension obligations. The first social security program, invented by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, set retirement at 70 (later lowered to 65) on the cynical assessment that far more people would expect to live that long than would actually collect benefits. Nowadays when someone dies at 70, we say “so young!” But people still retire then.
If we could extend healthspan by 20 years — so that 85 is the new 65 and 90 is the new 70 — people could retire that much later, and those pension obligations would pose a much less pressing problem. This "longevity dividend" would go a long way toward addressing fiscal problems.
I don't share Reynolds' optimism. I don't think people will want to work longer even if their productive years are increased. However, Reynolds' view challenges the idea that longer lifespans will necessarily exacerbate fiscal problems by increasing the state's pension obligations. Policy-makers should also consider the possible implications for the (declining) number of private pensions. With longer productive careers/working years, perhaps it would be possible to develop private pensions schemes without employer contributions.


 
US default?
The Washington Post reports on the most serious challenge facing the Trump administration:
[Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin is hurtling toward his first fiasco, unable to get Congress, let alone his colleagues in the Trump administration, on board with a strategy to raise the federal limit on governmental borrowing ...
Unlike other issues facing the Trump administration — such as passing a health-care bill and overhauling the tax code — raising the debt limit comes with a hard deadline of late September, according to Mnuchin. Failure to do so could lead the U.S. government to miss paying its obligations, causing what analysts would consider a historic, market-rattling default on U.S. government debt.
Republicans are not going to let the U.S. government default when they control both halves of Congress and the White House.


Monday, July 17, 2017
 
What I'm reading
1. Energy and Civilization: A History by Vaclav Smil
2. Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why that is a Problem, and What to Do About It by Richard V. Reeves. Today, the Washington Post's Robert Samuelson refuted the argument that the upper middle class protects its privilege through public policy and private behaviour, using statistics to illustrate there is more income mobility and less entrenched educational advantage than Reeves says there is.
3. Regulation and Economic Growth: Applying Economic Theory to Public Policy by James Broughel
Dream Hoarders and Regulation and Economic Growth are very brief. Energy and Civilization is not.


 
Voluntarily paying higher taxes
The Cato Institute's Daniel J. Mitchell has some fun pointing to left-wingers who advocate higher taxes but do not voluntarily contribute to pay more. Norway and Massachusetts both have tax schemes that allow individual tax filers to contribute more than their allotted amount. Very few people tax advantage of the opportunity to be taken advantage of by the state. Norway's Labour politician Jonas Gahr Store and Massachusetts senators Elizabeth Warren and John Kerry call for the rich to pay more but given the chance to give, don't. In fact, Kerry, like other wealthy individuals, uses legal and legitimate tax shelters to avoid paying higher taxes. One might make the argument that the benefits to society of the higher taxes they are advocating are not felt when a handful of wealthy people contribute scraps but rather when a critical mass of new revenue can be used for public services. But that's not the argument that Store and Warren make; they make moralistic claims about the wealthy and fair share. If higher taxes are a moral necessity as they seem to claim, they should voluntarily hand over a larger share of their income. But they don't, and that's telling.