Friday, January 03, 2014

How laissez-faire would have prevented the potato famine‏

Here’s a letter from Prof. Donald J. Boudreaux sent to the Wall Street Journal

    Reviewer Roger Lowenstein notes uncritically that when Wrong author Richard Grossman “writes about the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, he tells us … about the slavish devotion to laissez-faire that intensified its effects” (“Book Review: ‘Wrong,’ by Richard S. Grossman,” Dec. 26).  Wrong.  Instead, what’s notable is Mr. Grossman’s (and Mr. Lowenstein’s) slavish devotion to an account of history that is malarkey.

    As explained by historian Stephen Davies, after defeating James II in 1690, protestants subjected Irish Catholics to harsh restrictions on land ownership and leasing.  Most of Ireland’s people were thus forced to farm plots of land that were inefficiently small and on which they had no incentives to make long-term improvements.  As a consequence, Irish agricultural productivity stagnated, and, in turn, the high-yield, highly nutritious, and labor-intensive potato became the dominant crop.  In combination with interventions that obstructed Catholics from engaging in modern commercial activities – interventions that kept large numbers of Irish practicing subsistence agriculture well into the 19th century – this over-dependence on the potato spelled doom when in 1845 that crop became infected with the fungus Phytophthora infestans.

    To make matters worse, Britain’s high-tariff “corn laws” discouraged the importation of grains that would have lessened the starvation.  Indeed, one of Britain’s most famous moves toward laissez faire – the 1846 repeal of the corn laws – was partly a response to the famine in Ireland.

    Had laissez faire in fact reigned in Ireland in the mid-19th century, the potato famine almost certainly would never had happened.


The assertions above are a bit dubious.  The corn laws would be of no relevance to subsistence farmers, for instance.  The problem was that the Irish farmers were poor.  There was food available but they had no money to buy it.  As to why they were poor, Boudreaux probably has part of the answer


Obama Dooms Seniors to Ravages of Aging

On Oct. 1, 2012 the Obama administration started awarding bonus points to hospitals that spend the least on elderly patients. It will result in fewer knee replacements, hip replacements, angioplasty, bypass surgery and cataract operations.

These are the five procedures that have transformed aging for older Americans. They used to languish in wheelchairs and nursing homes due to arthritis, cataracts and heart disease. Now they lead active lives.

But the Obama administration is undoing that progress. By cutting $716 billion from future Medicare funding over the next decade and rewarding the hospitals that spend the least on seniors, the Obama health law will make these procedures hard to get and less safe.

The Obama health law creates two new entitlements for people under age 65 - subsidies to buy private health plans and a vast expansion of Medicaid. More than half the cost of these entitlements is paid for by cutting what hospitals, doctors, hospice care, home care and Advantage plans are paid to care for seniors.

Just Take Pill

Astoundingly, doctors will be paid less to treat a senior than to treat someone on Medicaid, and only about one-third of what a doctor will be paid to treat a patient with private insurance.

On July 13, 2011, Richard Foster, chief actuary for Medicare, warned Congress that seniors will have difficulty finding doctors and hospitals to accept Medicare. Doctors who do continue to take it will not want to spend time doing procedures such as knee replacements when the pay is so low. Yet the law bars them from providing care their patients need for an extra fee. You're trapped.

President Obama seems to think too many seniors are getting these procedures. At a town hall debate in 2009, he told a woman "maybe you're better off not having the surgery but taking the painkiller."

Science proves the president is wrong. Knee replacements, for example, not only relieve pain but also save lives. Seniors with severe osteoarthritis who opt for knee replacement are less apt to succumb to heart failure and have a 50% higher chance of being alive five years later than arthritic seniors who don't undergo the procedure, according to peer-reviewed scientific research.

Yet Foster warned Congress that 15% of hospitals may stop treating seniors once the Obama-Care cuts go into effect. The rest will have to lower the standard of care. Hospitals will have $247 billion less over the next decade to care for the same number of seniors as if the health law had not been enacted.

Obama claims his Medicare cuts will knock out waste and excessive profits. Untrue. Medicare already pays hospitals less than the actual cost of caring for a senior, on average 91 cents for every dollar of care. No profit there. Pushing down rates will force hospitals to spread nursing staff thinner.

Elderly patients will have a worse chance of surviving their stay and going home. When Medicare reduced payment rates to hospitals as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, hospitals incurring the largest cuts laid off nurses.

Rewarding Skimpy Care

Eventually, patients at these hospitals had a 6% to 8% worse chance of surviving a heart attack, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research report (March 2011)

In addition to the across-the-board cuts, the Obama administration will now impose a new measure on hospitals: "Medicare spending per beneficiary." Hospitals that spend the least on seniors get bonus points, and higher-spending hospitals get demerits.

Hospitals will even be penalized for care consumed up to 30 days after patients are discharged, for example, for outpatient physical therapy following a hip or knee replacement.

There are ways to control Medicare spending, such as inching up the eligibility age or asking well-off seniors to pay more. Forcing hospitals to skimp on care is deadly.

Research sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (Annals of Internal Medicine, February 2011) shows that heart attack patients at the lowest-spending hospitals are 19% more likely to die than patients of the same age at higher-spending hospitals. Yet the Obama health law pushes all hospitals to imitate the lowest spending ones.

Ignore the political rhetoric and look at the scientific evidence. The Medicare cuts in the Obama health law will end Medicare as we've known it and doom seniors to painful aging and shorter lives.



