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Friday, December 14, 2012

Freedom from Unions

Of course what Mr. Jacoby (Freedom from Unions. Boston Globe, December 12, 212) really means is that employers should be free to exploit workers. To prevent exploitation is why we had unions in the first place; isn't that what many employers are now doing?

Sent to Boston Globe

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Money Laundering

It seems to me that there should be a difference between the way we treat Banks and the way we treat Bank Executives (HSBC to Pay $1.92 Billion to Settle Charges of Money Laundering. New York Times, December 10, 2012).

It may be that there were good reasons to not charge the Bank for criminal activity because it might cause the Bank to fail -- withdrawals by depositors, sell-off by shareholders.  I can not see a similar argument for not bringing criminal charges against the top executives of the company.

They were in charge. They were receiving top dollar for the oversight of the banks myriad activities. It is no defense that they were ignorant of what was going on. They should have known. The Buck Stops at the Top.

We cannot be indifferent to the drug related murders in Mexico and even on our own streets. Their money laundering facilitated the operation of the drug cartels. They should be charged.

Sent to New York Times

Monday, December 10, 2012

Energy Policy

Mr. Sununu's argument fails to deal with some important costs: those of pollution and global warming.

These costs are not reflected in the price of oil and gasoline. Hence the need for some government action to equal the playing field for renewable resources.

His claim that market forces have reduced the level carbon dioxide emissions laughable. He seems not of have noticed that we are in a recession. It is that that has reduced those emissions..

Sent to Boston Globe  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Discovering a Roman Outpost in Tarifa, Spain

This appeared in the Metrowest Daily News on December 9th. 2012, page C3. but it has yet to appear on its website.

Pictures of Morocco and the Roman town

We thought there were only two reasons for going to Tarifa, a small fishing port on the southern tip of Spain. If you were young, you went to windsurf; if you were old, you went for a day trip to Tangier. We were in the latter demographic and did enjoy our day trip to Tangier complete with camel ride, snake charmer, a delicious mid-day meal, and a visit to a rug emporium as well as wandering through the bazaar. We were absolutely delighted that we had taken an organized tour. I thought, soon after our arrival in Tangier, that there was no way we could have got from the Ferry Terminal into the town just walking. Also the tour took us through the more luxurious residential areas that we could never had reached on our own. And I was very glad that the tour group outnumbered the touts and begging children who tugged at our shirts and trouser legs asking us to purchase their goods or to give them a small donation. If we had been on our own, we would have been swamped.

We watched the windsurfers from a distance. They have a wonderful site as Tarifa is one of the windiest spots on the continent with westerly winds roaring through the straits of Gibraltar. This is evidenced by the wind farms on the hills around the town. Some have the sleek modern turbines that we so admire; others had older pylon supports which were a little uglier.

But when we got to Tarifa, we found that there was one other attraction. About 25 kilometers north west of Tarifa on the coast were the remains of a Roman town: Baelo Claudia. The little village that became the Roman town of Baelo Claudia emerged in the 2nd. Century B.C.E. This was the era that Rome completed the conquest of North Africa . The site was ideal for tuna fishing as well as for the production of salt from the clear Atlantic waters. And it served as the Spanish terminus of the trade route to Tangier. The town was in its heyday during the Claudian era (1st century C.E.) and had declined by the seventh century due to earthquake damage and pirate raids.

We approached Baelo Claudia along the main highway from Tarifa to Cadiz. After about 25 km we turned off toward the modern village of Bolonia and proceeded up a switchback narrow road to the top of a range of hills that separated the main highway from the sea. It was a bit hair raising as the drivers coming down hill roared by scarcely slowing down on the tight turns. I imagined a Roman charioteer struggling to drive has equipage up that long twisting route then I mused perhaps using pack-ponies was easier. But both must have been quite difficult indeed. At the top of the hill, the new town and the ancient ruins could be seen in the distance along the shore – windsurfers were enjoying a stiff breeze. Of course, the Romans serviced the town from the sea, there was no need for chariots or pack-horses. Ship would have been the transportation of choice. Though one could imagine that a Roman pro-Consul full of his own importance and unwilling to risk sea-sickness might have insisted that he and his family be carried in style up the hill. In richly decorated closed horse-drawn in-litters; and all the time the drivers were cursing as they tried to get the horses up the steep pathway; and the pro-consul and his wife were sea sick anyway because of the swaying of the litter due to the rough terrain. Now it was our turn to descend the second series of switchbacks, but I made judicious use of the brakes each time we came to a hairpin bend.

We entered the complex through a dramatic modem building built in 2007 to the design of Spanish architect, Guillermo Vázquez Consuegra. This housed a visitor center and museum. There was a magnificent view over the Atlantic Ocean looking through the building. Europeans were admitted free, but we North Americans had to pay a small fee.

Baelo Claudia was a perfect Roman City in miniature.

