Great Moments in Government-Run Health Care

Britain’s National Health Service is an inefficient monstrosity with long waiting lines, yet the bureaucrats still manage to squander taxpayer funds on things such as “soul retrieval healing” and fingertip-tapping. Just for good measure, there is even some cheerleading for flower-therapists and crystal-healers. This type of nonsense exists in America, of course, but at least people are wasting their own money. The UK-based Times has the story:

Tom and Donna (not their real names) are professional shamen. They teach classes in shamanism at a “foundation”, where you can learn “soul retrieval healing”, help the dead “continue their journey into the Hereafter”, and investigate “the Fairy Kingdom”. These soul retrievers and Fairy Kingdom investigators also work for the NHS — where, according to Tom’s foundation profile, they “use complementary therapies to help those with mental health difficulties”. Shaman therapies are not the only unorthodox treatments for which the NHS will gladly pay.

Taxpayers are also subsidising Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) “therapy”, in which, according to one NHS trust, “subtle energies” are reordered via “tapping with the fingertips to stimulate certain meridian energy points while the client is ‘tuned in’ to the problem”. …If EFT doesn’t do the job, an NHS foot massage might help. Reflexologists believe that each part of the foot maps to a different organ, and that massaging a particular point can treat that organ. Medical doctors think it’s absurd. …Most depressing of all for the rational taxpayer is the NHS Directory for Alternative and Complementary Medicine, which aims to promote “dowsers”, “flower therapists” and “crystal healers”. We’ve just learnt that some hospitals are removing every third light bulb to save money, and that nurses are being paid half the minimum wage — or being asked to work for nothing — at others. That’s how bad the financial crisis has become. Meanwhile, the National Health Service is employing shaman fairy enthusiasts as psychological counsellors, enthusiastically providing treatments invented by “an ordained minister and a personal performance coach” who thinks tapping your body can cure diabetes, promoting dowsers and crystal healers and spending vast amounts on therapies that can’t be scientifically supported.

Europe is Falling Further behind the United States

Although some politicians argue that America should emulate Europe, that choice would mean lower living standards and less prosperity. A new study from Eurochambres reveals that Europe is decades behind the US in important measures of competitiveness. The study also calculates how long it would take Europe to catch up to America, but that assumes the US becomes stagnant. In reality, as the EU Observer reports, America is growing faster than Europe and the gap between the two is widening rather than shrinking:

The EU is 22 years behind the US on economic growth according to a new study, with several other economic indicators showing further gaps despite Europe’s ambitious reform agenda to be praised by leaders at this week’s summit.

A report by Eurochambers, the Brussels-based business lobby, published on Monday (5 March) argues that the US reached the current EU rate of GDP per capita in 1985 and its levels in employment and research investment almost 30 years ago.

…according to the Eurochambers study, the EU time lag behind the US has expanded further since 2003 when the group published its first report comparing the economic indicators on both sides of the Atlantic. …Authors of the study point out that if calculations included the latest newcomers of Bulgaria and Romania, the gap between the EU and US would be even larger… in a bid to start catching up with the US on key Lisbon indicators, Europe would have to perform better than the States, according to the Eurochambers study, while the latest results show the opposite: in 2006, the US registered an average GDP growth of 3.3 percent and the EU about 2.9 percent, the highest since 2000.

Webb on US Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Trolling through a news story about Sen. Jim Webb’s effort to preemptively deny the administration funds for attacking Iran unprovoked, this statement seems like one of the smartest things a congresscritter has said about foreign policy in a long time:

It is important that we clarify, formally, the perimeter of our immediate military interests in the Middle East.

Who would object to that?

