The Spectre of Math

December 16, 2009

dude! … where’s my healthcare (part deux)

Filed under: Economics,Politics — jlebl @ 10:13 pm

So apparently now we will get a healthcare reform that does two things 1) mandates everyone to have insurance (sounds good) 2) gives subsidies to poor people to buy insurance (sounds good). But …

However, it does nothing to make costs go down. All it does is that the taxpayer pays for some of the costs. The money ending up in the private insurance sector as overhead can grow arbitrarily large as it does now. In fact, perhaps it can grow faster as part of the money is spent “invisibly.” Example (think in recent history if you haven’t seen such an example): If the government starts giving everyone $1000 towards a purchase of a new car to make new cars cheaper, very soon the price of a new car will be $1000 more than it used to be. The car buyer suddenly pays the same, but the car dealers make $1000 extra.

And I did say overhead, since the money is not be spent on “healthcare.” It is spent on the insurance sector. So apparently all that we are doing is making sure that the insurance companies are very profitable and can continue to raise costs, need not compete.

A good nonprofit (public or not) health insurance is about spreading the cost of healthcare with the minimum amount of overhead (health insurance is purely about spreading the cost, in the end at least slightly more money has to be paid in premiums than is paid for the actual health care). In the current system, the money that flows into the health insurance is a LOT more than flows out (and the difference is rising).

There is some sort of a religion in this country that anything that’s a private enterprise is good, and anything that has anything to do with government is bad. If we all believe in capitalism, why are we afraid of competition. If it does happen that the government can run a health insurance better and it drives the private insurers out of business, then so what? Don’t we in the end want our lives to be good? To be able to pursue happiness? Why are so many millions of Americans concerned with the well being of rather a small number of health insurance executives, who might be losing out on their 20 million dollar salaries?

The current status quo is good for those few rich executives. The new “reform” is good for them as well. Everyone else is getting screwed over (and many of those people willingly out of paranoid fears about their grandmothers being put in Obama-death-camps).

I think perhaps it would be better to let the whole thing go. Leave public option in, let the bill die. The current bill does nothing about the amount of money spent on health insurance and healthcare. It just moves some of the money to be paid from tax revenue. But without any measure to reign in the exponentially rising cost. So all it does is it postpones the day when the system implodes. And makes the implosion probably more spectacular. The insurance will get unaffordable for the average family maybe 5,10,15 years later, but by that time a large part of the bill is also paid by the taxpayer. So not only will we not be able to pay for health care, but we’ll have a huge taxpayer bill. All the time we are feeding an incredibly inefficient system with billions of dollars.

I mean have you dealt with a private health insurance lately? The inefficiency of the system is multitudes beyond any braindamage that a government bureaucrat can even begin to imagine. We’re just going to spend more money keeping that system afloat, making the stockholders and executives in those companies rich. In capitalism, one is supposed to get rich by making a superior product. The insurance companies make the worst product imaginable, wrap it in shit and charge an arm and a leg for it, and we’re afraid that they might go under, so we’ll make sure that they don’t have to improve their product?

Why are we not afraid of driving private security companies out of business by having a taxpayer paid police force? I mean, poor Tony Soprano, if we make police be government run, maybe he’ll be out of business of “protecting us.”

So why not let the bill die. At least the moderate Republicans and the conservative Democrats will have a black eye next election, because trust me, the shit is hitting the fan. By 2010 maybe not yet, but in 2012 or 2014 the situation with healthcare will be so unbearable for such a huge proportion of the population that Republicans will be the ones proposing expanding Medicare. The current bill just moves the fan a little further, but keeps it in the flightpath of the shit, and it throws an extra one or two new pieces of shit at it.


October 19, 2009


Filed under: Economics,Personal,Politics — jlebl @ 4:42 pm

I’ve been thinking about why it is hard to explain ones political views to certain other people. Especially people I think are smart and logical. I think the main point is motivation. If you are a person who’s main motivation for doing anything is some sort of material reward, then you will not understand how socialism works. On the other hand, if motivation by material reward is not the most important thing for you, then you have a hard time understanding the first kind of people (Let us call first kind the set of material-motivation people and second kind the complement of that set). And both will lead to the one side thinking that the other side is either stupid or evil.