Four New Year's resolutions for the press

Jeff Jacoby

"I HAVE BEEN in almost constant practice as a journalist since the year 1899," wrote H. L. Mencken in the spring of 1920. He had "held every editorial job that newspapers have to offer, from that of drama critic to that of editor-in-chief," and the experience had convinced him that the news business wasn't as bad as its harshest detractors claimed — it was worse.

"The average American newspaper, even of the so-called better sort, is … devious, hypocritical, disingenuous, deceitful, pharisaical, pecksniffian, fraudulent, knavish, slippery, unscrupulous, perfidious, lewd, and dishonest." He would be hard-pressed, Mencken said, to name five papers that conducted themselves as fairly and honestly "as the average nail factory."

If Mencken were alive today, would his opinion of the news business be less pungent? My guess is it would be even more so. The journalistic sins and scams he was blasting a century ago are still being committed, only now the perps are more likely to have Ivy League degrees and to regard their occupation as a lofty profession. Newspapers still need to attract customers — i.e., readers — and readers still respond to journalism that plays on their emotions and aversions. "At bottom, the business is quite simple," Mencken wrote. Get readers into a lather over some outrage or peril or bugaboo, then direct their attention to simple-sounding solutions that "make no draft upon the higher cerebral centers."

Rings a bell, doesn't it? The Sage of Baltimore may have died long before our era's media convulsions over gun control or climate change or debt-ceiling "terrorism." But he had their number back in the 1920s.

Still, where there's life, there's hope. A healthy cynicism about the news business is always advisable, but that doesn't mean bad media habits can never be broken. After all, plenty of things about American life are better today than they were when Mencken reigned. So amid all the ways in which the arrival of 2014 is inspiring pledges of self-improvement, allow me to suggest four New Year's resolutions for the mainstream news media.

1. Stop pretending to be neutral. Of course journalists have political opinions and ideological leanings; anyone whose job involves closely following public controversies and partisan battles is bound to have strong views about them. Invariably those strong views are going to color the news — all the more so when newsrooms are dominated by journalists who lean to the left. (Or, in the case of Fox News, to the right.) The ideal of perfectly objective news coverage sounds admirable. But it's hard to play a story straight down the middle when your ideological passions affect the way that story is framed. News organizations should be candid about their biases, and drop the pretense that they don't take sides.

2. Don't omit victims from stories about punishing murderers. The penalty for murder is frequently in the headlines — during debates over capital punishment, for example, or when a high court decides whether teenage murderer may be sentenced to life, or when terrorists with blood on their hands are set free in prisoner exchanges. Too often when the story is the fate of the killers, the fate of those they killed gets downplayed in the coverage. It should be a standing rule that no story about punishing murderers ever neglects to mention the victims high up in the reporting.

3. Either skin color really matters, or really doesn't: Make a decision. When George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, the fact that the latter was black and the former was not became an obsessive factor in the mainstream media's relentless coverage. Yet when Australian athlete Christopher Lane was gunned down in Oklahoma by three teens — two of them black — because they were "bored," the story barely made the media radar screen. The racial angle was played up in the Zimmerman case with a five-alarm zeal rarely displayed in cases of black-on-white homicide. In cases of interracial violence, should we presume that race was the key factor, or shouldn't we? The answer can't be "yes" only when the victim is nonwhite.

4. Detoxify the comment sections. Why do media outlets tolerate the pollution of their websites with poisonous comments from anonymous posters? Feedback from readers is a fine thing; and a rollicking comment section can greatly enrich the experience of following the news. But editors enforce standards of taste and tone when they publish letters to the editor. They should be similarly concerned about the taste and tone of the comment forums they provide. As public discourse grows ever more bitter, this is one way that news sites can refuse to enable the ugliness.



A wilfully misunderstood  Pope

Perhaps the most egregious example of the secular Left taking Pope Francis’ words out of context was in regards to what he purportedly said about several hot-button social issues, including abortion, during an extensive interview with the Italian Jesuit journal, La Civilà Cattolica. During that meeting he told the interviewer, Father Antonio Spadaro, the following:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” he said, according to an English translation of his remarks reprinted in America Magazine. “This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”

Pope Francis did not trivialize these issues. He did say, however, that the church cannot open its arms to anguished Catholics and non-believers alike by constantly discussing only these few points of doctrine to the exclusion of all else. Instead, he urged church leaders to “warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them,” by first professing Jesus’ undying love for each and every single one of them, and reminding them that the promise of salvation is offered to every human person, in spite of their sins and moral failings.

It is clear that nothing this pope said was inconsistent with traditional Catholic teaching. He merely stated the obvious; that oversaturating the laity with diatribes against homosexuality and abortion is, at times, counterproductive and impedes Jesus’ greatest calling to pastors: spreading the Gospel to those who yearn to hear it. But, of course, that didn’t stop one of the most radical pro-abortion groups in the United States, NARAL Pro-Choice America, from interpreting his words as a de facto endorsement of what they specifically do—namely, promoting legalized abortion.

Pope Francis later reaffirmed his true position shortly thereafter, in a speech delivered to an audience of gynecologists.

“Every child that isn’t born, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, has the face of the Lord,” he said. “Things have a price and can be for sale, but people have a dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things.”

Clearly those are not the words of a pro-choice pontiff “modernizing” the Catholic Church, as much as progressives would like this to be the case. Those are the words of the Bishop of Rome, reaffirming the sanctity and dignity of human life.



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