July 31, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


A Crass and Consequential Error : a review of Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup by Christopher de Bellaigue  (Roger Cohen, 8/16/12, NY Review of Books)

[E]ven his wavering US-backed nemesis, Muhammad Reza Shah, called him "our Demosthenes." An ascetic with an extravagant sense of mission, a lawyerly man who lived by Voltaire's "I may disagree with what you say, but I would defend to the death your right to say it," Mossadegh was, as Christopher de Bellaigue puts it in Patriot of Persia, "a cussed contrarian." Just what he amounted to in his brilliant prickliness, and how his quixotic defiance mirrored the Iranian psyche, remain important questions seven decades after the United States ousted this European-educated constitutionalist and declared its preference for Middle Eastern strongmen. Mossadeghism failed. Iran never found a stable reconciliation of patriotism, democracy, and faith. Its persecution complex, fostered by British contempt and cemented by an Anglo-American coup in 1953, endured. Just as ownership of oil once was the vehicle of Iranian nationalist ambition, so the vexed nuclear program is today under the mullahs who exploited the blowback from 1953.

Such persistent failure and confrontation raise a question: Could it have been otherwise with Iran? An elegiac tone runs through de Bellaigue's rich portrait of Mossadegh. He quotes the ousted prime minister, after the coup, saying, "If I am murdered, it will be more useful for the country and the people than if I stay alive"--and notes that even Mossadegh's "thoughts of death were quintessentially Persian." Martyrdom is a persistent theme in a Shia nation that teems for a month every year with flagellants mourning the Imam Hussein, the Prophet's grandson, slaughtered by the caliph in 680 but recalled with all the ardor of a recent passion. In fact Mossadegh survived for fourteen years in the Shah's nascent police state, first as a nonperson in prison and then confined to his country estate at Ahmadabad. He died at eighty-four, long after the many contemporaries who had fretted over his frailty.

De Bellaigue allows himself to speculate on what might have been:

Mossadegh's Iran would have tilted to the West in foreign affairs, bound by oil to the free world and by wary friendship to the US, but remaining polite to the big neighbor to the north. In home affairs, it would have been democratic to a degree unthinkable in any Middle Eastern country of the time except Israel--a constitutional monarchy in a world of dictatorships, dependencies and uniformed neo-democracies.

If the Wilsonian acquiesence to colonialism after WWI was generally a disaster, this was a specific Realist catastrophe.
Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Poll shows most Americans favor Medicaid expansion (David Morgan, Jul 31, 2012, Reuters) 

In a survey released on Tuesday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, 67 percent of respondents gave a favorable view of President Barack Obama's healthcare reform provision to "expand the existing Medicaid program to cover more low‐income, uninsured adults."

Support for the idea, which would expand coverage to as many as 16 million uninsured Americans, broke sharply along partisan lines. Nearly nine out of 10 survey participants who said they were Democrats and two-thirds of independents backed the expansion. Six out of 10 Republican participants said they opposed it.

Half the folks in polls who think Obamacare should be repealed believe it should be replaced by a more nationalized system.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Here Is The Best Longread I've Seen On Milton Friedman's Legacy (/Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 7/31/12, Forbes)

My friend and the best French econoblogger Alexandre Delaigue wrote this about Milton Friedman after his death. On his 100th birthday, I am translating and reposting it here, with permission. It's the best, most fair-minded evaluation I've seen of his legacy for a popular audience. [...]

So what is it that Friedman brought to the world? In the 1950s, the consensus of economists was to build a synthesis between Keynesianism and neoclassical economics. The idea was that fiscal action and the arbitrage between inflation and unemployment allowed a perfect regulation of the business cycle.

Friedman made two devastating critiques of this consensus. The first was his study of what actually caused the Great Depression in the 1930s. He showed that the real problem was not a lack of overall demand (which fiscal policy could straighten out), but the actions of the Federal reserve which, responding to a normal shock (a stock market crash) led an extremely restrictive monetary policy which led to the devastation of the banking system. This move was imitated in most countries, exacerbating the recession everywhere. Backing his insight with data, Friedman changed the entire perspective on the causes of depressions: they happened because central banks couldn't usefully adjust the money supply. The solution, according to Friedman, was to make sure that, whatever happens, the money supply increases progressively.

If the prescription is disregarded nowadays, the basic principle remains: fundamentally, what causes a recession is too little money chasing too many assets. Therefore, in a recession, the central bank must increase the money supply. It may seem abstract when you put it like that (Krugman's example of the baby-sitting coop can help, here) but it's one of the most important ideas of the 20th century.