The first kind of person will be unable to comprehend how anything could possibly work if there is no material compensation. And humans are very good at dismissing any objective evidence that doesn’t agree with their world view (whatever it is). So the first kind of people will try to look for other motives of the second kind of person who is suggesting something that requires people to work without material compensation (or at least sufficient material compensation). That there is ample evidence that a large proportion of the populace is not at all motivated by simple material compensation seems irrelevant. For example, take things like free software, wikipedia, any sort of volunteer work. But even cases when people take lesser jobs because the jobs are more fulfilling to them.

The second kind of person will, on the other hand, think that the first kind of person is just a greedy bastard who wants as much for himself as possible. And that’s not necessarily true. There are many of the first kind of people who are just plain scared that if you make a world where not everything is compensated materially, then the world will collapse. They do not necessarily lack compassion.

I think the problem for most economists is generally that they are the first kind of person. Capitalism in its pure form can only work if everyone is materially motivated. I will not improve my product to sell more if I truly don’t care about selling more. I would say the proportion of each kind of person is on some fuzzy scale about evenly distributed. So capitalism breaks down precisely because of the erroneous assumption that everybody is motivated by personal material gain. At the same time communism breaks down for the opposite reason. True believing communists, somewhere deep inside think that the majority of population is not motivated only by personal material gain, but that only a small set of greedy bastards are. So if you could just remove those greedy bastards, you could have a just society. That doesn’t work either (mostly because those greedy bastards generally ended up running the show).

I’ve had a tough time explaining my motivation for doing certain things. For example, working on GNOME at one point, or perhaps writing up my differential equations notes and letting them be freely distributable. I’ve had to resort to saying to the first kind of people that it was “for fame” and to “feed my ego” (and perhaps there is some truth in that). But that’s not primarily why I did both things. I did both things because I thought they should be done. Why do you clean up your desk? Why do you do laundry? Why do you mow the lawn? Because those things should be done. I wanted to have a decent desktop without having to keep paying a single company for delivering a crappy one. So I thought GNOME needed to be done. Lately I thought that buying moronically priced books leads to increase in the education spending, leading to a bigger barrier to education for lower income students and leading to larger debt (always a bad thing IMO) in the population because of student loans. So writing freely distributable textbooks needs to be done. I had the opportunity so I did it. I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to save the world, I’m too cynical to try to do that. I also liked doing both of the things mentioned. But the motivation was not monetary gain.

I also did a lot of things for material gain. I have nothing against that. I don’t think capitalism is evil, just like communism also isn’t evil. Anyway … just rambling … I saw the latest Moore flick … maybe that’s why.

September 3, 2009

Suppose I were a greedy bastard

Filed under: Economics,Politics — jlebl @ 6:32 pm

Suppose that were true. Would I want the current healthcare in US, or would I want something different? As a greedy bastard, I want to pay the least amount of money. Given that we all need to see the doctor at some point, I am not going to get out of it. So, we have a choice, pay some sort of tax that goes towards some sort of public health plan. Ideally single-payer or some such. Or we can have what we have right now. Now look at the cost of healthcare (see previous blog post). See how much more it is here, than say Norway or Luxemburg? Why did I pick those two countries? Those are countries with very high cost of living. Things over there are generally more expensive than here in the US. Furthermore they have GDP per capita higher than we do. They should have expensive healthcare. Yet, those damn socialists seem to be doing better. That is: they are paying less period. That is, if you add up the money that they pay in taxes or insurance premiums or to the doctors or whatnot for your healthcare, they end up on top. And given that they end up living longer by a few years and their infant mortality is half of what it is here, I’d venture to say they get better care.

