10 December 2016


This should not be remarkable, but this self described, "Hillbilly from the Holler," gets it:

09 December 2016

Another Right Wing Myth Demolished

One of the arguments for providing services and goods to people instead of money is that the direct provision of money leads to spending on bad things, think tobacco and alcohol.

It turns out that the opposite is true:
It is increasingly common for governments to give poor people money. Rather than grant services or particular goods to those in poverty, such as food or housing, governments have found that it is more effective and efficient to simply hand out cash. In some cases, these cash transfers are conditional on doing something the government deems good, like sending your children to school or getting vaccinated. In other cases, they’re entirely unconditional.

For decades, policymakers have been concerned that poor people will waste free money by using it on cigarettes and alcohol. A report on the perception of stakeholders in Kenya about such programs found a “widespread belief that cash transfers would either be abused or misdirected in alcohol consumption and other non-essential forms of consumption.”

The opposite is true.

A recently published research paper (paywall) by David Evans of the World Bank and Anna Popova of Stanford University shows that giving money to the poor has a negative effect on the consumption of tobacco and alcohol. Evans and Popova’s research is based on an examination of nineteen studies that assess the impact of cash transfers on expenditures of tobacco and alcohol. Not one of the 19 studies found that cash grants increase tobacco and alcohol consumption and many of them found that it leads to a reduction.


Why on earth would this be? Evans and Popova highlight several possibilities.

One, the cash transfers may change a poor household’s economic calculus. Before receiving the cash, any spending on education or health might have seemed futile, but afterwards, parents might decide that a serious investment in their children’s school was sensible. To make this happen, it might mean cutting back on booze and smoking.


Regardless of why, the idea that poor people will use any cash they get for cigarettes and alcohol has been laid to waste.
On a related note it turns out that cash transfers can be an order of magnitude more efficient than the direct provision of services:
Every year, wealthy countries spend billions of dollars to help the world’s poor, paying for cows, goats, seeds, beans, textbooks, business training, microloans, and much more. Such aid is designed to give poor people things they can’t afford or the tools and skills to earn more. Much of this aid undoubtedly works. But even when assistance programs accomplish things, they often do so in a tremendously expensive and inefficient way. Part of this is due to overhead, but overhead costs get far more attention than they deserve. More worrisome is the actual price of procuring and giving away goats, textbooks, sacks of beans, and the like.

Most development agencies either fail to track their costs precisely or keep their accounting books confidential, but a number of candid organizations have opened themselves up to scrutiny. Their experiences suggest that delivering stuff to the poor is a lot more expensive than one might expect.

Take cows. Many Western organizations give poor families livestock, along with training in how to raise and profit from the animals. Cows themselves usually cost no more than a few hundred dollars each, but delivering them -- targeting recipients, administering the donations, transporting the animals -- gets expensive. In West Bengal, India, for example, the nonprofit Bandhan spends $331 to get $166 worth of local livestock and other assets to the poor, according to a report by the rating agency Micro-Credit Ratings International. Yet even this program sounds like a bargain compared to others. In Rwanda, a study led by the economist Rosemary Rawlins found that the cost of donating a pregnant cow, with attendant training classes and support services, through the charity Heifer International can reach $3,000.


“Just give the poor cash” is an old refrain. What is new, however, is a burgeoning body of experimental evidence, produced by groups ranging from the nonprofit Innovations for Poverty Action to the World Bank, on how the effect of cash grants compares to that of in-kind donations. Recent studies have come to surprising conclusions, finding that typically lauded approaches to reducing poverty, such as educational and loan programs, are not so effective after all.

One of the best examples is microloans, small, short-term loans to poor entrepreneurs. By opening up credit to people who were too poor to borrow from banks, the logic went, microfinance would give the poor the jump-start they needed to escape their plight. Beginning in the 1990s, the microcredit movement took the development world by storm, leading to a Nobel Peace Prize for the Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank in 2006.
As you might guess, microloans don't show the results that grants do.

Neither do training programs, etc.

This is yet another reason why the Clinton's gleeful destruction of the US Welfare program is so deeply contemptible:  Not only did it make the poor worse off, it cost the rest of us more money to make the poor worse off.