Why did the Crash of 1987, which was steeper than that of 1929, not cause a global recession? It's because in the meantime, we had Milton Friedman. Unlike in the 1930s, the Fed massively injected money into the US economy.

Friedman's second critique of the 1950s Keynesian consensus was his forecast that using the Philips curve to regulate economic activity (if there's too much unemployment, there needs to be a little more inflation, and vice versa) would lead to an increase in inflation, since the inflation you needed to "buy" a drop in unemployment would increase continuously. The Stagflation of the 1970s eventually proved him right, and the success of the disinflation policies pursued after him was directly inspired by his work.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Cigna must refund $2.3 million to Vermont customers (Alan Panebaker, June 21, 2012, VT Digger)

Cigna, a major health insurer of large businesses in Vermont, is on the hook for more than $2 million that it must return to its customers in the state under a provision of the federal health care law.

According to numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4,636 Vermonters will receive a rebate -- averaging out to $807 per family.

The rebate is required under a section of the federal Affordable Care Act which requires insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent (or 85 percent in the large group market which is generally insurance through large employers) on medical care.

If insurance companies do not meet this requirement, they have to refund the portion of the premium that exceeded the 20 or 15 percent limit on things like administrative expenses.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Confucius Says.... (John Keane, 7/30/12, The Conversation)

Are there plausible substitutes for the old ruling ideology?

Such questions occupy the heart of a recent New York Times op-ed piece by Jiang Qing (founder of the Yangming Confucian Academy in Guiyang) and Daniel A. Bell (a prominent Canadian scholar of Chinese politics). They call for a new moral foundation for political rule and everyday life in China. To the surprise of most China watchers, they say, 'Western liberal democracy' has no future in China. Their swipe against Francis Fukuyama and the American foreign policy establishment is backed by a strong preference for Confucian notions of Humane Authority.

Qing and Bell explain that the current revival of Confucianism in China is fuelled by the moral bankruptcy of communism. They presume (or hope) that Confucian values are destined, with Party help, to replace communism as the ruling ideas. Their anticipation underestimates the magnetism of other values. Their silence about the conspicuous consumption of the middle classes and the hyper-rich 'princelings' is typical. Can risky market innovation, profit and self-interested greed of the 'small person' (xiăorén) denounced by Confucius be combined with his teachings on the saintly, scholarly, ascetic 'perfect man' (jūnzĭ)? Or (to take another example) how many Chinese women will be willing to embrace the old Confucian values of chastity, silence, hard work and compliance? Qing and Bell don't say.

Playing the role of court intellectuals, they yearn for a 'progressive' politics of Confucianism. Central to their vision is a strategy for building a new governing institution to replace the leading role of the Party. The sketch includes plans for a tri-cameral legislature. It would comprise a House of Exemplary Persons guided by mandates from heaven; a House of the Nation, whose representatives are imbued with 'wisdom from history and culture'; and an appointed or elected House of the People.

The blueprint seems quixotic. Never mind the clutch of difficulties that would confront legislators when trying, in the much-changed circumstances of the early twenty-first century, to sort out the philosophical and political tangles within key texts such as the Analects. What does it mean to say that authorities should be 'beneficent without great expenditure' or 'majestic without being fierce' (Book 20)? Or that those who govern by means of 'virtue' can be 'compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it' (Book 2)? Of what relevance are these words in resolving bitter conflicts such as last week's events in the Jiangsu city of Quidong, where at least 50,000 citizens defied riot police, stripped shirtless the local mayor, who quickly changed his tune by announcing the shut-down of a pulp mill pipeline which locals feared would pollute the nearby coastline?

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Obama: Funding Planned Parenthood is Important for My Daughters (Fr. Ben Johnson, 7/29/12, Orthodoxy.net)

President Barack Obama again invoked his daughters as reasons to support the abortion industry in a campaign stop in Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday.

"Mr. Romney wants to get rid of funding for Planned Parenthood," the president told nearly 1,000 donors at the Oregon Convention Center. "I think that is a bad idea. I've got two daughters. I want them to control their own health care choices. We're not going backwards; we're going forwards."

The reference echoes a comment he made in 2008 on the campaign trail. "I've got two daughters, 9 years old and 6 years old," he said. "If they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby."

Kind of an odd message unless he's still worried about his furthest Left base.
Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


The worst Olympics ever: Now we know why police never caught Benny Hill : Two years ago the Vancouver Winter Olympics was labelled the worst Games ever by the Guardian. It's time to turn the tables (Harrison Mooney, 7/31/12, guardian.co.uk)

First there was the humiliation of private firm G4S managing to rustle up only 6,000 of the 10,000 security guards it was paid nearly half a billion pounds to provide. (We'll just chalk that up to inflation.) Then we learned that authorities lost the keys to Wembley Stadium sometime last week, an admission of incompetence that serves to explain why they never able to catch Benny Hill.

