Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Paul Krugman's Enduring Narrative

Paul Krugman does not like to be confused by the facts, especially if those facts contrast with his own narratives. In a recent column for the Mises Daily page, I look at how Krugman's semi-weekly "talking points" tend to conflict with reality.

One of the things that always amazes me is the utter shamelessness that Krugman demonstrates. As this Youtube video points out, Krugman attempted to use a number of Canadians to shill for their own health system. When most of those present pointed out that they did not much care for Canadian care, Krugman decides that perhaps he needs to change the subject.

Interestingly, Krugman never does allude to this incident in any of his articles. I'm shocked, SHOCKED at his omission.

Get Ready for the "Death Panels"

This past year, Sarah Palin kicked up a media firestorm when she wrote on her Twitter page that the new healthcare measures passed by Congress will feature "death panels." A number of politicians and Obama supporters denied that such "panels" will exist, but I disagree.

In my weekly column for the Foundation for Economic Education, I deal with this subject and point out that when medical care becomes a "collective" good, "death panels" are inevitable.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Is There a Constituency for Liberty in the United States Media?

When I was a journalism student at the University of Tennessee 35 years ago, one thing we were told over and over again was that journalism served a "watchdog" role in keeping tabs on government. I had assumed (naively, of course) that the term "watchdog" meant serving as a counterforce against the predations of the state.

Alas, what I have found that it really means is that modern journalists and their mainstream organs like the New York Times, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Time and Newsweek, not to mention a gaggle of numerous smaller wannabe publications, are making sure that the state is using all of its powers and then some to push people into line. As a college professor who works on a faculty that is overwhelmingly left-liberal, the one thing I hear time and again from my colleagues is that people need a tough, "kick-ass" government to make them behave.

The modern mantra of journalists is "comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable," and we see that theme pursued time and again. This leads to situations that tell me that the press sees itself as the entity that will ensure that the government keeps all of us in line, as we cannot be trusted with anything as individuals. And Lord help someone who really thinks that the Bill of Rights was a restriction against the powers of the state against individuals; such thinking is "so 18th Century" or worse.

Take the Martha Stewart case, for example. According to the Usual Pundits on both the right and the left, the conviction and imprisonment (albeit rather brief) of Stewart represented a triumphant moment in which we once again affirmed the Principle that No One is Above the Law. Actually, it demonstrated a more fundamental condition fully supported by the mainstream media (or MSM): the state and its prosecutors are above the law, and the press will make sure of that.

Why do I make such a charge? There was no way the feds could charge Stewart with insider trading, and they knew it. Thus, they hatched a plan with the NYT and Wall Street Journal being complicit in lawbreaking: prosecutors fed secret grand jury information to those papers that was designed to damage the stock price of Martha Stewart Living and compel Stewart to meet with prosecutors and investigators in order to stop the bleeding. (In fact, Stewart was convicted of lying to investigators during that fateful meeting.)

It is a felony to leak grand jury information and is punishable by up to five years in prison. Yet, the feds did it and no one -- no one -- in the media complained about this episode of lawbreaking which was done in order to trick someone into committing a "crime" so that the press could have its Big Story and the prosecutors could indict and convict its Big Fish.

So, who is above the law here? The "watchdog" media assured federal prosecutors and their minions that both they and the media could do what they darned well please, and the law be damned. (After all, the law only is for "little people," not for Important People like prosecutors and reporters for the NYT.) There was no mention of this situation on any editorial pages of our "prestigious" newspapers; instead, we saw only the self-congratulations that happens when the media allies itself with dishonest prosecutors to railroad "chosen" people into prison.

Lest anyone think I am simply "defending the rich" (which, apparently, is a crime in and of itself in this present time), I also look at the behavior of prosecutors across the country who regularly violate the law and certainly the U.S. Constitution, all with the blessings of the media, both right and left. It is very rare that any news organization calls for any sanctions to be placed on prosecutors who are exposed as lawbreakers.