I don’t care if the money goes to the government, or insurance companies, or directly to the doctors, or to tiny green leprechauns. If I am a greedy bastard, my only motivation is to reduce the amount of money I pay. I want to keep my money. Why are republicans OK with paying some insurance company who will charge them apparently a lot more than a working socialized health care plan. Are we supposed to be capitalists even in areas where it is obviously is not working any better (and in fact, much worse) than a government can? Is capitalism a religion? Are you supposed to blindly worship capitalism at all levels?

Why are we fine with police not being done by capitalists principles? Why do we pay firemen out of our taxes? Why are roads paid by taxes? Why do we have public schools? Why isn’t the military a private enterprise? Obviously the vast majority of the population is fine with the government doing a whole bunch of things out of taxes. What’s the deal with health care?

August 24, 2009

Why be a pragmatic socialist?

Filed under: Economics,Politics — jlebl @ 5:08 pm

Ever since coming back from Brazil, I thought a lot about pragmatic reasons for socialism. Brazil is pretty extreme in the inequalities department. Coming back here to the US, I notice this a lot more. And with the healthcare shoutfest going on in the news, it’s hard not to think about it.

There is a good pragmatic reason why a rich person who doesn’t care about the plight of others might want socialism out of pure selfishness. Walking around Sao Paulo (and even Serra Negra) you could see that those people that have something live behind big walls with barbed wire and electric fences. The fact that there is an inequality of that magnitude means that there is more crime. If there are many people that have nothing, then as a rich person you are far more likely to get robbed, killed, or kidnapped.

The question is: If I have a choice (all else equal) of having say $1 million dollars in the bank and living in a country with very low crime rate, and $5 million dollars in the bank but living in a place with high crime rate, what would I pick. The trouble is of course the “all else equal,” but if those were the choices, I’d rather take the safe country. How much would you give for the safety of your kids?

There is similar thing with health care. See

I would hardly call the CIA to be a bunch of liberal loons, but US is 50th on the list of life expectancy. Right up there with Albania. Even Bosnia is better off, at 43rd place. Canada is on the 8th place, and they live about 3.1 years longer than americans do. Would you pay higher taxes to live 3 years longer? Also, I bet canada can’t do anything about pollution coming from its neighbors, so if the whole world ran like canada, I bet we’d live even longer than that. The 1st place Macau people live more than 6 years longer. Now that’s definitely worth it.

The real point of the above is not if 3.1 years of life is worth the tax money. It is about the notion that american health care system is “the best in the world”. No it is not. By a very objective measurement it is the 50th in the world.

But you say: who cares, that’s all those poor shmucks that don’t live long because they can’t afford health insurance. It doesn’t affect me. Sure it does. when something happens, you go to an overcrowded emergency room. All the people who are sick are not productive and that’s a drain on the economy. All those people who are sick will get even poorer, and then they’ll go and rob you and shoot you.

Another fun stat is the murder rate:

US is not doing terribly good on murder rates either. Rich countries with socialistic tendencies usually are better off. US is wedged between Bulgaria and Armenia. If you live in the US you are about 3 times as likely to get murdered than if you live in canada (to keep picking on the canadians). Only 62 countries were compared. So I guess it is about 3 times safer to be a rich canadian than to be a rich american. Is it worth their taxes?

Anyway, we’re pretty far from being the “number one.” We don’t even have the lowest taxes. Actually our taxes are on the higher end. See In total tax rate we are 102 out of 178 countries. So we pay a lot, but we get diddly squat in return. Wonderful job. Could we at least get some socialism for that price? I mean other countries seem to manage universal health care and lower crime rates with lower taxes. What do we get?

March 6, 2009

It’s all Obama’s fault

Filed under: Economics,Politics — jlebl @ 6:07 pm

So apparently now (less than two months after entering office) it all became Obama’s fault.  I understand that some people think his policies will be disastrous, but use a bit of logic.  You are losing credibility by the minute.  If you think the economy will be a disaster in a few years because of what he does, wait for it, or say that.  Saying that Obama was destroying the economy before he even entered office will just mark you as a looney.  These are the same people who say the economic boom under Clinton had nothing to do with Clinton, because apparently presidents do not affect the economy.  Go figure.