But it's OK. The police have assured everyone that all the relevant locks have been changed (and the new keys have been put on a lanyard). Thus, there's no reason to worry about security - apart from, I would suggest, the fact that these bumbling bobbies are in charge of it.

It is a shame that the police could not lose the keys to the Olympic Stadium instead, especially since it might have afforded the common citizen an opportunity to get in and see Thomas Heatherwick's beautiful cauldron in person. As it turns out, the only good‑looking part of the Olympic Games is hidden away where only ticket-buyers and athletes can experience it live.

You will recall that London was critical of Vancouver's decision to place the Olympic cauldron behind a chain-link fence. Clearly, this criticism stemmed from the fact that the fence was not opaque enough. Now they are showing us how it is done, hiding it inside a stadium.

Regarding the whiny, poor, spoiled tourists who think that a trip to London entitles them to see the Olympic cauldron, London's mayor Boris Johnson does not see what the problem is. "It's going to be visible to everybody who watches it on TV. It's there. I don't think it's a big deal", he said. On that same note, why would anyone want to make love to a woman when you can just find a video of someone else doing it online?

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


5% of Americans Spend 50% of Health Care Dollars (MERRILL GOOZNER, 7/31/12, The Fiscal Times)

A new issue brief from the National Institute of Health Care Management adds grist to the mill of those who rebelled against the universal insurance mandate. The study showed that in 2009 half the population - fully 150 million people - spent an average of just $236 per person on health care. That was a paltry $36 billion for the entire group out of $1.3 trillion in personal health care expenditures.
On the other side of the use spectrum, however, just five percent of the population - about 30 million people - spent a whopping $623 billion or about half of all personal health care expenditures. That came to nearly $41,000 per patient.

And if one looks at just the top 1 percent of health care "spenders" - those who were often battling life-threatening or crippling illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, cancer or dementia - they averaged over $90,000 per patient per year. These three million people accounted for over 20 percent of the total health care tab.

We're mandating savings accounts, not health care.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Milton Friedman's century : How his ideas shaped our world (Chicago Tribune, July 31, 2012)

Friedman is best remembered among economists for making the case for the central importance of monetary policy in the performance of the economy. No one really disputes that view anymore, which is why in the current economic morass, everyone looks to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for rescue.

One of the favorite debates among experts is what would Friedman would do now. Some say he would reject Bernanke's use of quantitative easing, which they see as sowing the seeds of future inflation. Others say the Fed has repeated the error Friedman blamed for Japan's lost decade by failing to generate sufficient growth of the money supply. But on the value of his theories, there is no dispute.

His influence can be seen in other places too. Friedman was one of the earliest proponents of expanding educational choices, an idea that has led to vouchers and charter schools. He advocated opening up the airline business to competition, which made air travel affordable to the masses.

Floating exchange rates, one of his ideas, are now the norm. He played a key role in abolishing the military draft, which has never come back. The earned income tax credit, which supplements the earnings of lower-income workers, grew out of a Friedman proposal.

If all that weren't enough, free markets and reduced government involvement in the economy have gained adherents around the world, from Chile to China -- unleashing economic progress that has raised living standards and lifted billions of people out of poverty.

School choice is only a portion of the panoply of Third Way ideas Mr. Friedman pioneered, most successfully in Chile, with its mandated personal retirement accounts, personal unemployment accounts, etc. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Romney and Obama Strain to Show Gap on Foreign Policy (PETER BAKER, July 28, 2012, NY Times)

Despite the campaign positioning, on the most fundamental international issues, the president and his challenger generally share the same goals, even if they would get there in different ways.

They both would press the battle against Al Qaeda through drones and special operations while drawing down troops in Afghanistan. They both would try to stop Iran's nuclear program through sanctions and negotiations without ruling out a military option. They both would support rebels in Syria while keeping American forces out of the conflict. Even in areas where Mr. Romney has been most critical, like Israel, Russia and China, it is not entirely clear what he would do differently.

It may be, then, that the real test on foreign policy this year is how voters assess the candidates in terms of their leadership, experience, strength and agility. In other words, the argument may come down to who would be more effective pursuing the same aims, who would do better at asserting American will, rallying allies and confronting adversaries, who would find the right blend of diplomacy and assertiveness.