The Affordable Care Act creates a new health insurance marketplace (the exchange). But because of the great uncertainty about what buyers will enter the market and who will buy what product, the law creates three vehicles to reduce insurance company risk.
Politicians and bureaucrats are notorious for manufacturing euphemisms -- clever but deceptive substitutes for what they really mean but don’t want to admit. That’s how the phrase “revenue enhancement” entered the vocabulary. Some of our courageous friends in government couldn’t bring themselves to say “tax hike.”
It’s easy to be negative about the U.S. economy these days. Find a glint of silver, and folks come running to point out all of the dark clouds looming about. This, of course, is what we got last week when the monthly jobs report was released from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Folks pooh-poohed the number of jobs and whining that they’re not enough or that it’s less than a bunch of economists thought that it might be. But you know what? Stuff ’em.
Facts are easy. You can check facts. What supporters of the Affordable Care Act are doing, on the other hand, transcends factual bungling. It’s far more advanced: a warping of reality so debauched it looks like something out of a tale by H.P. Lovecraft.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The highest form of charity, argued the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, is when the help given enables the receiver to become self-sufficient.But our systems of state charity — aka welfare — have too frequently had the opposite effect: They have actually created dependency. It is time to rethink the way we help people.I’m going to […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
President Obama crowed in his State of the Union speech about the economy, even mentioning “a rebounding housing market.” Maybe he was referring to friends in high places, like the seller of Penthouse One in New York, which just closed for $50.9 million, all cash. Millions of mere-mortal homeowners likely wanted to throw something at […]
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is acting in a bipartisan way to cover up the biggest single threat to the bipartisan political alliance that is stripping America of its wealth: the United States Congress.There is no question that the following policy is bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are completely agreed that the following information […]
Recent difficulties with implementing the Affordable Care Act have increased opposition to the program. A majority of Americans now oppose it. Problems with the HealthCare.gov website are in all likelihood temporary. However, there are serious long-term problems, particularly considering long-term finance and labor supply issues. Given the mounting difficulties with and growing concerns about the […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”As the inequality gap grows, there is an ideological battle unfolding in the West.On the one hand, there are those who think government can fix things. It must do more, tax more, […]
On Feb. 7 the United States will once again reach its statutory debt limit, meaning it cannot legally borrow any more money. Since the obvious option of cutting spending to match the amount of revenue that the government collects is off the table for some inexplicable reason, Congress will have to pass a new, higher […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
The Largest Company in History:“The United States Corporation of Government (USCOG)”I follow global social and commercial networks, looking for entrepreneurial opportunities.Innovation surges when industry and government models change. Buggy whips. Landline phones. Railroads. The Soviet Union. Apartheid South Africa. All marked social and commercial innovation, both bad and good.We are witnessing a new form of […]
We’d like to give the banks in Australia some credit. They’ve finally gone and done it. They have caught up with 1960s technology. They’ve figured out how to use PIN numbers.How to only use PIN numbers, that is. They’re considering scrapping signatures on credit cards to cut down on fraud. Apparently, having to verify your […]
We put in a good-citizen call to the SEC the other day.“There’s a massive scheme to manipulate stock prices,” we told the friendly agent.“I have to tell you that your call is being monitored so that we can better serve the public,” he replied.“Oh, don’t worry about that. The NSA is tapping our call anyway.”“Are […]
Dr. William C. Padgett is a retired optometrist who has been trying to bring an elderly care facility to Beaufort County, North Carolina, for over a decade.“Our senior citizens,” he laments, “are finding that it is difficult and in many cases impossible to find an appropriate long-term care facility locally.” Though he has received several […]
If you don’t have the angst out of your system concerning Wall Street banksters, Government Sachs, and the Affordable Care Act, settle in with Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia to make your blood boil one more time.Investors should be reminded of 2008 as they shrug their shoulders and put their money back in the stock market. The […]
What do 8 of the 10 wealthiest people in the U.S. have in common?Aside from being able to fly in private jets, the common thread is that each of them has made their fortune thanks to a start-up.Let me explain…From tech titans like Bill Gates and Larry Ellison (founders of Microsoft and Oracle, respectively), to […]
“Inequality is the defining challenge of our time,” according to President Obama. It’s certainly the topic of the day for Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz and a whole raft of liberal pundits.But have you noticed that hardly anyone else is talking about it? When is the last time you heard a shoeshine person or a taxi […]
In December of last year, I left my career to travel the world for one year.My plan was to visit as many countries as possible on my Star Alliance Around-the-World ticket in the first nine months, then, for the remaining three months, return back to the country that most caught my eye and my curiosity.Nine […]
Economic history is primed to repeat in the nastiest of ways unless the government stops distorting the price of something we use every day.Every product, good, or service has a price, which is essential to rational decision-making. We use prices every day as vital data that guide us. Without true prices, prices not distorted by […]
A new survey from Harvard University found a large majority of young Americans do not believe the law will save them money, do not believe it will improve their health, and do not intend to sign up for insurance through the new exchanges.
Uh-oh!The new pope, Francis from the Pampas, has just warned us to beware the “tyranny” of capitalism.Each man worships his own gods. Some worship at the altar of Jesus of Nazareth. Some at the altar of the Almighty Dollar. The capitalists don’t bad-mouth Francis’ god. You’d think he would cut them the same slack.Bad-mouthing Catholicism […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
A president stands disgraced. Congress is scattering. Bureaucrats are baffled. Pundits are reaching. Industry is scared. Politicians are scrambling to do something, anything, to make it better. One political party is in meltdown and the other loving every minute of it, hoping to ride the calamity to electoral gains.The so-called Patient Protection and Affordable Care […]
Two years ago, I was the soul of generosity. I had culled through my sizeable collection of CDs and found 30 discs that I was happy to give away. My social circle went nuts, praising me as the great giver. They were so happy to have such fabulous music for free.