Radley Balko time and again has exposed wrongdoing by prosecutors against the poor and African Americans, yet the prosecutors and the fraudulent "expert witnesses" they have employed in order to get false convictions have not had to worry about losing anything. In the wrongful conviction case of Cory Maye, which Balko has done more than than all of the MSM put together to put into the public eye, we see all of the worst elements of the unholy alliance between prosecutors and the media.

Balko is not the only person speaking out. Tom Kirkendall, a Houston attorney who actually cares about the Bill of Rights, has written many posts on his blog about the prosecutorial wrongdoing in the Enron case and the prosecution of R. Allen Stanford. (The only thing the feds have not done in the Stanford case is to declare him an "enemy combatant" and hold him in the same conditions they held Jose Padilla.)

Yet, there is no outrage in the media. Ironically, Stanford's treatment is not much different than the treatment given in Russia to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a businessman who apparently angered Vladimir Putin. However, the NYT had a lengthy article condemning Khodorkovsky's imprisonment, but apparently believes that denying bail to an American businessman and holding him in conditions reserved for those on death row is perfectly acceptable.

As one who was involved in the infamous Duke Lacrosse Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, and Non-Sexual Assault case, I can tell you that the MSM will swallow just about anything from prosecutors, providing it fits the anti-capitalist and anti-Bill of Rights narrative that dominates the American media today. Even though most journalists think of themselves as being far superior in intelligence than most Americans, the leaders of the "Newspaper of Record" were True Believers in the "Magic Towel" that allegedly appeared in the Duke case, a towel that managed to make the DNA of Crystal Mangum appear while not wiping away the DNA of anyone else.

Yes, the same journalists who want us to believe that simple cotton towels have magical properties also want us to believe that it is OK for government-funded "scientists" to fake data and engage in outright fraud just to save us from the fate of "climate change." Oh, and these are the same people who believe that Al Gore is a genius, an "intellectual's intellectual." (Actually, I had some dealings with Gore when I worked in Tennessee and can tell readers that the guy was just another fat, scripted politician who enjoys average intelligence at best.)

Indeed, the MSM is no "watchdog" of government. Journalists are lapdogs of the state, and little more than that. As for the constituency of liberty, I do find it telling that the one politician who does speak out for real liberty, Ron Paul, is derided in the MSM as a "kook" and a "nutcase." Somehow, that makes sense to me, given what I have seen in the media. From Sean Insanity at Fox News to Rachel Mad Dog at MSNBC, we see that the media loves dictators, "take-charge" people who throw around their weight. As for liberty, well, that is passe at best and dangerous at worst.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Paul Krugman's Christmas Carol

It is the year 2014 and Tiny Tim is ill, but he does not need the generosity of Ebenzer Scrooge to bring him back to health. No, as Paul Krugman insists, the Cratchits

have health insurance. Not from their employer: Ebenezer Scrooge doesn’t do employee benefits. And just a few years earlier they wouldn’t have been able to buy insurance on their own because Tiny Tim has a pre-existing condition, and, anyway, the premiums would have been out of their reach.

But reform legislation enacted in 2010 banned insurance discrimination on the basis of medical history and also created a system of subsidies to help families pay for coverage. Even so, insurance doesn’t come cheap — but the Cratchits do have it, and they’re grateful. God bless us, everyone

Now, Krugman admits that this is just a story, but he has seen the Ghost of Christmas Future and declares:

O.K., that was fiction, but there will be millions of real stories like that in the years to come. Imperfect as it is, the legislation that passed the Senate on Thursday and will probably, in a slightly modified version, soon become law will make America a much better country.

Indeed, we know that the legislation that will place more chains upon us than which bedeviled Jacob Marley is going to be costly, much more costly than Krugman will admit, and I am not about to say that imposing new costs and taking the individual out of medical care will make this a better country. In fact, I would not be surprised if it made the USA a place that people will want to leave, if only to find a place where they can receive adequate care.

Being a skeptic about this impending legislation places me in Krugman’s gunsights. You see, the only possible reason that I could oppose this attempt to impose “universal” medical care is that I want the Tiny Tims of the world to become sicker, and ultimately to die. Lest one think I exaggerate, here is Krugman in his own words:

First, there’s the crazy right, the tea party and death panel people — a lunatic fringe that is no longer a fringe but has moved into the heart of the Republican Party. In the past, there was a general understanding, a sort of implicit clause in the rules of American politics, that major parties would at least pretend to distance themselves from irrational extremists. But those rules are no longer operative. No, Virginia, at this point there is no sanity clause.