I know a lot of people who hate this idea, and the studies that support it:  A lot of them have a job delivering cows to poor people.

In the US, They Get Lectured to, in the UK, They Get Fined

Pfiser and its distributor, Flynn Pharma, raised the price of an epilepsy drug by 2600%.

The UK authorities £84.2 million and £5.2 million respectively:
In September 2012, the amount the National Health Service (NHS) was charged for 100mg packs of anti-epilepsy drug phenytoin sodium went from £2.83 to £67.50 ($3.56 to $84.98), according to the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). As a result of the price increase, NHS expenditure on the drug increased from about £2 million ($2.52M) a year in 2012 to around £50 million ($62.95M) in 2013.

The CMA has ordered the two companies involved, the US pharma giant Pfizer and UK-based distributor Flynn Pharma, to pay record fines of £84.2 million ($106.01M) and £5.2 million ($6.55M) respectively, and to reduce their prices for phenytoin sodium. Both have said that they will be taking legal action to overturn the decision.

Before September 2012, Pfizer sold the drug in capsule form to UK wholesalers and pharmacies under the brand name Epanutin, and the prices of the drug were regulated. That month, Pfizer sold the UK distribution rights for Epanutin to Flynn Pharma, which "de-branded" the drug. A spokesperson for the CMA explained in an e-mail to Ars what this meant in practice:
Prior to de-branding, Pfizer's prices were governed by the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS) which prevented any large prices increases. The PPRS applies only to branded products. After Flynn purchased the UK distribution rights from Pfizer, it de-branded the products. As de-branded (or genericised) products, the PPRS price controls did not apply, which allowed Flynn to charge whatever prices it wanted. De-branding did not have the consequence of increasing prices; rather it removed the PPRS restriction on Flynn increasing the prices.

Normally, we would expect competition to lead to the price of a generic product to fall. However, the characteristics of this drug—i.e. the constraints on switching patients to other drugs—mean that did not occur.
In response to the complaints of the pharm pig-felchers, CMA replied:
In response to this, the CMA spokesperson told Ars: "the fact that other companies may have been charging high prices does not entitle Pfizer and Flynn to charge excessive and unfair prices."
This is an attitude that is unthinkable in the United States.

If Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, and Keith Ellison, and their fellow travelers can make people think in terms of unfair and excessive prices, the battle is already half won.

The neoliberal "Washington consensus", which seems to be composed of equal parts Ayn Rand and hypocrisy, needs to be overthrown.

08 December 2016

This Might Explain Anti-Establishment Votes for an Inverted Traffic Cone

Maybe all those people who voted weren't just deplorable racists.

Perhaps their lives are getting measurably worse.

Something is fundamentally broken in our society, as indicated by the fact that U.S. life expectancy declined last year:
For the first time in more than two decades, life expectancy for Americans declined last year — a troubling development linked to a panoply of worsening health problems in the United States.

Rising fatalities from heart disease and stroke, diabetes, drug overdoses, accidents and other conditions caused the lower life expectancy revealed in a report released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics. In all, death rates rose for eight of the top 10 leading causes of death.

“I think we should be very concerned,” said Princeton economist Anne Case, who called for thorough research on the increase in deaths from heart disease, the No. 1 killer in the United States. “This is singular. This doesn’t happen.”

A year ago, research by Case and Angus Deaton, also an economist at Princeton, brought worldwide attention to the unexpected jump in mortality rates among white middle-aged Americans. That trend was blamed on what are sometimes called diseases of despair: overdoses, alcoholism and suicide. The new report raises the possibility that major illnesses may be eroding prospects for an even wider group of Americans.


The number of unintentional injuries — which include overdoses from drugs, alcohol and other chemicals, as well as motor vehicle crashes and other accidents — climbed to more than 146,000 in 2015 from slightly more than 136,000 in 2014. Public health authorities have been grappling with an epidemic of overdoses from prescription narcotics, heroin and fentanyl in recent years. Xu said overdose statistics were not yet ready to be released to the public.
I would note that at least one of those, "diseases of despair," overdoses is being driven by our regulators allowing Pharma to both misrepresent the benefits and risks of opioids and aggressively promote their dangerous products.