It was set out in a grid on a flat plain next to the ocean. Nearest the sea was the factory area where fish and salt were processed. Unfortunately this was closed for additional excavation at the time of our visit. We entered at the northeast corner of the town close to one of the three aqueduct that served the town. Lots of fresh water is needed for fish processing and the manufacture of the town's specialty: fish paste. (garum).
Inland from this industrial area was the Basilica containing a copy of a statue of Trajan (the original c 100 C.E. is in the museum at Cadiz). The roof would have been supported by the magnificent Doric columns seen in the photograph. The Basilica was the local seat of Roman Justice. It is not difficult to imagine our Roman pro-consul sitting in judgment over a terrified townsman who had been accused to stealing another person's catch-of-the-day. If guilty, as he had not been caught in the act, his punishment would have to reimburse the person he had wronged five-fold. To the north of the Basilica is the Forum, a large open space for markets, strolling and discussing the events of the day, and listening to political speeches. These were given from a platform on the north side of the Forum. Even in its decayed state you can see the Romans in their togas chatting quietly about the news of Claudius' being hailed as Emperor by the Praetorian guard; “Can you believe he was hiding behind a curtain; we need a tougher man than that.” How wrong they were. Under his rule the Empire showed great expansion including the conquest of Judea,Thrace, and Britain. It was during his reign that Baelo Claudia became a Roman city whose inhabitants could make the claim, “Civis Romanus sum.” To the west of the Forum are several public buildings: administrative offices, archives (one can imagine the clerks making careful records of the changes in ownership of property, ships, and factories), and a meeting hall To the west is a later addition: a market hall and to its west, that most important of Roman facilities: the Baths. One indication of their importance is that they occupy the same area as the Basilica.

North of the Forum, we come to one of the most impressive surviving buildings: the Theater This is set in the side of a hill which serve as the bleachers. Beneath the seats there are passage ways that give access to all areas of the spectator area. You can see one of the entrances in the photograph. We danced in the open area in front of the seats and pretended we were declaiming to the assembled multitude.

On the way back to the visitor center we pass four temples to a variety of deities:: Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, and, a later addition, Isis.
Finally, the visitor center contains an interesting museum showing artifacts excavated from the site since its discovery in 1914. These include models of the town, statues, mosaics, and household and industrial utensils.

The site is well worth a trip from Cadiz, Tarifa, or Gibraltar.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

There is a stark contrast between your front page picture of a shuttered GM factory in Ypsilanti  MI and the advertisement for Thailand in the Magazine (pages 6 -,7) showing an automated automobile factory. There is however one similarity: a lack of workers. The shuttered factory has none, the automated factory has just a few.

It therefore seems that the threat of "moving jobs overseas" is a massive bluff. In new plants there will not be a lot of jobs.

Giving tax breaks to big business to encourage them to locate in a given area is a beggar-thy-neighbor proposition. Often, as you note, the jobs soon vanish (The Empty Promise of Tax Incentives, New York Times, December 2nd. 2012: A1, A30-31).

Recently, a number of states have adopted an inter-state compact to bypass the Electoral College so that the President is elected by all the people. We urgently need an inter-state, inter-city, inter-town compact that will disallow these ridiculous handouts to the wealthy top managers of corporations seeking tax breaks.

Where do you think that $4m or $10m or $20m tax rebate will go: right into the pockets of the CEO and top management through their profit related bonuses. Talk about "takers."

It is past time to say "No" to the what former Canadian New Democratic Party leader, David Lewis,  called  "corporate welfare bums."

Sent to New York Times

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Specialization, not privatisation

I believe that Mr Jacoby has drawn the wrong lesson from the commercial and scientific success of the Lasik Vision Institute.

It is not necessarily being a corporation that makes it a success; rather it is the laser like focus on one ailment, weak eyes, that provides success.

General Hospitals are not specialized they have to provide healing for a vast number of ailments. Lasik, like the Shouldice Hernia Clinic outside Toronto, focuses on a single issue. Lasik's doctors perform hundreds of similar surgeries so their success rate is excellent; its doctors learn what better techniques and tools might be needed, so they drive innovation.

Diffuse focused hospitals cannot do that. They have to be all things to all comers.

To bring focus into the hospital setting, we might experiment by setting up "focused services" that were stand alone entities with budgetary and clinical independence. We could see if this focus might result in the positive outcomes evident with Lasik.

Sent to Boston Globe

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Massachusetts Democracy Amendment

Cambridge Chronicle letter.

This has vanished from their website, so here it is:

Thank You Cambridge!

Martin G. Evans
Treasurer, Citizens for a Democracy Amendment

On November 6th. 2012, the voters of Cambridge overwhelmingly supported the ballot question call for the overturn of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United Decision.

That foolish decision has resulted in a flood of corporate and personal money into loosely regulated PAC's which spewed an unpleasant stream of attack advertisements into the swing states; yes, the Boston media benefited because neighboring New Hampshire was deemed “in play.”

The voters of Cambridge came out in overwhelming support for the ballot question 85% in favor. Even our more conservative neighbors in Essex County, Boxford, Rowley, and Georgetown had majorities in the high 50's. Scott Brown's home town of Wrenthan voted 76% in favor, out polling Brown himself by 5.8%.

Massachusetts as a whole voted 79% and similar margins were obtained in Montana, Colorado, and several western cities. Clearly a constitutional amendment's time has come; the Supreme Court's decision cannot be allowed to stand.