Actually, he is wrong, as many of the “tea party” and “death panel” folks are not Republicans, at least in the mainstream sense of the word. They are libertarians and supporters of Ron Paul and others like him, but since Krugman considers Paul and other adherents to Austrian Economics to be ignorant nuts and financial illiterates, they obviously are going to be targets of his scorn. Furthermore, the prospects of “death panels” are quite real; they exist in all of the other countries that have the kind of “universal care” that Krugman endorses.

Although Krugman claims that any “horror story” about medical care in places like Great Britain are nothing but lies, I will present a real-live horror story that tells volumes not only about socialist medical care, but also people like Paul Krugman, who believe that egalitarianism is the highest principle of all, even if it leads to someone unnecessarily dying a horrible death.

Debbie Hirst, a woman living in Great Britain, suffered from breast cancer, which had metastasized. As the New York Times explains, the British National Health Service refused to provide her with Avastin, a drug widely available in the USA and Europe, because the government declared it to be too costly. As the NYT (ironically, given that it is Krugman's employer) explains:

…with her oncologist’s support, she decided last year to try to pay the $120,000 cost herself, while continuing with the rest of her publicly financed treatment.

By December, she had raised $20,000 and was preparing to sell her house to raise more. But then the government, which had tacitly allowed such arrangements before, put its foot down. Mrs. Hirst heard the news from her doctor.

“He looked at me and said: ‘I’m so sorry, Debbie. I’ve had my wrists slapped from the people upstairs, and I can no longer offer you that service,’ ” Mrs. Hirst said in an interview.

“I said, ‘Where does that leave me?’ He said, ‘If you pay for Avastin, you’ll have to pay for everything’ ” — in other words, for all her cancer treatment, far more than she could afford.

Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones.

Patients “cannot, in one episode of treatment, be treated on the N.H.S. and then allowed, as part of the same episode and the same treatment, to pay money for more drugs,” the health secretary, Alan Johnson, told Parliament.

“That way lies the end of the founding principles of the N.H.S.,” Mr. Johnson said.

Indeed, this is a most telling story, and according to the NYT, Hirst was not alone as many other people had similar tales. (Most likely, Krugman would accuse all of them of lying or, worse, wanting to upset those egalitarian principles that will make these sorry events inevitable.)

Keep in mind that the National Health Service in this case was acting as a “death panel.” (Of course, “death panels” don’t exist under socialist care; Krugman tells us so.) However, because of the adverse publicity, the NHS backed down and paid for Hirst’s Avastin. Nonetheless, this episode gives us an important window in examining the institutional nature of socialist medicine.

As anyone who ever has dealt with a bureaucracy knows, the most important thing is that the people working in those bureaus protect themselves and the government. The real purpose of socialist medicine is not making sure that everyone who needs medical care can receive it.

Instead, the real purpose of such a medical regime is to ensure that all people receive the same care, even if that care is substandard. (There is an exception: people who are politically-connected will be jumped to the head of the line and will find that the finest health facilities are reserved for them. For example, when Michael Moore took Americans to Cuba so they could experience medical care under socialism, he took them not to the facilities that regular Cubans frequent. Instead, they went to the care facility that exists exclusively for political elites, something Moore failed to tell his audience.)

I wish that Krugman’s invective was limited to the “death panels” crowd, but he next turns on those who are concerned about the costs of this legislation:

A second strand of opposition comes from what I think of as the Bah Humbug caucus: fiscal scolds who routinely issue sententious warnings about rising debt. By rights, this caucus should find much to like in the Senate health bill, which the Congressional Budget Office says would reduce the deficit, and which — in the judgment of leading health economists — does far more to control costs than anyone has attempted in the past.

But, with few exceptions, the fiscal scolds have had nothing good to say about the bill. And in the process they have revealed that their alleged concern about deficits is, well, humbug. As Slate’s Daniel Gross says, what really motivates them is “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, is receiving social insurance.”

