Saturday, October 12, 2013

Nucking Futz! Stark Staring Bonkers!

Did you know? Obama will start quartering soldiers in people's homes!

And a gnu group plans a gnu appreciation day on the anniversary of Newtown, which seems to me sort of like Jacobins planning guillotine appreciation day.

And, we have the leader of Heritage Action saying, "Look, Democrats usually win these fights because they do a better job of not cracking." Um, guy, never heard of "no organized party?"

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thermodynamics and Microfoundations

"In a long discussion over on Brad Delong's blog, Robert Waldmann commented, "For years I have been trying to find a demonstrably empirically useful idea in macroeconomics introduced after 1937," and I responded:
I'm a dilettante bird, but it seems to me the hard question is "Why do the Keynes-Hicks models work?"  (If I understand correctly, this is another version of "What are the microfoundations?")   And no-one seems to know.  We already know how to devise laws, customs, and regulatory practices that work fairly well in maintaining a productive, equitable economy.  But if we could explain why they worked, we could make the case for those in language that everyone could understand, instead of just saying, "Do it this way.  We don't understand why, but it works."

That said, big insights don't come along that often; 50 or 100 years between discoveries of fundamental laws is pretty typical in the history of science.  I am somewhat reminded of the history of thermodynamics.  Between the first designs of workable heat engines in 1700 or so, through Carnot's famous 1824 paper, Maxwell's, Boltzmann's, and Gibbs work in the 1870s, is nearly 200 years.  Carnot, broadly, formulated the macroscopic theory of thermodynamics, and Maxwell, Boltzmann, and Gibbs who finally explained it in turns of what Gibbs called the statistical mechanics of molecules—microfoundations.  (Though Gibbs also made important contributions to the macro theory.)

So we wait for the next insight, and try to figure out how to make the politics work.
But that wasn't the end of the discussion. A few posts and days later, Brad Delong put up a post entitled, "You Don't Need a Rigorous Microfoundationeer to Know Which Way the—Well, to Know Much of Anything, Really," in which he pointed out that it is still not possible to derive chemistry from quantum mechanics, and this isn't important.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

“One faction of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election."—President Barack Obama

"[Cruz] pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away"—Grover Norquist

(Both quotes from Ezra Klein's useful Washington Post article.)

My question is, what's the endgame? With huge amounts of money being spent to  propagandize Tea Party views and specifically attack opponents of the Tea Party Republicans and small turnouts in primary elections, the non-crazy House Republicans can't fight back; anyone who opposes the TP Republicans will be primaried from the right.

Now what?

I keep remembering how the South lost the Civil War yet the Southern white supremacists remained powerful.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The PPACA at the Edges

Thanks for losing the first version of this post, Blogger. In any event...

[Added: I think on the average the effects of the PPACA will be positive, but we do not live on the average, and there will be winners and losers. This post is an attempt to determine who the losers will be. If the law had been written to benefit people, rather than protect insurance companies, there would be no losers.

Ta-Nehisi Coates reminds us that the people hit hardest by the failure of the PPACA are overwhelmingly the poor in the states where Medicaid has not been expanded and that this group is heavily black and brown. Compared to their problems, the issues I summarize below are minor and I am ashamed of myself for not mentioning it in the original version of this article, though I did write about it last August, when I commented on Virgina v. Sibelius. Mea culpa.]

For some time now, I've been saying that the PPACA, aka Obamacare will be hard on families at the place where they come off Medicaid and go onto insurance, and where the tax credits give out, at 400% of the federal poverty level. I've only recently found specifics. So I can finally write this post. (Brief note: numbers in the thousands have been rounded for convenience; since all the numbers given are estimates, there seems no reason to be over-precise.)

Example one: joining the system at the bottom
My friend T. is a struggling artist and a low-wage worker at, yes, a thrift store. She makes not enough money to begin with, but it is just enough so that she doesn't qualify for Medicaid. Under the PPACA she will be required to buy into her employer's health plan, which will take $45 or perhaps more from her skimpy bi-weekly paychecks. She already has trouble making ends meet. What an additional $1,000 of expenses a year will do to her, I have no idea.

Example two: when the tax credits give out
A couple I know, who will be 57 and 58 in 2014, are currently relying on COBRA coverage from a good but lost job. Their annual health insurance cost under COBRA runs about $10,000 a year; without a subsidy, the Berkeley Labor Center health insurance estimator gives the cost for a silver plan under the PPACA at a whopping $17,000 a year. But wait! They get a tax credit, payable to their health insurance company. If their income is $62,000 a year their health insurance cost will be $6,000 a year. So far, so good. But if their income is $63,000 a year—they don't get a tax credit. So if they have a thousand-dollar windfall; if one of them gets a bonus or a nice big royalty payment, they are on the hook to the IRS for the whole of the tax credit; some $10,000 dollars. Hey-hey, let's hear it for a marginal tax rate of 1,000%! (No, that's not a typo.)

My sympathies to that couple, who is caught between a rock and a hard place; they can take the tax credit and the risk, or accept a $10,000 bite out of their family income during the year, in the hope of a possible reimbursement. They are not well-off; $60,000 a year is a lower middle class income these days. And if they don't fall below the level where reimbursement is offered, if they have, say, $65,000 a year income, they will be paying a full quarter of their pre-tax income for health insurance and nearly half of their income for taxes and health insurance. If they tighten their belts and reject the tax credit—I am not sure if they can accept only part of it—they will be reimbursed at the end of the year, but that is no help when a family needs to deal with a large, unexpected expense during the year. You can bet the Republicans will make sure the country knows about this one in time for the elections. Thanks, guys.

Tune in in 2018, when the "Cadillac Tax" kicks in, wrecking much good employer-provided and union health insurance.

They Bought Themselves a Revolution…

…and ended up against the wall.
Why [asked donors at a high-priced fundraising luncheon] did the GOP seem so in the thrall of its most extremist wing? The donors, banker types who occupy the upper reaches of Wall Street’s towers, couldn’t understand why the Republican Party—their party—seemed close to threatening the nation with a government shutdown, never mind a default if the debt ceiling isn’t raised later this month.
 Read the rest.