Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Eccumenical Economics

Two stories. First up, from our brothers and sisters to the East, comes a baptismal incentivized baby boom:

Two years after having one of the lowest birth rates in the world, Georgia is enjoying something of a baby boom, following an intervention from the country’s most senior cleric.

At the end of 2007, in a move to reverse the Caucasian country’s dwindling birth figures, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, came up with an incentive. He promised to personally baptise any baby born to parents of more than two children.

There was only one catch: the baby had to be born after the initiative was launched.

The results are, in the words of the Georgian Orthodox Church, “a miracle”.

The country’s birth rate increased by nearly 20% during 2008 – a rate four times faster than the previous year.

Many parents say they took the decision to have another child on the basis of the Patriarch’s incentive.

Continue reading

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March 31, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Theology | Leave a comment

The Other Other Emanuel

Readers are most likely familiar with Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff (he of the Chicago Way). Some of you may also know that Mr. Emanuel’s brother, Ari, is reportedly the basis for the character Ari Gold from the T.V. series Entourage.

It turns out there is also a third brother, Ezekiel Emanuel. He is to all appearances a bit more low key than the other two. Having obtained an MD and PhD in political philosophy and a degree in chemistry from Oxford, Mr. Emanuel spends his time penning books and articles opposing assisted suicide and explaining how to use vouchers to achieve universal health care.

Oh, and he’s also just been appointed an advisor to President Obama on health care policy. The whole thing is like something out of a Wes Anderson movie, absent the dysfunction.

March 30, 2009 Posted by | Euthanasia, Health Care, Politics | Leave a comment

Beyond Earth Hour

So last night was “Earth Hour,” an attempt to avoid the utter destruction of the planet by having everyone turn off their lights for an hour. Attempts to quantify the actual impact of this action on energy use range from nil to negative, but then I suspect that this isn’t really the point. The whole affair reminds me of the following bit from Tim Harford’s book The Undercover Economist:

“How did you travel here today?”

“I’m sorry?” I’m puzzled. Here I am, going to a panel discussion organized by an environmental charity, and a very earnest young member of staff is grilling me before I even get past the door of the lecture hall.

“How did you travel here today? We need to know for our carbon offset program.”

“What’s a carbon offset program?”

“We want all our meetings to be carbon-neutral. We ask everyone who attends to let us know how far they came and on what mode of transportation, and then we work out how much carbon dioxide was emitted and plant trees to offset the emissions.”

“I see. In that case, I came here in an anthracite powered steamship from Australia.” Continue reading

March 29, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism, Global Warming | Leave a comment

Four Commencements and a Video

So people keep writing me asking what I think about the whole Obama commencement thing. I’m flattered. My opinion, in brief, is that I think Notre Dame’s having him was a mistake, basically for the reasons Rick has laid out here, but I think that the reaction to the invite has been over the top and out of proportion to the issue involved. The sheer passion on both sides of the debate suggests, to me at least, that the controversy is really a proxy for some deeper political disagreements among Catholics. And as Forrest Gump was wont to say, that’s all I have to say about that.

Anyway, the whole matter got me reminiscing about the various commencements I’ve attended over the years.

Leaving aside minor events, the first commencement I attended was my graduation from college. Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg was the chosen speaker, and chose to make the focus of his remarks the need for additional research funding for his department, and the advisability of the state adopting an income tax in order to make that happen. The speech also contained the line “When you tell people you went to Texas, no one will care how the football team is doing . . . at least not if they are an adult.” This got a sizable boo from the audience. Continue reading

March 28, 2009 Posted by | Education, Politics | Leave a comment

First Do No Harm, Redux

The state is trying to shut down a New York City doctor’s ambitious plan to treat uninsured patients for around $1,000 a year.

Dr. John Muney offers his patients everything from mammograms to mole removal at his AMG Medical Group clinics, which operate in all five boroughs.

His patients agree to pay $79 a month for a year in return for unlimited office visits with a $10 co-pay.

But his plan landed him in the crosshairs of the state Insurance Department, which ordered him to drop his fixed-rate plan – which it claims is equivalent to an insurance policy.

Muney insists it is not insurance because it doesn’t cover anything that he can’t do in his offices, like complicated surgery. He points out his offices do not operate 24/7 so they can’t function like emergency rooms.