How do we know that this bill will “reduce the deficit”? Why, the bill declares it to be so, and the accounting methods contained in this bill “prove” it. Now, according to Mark Hemingway, there are some accounting tricks in this legislation, and I suspect that if private firms used the same accounting methods, some people would be hauled off to prison, and Krugman would lead the cheerleading squad for the prosecution.

For example, according to Hemingway:
In order to make health care legislation sound cheaper than it is, the Senate health care bill begins collecting major tax increases and fees immediately and delays the bill's major spending provision for four years. So cost projections bandied about in media reports are taken from from 2009 to 2019 and appear substanially cheaper than when the legislation's spending is in full effect from 2014 to 2024.

Even this dishonesty is built upon the assumption that the projected revenues of these massive tax increases will match the actual revenues, something that is highly doubtful in the current economic climate. One might recall that Jeffrey Skilling went to prison in part because Enron aggressively counted all accounts payable as present income, as opposed to Enron’s counting the income when the money actually came in. (This was legal, but the government still found a way to criminalize it.)

Furthermore, Krugman commits the logical fallacy of “appeal to authority” in his declaration that since the “leading health economists” have approved this bill and its fiscal language, then there is nothing left to argue. Thus, Krugman reasons, those critics who are concerned about the costs of the bill really are saying this because they want others to get sick and die.

As for “controlling costs,” Krugman demonstrates once again that he is not an economist. No government can successfully mandate “lower costs.” Governments can place price controls and do like the British NHS and deny certain care, which means that individuals suffer and die prematurely. Such actions might show up on official balance sheets as “lower costs,” but economically speaking, that is fiction.

Whenever governments attempt to impose “cost controls,” they create other dislocations that are costly to people who cannot obtain certain goods precisely because of the “cost control” mechanisms. When people must suffer because government authorities have denied medical care, that is a cost borne by the individuals and their families. When people die prematurely, that is a cost that is borne by others, and it is every bit as real a cost as anything that appears on a government spreadsheet.

Given the record of government medical care, it is easy to envision a completely different outcome to the Tiny Tim Cratchit affair. Instead of assuring that Tiny Tim receives the medical treatment he needs to survive, the government health authorities declare that it is too costly to treat the lad and suggest that he take lots of painkillers (which the government provides for free) that will keep him out of pain until he dies (and, thus, stops costing the government so much money).

Outraged at this situation, Ebenezer Scrooge declares that he gladly will pay for all of Tiny Tim’s treatment, only to be rebuffed by the government, which declares that paying for Tim’s care will undercut the very basis of the government’s health policies. The government announces that because Scrooge does not have enough money to pay for everyone’s medical care, then he cannot be permitted to pay for anyone’s care, including care for himself.

When this situation becomes public, Krugman declares that it only is a “scare story” and is patently untrue. And, if it is true, Krugman continues, it is a necessary event, since one “must break some eggs to make an omelet.”

God bless us everyone, for when this bill becomes law, we will need to invoke God’s blessing if only to stay healthy.

Merry Christmas!

I want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and hope you are doing well. While it seems that our government is doing all it can to impoverish most Americans (in the name of "providing prosperity," of course), nonetheless it cannot change the laws of nature and it certainly cannot change the law of God.

So, on this day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let us remember that there is only one savior, and it ain't the guy in the White House.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Harvey Silverglate on Volokh Conspiracy

Harvey Silverglate has been an important mentor to me for many years, and I always recommend his comments to people. His post today on the Volokh Conspiracy blog is spot on -- as usual.

In this post, Harvey points out just how vague -- and dangerous -- the so-called terrorism laws have become. Below the terrorism post is a post on "honest services fraud," the favorite tool of federal prosecutors, as it enables them to criminalize what actually is legal behavior.

Read and weep, for we have to understand just what we have lost by permitting federal prosecutors to run amok.

Paul Samuelson, RIP

The recent death of Paul Samuelson, the 1970 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, is ironic, for it was Samuelson who popularized Keynesian economics in this country, and the Obama administration has jumped fully onto the Keynesian bandwagon. Thus, Samuelson dies even as his influence grows, at least among the political classes.

