Archive

  • WE CAN"T AFFORD...

    WE CAN"T AFFORD NOT TO HAVE UNIVERSAL HEATHCARE : To follow up on Atrios and Ezra , let me carry the stats in this Times article one step further. Let's use their figures to extrapolate government health care spending per capita: United States $2745 France $2464 Canada $2215 Again, our system doesn't just spend far more money than France's much better system and Canada's heavily flawed but still better system, but more government money. And as Krugman says today: Part of the answer is that our fragmented system has much higher administrative costs than the straightforward government insurance systems prevalent in the rest of the advanced world. As Anna Bernasek pointed out in yesterday�s New York Times, besides the overhead of private insurance companies, �there�s an enormous amount of paperwork required of American doctors and hospitals that simply doesn�t exist in countries like Canada or Britain.� In addition, insurers often refuse to pay for preventive care, even though such care...
  • African Aid in Context

    The Washington Post again committed the cardinal sin of not putting budget numbers in context. It ran an article today touting the doubling of aid to Africa during the Bush administration. While this is mostly good news for the people of the region (restrictons on funding for items like condoms and the usual cronyism make the aid less useful than it might otherwise be), it would be helpful to readers if the article put the money involved in some perspective. The current aid level of about $4 billion comes to about $5 per African. That's helpful, but not exactly a windfall. More importantly people should not be deluded into thinking that this aid is a big deal for the U.S. government. The current appropriation is equal to a bit more than 0.16 percent of federal spending. In other words, we spend just under $9,000 per person, about $14 of this money goes to people in Africa. Since a large portion of the public thinks that foreign aid comprises a large portion of their tax bill, a bit of...
  • The NYT Bungles Social Security Big Time

    The New York Times editorial page has moved far on Social Security, leaving the chorus of crisis mongers to be an important voice of reason in last year's debate. However, it now appears to be regressing. Today's lead editorial notes the plans of Chile's government to overhaul the privatized Social Security system that had served as a model for proponents of privatization in the United States. The basic story is that the system did not deliver -- it was not providing Chile's workers with a secure retirement. While the discussion of Chile is on the money, the piece then goes on to make the case for addressing the projected shortfall in the U.S. system. It argues for the need for a balance of benefit cuts and tax increases to address the projected shortfall. This discussion includes the bizarre assertion that the program would only be able to provide an average replacement rate of 10 percent if its shortfall was addressed with benefit cuts alone. It is not clear where this number comes...
  • Rewriting History on Primary School Enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa

    The NYT has a good article today on the surge in primary school enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa. It points out that after stagnating for nearly two decades, primary school enrollment rates have begun to soar across sub-Saharan Africa. While the article includes much useful information (including the problems providing adequate classroom space, textbooks, and teachers for so many students) it leaves out a very important element in this story. It fails to mention the importance of public protests and pressure from non-governmental organizations in forcing the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to change their policy in this area. Prior to 1998, it was common to include clauses requiring fees for primary school enrollment in the structural agreements that countries signed to get loans from these institutions. The fees would improve a country's financial situation by both raising revenue and reducing enrollment, and therefore the need to pay for public education. Fees for primary...
  • BUT CAN HE...

    BUT CAN HE RAISE TAXES? Mark Schmitt reminds , correctly, that the country will need more than an acceptance of moderate deficits over the next few years: It'll need revenue increases. Whatever enthusiasm John Edwards generates for rejecting fiscal conservatism should be tempered by the knowledge that, without tax increases, he'll have very little room for social spending. Relevant here is a question asked at the press conference following his announcement speech. The reporter asked whether tax increases would be necessary to fund Edwards' social spending. Edwards replied: Well, I'll give you a few examples: We ought to be patriotic as americans, not just as a government, though the government plays a critical role in helping to rebuild New Orleans. We ought to be patriotic in doing something about global warming. And I don't mean in an abstract way -- we walked away from Kyoto unilaterally which was a very serious mistake...[long digression on global warming, which I don't have the...
  • New Year's Resolutions for Economic Reporting

    In the interest of providing the public with better reporting on economic issues the association of economic reporters approved the following list of resolutions for 2007: (Okay, no such association exists and this list is completely invented, but I can dream.) 1) Put Numbers in Context Virtually no one can attach any meaning to the $40 million appropriation for a particular earmark, the $196 billion transportation budget for the next six years, or the projected $70 trillion budget shortfall over the infinite future. These numbers can be made meaningful by putting them in some context. In the case of budget items, this is probably best done as shares of total spending and/or as per person expenses. In the case of deficits, the appropriate denominator is GDP over the relevant time frame (annual GDP for a current year deficit, all future GDP for an infinite horizon calculation). These calculations require almost no extra time from reporters and zero extra space (substitute a percentage...
  • SO SORRY NOT TO HAVE MISSED IT.