Monopoly rents, and the ability of the powerful to loot our society may be nearing the point where we experience something akin to the destruction of the Soviet Union.

I would also note that Obamacare doesn't seem to help, but that is not surprising: High deductible plans that are beloved of the experts, because it means that people have "skin in the game", have been shown not to produce the desired effect: Consumers shopping for cheaper healthcare.

Instead they lead to people avoiding early, and less expensive, medical interventions.

OK, This is F%$#ing Horrifying

A woman is apparently in such dire straits that she felt that she had to continue working as a taxi driver for Lyft while 9 months pregnant.

In fact, she felt that she had to continue working as a driver while in active labor.

What's more, the management at Lyft thought that this was a good thing.
This is truly awful.

I lack the adjectives to describe just how awful this is.

H/t naked capitalism


This animated GIF explains how our economy works:

07 December 2016

I Can Only Conclude that Hillary Clinton Deserved to Lose

Diane Hessan worked the Hillary Clinton campaign, and she followed a few hundred undecided voters for the months before the election.

She went back through her notes, and discovered what the turning point was, and interestingly enough, it was when Hillary was at her most authentic and honest:

Last week, I reread all of my notes. There was one moment when I saw more undecided voters shift to Trump than any other, when it all changed, when voters began to speak differently about their choice. It wasn’t FBI Director James Comey, Part One or Part Two; it wasn’t Benghazi or the e-mails or Bill Clinton’s visit with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the tarmac. No, the conversation shifted the most during the weekend of Sept. 9, after Clinton said, “You can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.”

All hell broke loose.

George told me that his neighborhood was outraged, that many of his hard-working, church-going, family-loving friends resented being called that name. He told me that he looked up the word in the dictionary, and that it meant something so bad that there is no hope, like the aftermath of a tsunami. You know, he said, Clinton ended up being the biggest bully of them all. Whereas Trump bullied her, she bullied Wilkes Barre.
She told something like half the country that she loathed them, and for once they believed her.

She is an avatar of the that right-wing subset of the Democratic Party that believes that if your life is tough, it's because you were too lazy to get into Yale, and any issues that might have arisen from the increasing of multinational labor arbitrage, the assault on unions, deregulation, and the financialization of the economy is your own damn fault.

You can call it the DLC wing of the party, or the New Dem wing of the party, or the Blue Dog wing of the party, or the Bob Rubin part of the party, of Republican Lite.

I just call them a part of the problem.

Well, This is a Hoot

It appears that in discussions with the Republican Party leadership, representatives of the healthcare and insurance industries said that they Obamacare repealed and replaced with Obamacare:
The nation’s health insurers, resigned to the idea that Republicans will repeal the Affordable Care Act, on Tuesday publicly outlined for the first time what the industry wants to stay in the state marketplaces, which have provided millions of Americans with insurance under the law.

The insurers, some which have already started leaving the marketplaces because they are losing money, say they need a clear commitment from the Trump administration and congressional leaders that the government will continue offsetting some costs for low-income people. They also want to keep in place rules that encourage young and healthy people to sign up, which the insurers say are crucial to a stable market for individual buyers.


On Tuesday, Marilyn Tavenner, the chief executive of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a leading industry trade group, warned that the state marketplaces were already on unstable financial footing. Failing to continue the funding aimed at low-income Americans, she said, would have far-reaching consequences because the business would become much tougher for insurers.


Hospital groups also held a news conference on Tuesday to warn of what they said would be the dire financial consequences of a repeal if the cuts to hospital funding that were part of the Affordable Care Act were not also restored.


Ms. Tavenner did not give many details about her group’s positions, but she said its top priority was to stop the immediate threat of eliminating the subsidies for plans sold to low-income people. House Republicans have already sued to block these payments, and the lawsuit is now delayed. If the new administration chose not to defend the lawsuit, the money would disappear, and insurers would probably rush to the exits because fewer potential customers would be available.

