Topic: Regulatory Studies

Learned Helplessness

Like many newer office buildings, Capitol Hill’s Hart Senate Office Building has automatic doors that make access for handicapped people much easier. They are activated by a pressing large blue button, which causes the glass double-doors to swing outward.

On several occasions recently, I have noted able-bodied Senate staff taking advantage of this convenience. Though they could open the doors themselves and enter more quickly, they press the button and pause a moment as the doors slowly open.

There is a lesson here for policymakers (including those Senate staff): Offered help, people of all abilities will accept it, whether they need it or not. Over time, their abilities to help themselves may atrophy.

So it goes with economic and social policies. A few years ago when Social Security reform was a hot topic, my father (who still wants to be a trucker when he grows up) observed casually that the truckers he talks to wouldn’t know what to do if they were responsible for their own retirement. The complexities of investing are too much for them.

I believe the contrary, that given responsibility for their retirement security, truckers would swarm over the problem and figure it out. The CB radios of the nation would crackle with investment advice. Like most cohorts, this group is fully capable of handling savings and investment. And just as able-bodied Senate staff can get through doorways more quickly on their own, truckers in aggregate would have more retirement security and more comfortable retirements. But they’ve been offered enough help (indeed - mandated to accept it) that they’ve ceded the field.

Assistive devices for the handicapped are a good thing, but I rue the day when able-bodied Americans come to expect automatic doors and regard it as an imposition or impossibility to reach forward, grasp a handle, and pull. Something to think about the next time you’re standing on an escalator because the stairs make you winded.

Satellite Shooting

The U.S. Navy is going to shoot down a malfunctioning National Reconnaissance Office (spy) satellite that is due to hit earth in March. A missile fired from an Aegis cruiser will do the deed.

The official reason for doing this, according to Aviation Week, is that:

The spacecraft carries a full tank of hydrazine — a toxic propellant — that would have been used to reposition the satellite in orbit. Government analysts say the odds are that the tank will crack open during re-entry or that it will land in the ocean, which makes up 70 percent of the area where the breaking-up satellite might land.

Hydrazine, a widely used rocket fuel, is certainly hazardous. But suspicious minds are bound to wonder whether the motive behind this action is not what we are told, especially because satellites crash to Earth frequently without harm.

It could be, as Aviation Week speculates, that sensitive technology on the satellite might survive reentry, land in the wrong place, and reveal U.S. secrets.

Another possibility is that the safety concern may provide a rationale for those in the Pentagon who want to conduct an anti-satellite test, a business that the U.S. has been out of for decades. Even if that is not the case, observers in China and other foreign states may believe it anyway.

Organ Shortage Update

The United Network for Organ Sharing on its website provides a running total of the number of people waiting for an organ transplant. Today that number is at 98,059. Next Thursday, Cato is holding a policy forum “Human Organs for Sale?” where solutions for solving the U.S. organ shortage will be discussed by well known advocates both for and against the sale of organs. Also under discussion will be Iran’s organ vending system which some say is so successful that Iran has been without an organ waiting list for almost a decade. To join us, please register at events [at] cato [dot] org.

Thanks, Mayor Bloomberg

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s continuing crusade to manage every aspect of his constituents’ lives has generated another perverse consequence: Customers of Wendy’s in New York will now get less information on nutrition than they did before the newest regulations. Wendy’s has posted this notice “For NYC Customers” on its Nutrition website:

Special notice to inquiries originating from New York City:

We regret that Wendy’s cannot provide product calorie information to residents or customers in New York City. The New York City Department of Health passed a regulation requiring restaurants that already provide calorie information to post product calories on their menu boards – using the same type size as the product listing.

We fully support the intent of this regulation; however, since most of our food is made-to-order, there isn’t enough room on our existing menu boards to comply with the regulation. We have for years provided complete nutritional information on posters inside the restaurant and on our website. To continue to provide caloric information to residents and customers of our New York City restaurants on our website and on our nutritional posters would subject us to this regulation. As a result, we will no longer provide caloric information to residents and customers of our New York City restaurants.

We regret this inconvenience. If you have questions about this regulation, please contact the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and refer to Health Code Section 81.50.

Thank You For Smoking

A central claim of those eager for restrictions on tobacco use is that smokers cost society more.

A new study from the Netherlands may help lay that oft heard chestnut to rest. The study shows that there would be no cost savings for governments and taxpayers from preventing obesity or reducing illnesses caused by smoking.

The study found, quite to the contrary, that healthy people cost more.

The study, undertaken by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Holland, found that ultimately healthy people, who live on average four years longer than obese people and seven years longer than smokers, cost the health system about $417,000 from the age of 20 compared to $371,000 for obese people and $326,000 for smokers.

One of the economists working on the study commented: “if you live longer, then you cost the health system more.”

Market Prices ≈ Slavery ≈ Child Labor?

That’s how Len Nichols of the New America Foundation described market prices for health insurance 41 minutes into this this webcast:

“We stopped child labor.  We stopped slavery.  We ought to stop extreme risk selection, too.”

I imagine more than a few actuaries and twentysomethings would be offended by the comparison.

Thanks to alert viewer Terry Holman for catching what I missed as I sat there listening to Nichols.