    SO SORRY NOT TO HAVE MISSED IT. Gee, thanks, Brother Sam , for not letting that essay by the junior senator from Connecticut slip by me. I was really trying hard not to see it; I saw the headline and said, ugh, him again. Then I turned the page -- only to have it turned back at me. (I do not like that Kosher ham; I do not like him, Sam-I-am!) I suppose I should be grateful that Joe Lieberman decided not to throw control of the Senate to Vice President Richard Vader Cheney , but this bit of drivel , as Sam pointed out, is hard to take. My favorite bit: Because of the bravery of many Iraqi and coalition military personnel and the recent coming together of moderate political forces in Baghdad, the war is winnable. We and our Iraqi allies must do what is necessary to win it. Pair that with this headline, in today's Washington Post , from an actual news story by staff writer Nancy Trejos : "December's Number Steadily Edging Toward Highest Monthly Tally of '06." If that doesn't break your...
  • THERE'S A WORD FOR THAT "TENSION." IT ALSO BEGINS WITH "T."

    THERE'S A WORD FOR THAT "TENSION." IT ALSO BEGINS WITH "T." I know that the words Deficits Don't Matter are engraved over the doorway to the American Prospect offices, so I'll put a little at risk here by pointing out that while the current deficit is entirely manageable, as Ezra says, the fiscal outlook for the next ten years is much bleaker -- an additional debt of $3.5 trillion, under current policies, even without accounting for the costs of the war. At that level, deficits certainly will matter. They are economically unsustainable, they leave no cushion to respond to a recession or other emergency, and they certainly leave very little room to push the deficit up even further to finance public investment, social spending, health care, or other goods. Anyone who wants to argue that we should move to invest more in those public goods, without addressing in some way the medium- and long-term deficit, is implicitly arguing that this country can handle deficits of $500 billion a year...
  • GOOD CALL, CONNECTICUT.

    GOOD CALL, CONNECTICUT. Joe Lieberman -- he's ruining my holiday vacation. I'm a bit late in getting digs in at Lieberman's appalling Washington Post op-ed backing escalation in Iraq, but everyone really should take a look at this thing in its entirety. The out-of-the-blue insertion of Iran as our central threat not only in Iraq but in the global war on terror, the non sequitors, the comic book stylings and language, the assertion that "vision, will and courage" is all that we've been lacking and all that we need to secure victory -- it all serves to make the very idea that this writer has staked his political career partly on perceived foreign policy expertise and gravitas truly absurd. The lowlight: Lieberman insists that the troop surge should have "a clearly defined mission." Elsewhere Lieberman describes that mission as defeating "the extremists." Clear as a bell! --Sam Rosenfeld
  • EDWARDS VS. THE...

    EDWARDS VS. THE DEFICIT HAWKS. Des Moines is a very charming town, with some truly fantastic steakhouses. That's particularly if some of your fellow reporters are feeling generous with ther expense accounts. But I digress. I spent much of yesterday in Iowa watching John Edwards do the Townhall thing. And believe me: The boy got skillz. Speaking to a room of a 1,000+ people (the campaign estimated 2,500; the papers 1,000), Edwards easily outdid his announcement speech from the morning, going far deeper into the policy and at far longer length. And it was an impressive performance, particularly compared to his relative insecurity when discussing such issues in 2004. Afterwards, I couldn't find a member of the crowd -- not that there were none, just that I couldn't find him -- who wasn't now supporting Edwards in 2008. As I said, an impressive performance, But Nick Beaudrot 's post on the deficit reminded me of a fairly remarkable exchange from the Q&A that I want to transcribe here...

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