This week, I tried the same thing, with an even more generous offering. No takers. I’m sitting here with a pile of CDs containing what was considered great two years ago, yet I can’t find a home for the discs today. There has been no physical change to the stuff. The music is as high-quality as ever.
What changed? The valuation and, therefore, the price. I once held treasure. Now it seems destined to be trash. The only thing that changed is the passage of time — and it so happens that the slice of time in question has seen the most-spectacular innovations in music reproduction ever.
Think about it. The same amount of work went into making the CDs (so much for the “labor theory of value”). The CDs have not depreciated in any physical sense. The music they contain is no less valuable now than it was then (it is mostly Baroque and before, anyway, so we aren’t talking last year’s Top 40). All that changed was the hands on the clock. Yet the value went from high to zero.
What does that tell us about economics of the price system? It tells us that prices are fundamentally a reflection of human values of the moment. They provide no insight into anything intrinsic to the good itself. They tell us nothing about what it took to make the good. They provide no reliable basis for forecasting.
Prices are a point of agreement in an instant of time, and nothing more. Yet no institution is as essential in conveying to us the signals and giving us the tools that enable us to manage our lives. The world never stops changing. In a free economy, prices change as a reflection of those changes in the world. We respond to the prices in more ways than we are often conscious of. They provide a means for all of us to interface with — and navigate the shifts and movements in — the reality that takes place outside our own minds.
I’ve known for some time that most of my CD collection would eventually be obsolete. People have been buying digital copies ever more. They have been plugging in their devices to micro speaker systems or using earbuds to listen to music. The old ritual of changing the shiny discs was starting to seem like a thing of the past, like starting your car with an engine crank.
My problem is that I waited too long to finally detach myself from the old technology. I waited until the price fell to less than zero. I took too long to adapt to new realities and act on that information I had acquired and knew in my heart. The reality moved faster than my brain could process data and act on it.
How well I remember the day when I bought my first CD. It must have been 1986 or so. I put it in my player and the sound came out and it played and played for a full hour. It was Bach, I think. I didn’t change it. Days and days went by, but it was all Bach all the time. My long-playing vinyl records sat in the corner untouched. After a week or so, I had come to terms with reality: I would never listen to those things again. It was not that they were bad; it was that I had found something more convenient.
Yet I couldn’t let go. The LPs just sat there. A year went by, and then I moved out of my apartment. It would have taken more room in my car than I had to move 200 vinyl records. I gritted my teeth and did something I never thought I would do. I hurled them all in the dumpster, armload by armload. It was painful. It seemed crazy. But it was the reality. I never looked back.
Yet here we are 26 years later and I’ve made the same mistake all over again.
Now, one reaction might be: Slow this world down so that I can take a breather! The problem with that solution is that it means slowing down the pace at which humanity is permitted to seek a better life through innovation and enterprise. The only reason why some technologies prevail over others is their merit in serving people what they desire.
We sometimes imagine that we are on a ride that we can’t control. The truth is that people are, in fact, controlling the pace of development. CDs outcompeted LPs for a reason. And digital music downloads are outcompeting CDs for a reason, too. If people did not like the new thing, it would have no traction and no future. But people demand ever better ways to achieve their ends, and the purpose of a free economy is to help people in the most-efficient (and least-wasteful) way.
The most-remarkable development in our times as regards music distribution is the subscription service. Let me illustrate. In the early days of the CD, I had one disc with music by Palestrina. It took me many months, or even up to a year, to discover that he wasn’t the only composer of Renaissance music. I had to check out books, spend hours in the CD shops, talk to friends, act on information overheard at parties and the like.
Eventually, I came to discover Victoria, Josquin, Tallis, Byrd, Ockeghem, Sweelinck, Morales, Guerrero and others. This process took me many years of searching and hunting. It was painful.
Today, you get a free account to Pandora or Spotify and make your own channel. One word is enough: Palestrina. What follows are all kinds of music that fit within that genre. You say what you like and don’t like and buy the full album or not, and the software does the magic of putting together a playlist for you based on your tastes. There are no search costs. The knowledge of others becomes your own knowledge in an instant.
And yes, I said that it is free. There is not soul alive who 10 years ago could have predicted that such a technology would exist, much less that the producers of it would be begging us to take it and use it for free, charging us later only if we want fewer commercials. This is genius. This is progress. This is civilization brought to us by the market economy and the entrepreneurs that give it a forward direction, all in ways that are completely unpredictable.
Even with all this seeming upheaval, we aren’t really throwing out the past. It still lives in our hearts, and increasingly, it is documented and digitized in the annals of history available at our fingertips. What we are doing is embracing ever better ways of living and overcoming the limits of scarcity. Society must move forward, and the market-price system is there to coordinate things and help us achieve our goals.
No government regulatory planning apparatus can substitute for the market’s approach to innovation. In fact, if government were in charge, we’d be lucky if technology had advanced beyond the presidential fireside chat. We certainly wouldn’t have the ability — each one of us — to reach the world right now with media blogs, YouTube, video phones, live streaming of anything to anyone and all the other wonders of the world brought to us by the free interaction of thinking, creating, cooperating human beings.