More. Dr. Muney’s idea is reminiscent of the minor health clinics Wal-Mart and CVS having been opening, though on a different scale. Continue reading

March 27, 2009 Posted by | Capitalism, Government, Health Care | Leave a comment

Oh Ye of Little Faith

RNC chairman Michael Steele has come in for a lot of criticism for a number of seemingly boneheaded comments on everything from abortion to the environment to the Republican Party generally. What people fail to realize, however, is that all these statements were actually part of a cunning plan by Steele to see who his true friends were:

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Politics | Leave a comment

Confessions of an Economic Hitman: Review

Part memoir, part polemic, Confessions of an Economic Hitman tells the story of John Perkins, a former economic forecaster for the engineering firm of Chas T. Main, Inc. As a forecaster, Perkins’ job was to provide estimates of the effect various infrastructure projects (mainly electrification) would have on economic growth in developing countries. These estimates were then used to justify loans to developing countries from international aid agencies, which would then hire Main to complete the project.

Perkins makes two claims about his work for Main. The first, that he inflated his estimates so Main could get more and bigger contracts, sounds fairly plausible. It’s true, for example, that the actual growth resulting from foreign aid has often fallen far short of projections. I’m inclined to think that this was more often the result of wild eyed optimism than crass cynicism, but I have no doubt that this sort of corruption did occur, and my only objection to Perkins’ remarks on this score would be to the idea that corruption in transfers of money from Western governments and agencies to developing world governments somehow represents an indictment of the free market.

In addition to profit-seeking, however, Perkins claims that he was in reality an agent of the NSA, and that his true mission in getting developing world governments to agree to these loans was to so saddle them with debt so that they could be forced to abide by Western economic and foreign policy interests. Continue reading

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Capitalism, Charity, Economics, Foreign Policy, Poverty, Progress | Leave a comment

The Pope is Right on Condoms

Last week, while traveling in Africa, Pope Benedict came under withering criticism when he suggested that condoms were not the answer to the AIDS crisis. “You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms; on the contrary, it increases the problem.” But as Dr. Edward Green, Director of of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard School of Public Health noted in an interview yesterday, from an empirical perspective the Pope was absolutely right:

I am a liberal on social issues and it’s difficult to admit, but the Pope is indeed right. The best evidence we have shows that condoms do not work as an intervention intended to reduce HIV infection rates, in Africa. (They have worked in e.g. Thailand and Cambodia, which have very different epidemics) . . . What we see in fact is an association between greater condom use and higher infection rates. We don’t know all the reasons for this but part of it is due to what we call risk compensation. This means that a man using condoms believes that they are more effective than they really are, and so he ends up taking greater sexual risks. Another fact which is widely overlooked is that condoms are used when people are engaging in casual or commercial sex. People don’t use condoms with spouses or regular partners. So if condom rates go up, it may be that we are seeing an increase of casual sex.

(HT: Mirror of Justice)

March 24, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Catholicism, Contraception | Leave a comment

Values vs. Worldviews

Here are some excerpts from another interesting post from Scott Sumner:

A New York Times article once reported that economists in academia tend to vote about 3 to 1 Democratic, whereas other academics vote about 7 to 1 Democratic. Of course the general public tends to split about 50/50 between Democratic and Republican voters. What should we make of this pattern?

For the purposes of this post, consider the term ‘worldview’ to represent one’s views about cause and effect, or what economists call positive questions. Values relate to what is viewed as being morally right and wrong, or normative issues. I don’t claim that there is any clear boundary between these two categories, but I hope they will prove useful anyway.

Now let’s assume that “ideologies” reflect values plus worldviews. Thus the liberal worldview has many different ideologies. Let’s also follow the standard practice of assuming that the term “left” applies to more socialistic versions of liberalism and the term “right” applies to more libertarian, or classical liberal, versions of liberalism.

Suppose that an economistic worldview makes one vote more to the right . . . That could explain why economists vote Republican more often than other academics. Indeed I think this is a pretty standard explanation of their voting pattern. Thinking like an economist makes one less receptive to socialist policies.

Continue reading

March 17, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Libertarianism, Morality | Leave a comment

Did We Elect McCain?

So asks Restrained Radical, noting a recent change of rhetoric from Obama on health care:

The Obama administration is signaling to Congress that the president could support taxing some employee health benefits, as several influential lawmakers and many economists favor, to help pay for overhauling the health care system.

In television advertisements last fall, Mr. Obama criticized his Republican rival for the presidency, Senator John McCain of Arizona, for proposing to tax all employer-provided health benefits. The benefits have long been tax-free, regardless of how generous they are or how much an employee earns. The advertisements did not point out that Mr. McCain, in exchange, wanted to give all families a tax credit to subsidize the purchase of coverage.

At the time, even some Obama supporters said privately that he might come to regret his position if he won the election; in effect, they said, he was potentially giving up an important option to help finance his ambitious health care agenda to reduce medical costs and to expand coverage to the 46 million uninsured Americans.

As I noted at the time, many of Obama’s economic advisers are big supporters of removing the tax deductible nature of employer based health insurance, so perhaps this shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Continue reading

March 16, 2009 Posted by | Economics, ESCR, Health Care | Leave a comment