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Odd Lots


  1. Jeff Rice says:

    Jeff —

    Spurred by your comment, I just looked up the Granny article, and read it here:

    I assume that’s the same one.

    Jeff, what in the world is wrong with that article, in your view? I thought it was balanced, and an accurate (if incomplete) portrayal of important but very difficult issues. I perceived nothing that I would call mean-spirited or idiotic. Yes, the title is over the top, but the author probably had nothing to do with it, and it does not truly reflect the gist of the article.

    I’m very curious what prompted your negative assessment, as I usually agree with you, and this particular issue is of personal interest.

    1. Fair question.

      First of all, the title is not merely over the top. The title is advocating murder. That’s a firing offense in my book. I would have canned everybody with signoff on that title, right up to the group publisher, instantly and without remorse.

      The article itself is thin gruel, scattered and unfocused, wandering around the various continents of the health insurance reform debate without shedding much light on any of them. (Malpractice reform is only distantly related to the subject the author claims to be discussing.) Nor is it as blameless as it might seem on a quick reading. Here’s an interesting quote: “But the need to spend less money on the elderly [my emphasis] at the end of life is the elephant in the room in the health-reform debate.” Why just the elderly? Why not everyone at end of life? That kind of gave it away for me. Here’s another statement that bothered me deeply: “The criticism is unfair: patients wait longer to see primary-care physicians in the United States than in Britain.” That may or may not be true (a citation here would have been useful) but it’s a dodge: Waiting for primary care is not the issue in single-payer systems that ration by queue. You see the doctor lickety split, and then you wait a year or two for the hip replacement. I don’t know how it goes in the UK, but I have a number of Canadian friends (all of them middle-aged or over) who have complained privately to me that the older they get, the harder it is to actually receive treatment. Long waits for treatment are a well-known problem, and calling that into doubt is extremely dishonest.

      Etc. The core of my discontent is this: Scapegoating the elderly will get us nowhere in our search for humane health care. The title pre-biases the reader in that direction, and the scattershot nature of the argument suggests that the author is not being entirely upfront about his real theme, that we need to ration care by age. If the elderly feel that there are targets on their heads, they will vote out anyone who suggests any useful reform, and freeze the whole business in its current unsustainable state.

      BTW, I always grimace a little when I see mention of NICE, the system in the U.K whereby a panel of experts decides whether to treat or not to treat. Of all the acronyms they could have chosen, that may have been the worst, as anyone who has ever read That Hideous Strength will probably agree.

      1. Rich Rostrom says:

        British authorities can be amazingly tone-deaf. Have you seen this grotesquely Orwellian poster issued by London Transport to promote its CCTV surveillance program?

  2. Alan Earnshaw says:

    I think the lack of a Delete key may have been prompted by Apple, which steadfastly refuses to put a Delete key (or a second mouse button, for that matter) on any of their products.

  3. Rich Rostrom says:

    The net worth of Senators/Representatives data has a lot of interesting features, and some goofy ones. Reporting the “average value” of Senators by state is silly – there are only two items in each sample (occasionally three).

    The reported averages are means, which is less interesting than median; a single wealthy member in a state may conceal the modest means of several colleagues, and where the number is small, the addition of a member (because of a mid-year replacement) can cause wide swings.

    For instance, Illinois Senators in 2004 had an average worth of $32M, but only $880K in 2005 – because of the retirement of Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, worth $94M in 2004. But it gets worse. The average for 2004 is, effectively, Fitzgerald’s worth split three ways. Why three, when there was no mid-year replacement? Because the Senators table erroneously lists Mark Kirk for 2004, even though he was a U.S. Representative in 2004, and did not become a Senator until 2010. The 2005 “average” is for Kirk ($497K) and Sen. Richard Durbin ($1.26M). Not only was Kirk not a Senator from Illinois in 2005, somebody else was. Someone rather famous… Someone worth $1.8M, according to the last table, which lists former Senators and Representatives in the Executive Branch as of 2010.

    On the question of rule by multi-millionaires: 74 of 117 persons reported for the 2010 Senate had net worths over $1.5M, which ISTM is the minimum for a “multi-millionaire”. (Why 117? Because there were mid-year replacements, including number of early resignations by Senators leaving office in January 2011; also because a number of people who were elected in 2010 filed reports as candidates and are included.)

    526 are reported for the 2010 House. Of these, 188 exceeded $1.5M. (Again, there appear to be be people who are included erroneously; but I’m not going to find and remove them all.)

    So the total appears to be 262 out of 643, which is less than a majority. Not quite “rule by multi-millionaires”.

    Another point is whether this is a genuine novelty. Senators and Representatives have almost always been prominent people, usually relatively wealthy. $1.5M is not great wealth in this era. Someone with a net worth of $50K in 1860, or $250K in 1960, would be comparably well-off, and there was no shortage of such persons in the Congresses of those years.

    A third point is that Congressional constituencies are much larger now than in the past. Someone with the energy, ability, and prominence to win a House or Senate seat probably ranks among the 1,000 leading residents of the constituency. Such people are usually successful in business or professions, and therefore well-off. Today, a House constituency is about 700K; 50 years ago it was about 400K. That means that Representatives are, on average, more “elite” than they were – and thus further from the economic average.

    The individual data raises a lot of personal questions. For instance, Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) was a rich man ($35M) up to 2005. But since then, his worth doubled by 2008, doubled again in 2009, and tripled in 2010 (to $380M). What’s he been doing? Sen. Mitch McConnell has done about as well proportionately ($3M to $28M).

    At the other end, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), has reported a huge negative net worth (-$4.7M) since 2005. (Hastings has the “distinction” of winning election to the House after being impeached and removed as a Federal judge.)

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