I never was a fan of Samuelson, and while I will try not to speak too much ill of the recently departed, nonetheless I think the guy was bad for economics and he leaves a legacy of economic wreckage and bad theory. However, I will concentrate today on one of his legacies: the transformation of economics from something that an educated layperson could understand to a branch of inferior mathematics.

Samuelson published his doctoral dissertation in 1948 with the title of Foundations of Economics. In that book, he argued that economics had to adopt the analysis of the physical sciences if it was to be accepted as a science at all. While his famous textbook was the standard of college economics classes for many decades, it was Foundations that ultimately helped to create the intellectual morass that is academic economics today.

Before Samuelson hit the scene, the top economic journals published essays that could be read by any educated individual. For example, F.A. Hayek's 1945 essay "The Use of Knowledge in Society" in American Economic Review is a real classic which is timeless in its relevance and has been read by thousands of people, including many who have had no training in higher math. Ronald Coase's "The Problem of Social Cost," published in 1960 in the Journal of Law and Economics, is not written in the usual mathematical style that dominates the journals today, yet it is one of the most cited papers in academic economics.

I can think of no advantage that using high-level math brings to economic analysis. None. There are numerous people who can write mundane and irrelevant papers but use lots and lots of "squiggles," and they can be published. Write a cogent essay, however, and one is relegated to the lower-tier journals because of its "lack of rigor."

Unfortunately, academic economists today confuse difficulty in reading with "rigorous" application. If one can write "Mary had a little lamb" in multi-variable calculus to a point where few people can understand what is written, then according to academic economists, one has engaged in writing "rigorous" analysis. What nonsense.

My sense is that even had Samuelson not lived, academic economics would have fallen into its current state of irrelevance. However, it was Samuelson who really got the ball rolling and it was Samuelson who ultimately was the main influence in destroying many of the real foundations of economic analysis. It is doubly ironic that the book that began this destruction of the economic foundations was entitled Foundations of Economics.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Global Warming Warriors Expose their Population Control Agenda

I always have contended that the government-caused panic about supposed human-created "global warming" has been a mask for a larger agenda: controlling people. After all, every human being emits carbon dioxide, which the Environmental Protection Agency has declared to be a "dangerous pollutant." Control humans and control the climate, or so the pundits declare.

Today's "progressives" believe that no human being should go uncontrolled by the state, or at least no human being who is not an "enlightened progressive." The latest exposition of this supposed "truth" comes from Canada's Financial Post, which declares that we need some form of world government to enforce a universal "one child" policy.

While China has made huge strides over the past three decades since the death of the world's greatest mass-murderer, Mao, nonetheless it still enforces a brutal population control policy that has been a "progressive's dream." That is just fine with Post columnist Diane Francis:

The "inconvenient truth" overhanging the UN's Copenhagen conference is not that the climate is warming or cooling, but that humans are overpopulating the world.

A planetary law, such as China's one-child policy, is the only way to reverse the disastrous global birthrate currently, which is one million births every four days.

Yes, the "government should not be in our bedrooms crowd" wants, well, government in our bedrooms. And if the "progressives" are endorsing China's policy, don't forget that the government forces women to have abortions, engages in the crime of infanticide, and in so doing has created another crisis: China today is full of young and middle-aged men who has no prospects for marriage because there are so few eligible women. (The one-child policy has led Chinese parents to prefer having male children, which has led to the present crisis. It is called the Law of Unintended Consequences.)

Actually, the "inconvenient truth" has been that standards of living throughout the world have increased greatly as population has increased. However, facts never seem to drive population control discussion. Furthermore, the "progressives" have made it clear that while they believe the rest of us should be subject to the state's permission to have children, the "enlightened" people are to be exempt.

After all, Diane Francis has two children.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Climategate and the End of Science

For “climate change” skeptics like me, the recently revealed emails from scientists who aggressively have promoted the current political doctrine are very telling. Not surprisingly, those at the center of this controversy are claiming that the words we have read mean nothing, and that governments must continue their environmental policies – or else.