Passing a constitutional amendment is not, in John Gardner's felicitous phrase, “for the short-winded.” It will take time and perseverance in Massachusetts, in New England, and across the nation. Here in Cambridge as well as these other jurisdictions, we have given it a kick-start by passing this ballot question by a large margin.

Now the real work begins:

As you know, constitutional amendments requires passage by three super-majorities in the US Congress, the US Senate, and by the State legislatures. These are high hurdles to pass but we have managed to pass seventeen amendments since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.

The state legislature and 170 municipalities in the state have called for a Constitutional Amendment by ballot question or local resolution. We the people have spoken on this issue. Now it is time for our elected officials to heed the call for change.

What can you do next?

Make sure your Congressman and Senators are in support of such an amendment; for the record, several different amendments focusing on different aspects of the problem (corporate citizenship, money in politics) have been proposed in the US House and Senate. If they are in support give them encouragement. If they are silent on the issue so far, please give them a push in the right direction.

We can also put pressure on our Representatives and our Senators to support passage of the Disclose Act which would provide some transparency as to who was funding the PAC's and superPAC's. Prior to the Citizens United decision, disclosure was the policy of the Republican party. The Citizens United decision explicitly encouraged Congress to pass legislation to ensure disclosure of the donors' identities. Republicans have blocked this legislation in the past year; but after the election, there may be a new window of opportunity.

Finally, write to the Securities and Exchange Commission supporting Lucian Bebchuk's (Harvard Law School) proposal that corporate political speech should be decided by shareholders not by corporate boards. In the light of recent evidence that big political spenders have lower profitability than other companies this might result in a curbing of political money-speech.

Again thank you for supporting the Democracy amendment.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Foreign policy sparring

You have to admire Mr. Romney's chutzpah

In the debate last night he once again raised the false accusation
about Mr. Obama's "apology tour" (Sparring Over Foreign Policy, Obama
Goes on the Offense. New York Times, October 23, 2012: A1).

This from a man, who in his last two years as Governor, went around
the country running down Massachusetts; he used to claim that he felt
like ""a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention."

It sounds to me that he did much worse things than Mr. Obama.

Sent to New York Times

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Romney's Taxes

Have I got this right?

Mr. Romney pays about 14% of his income in Federal Income Taxes.

His platform contains a plank to reduce Federal Income Taxes by 20%.

If this is enacted, it will means that he will pay Federal Income
taxes at 11.2%.

I always though his paying 15% was unfair; paying 11.2% is obscenely unfair.

Sent to New York Times

Monday, October 22, 2012

Volunteering at the Antiques Roadshow

Antiques Roadshow

Here is the original long version.

Volunteering at the Antiques Roadshow


My wife and I are great fans of Antiques Roadshow. We record the US Roadshow on WGBH every week and we record the British Roadshow that comes from New Hampshire Public Television most Friday evenings. We watch the Roadshow for half an hour each night before we go to bed.

We were therefore delighted to learn that the US Antiques Roadshow would be taping in Boston later this year.  We really wanted to go – as did many, many others in the community.

We put our names in the ticket lottery but were unsuccessful

We so much wanted to go that we put our names in to be volunteers at the taping . Alas we were also unsuccessful. We are on the wait-list, so something might yet happen that gets us to the Roadshow

Our parents also left us a few pieces of antique furniture so we submitted several to be considered for inclusion in the show. Would the pine wash-stand catch an expert's eye, would the Edwardian inlaid
corner cupboard be our piece to star in the show? My wife favors the chances of her parents' desk, with the Victorian hall table as the runner up. My hunch is that the turn of the century Hepplewhite card
table with its green baize top will entrance the people doing the furniture triage; or perhaps the Wellington chest. We both agree that the gaudy inlaid chess table won't stand a chance of being selected.

We still had not heard anything when the taping was just a couple of weeks away.. We figured that we would just have to watch the roadshow on TV from our living room couch and sneer about how much
better our objects were than the ones that made it to the show.

By two weeks before he Roadshow taping, we had given up hope and resigned ourselves to the couch. And then a surprising reprieve: we received an email saying that they were activating many of the
volunteers on the standby list. We had been chosen as volunteers. It took but a second to e-mail back a resounding “Yes!”


On June 8th we turned up for the rehearsal at the Boston Convention Center.. What a big barn of a building it is. . We walked a long, long way from the security booth to the event hall. They fed us coffee and cookies and an inspirational speech by Jon Abbott, the General Manager of WGBH.

Then came the instruction phase of the evening. DO NOT under any circumstances help a person with their favorite antique. If you drop it, WGBH will be liable and we can't afford that. Do not forget that
you are the public face of the Roadshow. Be cheerful when you greet people.

Then it was time to get our assignments. There were four work stations. The first was in the innermost sanctum: the set. There was a mad dash of people for that assignment; we were barely out of our seats by the time that had been fully staffed. The second group of volunteers were off-set but in the same room as the set. These volunteers were to guide people to the queues for each specialty appraiser: books, pictures, posters, china, silver and so on. We did not make the cut there either. The third station was post show: to guide people exits. The fourth and final station, to which we were assigned was at the entrance to the Roadshow. We got a sweet assignment, just after the clients had been checked in at the door, we were to hand them a booklet explaining the program for their day at the Roadshow, together with a copy of the Roadshow Magazine. It was a sweet assignment because the materials were set up on a table and behind the table were some chairs. We would be able to catch a sit down when the flow of people was not too heavy.

