200610

October 5, 2006 10:23AM

Health Care Innovation

Tyler Cowen does two nice things in today’s economic scene column on health care spending. First, he makes the case that the U.S. system is the leader in innovation:

[T]he American health care system may be performing better than it seems at first glance. When it comes to medical innovation, the United States is the world leader. In the last 10 years, for instance, 12 Nobel Prizes in medicine have gone to American‐​born scientists working in the United States, 3 have gone to foreign‐​born scientists working in the United States, and just 7 have gone to researchers outside the country.

The other nice thing is that he cites Crisis of Abundance:

The economist Arnold Kling in his “Crisis of Abundance: Rethinking How We Pay for Health Care” (Cato Institute, 2006) argues that the expected life span need increase by only about half a year for the extra American health care spending to be cost‐​effective over a 20‐​year period. Given that many Americans walk less and eat less healthy food than most Europeans, the longevity boost from health care in the United States may be real but swamped by the results of poor lifestyle choices. In the meantime, the extra money Americans spend to treat allergy symptoms, pain, depression and discomfort contributes to personal happiness.

October 4, 2006 5:58PM

Debating Darwin

Michael Shermer, a leading skeptic and bestselling author, will speak at Cato on October 12 on his new book, Why Darwin Matters: The Case against Intelligent Design. Providing highly critical commentary will be Jonathan Wells, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Shermer, once a creationist himself, argues that evolutionary theory is the foundation of modern biology. He concludes, “Darwin matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. And I liked this line: “Of the three intellectual giants of that epoch–Darwin, Marx, and Freud–only Darwin is still relevant for the simple reason that his theory was right.” Join us next Thursday, or watch it on the web.

October 4, 2006 5:33PM

“Reprehensible” Is Right

If the facts that gave rise to this lawsuit (reg. req.) are as described in the complaint, then it’s pretty disturbing. Last June, a Colorado man named Steven Howards approached Vice President Cheney in a public place, and told him “I think your policies in Iraq are reprehensible,” or “words to that effect.” A few minutes later, a Secret Service Agent cuffed Howards and had him hauled off to jail. (The charges were later dropped).


There’s not much in the news coverage to suggest that Howards, who was taking his eight‐​year‐​old son to piano practice at the time, behaved in a threatening manner, unless one thinks that telling public officials what they don’t want to hear is inherently threatening.


There is quite a bit of evidence, however, that that’s exactly what the Secret Service thinks. Some of it is documented in this study, under the heading “Free Speech Zones.” The agency has evolved from a necessary protective detail for the president to a sort of palace guard with apparently very little regard for those not under its protection. That’s the fault of the agency’s leadership, to be sure, but ultimately the buck stops with the people they answer to.

October 4, 2006 5:12PM

Bureaucracy and Lost Privacy

In my book Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood, I argue that identification is required of us too often by both corporations and government as we go about our business. I also do my best to articulate the reasons why this is bad, and how we can escape it.

With my senses tuned to the overuse of identification, I’m keenly aware of the osmotic process by which institutions soak up information about us, pass it around, and use it in ways we may not prefer.

Here’s an example from real life: I have recently spoken at several conferences dealing with identification, identity, financial risk management, and the like. When the time came to get reimbursement for my travel, one of the conference organizers asked me to give my Social Security Number if I was going to rely on faxed receipts for reimbursement.

The e-mail thread below shows how complex IRS regulations require financial administrators in the corporate world to over-comply, collecting (and possibly filing with the government) information that neither entity needs.

This is bureaucracy in action (both public and private), and it’s the constant drip, drip, drip of privacy going away.

[Names have been changed to protect the guilty.]

Read the rest of this post »
October 4, 2006 4:38PM

Is the Military Commission Act Constitutional?

Jack Balkin and Jonathan Hafetz have thoughts here and here.

There are a number of complicated questions to unpack:

1. Does the Constitution guarantee some minimum amount of habeas protection? Justice Scalia says no in his dissent in INS v. St. Cyr. Others say yes.

2. If it does require some minimum habeas protection, what does the constitutional minimum look like? The 1789 version of common law habeas that applied in the King’s Bench? Or something more robust?

3. Does constitutional habeas, if it exists, extend to aliens?

4. When can Congress suspend constitutional habeas and for how long?

5. Relatedly, does due process inform what constitutes “constitutional habeas” and, at the same time, limit Congress’s suspension power?

Balkin avoids addressing due process and equal protection arguments against the MCA, noting they require much more heavy lifting than a blog post allows. I’m undeterred by his common sense, however, and below I raise a set of preliminary questions about these claims:

Read the rest of this post »
October 4, 2006 4:23PM

Are Environmentalists Stark Raving Mad?

You might think so by reading the daily environmental trade press. Case in point — in today’s Greenwire (subscription required), we’re informed of a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (apparently, not yet posted online) about fish farms. The authors of the paper believe that sea lice from farmed salmon caused a 9 percent to 95 percent mortality rate in wild juvenile salmon populations in British Columbia. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, however, is not persuaded, and notes that the study does not prove the point and that plenty of other studies have found to the contrary.


Now, set aside any doubts. Let’s just assume that sea lice from farmed salmon migrate to wild salmon and that it may — but may not — kill them. How do you feel about that? Now, my reaction is “Hmm. OK. I’ll keep an eye on that. Now, what’s for lunch?” But I’m an enviro policy wonk and I’m paid to care. Most people would probably not give a damn one way or the other. After all, there’s a lot of things in this world to worry about, and sea lice on salmon just isn’t something worth spending more than, say, a minute on at most.


But for environmentalists, the new report is an excuse for political road‐​rage. “This is an atrocity, this should just piss people off,” claims Prof. John Volpe, co‐​author of the study.


An atrocity? You mean, like what happened in Lancaster the other day, or what is going on today in Darfur? That’s a little extreme, isn’t it? And how reasonable is it to go to the water cooler with teeth grinding and nostrils flaring after hearing of salmon and sea lice?

“What’s the matter, Jerry? You look pretty mad.”

“I’ll tell you what’s the matter! Sea lice from commercial aquaculture is finding its way to wild salmon populations, and, by God, it REALLY TICKS ME OFF!!”

To quote Jerry Seinfeld, who are these people? Well, Greenwire has an answer to that too (but you will need a subscription to read it). According to “The American Environmental Values Survey,” a new report released by ecoAmerica (an environmental research firm), environmental groups reach out to roughly the same 3 million people, which represent about 1 percent of the population, and surveys repeatedly show the environment is a top priority for roughly the same small percentage of the public. Only 44 percent of people are willing to label themselves “environmentalists,” only 48 percent think that environmentalists are “practical,” and 44 percent described environmentalists as “self‐​righteous” (ONLY 44 percent??).


Keep this in mind as we enter the political season. The Greens are a pretty weird — and a pretty overrated — voting block.