Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Boost your chances of getting a job or passing an exam... by thinking about your ancestors for five minutes

I don't have a lot of confidence in this finding but it is conservatives who are more likely to respect the past so it may be a straw in the wind

It seems an unlikely route to the top. But researchers have discovered that spending a few minutes thinking about your ancestors before an exam or job interview can significantly boost your chances of success. The so-called 'ancestor effect' appears to work by acting as a reminder to the brain that seemingly impossible hurdles can be overcome.

Psychologists think the effect may be rooted in the fact that those who familiarise themselves with their family history - such as in the hit TV series Who Do You Think You Are? - appear to gain a stronger sense of identity and self-esteem, which somehow boosts intellectual performance.

In intelligence tests on 80 volunteers, scientists found a marked improvement among those who, prior to the tasks, were asked to spend a short while considering what previous generations of their families had endured. Those who simply had to recall a more mundane memory, such as a recent shopping trip, did not fare as well.

The findings, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, suggest remembering the hardships of grandparents, great grandparents and even long forgotten ancestors, seems to have a direct benefit on the brain's ability to cope with demands on its intelligence.

Dr Peter Fischer, from the University of Graz in Austria and a member of the research team, said: 'Our ancestors managed to overcome a multitude of problems, such as severe illnesses, wars, loss of loved ones or severe economic declines. 'So when we think about them, we are reminded that humans who are genetically similar to us can successfully overcome a multitude of problems and adversities.'

More here. Journal abstract here. The tests used do not appear to have been IQ tests but rather ad hoc tests of some sort.


Personal Well-Being Overshadows Income Inequality

Consider one conundrum in American politics. Income inequality has been increasing, according to standard statistics. Yet most Americans do not seem very perturbed by it.

Barack Obama may have been elected president after telling Joe the Plumber that he wanted to spread the wealth around. But large majorities in polls approved when Obama and congressional Democrats abandoned oft-repeated campaign promises to raise taxes on high earners in the lame duck session.

One reason is that economic statistics can miss important things that affect people's lives. Wages may not have risen much since 1973, but that's partly because the tax code encourages increased compensation in the form of benefits, including health insurance. And it's partly because the Consumer Price Index overstated the effect of inflation in the 1970s, making 1973 wages look higher in "real dollars."

Another is that inflation indexes can't fully account for product improvement and technological progress. I bought my first electronic calculator in 1970 for $110. Today you can buy the same gadget for $1.99 at your local drug store. The consumer electronics widely available today at declining prices simply didn't exist in the 1980s.

In addition, as George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen writes in The American Interest, "The inequality of personal well-being is sharply down over the past hundred years and perhaps over the past 20 years, as well." Bill Gates may have a bigger house than you do. But you have about the same access to good food, medical care and even to the Internet as he does.

Or consider something as prosaic as food. The supermarkets of the 1960s and 1970s didn't come close to matching the amazing selection of produce, meats and exotic foods as you find in supermarkets today -- and not just in high-income neighborhoods, but in modest-income places all over the country.

Or clothing. Firms like Walmart, Target and Kohl's have good quality clothes at astonishingly low prices -- you can outfit a kid in school clothes for $100 or so a year. Presidential candidate John Edwards claimed to have seen a little girl shivering in the winter because her parents could not buy a coat; you can get one for $5 at the Salvation Army.

It's a widespread assumption in some affluent circles that ordinary Americans are seething with envy because they can't afford to shop regularly at Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue. My sense is that most Americans just don't care. They're reasonably happy with what they've got, and would like a little more.

So I am inclined to agree with Cowen when he writes, "The broader change in income distribution, the one occurring beneath the very top earners, can be deconstructed in a manner that makes nearly all of it look harmless."

Cowen is worried that high earners in financial industries benefit hugely when they bet correctly but are sheltered from losses by government bailouts when they bet wrong. It's a problem that the financial regulation bill passed by the outgoing Congress addressed but, in his opinion and those of many others I respect, did not solve.