Others in our group were to check the ticket times to make sure people did not arrive too early, and to manage the lines, each for a different hour, and the triage tables where people were handed slips to direct them to the appropriate expert area (Silver, Porcelain, Pictures, Posters, etc.).

I asked if we could occasionally swap assignments to get a bit of variety in our jobs; as an academic organizational psychologist I had long taught the virtues of job variety for the job holders. I was told, “No Way. We need you to focus on your own job.”

The Day of the Roadshow

Next morning we were up early and got to the Convention Center by 6.15am. At that time of morning, the roads were empty and there was even parking right next to the building – apparently the tales of roadshow clients sleeping in their cars at the appraisal location were myths, or perhaps only true of the days when they did not issue timed tickets.

After picking up our badges and name-tags, we had a terrific breakfast of bacon, eggs, muffins and hot coffee. We hurried through breakfast and went to our positions. All the people at our station converged on our table and started assembling the brochure and newsletter combination. This was a great help for us as it gave us a large inventory to begin the day with. Over the rest of the day, Nancy and I took turns handing brochures out and assembling packets.

Before the first clients were let in, we could see over at the side, some of our favorite appraisers coming in to the arena: Colleen Fesco, James Callaghan, Nickolas Lowry, recognizable by his suit. David Rago and Suzanne Perrault from the art pottery business, and so on. Alas there were no furniture twins!

At about 6.45, the doors opened and the first wave of clients poured in. Nancy and I were very busy for the next 20 minutes handing out brochures and pointing people in the right direction: for the first few we said “Go over there (pointing) toward the gray roll-down door, then turn right in front of the concession stand lights; when you get there, someone will tell you where to go next (into the line for the person's ticket time).” For those at the back of the wave, we merely said, “Follow the crowd”.

With that first group, we did not have time to greet or chat with people; the rule that both we and they obeyed was: Keep Moving. Later in the day, when lines had built up and the incoming crowd had thinned, we were able to engage some people in conversation. The most obvious feature, shared by all, was how excited they were to be at the Antiques Roadshow. They recognized that they had won the luck of the draw. Second was the variety of conveyances that people were using to carry bulky items: dollies, shopping carts, and most frequently a child's Red Flier. Wagon. I wonder if any of them turned out to be unique. Interestingly the two or three people who had brought antique sleds, did not drag them across the floor but carried them carefully. Many people came in pairs with each on the end of a bulky table, trunk, or chest. Again, the truism that one person's treasure is another person’s junk held true. I did not envy the owners of much of the furniture that passed us. However, I did covet a couple of the paintings that we saw.

In the middle of the morning, the mayor rolled by on a golf cart to the front of the line with his artifacts – we later learned that they were quite valuable. There were other VIP's too: friends of the crew and the TV Station, family members of the crew, local politicians, and of course, later in the day, the volunteers themselves.

While we were doing our jobs, a film crew from WGBH came by and filmed us at work. When this happened, I made sure that my directions were extra accurate, extra distinct, and extra loud for the benefit of the film crew.

Nancy and I both wondered how we would fare as the day rolled on. We did well. Having the chance to sit and assemble the materials was a big boon for us. We flagged around lunchtime, but another good meal revived us. We remained outwardly perky and cheerful for the whole day, remembering our role as greeters. However inside we were beginning to feel tired. In the middle of the afternoon, a friend from Common Cause came in. He later told me that the line for books was so long that he didn't stay but left without having his items appraised.

At 3.00pm the experts began to receive the volunteers in shifts This was our chance to see inside the sets and meet one or more of the experts. I took my chances first. I went to the very front of the triage line where I got slips for silver and china. Going through into the next room, I was met by a volunteer who took me to the back of a very long line-up for the China appraisers. I waited for about half an hour – and for the first time during the day, felt a bit tired – before being confronted by David Rago. My words were: “Good afternoon, I recognize you, but you won't recognize me.” I then handed him my mother's Rockingham Tea Cup and Saucer. Rago turned to his colleague on the left and said, “What do you think David (Lackey), mid-Victorian, $100 the set?” Lackey replied something like “No nearer to $50, they are very undervalued these days, nice though.”

My second item, a silver plate spirit Tea Kettle was also valued, by a different appraiser (and not someone we had seen on the Roadshow) at about $75 (“Plate, that says it all, no one wants plate these days”), so no big ticket items there.

I then returned to my post near the entrance to the Roadshow and continued to hand out materials to the people coming through. While I had been away, a friend of Nancy's had come in to have something appraised. Those were the only two people that either of us knew. Nancy then went to get her items appraised; again nothing earthshaking either. Her Brass Tea kettle was worth about the same as my silver plate one. The nice “sweet” quilt was unfortunately damaged and worth about the same.

For the next couple of hours we kept on going, handing out programs and directing people to the lines. By 5.30 pm the lines were quite short, so we ended up directing people directly to the triage tables rather than having them walk all the way to one side of the vast space and back again.

