Archives: October, 2009

“Opt-Out” Smoke and Mirrors

At today’s Politico Arena the editors ask:

Reid’s Option: Does it help or hurt the chances for healthcare passage by Christmas?

My response:

Like every other part of ObamaCare, the “opt-out” proposal for the “public option” is a mystery – and almost certainly will continue to be even after the likely 1,500-page bill emerges, if ever it does. Will residents in states that opt-out be able to opt-out of the taxes needed to support the public option? (Please don’t say the public option will be self-supporting: we’re grown-ups.) Healthy taxpayers in North Dakota, after all, have no incentive to subsidize unhealthy New Yorkers. But if states can opt out of the tax part, then we’ll have “adverse selection” at the state level, the very thing the “individual mandate” is meant to stop at the individual level. Yet if states won’t be able to opt out of the tax component, then what’s the incentive for states to opt out of the public option? All pay, no benefit, is a sucker’s game.

This is all smoke and mirrors. And it’s laughable to think that the Congressional Budget Office can score any of this, when nobody knows what “this” is. For all the backroom dealings so far, enough has taken place in public to enable the public to see what’s going on, and it’s not pretty. It’s the usual something-for-nothing gimmickry, like last week’s “doc-fix” joke. The vote on that is the best predictor so far of where this whole thing is going. When labor tells us they might accept a tax on high-value insurance plans if it doesn’t hit the middle class, we know the money isn’t there. May ObamaCare rest in peace until more sober people are able to attend to what’s really required to straighten out the health care mess that Congress created in the first place.

“VIPR” Stands for “Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response” …

… and it’s sinking its fangs into Americans’ civil liberties.

Here’s a story about a “VIPR” team performing a “sting” operation on innocent Americans at a bus terminal in Florida, searching their persons and bags and discovering their petty crimes.

It’s almost a certainty that whoever named this sub-unit of the Department of Homeland Security thought it was a clever way to convey machismo and give a sense of mission to members of VIPR teams. But it also illustrates how the 9/11 terrorist attacks have caused the United States to lose its grip and behave like a cornered snake rather than a strong, free country.

The natural illogic of VIPR stings is that terrorism can strike anywhere, so VIPR teams should search anywhere. It’s the undoing of the Fourth Amendment, and it’s unwarranted counterterrorism because it expends resources on things that won’t catch or deter terrorists. Indeed, VIPR “stings” may encourage terrorism because they show that terrorism successfully undermines the American way of life.

Samuelson: the Fannie Med Mirage

In yesterday’s Washington Post, economics columnist Bob Samuelson had a fantastic piece on the Democrats’ plan to create yet another government-run health insurance program for yet another population of Americans.  Here’s the money quote:

The promise of the public plan is a mirage. Its political brilliance is to use free-market rhetoric (more “choice” and “competition”) to expand government power. But why would a plan tied to Medicare control health spending, when Medicare hasn’t?

Read the whole thing.

Spectator.org Readers Getting “Mad about Trade”

My new Cato book, Mad about Trade: Why Main Street America Should Embrace Globalization, has sparked a lively exchange this morning over at the American Spectator’s popular web site.

Contributing Editor Shawn Macomber introduces a Q&A with me by telling his readers:

Daniel Griswold is not shy about sharing the high aspirations he harbors for his superlative new book Mad about Trade. Griswold has managed to compose a volume as accessible and persuasive as it is indispensable, as fresh and uplifting as it is firmly grounded in accumulated wisdom–a rare bird, indeed.

Slipping Support for Government Health Insurance

Here’s a striking graphic of the results of continuing New York Times/CBS News polling on the question, “Do you think the federal government should guarantee health insurance for all Americans, or isn’t this the responsibility of the federal government?”

200910_blog_boaz1

Support for a government guarantee of health insurance starts dropping sharply as the country starts debating the topic. It’s not clear from this graphic, provided by Gallup, but support is at 64 percent in June, 55 in July, and 51 in late September, well after the Long Hot August and just after President Obama’s health care blitz that included his primetime speech to Congress and highly publicized rallies in Minnesota and Maryland. Note also that the question doesn’t mention any downsides of the government guarantee; respondents apparently had figured those out for themselves.

Oddly enough, if you search the New York Times site for this question, nothing comes up. And if you Google the question, the Times isn’t in the search results. It’s almost as if they didn’t want to publicize their very interesting finding. You can find a reference to it here and documentation here.

Another interesting take on support for health care “reform” can be found here – a graph of all the polls on health care plans offered by the president or in Congress, from January to present, showing opposition rising. Also from pollster.com: President Obama’s slipping approval numbers on health care.

The Fed and Policy Uncertainty

How and when should the Fed unwind the enormous monetary expansion it undertook in response to the financial crisis and recession? The WSJ reports [$]:

As the Federal Reserve’s next meeting approaches in early November, an internal debate is brewing about how and when to signal the possibility of interest-rate increases.

The Fed has said since March that it will keep rates very low for an “extended period.” Long before it raises rates, however, it will need to change that public signal to financial markets.

Because the recovery is so young and is expected to be so weak, many central bank officials are comfortable, for now, keeping rates very low. But they are beginning to strategize about how to walk away from the “extended period” language.

My suggestion is that the Fed announce a path of gradual increases in the federal funds rate, say beginning next year and lasting for two years, until the rate is at some “normal level.”

This approach is different than what the Fed is likely to undertake; it will probably want to maximize “discretion,” the ability to adjust on the fly as conditions unfold.

My approach maximizes predictability and reassurance: it commits the Fed to shrinking the money supply and heading off future inflation. This reassures markets and takes substantial uncertainty out of the picture.

The problem with my approach is the pre-commitment: everyone knows the Fed could abandon a pre-announced path.

But such an announcement might still give markets useful guidance, and the Fed would know that any deviation would itself upset markets, and this might encourage adherence to the pre-commitment.

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z

Reid’s Accomplishment

Including a Fannie Med with a “state opt-out” provision in the Senate Democrats’ health care bill accomplishes only this: it helps Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) survive as majority leader by appeasing his left wing.  It doesn’t make it any more (or less) likely that Fannie Med will survive.

(Cross-posted at Politico’s Health Care Arena.)