But there's little evidence that most Americans begrudge the exceedingly high earnings of the likes of Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg or J.K. Rowling. We believe they have earned their success and don't see how taking money away from them will make the rest of us better off.

We already take quite a bit. Current tax rates mean that the top 1 percent of earners account for 40 percent of federal income tax revenue -- a higher percentage than in many Western European countries. Higher tax rates would probably produce more tax avoidance -- rich people can adjust their affairs -- and lower revenues than forecast by static economic models.

Of course, not everyone is well off in a nation where unemployment has been 9.4 percent or higher for the last 19 months. And I suspect that most Americans would be thrilled to get a 13th month of pay. But they're not seething with envy at those who are better off.

So who does? One example is the cartoonist and author Garry Trudeau, a college classmate of George W. Bush, who has been spewing contempt for the Bushes for 40-some years. The strongest class envy in America, it turns out, may be the resentment of those who were one club above you at Yale.



The ObamaCare Fraud

The law will penalize doctors to pay patients and penalize patients to pay doctors

There are a great many things wrong with Obamacare, but the biggest is perhaps one that neither party is paying any attention to: It is one huge entrapment scheme that will turn patients and providers into criminals.

The most blatant example of this is in the “doc fix” that Congress passed with major bipartisan support earlier this month, saving doctors from a nearly 23 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement that they would have otherwise faced this year. Congress has been passing this fix every year since 1997, but this time, in an effort to offset its $20 billion price tag, it has included a little twist to squeeze working families called “exchange recapture subsidy.” Under this provision, the government will go after low-wage families to return any excess subsidies they get under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

When the government hands out subsidies, it will use a household’s income in the previous year as the basis for guessing what the household is qualified to get in the current year. But if the household’s income grows midyear, the subsidy recapture provision will require it to repay anywhere from $600 to $3,500, compared to the $450 that the law originally called for.

This will make it very hazardous for poor working families to get ahead. In the original law, the loss of subsidy with rising income already meant absurdly high effective marginal tax rates—the implicit tax on every additional dollar of income earned. How high? The Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon puts them at 229 percent for families of four who increase their earnings by an amount equal to 5 percent of the federal poverty level or $1,100. In other words, a family that added this amount to an income of $44,700 would actually see its total income fall by $1,419 due to the loss of subsidies.

The subsidy recapture provision—essentially a tax collection scheme—means that low-wage, cash-strapped families will have no escape from these perverse tax rates. Many of them will find themselves owing the government thousands of dollars in back taxes. Since it is unlikely that they will have this kind of money sitting around, they will face a massive incentive to either fudge their returns or work for cash to avoid reporting additional income. Either way, Uncle Sam will come after them, just as it does with recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit, the negative income tax scheme that is the inspiration behind Obamacare’s subsidies. In 2004, EITC recipients were 1.76 times more likely to be audited than others, no doubt because it is easier for the government to recover unpaid taxes from poor people than “lawyered up” rich people. In other words, Obamacare will first create the temptation for low-income families to commit fraud, and then penalize them when they do.

But just because Obamacare sticks it to families doesn’t mean that physicians will have it good. They’ll face their own—even more draconian—crackdown. Indeed, just as Obamacare goes after working-class families to pay doctors, it goes after doctors to pay working-class families, putting everyone at war with everyone else.

The government loses about 10 percent of its total health-care spending—or about $60 billion—to “fraud” annually. Some of this is genuine fraud involving physicians—or people posing as physicians—submitting claims for services or equipment never delivered and indefensible therapies that have nothing to do with patient care. But the most common fraud allegedly involves “overbilling” by providers. Medicare’s billing codes are a complicated, convoluted mess and deciphering them can sometimes be more art than science. Naturally, doctors try and interpret them to extract the best possible payment from Uncle Sam. Both Republicans and Democrats huff and puff against “waste, fraud and abuse” in Medicare. And they have already enacted Stasi-style laws such as the False Claims Act offering nurses, patients and other whistleblowers 15 percent to 30 percent of any money recovered if they report improper billing practices by providers. But the Obama administration has attacked the matter with renewed zeal because it is a key element in funding Obamacare’s generous new entitlements.