At about 6.00pm our supervisor came by and thanked us from our service and sent us on or way.

It had been a long, tiring, but ultimately satisfying day. We can't wait to see the show in the Fall.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Regulation and Compounding Pharmacies

In the article, Spotlight on Compounding Medicines, Roni Rabin
provides a list of six questions that patients should ask of their
prescribing doctors and the pharmacy that fills the prescription
(Science Times, October 156th.: L1, L6).

The questions range from challenging your doctor as to whether an
ordinary FDA approved drug might be substituted, ask the pharmacist
whether they have experience compounding this kind of drug, be
vigilant about IV drugs, and so on.

Now I am all in favor of "caveat emptor," but this is beyond
ridiculous. It requires patients, who may well be sick, to challenge
and perhaps alienate their health care providers. This is an
unreasonable expectation.

We, the patients are not medical experts, that is why we go for care
to these specialists.  In a perfect world we would be able to rely on
the professionalization of providers. However this world is not
perfect so my cry is for increased government regulation and
inspection of the compounding pharmacies.

This will require financial resources to hire regulators, but we will
all benefit from the security; a security which we cannot be expected
to provide for ourselves.

Sent to New York Times

Friday, October 12, 2012

So Mr. Romney wants to introduce "means testing" to Social Security (Next seniors may see benefits tied to means (Boston Globe, October 10, 2012: A1, A8).  He seems unaware that Social Security benefits are
already subject to means testing.

The payout from Social Security is, unlike the contribution, quite progressive. Right now the Social Security formula for computing one's pension depends on Average Lifetime Earnings. Each year's earnings are converted into constant dollars and then a monthly average is calculated. Based on this, Social Security pays you:
** 90% of the first $767.00 of monthly income (lifetime average),
** 32% of income between $767.00 and $4624.00, and
** 15% of income above $4624.00 to the cap of $9175.00 ($110,100.00 per year).

So what additional means testing would be imposed? Would the top two percentages be reduced? Or would Mr. Romney suggest taxing Social Security as regular income? The latter would seem the most sensible to
me as only those with substantial additional income would see a reduction in after-tax income.

The real solution to the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund would be to raise the cap on Social Security earnings (currently $110,100 per year) so that higher paid individuals contribute more.

Sent to Boston Globe

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

We in Massachusetts were not surprised by Mr. Romney's performance. He is excellent at projecting an image. Where he lacks is in substance.

For example, when running for Governor, the then liberal Mitt Romney played at being an ordinary worker for a day. Of course, the The day at work program provides great photo opportunities. But Mitt Romney
would have learned a lot more about the problems facing low paid workers from reading Nickel and Dimed (Barbara Ehrenreich) or When Work Disappears (W. J. Wilson). In these books the complete set of
difficulties of a low paid person’s life are laid out in detail:
* The lack of jobs in the inner city;
* the difficulty of getting transportation to a distant job in time
for the start of a shift;
* the theft of one’s time through unpaid overtime;
* the difficulty of finding affordable accommodation (and that insurmountable barrier of accumulating two month’s rent in advance).
It is this context of life’s difficulties that is so debilitating before one even does a hard day’s work. A context that Mr. Romney could even believe to understand. This is the context faced by the 47% and for many of the 99%.

If he developed an understanding of that context he would not be endorsing Mr. Ryan's budget with its drastic cuts to the social safety net.

Sent to New York Times

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Romney Flunks Again.

At his news conference, Mr. Romney had the opportunity to rephrase the remarks that he now claims were not elegantly stated.

Why did he not rephrase them?

Because there is no way of elegantly stating contempt for the voters.

Due to his lapses of the last few weeks, the Republicans would be well advised to find another candidate.

There is precedent, in 2002 Mitt Romney shoved aside the Republican candidate for Governor in Massachusetts, Jane Swift. She was not polling well.

The same is true of Mitt Romney. He should stand aside.

Sent to New York Times

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mr Pratt needs a new accountant if he believes that George Bush's tax
cuts had any impact on his ability to invest in his company or hire
new employees.

Money reinvested or used to hire people comes from pre-tax income. It
would be included as an expense and would be deducted from income
before the resulting profits were taxed. So the reduction in tax rates
would be irrelevant.

His letter is incorrect. The Globe did us all a disservice by not
requiring careful fact checking before clearing it for publication.

Sent to Boston Globe

Friday, August 24, 2012

Romney's Health Care -- pre-Paul Ryan. Little of substance.