March 3, 2009

Rush is a communist

Filed under: Economics,Politics — jlebl @ 5:43 pm

The clips from the recent republican convention thing remind me of clips one heard from the communist gettogethers before ’89 in czech.  Actually I think these are exactly the same people.  They are all conservatives, and they like telling others what to do.  Communists (at least the ones in power in czech) had a slightly different economic model, but overall it was actually similar.  Those with power and money should keep it and everyone else should stay where they were.  They both lie about this (the republicans are a bit more honest in this point).  On the other hand, the communists didn’t pretend to support individual freedom, which the republicans keep talking about while at the same time trying to prohibit anything that they don’t think people should do (you are free to do whatever, just as long as I think you should be allowed to do it).

Anyway, same people.  I think Rush would be very happy as a communist (not a true communist mind you, but the kind that ruled eastern europe).

I also enjoy republicans being the pansies now.  If any one of them does anything that insults Rush and he call them on it, they come brownnosing back to him with apologies.  For a party that prides itself on being tough and manly, they are really a bunch of pussies.  I love it.  Every time some republican has to apologize to their overlord Rush, I laugh my ass off.  This would be like democrats apologizing to Keith Olberman or some such (I’d be laughing too if that happened).

And yesterday, the stockmarket went down another year (it was ’97 in the morning and ’96 by the evening).  We are getting into Bill’s first term now.  Maybe dubya wanted to make a connection with his dad by putting the economy about where it was when HW lost.  Too bad he didn’t get to finish it during his tenure.  I’m sure he tried hard, he should get an award for trying.

November 24, 2008

yet more cats

Filed under: Economics — jlebl @ 4:03 pm

The cat is bouncing, but it appears to be bouncing down a staircase.

November 20, 2008

dead cats, gas prices, and why are republicans socialists

Filed under: Economics,Politics — jlebl @ 6:03 pm

So I thought the dead cat hit the concrete yesterday end of trading.  So right after open I buy AINV for $8 (about) and within an hour I am down $1200.  Yaikes!  This was not a dead cat, this was a stone thrown into a pond … oh well.

And what about gas prices.  I thought the election was over.  There is no need for low gas prices anymore.  Well maybe it’s just momentum.  I bet they will be up reasonably soon.  Except we won’t have any cars and we’ll be walking to the soup line by foot after we have been scavenging on all the trash that we were so happily throwing out while capitalism and consumerism still worked.

That brings me to socialism and republicans.  I find it odd that the people who are most screaming about how socialism is bad and redistribution of wealth is bad are from states that get more money from the federal government than they pay in taxes.  Example: Alaska.  A through and through republican state and they hate socialism there as long as it’s just a word and as long as it doesn’t mean anything.  The moment you’d try to say: “OK, don’t pay any federal taxes, but you won’t get any federal money,” I’m sure they’d be very upset.

Republicans are selective socialists, they redistribute the wealth from everyone to only small percentage of people.  Normally that would be called stealing by many (by many “right wingers”, whatever that terms means nowdays), but I’ll be nice and call them socialists.

So apparently a lot of this stuff is not the meanings of words but the sound of the words themselves.  Maybe if we start using the word “capitalism” for a working social net, equal opportunity and fair wages, then all the republicans will get on board.

November 7, 2008

cats, dead

Filed under: Economics — jlebl @ 1:22 am

This dead cat’s got a lot of bounce.  I don’t think a real dead cat would ever bounce so many times.

October 29, 2008


Filed under: Economics,Mathematics,Politics — jlebl @ 10:03 pm

Question: Why are we all socialists?

Answer: Let’s consider Co to be communism and Ca to be capitalism. Anywhere between is really socialism. I.e. The model of any country is tCo + (1-t) Ca for t \in [0,1]. Now socialism then corresponds to t \in (0,1). Since no country in the world is either really communist nor really capitalist, the whole world is full of socialists. In particular, both Obama and McCain are socialists, though I guess t_{obama} < t_{mccain}.

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