It has created a new interagency task force called HEAT (Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team) under which health-care officials will collaborate with the FBI to go after Medicare fraud. In addition, it has expanded to several cities the Medicaid Fraud Strike Force that authorizes FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency agents to jointly analyze Medicare claims data in real time to detect and investigate irregularities by area doctors.

More chillingly, however, the administration is defining Medicare fraud down to include “unnecessary” and “ineffective” care. And to root this out, it plans to make expanded use of private mercenaries—officially called Recovery Audit Contracts—who will be authorized to go to doctors’ offices and rummage through patients’ records, matching them with billing claims to uncover illicit charges. What’s more, Obamacare increases the fine for billing errors from $11,000 per item to $50,000 without the government even having to prove intent to defraud.

This is utter insanity. And it has been caused by the transformation of health care into a government-controlled industry where the natural, self-regulating forces of the market have been badly subverted. There is nothing left but the coercive apparatus of the state to keep patients and doctors in line. This would be unimaginable where the customers receiving or contracting for services are actually the ones paying for it. If Whole Foods “overbilled” its shoppers, they would just go to Trader Joe’s. No one would think of summoning the police. If a mechanic submitted unjustified bills to All State Insurance for car repairs, All State would contract with someone else. There would be no need for an FBI stakeout.

ObamaCare is pushing America down the road to serfdom, but neither its opponents nor advocates seem to have noticed. It is time for civil libertarians in both parties to wake up and strangle it before it strangles what’s left of American freedoms.




TN: TennCare funding problem persists despite overhaul: "Eight years ago, Phil Bredesen successfully campaigned on his pledge to fix TennCare or end it. Since then, the governor has steered the state's public healthcare program through the most turbulent changes of any of the 50 state Medicaid programs, drastically cutting enrollment, limiting benefits and reining in spending. Rising healthcare costs and new federal policy mean the Bredesen administration's eight-year effort to bring the TennCare budget under control has only bought Tennessee time."

Obama’s “comeback” — more like 1800 than 1994: "The lame-duck enactment of much of President Obama’s agenda has induced some to credit Obama with a comeback comparable to Bill Clinton’s triumphs after the electoral defeat of 1994. Not so fast. A better historical parallel than 1994 may be 1800, when lame-duck arrogance by a defeated party turned minor short-term victories into permanent defeat."

White House: “Catastrophe” if Congress cuts up the administration's credit card: "The White House's chief economist is warning there'll be a worse catastrophe than the 2008 financial meltdown if Congress doesn't increase the government's credit limit. 'I don't see why anybody's talking about playing chicken with the debt ceiling,' said Austan Goolsbee, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers." [Maybe a catastrophe for the big spenders but a win for America]

Report: FEMA hasn’t tried to recoup $643 million: "The Federal Emergency Management Agency hasn't tried to recoup about $643 million in improper payments made to victims of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters in the wake of a judge's order more than three years ago, according to a government audit issued Monday. The improper payments have gone uncollected for more than three years because FEMA hasn't given its final approval to a new process for recovering the money, auditors found in a report by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general's office."

Pathetic: New Jersey trying to seize unused gift card balances: "New Jersey residents with unused gift cards might want to make that trip to Target or Home Depot soon. The state legislature voted to seize the unused balances of all gift cards and traveler’s checks issued in the state before a certain date. A judge struck down the law, but the state is appealing the ruling. By stealing the gift card balances from their owners, the state could raise up to $80 million."

MA: Many toast liquor tax repeal: "For some Central Massachusetts imbibers, it was not the money that bothered them, but the principle of the sales tax on alcoholic beverages, which ended yesterday. 'It was a double tax,' said Ron Mason of Rutland. He and his wife, Angie Mason, voted in the November election to repeal the 6.25 percent sales tax that was imposed by the state a year ago."

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.

My Twitter.com identity: jonjayray. My Facebook page is also accessible as jonjayray (In full: http://www.facebook.com/jonjayray). For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena

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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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