Another of the industry’s concerns is ensuring that enough young and healthy people sign up to stabilize the market. Republicans have discussed eliminating one of the law’s main tools, the so-called individual mandate, a tax levied on those who do not enroll.

In talking with Congress, Ms. Tavenner said, her members are emphasizing the need for some alternative, especially after criticism by insurers that the penalty is not large enough to persuade enough people to enroll. “There’s not one magic solution,” she said. She pointed to some of the provisions in Medicare that encourage people to sign up before they become sick. And she discussed some options to ease how insurers price their policies to be able to offer plans that are less expensive to younger people.

She also argued that the insurers had no desire to return to the time before the law was passed, when people with pre-existing conditions were routinely denied coverage in the individual market.
So basically, they want the subsidies, marketplaces, and mandates, but apart from that they are fine with whatever is done.

Of course, subsidies, marketplaces, and mandates are Obamacare:  The rest is commentary.*

*Yes, I am applying a quote from Rabbi Hillel.

Not the Onion

Donald Trump has just chosen Linda McMahon as head of the Small Business Administration.

Why do I have to qualify this to say that this is not a parody?

Ummm....Because the former wrestling executive, and some time performer has graced us with performances like this:  (click through if the GIF doesn't animate).

She's shown kicking husband Vince McMahon in the cojones.  (It's fake, pro wrestling is fake, and if you observe carefully, you can see how they set up the whole stunt so that no one is actually hurt)

About the only thing that could make this worse, and more undignified, would if pro wrestling were real.

Hail Satan

How could I not invoke Monty Python?
In response to a Texas law requiring burial or cremation for fetuses, the Church of Satan is launching a campaign to have its supporters mail semen covered items to the governor and legislature:
Earlier this week, Texas officials finalized a set of rules requiring funeral services for fetuses in what many see as a transparent and particularly callous ploy to restrict abortion access in the state. In response, Satanic Temple spokesperson Jex Blackmore has announced plans to engage in a crass counter-attack.

Having mailed a ejaculate-covered sock to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, along with a handwritten note that says, "These r babies. Plz bury," Blackmore is publicly encouraging others to send Governor Abbott semen-encrusted materials of their own (or, for those wary of sending bodily fluids through the mail, items coated in non-seminal-but-semen-esque substances).
According to Blackmore, this campaign, which is evocatively titled "Cumrags for Congress," is meant to expose the absurdity of forcing people to treat fetal tissue as human remains. (Lucien Greaves, another spokesperson for the organization, tells Broadly that the campaign isn't officially endorsed or encouraged by the Satanic Temple.) "The concept of the state mandating a non-medical ritual as part of the abortion procedure is offensive and crude, essentially demanding that all citizens adopt the moral, philosophical opinion that fetal tissue is comparable to a living human," she tells Broadly. "Fetal tissue has the 'potential' to become a human, but is not a human yet, does not have consciousness, and cannot exist without the mother host." She points out that semen and ova have the potential to become human life, yet "we do not mourn every ejaculation."
I am not a usually big fan of guerilla theater, but the Church of Satan has been doing some magnificent trolling lately.

Not Sauce for the Gander, It Would Seem

Politicians have exempted themselves from Britain's new wide-ranging spying laws.

The Investigatory Powers Act, which has just passed into law, brings some of the most extreme and invasive surveillance powers ever given to spies in a democratic state. But protections against those spying powers have been given to MPs.

Most of the strongest powers in the new law require that those using them must be given a warrant. That applies to people wanting to see someone's full internet browsing history, for instance, which is one of the things that will be collected under the new law.

For most people, that warrant can be issued by a secretary of state. Applications are sent to senior ministers who can then approve either a targeted interception warrant or a targeted examination warrant, depending on what information the agency applying for the warrant – which could be anyone from a huge range of organisations – wants to see.

But for members of parliament and other politicians, extra rules have been introduced. Those warrants must also be approved by the prime minister.

That rule applies not only to members of the Westminster parliament but alos [sic] politicians in the devolved assembly and members of the European Parliament.
Lovely:  Politicians are saying "Rule of law for me, but not for thee."

F%$# them with Cheney's dick.