Russia Examining Corporate Tax Rate Reduction

Lower tax rates are not a solution to all Russia’s problems, but tax policy is moving in the right direction. Tax-news.com reports that the government wants to reduce the corporate tax rate to 20 percent. Even more impressive, policy makers seemingly understand that lower corporate tax rates will have a larger supply-side effect than a reduction in the value-added tax, demonstrating a better grasp of economics than nine-tenths of the US Congress. The story also notes that Russia has taken other positive steps, though it does not mention the 13 percent flat tax implemented in 2001: 

Russia may cut its corporate profit tax rate to 20% from 24% as part of a three-year tax policy plan, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov stated last week. The government had previously been considering a further reduction in value added tax, currently 18%, to as low as 13%, but Shatalov said that a cut in corporate profit tax would be more likely to stimulate economic growth and boost levels of investment. …Putin has stated many times that while the government remains committed both to simplifying tax legislation and reducing the tax burden, tax reform must be balanced against needs of business, which requires certainty in the tax code. Since 2002, the Putin administration has reduced or abolished a number of taxes, including turnover tax, payroll taxes, sales tax, and value added tax. According to Putin, in 2005 Russia’s tax burden eased to 27.4% of GDP, from 28.7% in 2004.

“Amen Brother” and Other Funky Breaks

Against Monopoly points to a YouTube video that tracks some of the history of the “Amen Brother” beat and sampling generally.  That’s the practice of taking pieces of an existing song and weaving it into a new one.

The video reminded me again of the upwelling of creativity that occurred in the late 80’s before sampling came on the the radar screen of copyright holders.  Though sampling remains possible, it is done less often because of the legal minefield one encounters when doing so.

“Amen Brother” is important, of course, but there are many other beats that contend for top honors. I went looking for James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and came across this list of beats, calling itself “The 30 Greatest Hip Hop Drum Breaks & Samples of All Time.” Well, I’m not so sure, if it doesn’t have Funky Drummer, but listening to the beats connotes the dozens of songs that succeeded them. It’s an exciting window into our culture.

Finally, after much searching, I came across the Funky Drummer beat on this list. Enjoy the two-and-a-half seconds of bliss.

The point? Creative works are not just outputs of creative people - they’re also inputs to new creative works, a point made well by Greg Lastowka and Dan Hunter in their Cato Policy Analysis Amateur-to-Amateur: The Rise of a New Creative Culture.

The Gray Lady Deflates “Peak Oil” Fears

An excellent article by reporter Jad Mouawad in today’s New York Times knocks the stuffing out of those warning for the nth time that we’re about to run out of oil. What the doomsayers overlook is that existing fields typically deliver about 35% of their oil to the market. Until recently, the rest had been deemed unrecoverable for economic reasons.

But as technology improves and oil prices go up, what was once deemed unrecoverable becomes, well, recoverable. And that has a big impact on supply. Oil analyst Leonardo Maugeri has estimated that if recovery rates (which hovered around only 10% a few decades ago) were to move from 35% to 40%, that would be akin to adding a new Saudi Arabia to the global crude oil market. Maugeri’s recent essay in Newsweek covers a lot of the same ground.

Mouawad’s piece well demonstrates this dynamic at work in the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield, California. First discovered in 1899, the field has been producing for about a century and is still going strong despite numerous predictions over the years that the field was on its last legs.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the New York Times does a better job reporting business news, industrial trends, and microeconomic developments than any other newspaper — and perhaps magazine — in the world. Today’s piece is an excellent example of why serious people need to read that newspaper.

Paternalism Runs Out of Gas

I was filling up the minivan on Saturday when a woman at a nearby pump approached me and said, “Can you do me a favor? I don’t know how to pump my own gas.”

My first reaction was puzzlement. She was probably in her 30s, driving an SUV with what looked to be one or two kids inside. How could she be driving a car all these years and still not have figured out how to pump her own gas? Then she said something that instantly made it all clear.

“I’m from New Jersey.”

New Jersey, of course, is just about the only state left that requires that all gas stations within the state be full-service. Defenders of the ban on self-service pumps claim it is safer and more convenient for motorists and that it does not cause higher prices. None of those arguments hold water against the decades of successful experience with self-service pumps across the country. If a gas station attendant could pump your gas more safely and conveniently and at the same price, why do so few stations offer full-service anymore?

On top of its economic inefficiencies, the New Jersey ban on self-service is an insult to the good people of New Jersey. Their own state government is telling the world that its citizens are not smart enough or responsible enough to be trusted to handle a gasoline pump. When it comes to the routine task of filling up our vehicles, the paternalistic government of New Jersey treats its citizens as though they are children.

As I witnessed first-hand over the weekend, that paternalism can leave its citizens overly reliant on the kindness of strangers whenever they venture away from home.