Romney’s Health Care Plan: Little of Substance

Martin G. Evans
Professor Emeritus, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.
[1065 words]
Mitt Romney's health care plan – outlined on his website – is a cornucopia of ambiguity and contradictions. At least we know with Obamacare where we stand. Romney's prescription is full of pious hopes but has little to say how those hopes will be realized.
In the preamble to the Romney plan, the campaign declares:
Mitt will produce policies that give each state the power to craft a healthcare reform plan that is best for its own citizens. The federal government's role will be to help markets work by creating a level playing field for competition.
First, notice the lower case “f” in “federal;” that must be the initial step in reducing the size of government. Then notice the contradiction between the first and second sentences. It is impossible to give license to the states to do as they want and simultaneously impose Federal government regulations to create a level playing field. Those Federal regulations will, of necessity, impinge upon state autonomy.
States have had many years to devise plans to suit their circumstances. Why are there not already a number of states with full insurance for all their citizens? What will Mr. Romney do to help states create a fully insured population?
The Romney plan then articulates a number of steps to “Restore State Leadership.” These include:
  • Block grant health payments to the states
    • But there is no explanation of the way in which such grants will be calculated. Will it be on the poverty level, or the morbidity index, or on a per capita basis? Different states will benefit under different formulae. For example:
      • New Jersey and Virginia have roughly equal populations. New Jersey is about 9% larger so would receive 9% more in Federal funds if this was the criterion.
      • However New Jersey would do slightly better (8%) if crude mortality rates were used as the criterion for the distribution of Federal funds: 821 per 100,000 in New Jersey versus 760 per 100,000 in Virginia
      • Finally, the poverty rate in Virginia (9.2%) is over one and a third times that of New Jersey (6.8%). under a poverty rate criterion, Virginia would receive a third more of the Federal health care funds.
  • Limit federal standards on insurance (private and Medicaid)
    • But he says nothing about which constraints will be lifted and which maintained. Without that detail, it is impossible to make any sensible appraisal of this aspect of the Romney plan.
  • Ensure flexibility to help the uninsured, including public-private partnerships, exchanges, and subsidies.
    • Sounds a lot like Obamacare to me.
  • Ensure flexibility to help the chronically ill, including high risk pools, reinsurance, and risk adjustment
    • It is not clear what he means here. Traditionally high risk pools have been very expensive. So, with no mention of subsidy, it is hard to see how the Romney plan deals with the cost of insuring those with pre-existing conditions.
  • Offer innovation grants to explore non-litigation alternatives to dispute resolution.
    • This is already happening.

The second leg of Romney’s Plan is to promote free markets and fair competition. To achieve this he suggests:
  • Cap non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.
    • It is not clear that this makes much difference. Some states limit malpractice awards, others do not. When Texas imposed mal-practice caps, there was little change in health care costs
  • Empower individuals and small businesses to form purchasing pools
    • That is what the Obamacare exchanges do.
  • Prevent discrimination against individuals with pre-existing conditions who maintain continuous coverage.
    • Yes of course. But how does it get paid for unless there is an individual mandate to purchase health insurance. Romney’s plan makes no mention of this; although, of course, it was the cornerstone of the Massachusetts plan.
  • Facilitate IT interoperability.
    • Already underway.
The final leg in Romney’s plan is designed to empower Consumer Choice. This seems to me to be a very dubious approach. The essence of markets involving consumer choice is that seller and buyer are each fully informed. Health care consumers cannot know what they need; they cannot predict the level of illness they will incur in the future. There is no way they can anticipate what will befall them. In health care, markets fail.

To improve con summer choice, his plan suggests:
  • End tax discrimination against the individual purchase of insurance.
  • Allow consumers to buy insurance across state lines.
    • The problem will be that with different state regulatory regimes; there will be a problem in designing policies that will be acceptable across state lines. This will increase the need for Federal intervention to assure a level playing field across the states.
  • Unshackle HSAs by allowing funds to be used for insurance premiums.
    • As HSAs are tax deductible, there will be a cost to the Federal government in lowered tax revenues. How will Romney pay for this?
  • Promote “co-insurance” products. These insurance plans provide that the insured will cover a set percentage of the covered costs after the deductible has been paid.
    • These do not protect the individual who experiences a severe chronic decline in health. The ‘health status” insurance plan suggested by John Cochrane at the University of Chicago might be a better suggestion. These plans come into effect if the individual suffers a medical situation which places him or her in a higher cost policy. The health status plan pays for the increased insurance cost.
  • Promote alternatives to “fee for service.”
    • Experiments along these lines are already under way. Romney does not specify the kind of alternatives he envisages.
  • Encourage “Consumer Reports” type ratings of alternative insurance plans.
    • But the real information that consumers need is the effectiveness of various treatments, doctors, and hospitals. Progress is already under way in this area.

Mr. Romney’s plan is not a well thought out, coherent response to the problem of 40 million uninsured Americans. Instead it is an unspecific blend of hope, failed policies, and inconsistent suggestions. The problem is that the solution to the health care problem requires collective action – that is what insurance is all about. Mr. Romney and the Republicans want to rely on the traditional values of rugged individualism. These are just not appropriate here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Romney and Israel

I hope the Israelis don't get too excited about Mr. Romney's vows for
strong support. (In Jerusalem, Romney vows strong support. Boston
Globe, July 30, 2012: A1,A8).

This, after all, this is the same Mr. Romney who in the past vowed to
support the rights of gays and lesbians. This is the same Mr. Romney
who allowed a senior foreign policy spokesperson, who happened to be
gay, to be driven from his campaign staff.

If I were the Israelis, I would not put much trust in his assurances.

Sent to  Boston Globe

Monday, July 16, 2012

Romney's Job History

So there is ambiguity about who employed Romney between 1999 and 2002 and what work he did at either place (Romney stayed longer at Bain. Boston Globe, July 12, 2012: A1, A8).