A gaggle of scientists, journalists, academics, and politicians have been telling us for years that unless governments can push through policies that will end modern life as we know it, then “global warming” will, uh, end modern life as we know it. Another way to put it is that unless the governments of the earth agree with one another to commit suicide, we are going to die.

Perhaps, the best analogy for this entire affair is the Wizard of Oz’s telling Dorothy and her friends to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” When scientists explain in private emails how they try to make sure that only their views are published in academic journals, but now tell us they really are just trying to keep “bad science” out of the discourse, then one only can conclude that this is an update of the famous movie scene.

As one who has published a number of academic papers, I can recognize a rigged system, and what Americans have had foisted on them for the last decade is fraudulent. However, we need to understand how the game is played and how the outcomes are fixed.

In 1998 three researchers published a paper that claimed that for thousands of years global temperatures had held steady, but in the last century, as people allegedly released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, world temperatures suddenly shot upward, creating the infamous “hockey stick” effect. For environmentalists and politicians like Al Gore, this was a godsend. We had “proof” that human beings were causing “global warming,” and unless something was done now, we were going to burn up the earth.

A decade earlier, NASA scientist James Hansen had testified before Al Gore’s Senate committee that not only had “global warming” arrived and that it was human-caused, but the drought that hit much of the U.S. farm belt that summer was a direct result of that warming. (That the next summer was relatively cool and wet also was attributed, perversely, to warming. In fact, the True Believers have attributed every cold day and every snowstorm to the same thing: global warming.)

The “hockey stick” was all that was needed to move the process from creating mass hysteria to “doing something,” which has meant draconian environmental policies that already are creating perverse economic effects. Not surprisingly, Gore made the “hockey stick” the centerpiece of his An Inconvenient Truth documentary, which won him both an Oscar and the Nobel Peace Prize.

However, the “hockey stick” itself had huge problems. The first was that other scientists could not replicate the results using the same data. When one publishes a paper with statistical analysis, one is supposed to make the data available so that others can try to find the same results, which is a powerful tool in keeping researchers honest.

It turned out that the mathematical algorithm used to transform the data was created in a way that no matter what one put into the equation, one received the same results. This is fraud, pure and simple, but because the “hockey stick” resonated with environmentalists and their political allies, it became the centerpiece for anyone who wanted to claim that modern economies are killing the planet.

Furthermore, governments have rigged the game by funding most “climate science.” How likely are they to finance studies that don’t justify the political class’s ambition to control the lives of others?

Hansen demanded to Congress that the executives of energy companies be tried for crimes against humanity and nature because they have given the public “misinformation” about global warming. And Gore has called for energy executives to be charged with securities fraud for denying its severity.

Their “science” may be a joke, but these people are dead serious about imposing their will.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Radley Balko Comments on the Left-Right "Alliance"

Radley Balko has a new article out that takes a more skeptical view of the left-right alliance on the expansion of federal criminal law, and I think his points are well-taken. Recently, I commented about the New York Times' recent piece on the efforts people have made from these two different sides of the political spectrum.

I believe he does an excellent job of laying the fundamental differences between conservatives, libertarians and liberals, and how libertarians bridge the gap, a gap that always will be there. Of the actual prospects for a meaningful alliance, he writes:

Still, the prospect of any sort of lasting alliance seems unlikely, mostly because conservatives, libertarians, and liberals view the legal system in fundamentally different ways. Conservatives believe the primary purpose of the legal system is to protect property and to promote order and stability. Liberals believe it's to promote equality—or to combat inequality. Libertarians put a premium on individual rights, favoring a limited legal system that serves only to protect society from those who cause direct harm to others or their property.

He follows this with a Venn Diagram which I think is excellent:

Indeed, we are talking about a huge gap. Somehow, I doubt that the people who are protesting the conviction and imprisonment of Lynne Stewart are willing to see that the convictions and imprisonment of Jeffrey Skilling of Enron or Jack Abramoff had no more basis in law than did Stewart's conviction. That is the tragedy, and it is how government uses Divide and Conquer to make sure that prosecutorial and judicial injustices will be a way of life in this country.