Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Like Breadlines, But For Healthcare

In the LA Times, Ezra Klein extols the advantages of Britain and Canada’s healthcare systems as against the American system:

Britain and Canada control costs in a very specific fashion: The government sets a budget for how much will be spent on healthcare that year, and the system figures out how to spend that much and no more. One of the ways the British and Canadians save money is to punt elective surgeries to a lower priority level. A 2001 survey by the policy journal “Health Affairs” found that 38% of Britons and 27% of Canadians reported waiting four months or more for elective surgery. Among Americans, that number was only 5%. Score one of us!

Well, sort of. American healthcare controls costs in another way. Rather than deciding as a society how much will be spent in the coming year and then figuring out how best to spend it, we abdicate collective responsibility and let individuals fend for themselves.

Writing at Econlog, Arnold Kling takes issue with the claim that Americans are left to fend for themselves when it comes to health care. But whether or not this is how America deals with healthcare costs, it is how we control the costs of lots of other things. Like food. Continue reading

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April 7, 2009 Posted by | Capitalism, Food, Health Care | 2 Comments

Anti-Tipping Crusade

When I was in high-school, I was very much opposed to tipping (I’ve since mellowed on the point). In fact, I used to get into lengthy arguments with friends on the subject, usually around the time that the bill came. If only I had known just how progressive I was being:

Today we think of tipping as beyond the scope of legal regulation. But in researching my Yale article I was surprised to learn that in the early twentieth century, progressives in seven states passed anti-tipping statutes that, to varying degrees, outlawed tipping.

Critics referred to the practice as “un-American” and incompatible with democracy. Former Yale law professor (and U.S. president) William Howard Taft was the “patron saint of the anti-tip crusade,” and Ralph Waldo Emerson roundly condemned the practice:

I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, yet it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.

Tipping was attacked as bribery and as “the training school of graft.” In “The Itching Palm,” a 1916 manifesto against the practice, William Rufus Scott said that tipping is a form of “flunkyism” defined as “a willingness to be servile for a consideration.”

Continue reading

July 11, 2008 Posted by | Economics, Food, History | Leave a comment

Senate Privatizes Lunch

Their own, that is:

Year after year, decade upon decade, the U.S. Senate’s network of restaurants has lost staggering amounts of money — more than $18 million since 1993, according to one report, and an estimated $2 million this year alone, according to another.

The financial condition of the world’s most exclusive dining hall and its affiliated Capitol Hill restaurants, cafeterias and coffee shops has become so dire that, without a $250,000 subsidy from taxpayers, the Senate won’t make payroll next month. Continue reading

June 14, 2008 Posted by | Economics, Food, Politics | Leave a comment

Wal-Mart vs. Inequality

Wal-Mart is famous for its low prices, but according to a new analysis by a couple of University of Chicago profs, Wal-Marts price cutting has also cut something else (or at least restrained its growth): inequality. Steven Levitt reports:

Inequality is growing in the United States. The data say so. Knowledgeable experts like Ben Bernanke say so. Ask just about any economist and they will agree. (They may or may not think growing inequality is a problem, but they will acknowledge that there has been a sharp increase in inequality.)

According to two of my University of Chicago colleagues, Christian Broda and John Romalis, everyone is wrong.

Their argument could hardly be simpler. How rich you are depends on two things: how much money you have, and how much the stuff you want to buy costs. If your income doubles, but the prices of the things you consume also double, then you are no better off. Continue reading

May 19, 2008 Posted by | Capitalism, Economy, Equality, Food | Leave a comment

How to Feed the Poor

As I’ve noted previously, food prices are increasingly rapidly throughout the world, leading to civil unrest, and threatening to significantly increase malnourishment, if not outright starvation, in the developing world. Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion: Why The Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, has some thoughts on how to help solve the problem, and why doing so might not be very popular:

The remedy to high food prices is to increase food supply, something that is entirely feasible. The most realistic way to raise global supply is to replicate the Brazilian model of large, technologically sophisticated agro-companies supplying for the world market. To give one remarkable example, the time between harvesting one crop and planting the next, in effect the downtime for land, has been reduced an astounding thirty minutes. There are still many areas of the world that have good land which could be used far more productively if it was properly managed by large companies. For example, almost 90% of Mozambique’s land, an enormous area, is idle.

Unfortunately, large-scale commercial agriculture is unromantic. We laud the production style of the peasant: environmentally sustainable and human in scale. In respect of manufacturing and services we grew out of this fantasy years ago, but in agriculture it continues to contaminate our policies. In Europe and Japan huge public resources have been devoted to propping up small farms. The best that can be said for these policies is that we can afford them. In Africa, which cannot afford them, development agencies have oriented their entire efforts on agricultural development to peasant style production. As a result, Africa has less large-scale commercial agriculture than it had fifty years ago. Unfortunately, peasant farming is generally not well-suited to innovation and investment: the result has been that African agriculture has fallen further and further behind the advancing productivity frontier of the globalized commercial model.

Continue reading

May 3, 2008 Posted by | Economics, Food, Trade | Leave a comment

From Green Saviors to Bio-Fools

It looks like I may have been on the cutting edge on this one:

Hailed until only months ago as a silver bullet in the fight against global warming, biofuels are now accused of snatching food out of the mouths of the poor.

Billions have been poured into developing sugar- and grain-based ethanol and biodiesel to help wean rich economies from their addiction to carbon-belching fossil fuels, the overwhelming source of man-made global warming.

But as soaring prices for staples bring more of the planet’s most vulnerable people face-to-face with starvation, the image of biofuels has suddenly changed from climate saviour to a horribly misguided experiment.

On Friday, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said biofuels “posed a real moral problem” and called for a moratorium on using food crops to power cars, trucks and buses.

The vital problem of global warming “has to be balanced with the fact that there are people who are going to starve to death,” said Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

“Producing biofuels is a crime against humanity,” the UN’s special rapporteur for the right to food, Jean Ziegler of Switzerland, said earlier.

More.

April 20, 2008 Posted by | Environmentalism, Food, Global Warming, Poverty | 1 Comment

What is Not Seen

I wonder if this:

Hungry Haitians stormed the presidential palace Tuesday to demand the resignation of President Rene Preval over soaring food prices and U.N. peacekeepers battled rioters with rubber bullets and tear gas.

Food prices, which have risen 40 percent on average since mid-2007, are causing unrest around the world. But nowhere do they pose a greater threat to democracy than in Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries where in the best of times most people struggle to fill their bellies.

is related to this:

The recent rise in corn prices–almost 70 percent in the past six months–caused by the increased demand for ethanol biofuel has come much sooner than many agriculture economists had expected.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, this year the country is going to use 18 to 20 percent of its total corn crop for the production of ethanol, and by next year that will jump to 25 percent. And that increase, says Marshall Martin, an agriculture economist at Purdue University, “is the main driver behind the price increase for corn.”

The jump in corn prices is already affecting the cost of food. The most notable example: in Mexico, which gets much of its corn from the United States, the price of corn tortillas has doubled in the past year, according to press reports, setting off large protest marches in Mexico City. It’s almost certain that most of the rise in corn prices is due to the U.S. ethanol policy, says David Victor, director of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford University.

“All things that use corn are going to have higher prices and higher cost, to some extent, that will be passed on to consumers,” says Wally Tyner, professor of agriculture economics at Purdue University. The impact of this is being felt first in animal feed, particularly poultry and pork. Poultry feed is about two-thirds corn; as a result, the cost to produce poultry–both meat and eggs–has already risen about 15 percent due to corn prices, says Tyner.

April 9, 2008 Posted by | Environmentalism, Food, Seeing | 2 Comments