I am sure that can be easily cleared up if he reveals which Health Insurance plan he was benefiting from.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mortgage Help

Mr Nocera is correct in asserting that widely held mortgages and
uninvolved servicers are responsible for the failure to modify
mortgages with the consequent collapse of the housing market and the
waves of foreclosure that spread across America (Housing's LastChance, New York Times, July 10, 2012: A19).

There is however and easier solution to the problem than eminent
domain: the shared appreciation mortgage.

With a shared appreciation mortgage, a government entity would enter a
contract with the homeowner. The homeowner would pay what he or she
could afford on the mortgage, the government entity would pay the
rest. Depending on their respective contributions over time, the
ownership of the property would be shared by the homeowner and the
government entity. With the shared appreciation mortgage, there is no
need to renegotiate the principal. With this stabilization of the
housing market, there would likely to be a gradual rise in prices.

There are some disadvantages to this scheme: it may be more expensive
than the route of eminent domain. Those, including me,  who would like
to punish the banks and the lending agencies would be thwarted as the
mortgage would eventually be paid in full.

Nevertheless there would be major advantages: no need to identify an
eminent domain purchase price for the house, stable neighborhoods,
some continuity in tax revenues to localities, and less familial
stress, and a robust banking system.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Monday, July 2, 2012

Surely Professor Glaeser knows the answer to his question: Why put knives to the census? (Boston Globe, June 28, 2012: A19)

The cuts passed by the house are of a piece with the Republican Party's attack on science. They just do not want to know the facts. The larger they can make the error bars around our estimates of pollution, child mortality, global warming, national poverty and even housing starts, the better pleased they will be.

Introducing uncertainty in the science, enables them to say as Mitt Romney once said: "do I think the world's getting hotter? yeah, I don't know that but I think that it is. ... I don't know if it's mostly caused by humans. ... What I'm not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don't know the answer to." (Quoted
in Kristoff's column in the New York Times of June 26, 2012).

Until the country regains its collective wisdom and makes a commitment to honor scientific facts, we are in for troubling times.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bogle Stroll

Bow Tie from the early 1960's

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Romney, bullying, and gays.

OpEd in  Providence Journal on Mitt Romney.

Someone's comment on the piece (as well as repeating the piece).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Liberty Mutual

Mr. Syre is quite correct,   the policy holders and owners of Liberty
Mutual are quite powerless to affect the fate of the Company (Ted
Kelly's pay shocking on several levels, Boston Globe, April 13, 2012).

Several years ago in 2002, with no compensation to policy holders and
owners, the Company adopted a byzantine legal and organizational
structure that seems to have allowed the Board to spend freely with
little or no accountability!

  * The lines of insurance are provided by three companies which are
wholly owned subsidiaries of Liberty Mutual Group, Inc..
  * Liberty Mutual Group Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of LMHC
Massachusetts Holdings Inc.
  * LMHC Massachusetts Holdings, Inc. is, in turn, a wholly owned
subsidiary of Liberty Mutual Holding Company, Inc.

The insurance commissioner allowed the Company to adopt this structure
after the Company threatened to move its headquarters out of state.

This three-tier structure leaves lots of questions unanswered: Was the
structure designed to weaken accountability or, as the company
claimed, improve access to the capital markets? At what level were the
extravagant expenses on a fleet of five airplanes and excessive
executive salaries incurred? At what level were they authorized? At
what level were the benefits received? Finally, how much did these
costs detract from the benefits received by the owners and  policy

I hope the Commissioner will get answers to these questions. We policy
holders don't know where to begin.

Sent to Boston Globe

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Draw Down Oil Reserves

So the US and Europe are considering releasing oil from the strategic reserve in order to cut gas prices (Global Agreement Said to Be Near on Drawing From Oil Reserves. New York Times, March 30, 2012: B1, B6).

To do this would be sheer madness!

If gas prices were at European levels -- due to high taxation -- there might be a weak case for doing so.

But look at the purpose of the reserve: it is to ensure that the US will have sufficient oil if there is a constriction in overseas supply. If the Straits of Hormuz are closed so that imports from the middle east dry up, then that is the time to release oil from the reserves.

To release oil as a price stabilizer would put us in danger of an oil famine if the Straits were to be closed in the future.

To release oil as a price stabilizer would be to pander to the worst instincts of Americans -- very few of us are willing to make a sacrifice any more. We wouldn't even accept tax hikes to pay for the Iraq war.

This unwillingness will lead to our passing on an impoverished America to our children.

Sent to New York Times

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Responses to Questions the Justices Asked about Obamacare

Memo to Justice Kennedy who asked: "Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?"

  • Interstate commerce exists when uninsured New Hampshire residents, living the State's motto "Live Free or Die," go to emergency rooms in Massachusetts hospitals.

Memo to Justice Scalia: who asked why people should have to pay for maternal care or pediatric care if they did not intend to use it?

  • Everyone in the courtroom received pediatric care; everyone in the courtroom's mother received maternal care. 
  • Our generation  has not been very good at ensuring inter-generational equity. We need to pay forward for the health care of the next generation.

Case closed!

Martin G. Evans
Nancy R. Evans

Sent to Boston Globe

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Death by Order of your President

It is very rarely that I agree with John Sununu. Today he has it exactly right (Boston Globe, March 19, 2012: A11)!

To attack and kill American citizens is an outrage. Even if these people are giving aid and comfort to our enemies, it is not acceptable to kill them without due, judicial process.

I am very much afraid that Obama's Justice Department has suffered cognitive capture by President Bush's Justice Department.  The ideas and values that were inculcated in the Department by that disastrous
administration have continued to the present day.  The whole idea of checks and balances in  the war on terror has been abandoned.

The President and the Attorney General claim that they are making reasoned and fair decisions. There was a time that I would have accepted those assurances. I no longer do so and I certainly do not want successor administrations to have this unfettered power.

It is past time for Congress to put constraints on this power and on the States Secrets privilege which has been used to hide administrative malfeasance behind a security blanket.

Sent to Boston Globe

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Let Romney be Romney

The reason Republicans are lukewarm (Cartoon, Economist, March10, 2012: 14) toward Romney is that his business experience is irrelevant to the problems being faced by the nation (Economist, March 10, 2012: 18).

Romney was very successful at the leveraged buyout. He made a lot of money from firms that amassed, at his instigation, a lot of debt, some of which was used to payoff the investors.

The problem, as Republicans see it, is that America has already amassed and is continuing to amass a lot of debt.

The Republicans would like to support a candidate who is skilled at paying down the debt.

Sent to the Economist

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dialog on Campaign Financing


It is hard to argue that more speech is not better than less speech; yet that is what the Supreme Court decided last year in the case of  Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom PAC v Bennett.  This disallowed an Arizona law that would have provided public financing to candidates who were competing against heavily self-financed opponents.

The problem with the flood of PAC money is that the volume of speech that it generates drowns out the speech of ordinary people who cannot compete in the advertising market. If there was some method for generating countervailing speech then Mr. Weinstock's competitive elections might well come into being (New York Times, March 6, 2012: A26). At present big money alone talks.

Sent to New York Times

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Republican Front Runners

OP-ED on the Republican Front Runners In the MetroWest Daily News


Like Brian McGrory, I think that the post-big dig disaster period was Governor Romney's finest hour (Shrinking Candidate, Boston Globe, March 2, 2012: B1).

It was however, the exception.

During his candidacy and during his time in office, Romney was characterized by the triumph of style (or photo-op) over substance.

When a candidate he worked for a day as a burger flipper and a fish processor so he could understand what ordinary folk were like. Great photo-ops but little gain in understanding. To gain that, he should have read "Nickled and Dimed" or "When Work Disappears" to understand the struggles that low income people go through day by day in the struggle to get work, to get to work, to get a home, and to get from and to home.

As Governor, he rode for one stop on the Red Line to show how safe the subway was after the London bombings -- again a great photo-op that was marred by his failure to know the exact fare.

Alas, I think the Romney we see in this campaign is the Romney that is. That is surprising given his vaunted analytic and managerial competence.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Better Way to Buy Politicians

Lindsay Mark Lewis aims at the wrong target in the op-ed, "A Better Way to Buy Politicians" (New York Times, February 17th., 2012: A23).

The question is not how to buy politicians, but who does the buying?

Right now, corporations and their surrogates (Trade Associations, the US Chamber of Commerce) do the buying -- but they do it with our money!

It is the corporate cash flows that we contribute through our purchases of the goods and services they provide that enable the corporations to swamp the political field with money.

We should be able to eliminate the middleman (the Corporation). Individuals should have the right to make contributions to politicians and to political parties. But the favored few, corporate executives and members of Boards of Directors, should not have the right to use a second channel for unlimited contributions.

It is time to amend the constitution so that political contributions can be limited by law.

Sent to New York Times

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dont Mind the Gap

I do mind the gap.

In his op-ed piece, Andrew Kohut ignores the problems that both rich and poor have in countries and other jurisdictions with high inequality (Don't mind the Gap. New York Times, January 27, 2012: A21).

In their book, The Spirit Level,  Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett enumerate the problems:

In developed countries, there is a strong negative relationship between inequality and life expectancy; though only a very weak relationship with average wealth.  Similar results when we compare inequality and life expectancy across the states in the USA: a strong negative relationship. Again little relationship with the average wealth of the state.

A whole set of other indicators (trust, negative; infant mortality, positive; incarceration rates, positive; well-being, negative).

So inequality matters and it is important to note that it is both rich and poor who suffer from these negative effects. Undoubtedly the poor suffer more.

In the light of the 15% tax rates paid by some of the very rich, we need to thoroughly reform the income tax system to bring back an equitable distribution

Sent to New York Times relevant to Don't Mind the Gap

Friday, January 27, 2012

Kerry's black eyes

It is a pity that John Kerry was not able to sport his black eyes and damaged nose when he ran for president (Charlie Baker get ready. Boston Globe, January 26, 2012).

That would surely have trumped President Bush's playing of the windsurfing card.

It might even have led to victory.

Sent to Boston Globe

Thursday, January 12, 2012