Economics, Politics, Legal History & Science. ‘Solid liberal’ in US, wide spectrum centrist in Germany. Impeach Trump as of January 2017.
3573 stories
·
25 followers

Planet of the apes

1 Comment

22.9-21.6 million years ago

The Miocene (23 – 5 million years ago) is a period of extraordinary success for our closest relatives, the apes. Overall there may have been as many as a hundred ape species during the epoch. Proconsul (actually several species) is one of the earliest. We will meet just a few of the others over the course of the Miocene, as some leave Africa for Asia, and some (we think) migrate back.

Sometimes evolution is a story of progress – not necessarily moral progress, but at least progress in the sense of more effective animals replacing less effective. For example, monkeys and apes largely replace other primates (prosimians, relatives of lemurs and lorises) over most of the world after the Eocene, with lemurs flourishing only on isolated Madagascar. This replacement is probably a story of more effective forms outcompeting less effective. And the expansion of brain size that we see among many mammalian lineages throughout the Cenozoic is probably another example of progress resulting from evolutionary arms races.

But measured by the yardstick of evolutionary success, (non-human) apes — some of the brainiest animals on the planet — will turn out not to be all that effective after the Miocene. In our day, we’re down to just about four species of great ape (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans), none of them very successful. Monkeys, with smaller body sizes and more rapid reproductive rates, are doing better. For that matter, the closest living relatives of primates (apart from colugos and tree shrews) are rodents, who are doing better still, mostly by reproducing faster than predators can eat them.

So big brains aren’t quite the ticket to evolutionary success that, say, flight has been for birds. One issue for apes may be that with primate rules for brain growth – double the brain size means double the neurons means double the energy cost – a large-bodied, large brained primate (i.e. an ape) is going to face a serious challenge finding enough food to keep its brain running. It’s not until a later evolutionary period that one lineage of apes really overcomes this problem, with a combination of better physical technology (stone tools, fire) and better social technology (enlisting others to provision mothers and their dependent offspring).



Read the whole story
stefanetal
28 days ago
reply
Finding out a few years ago that we are far past the golden age of apes was a surprise.
Northern Virginia
Share this story
Delete

Is Justice Gorsuch ready, willing and eager to blow up the civil/criminal divide?

1 Share

Justice Neil Gorsuch served as the swing vote and issued quite an interesting concurring opinion this morning in Sessions v. Dimaya, No. 15-1498 (S. Ct. April 17, 2018) (available here).  Various aspects of Judge Gorsuch's opinion may merit commentary, but the question in the title of this post was my reaction to his various comments about civil sanctions and criminal punishments.    Though many constitutional doctrines make critical and consequential distinctions between civil sanctions and criminal punishments, Justice Gorsuch seemingly does not think there is much "there there."  Here are the passages that I found especially striking in this regard:

[I]f the severity of the consequences counts when deciding the standard of review, shouldn’t we also take account of the fact that today’s civil laws regularly impose penalties far more severe than those found in many criminal statutes? Ours is a world filled with more and more civil laws bearing more and more extravagant punishments.  Today’s “civil” penalties include confiscatory rather than compensatory fines, forfeiture provisions that allow homes to be taken, remedies that strip persons of their professional licenses and livelihoods, and the power to commit persons against their will indefinitely.  Some of these penalties are routinely imposed and are routinely graver than those associated with misdemeanor crimes — and often harsher than the punishment for felonies....

My colleagues suggest the law before us should be assessed under the fair notice standard because of the special gravity of its civil deportation penalty.  But, grave as that penalty may be, I cannot see why we would single it out for special treatment when (again) so many civil laws today impose so many similarly severe sanctions.  Why, for example, would due process require Congress to speak more clearly when it seeks to deport a lawfully resident alien than when it wishes to subject a citizen to indefinite civil commitment, strip him of a business license essential to his family’s living, or confiscate his home?  I can think of no good answer.

I find heartening Justice Gorsuch's obvious disaffinity for watered-down procedural rights (too) often applied to severe "civil" sanctions, and I think litigators challenging these kinds of sanctions can and should be sure to cite this concurring opinion along the way.

Read the whole story
stefanetal
37 days ago
reply
Northern Virginia
Share this story
Delete

Unraveling

1 Comment
Economists delight in unravelings -- behavioral responses that undo bright ideas. A subsidy for skunks produces cats with white stripes. Two good ones came up this week.

As hare-brained as they are, I have to opine that the actual economic consequences of US steel import tariffs and Chinese soybean tariffs are essentially zero.

(Political comment: tariffs are taxes on imports. It would do fans of the Administration's trade policies good to utter the correct "tax" word to describe tariffs.)

Why do I say that? Each country is assessing a tariff on goods produced only by the other country. Well then, why not park the ships overnight in Vancouver, or Tokyo, fill out some paperwork, and say steel is imported first from China to Canada, and then Canada to the U.S., and vice versa?

Trade bureaucrats are smart enough to catch that. But they cannot hope to stop essentially the same thing: China sells steel to Canadian steel users, who currently buy from Canadian firms. Canadian steel producers reorient their production to the US, and sell to US companies who formerly bought from China. The steel is genuinely Canadian.


US soybean producers, rather than sell to China, sell to Canada, Brazil, and Europe. Producers there sell to China. The total amount made is the same in each country. The total amount used is the same in each country. It is just as if we parked the ships.

It's not exactly the same cost, because ships have to go further. People have to find new suppliers. But these rearrangements ought to be a very small proportion of the cost.

More. US farmers can take land that used to make soybeans and make wheat. Chinese farmers can take land that used to make rice and make soybeans. OK, not all land is great for all crops, but it is the kind of adjustment that quickly occurs.

Multiplying current trade patterns by a tariff to calculate the price impact is hopelessly wrong.

The second sad story comes from the Ruth Simon and Richard Rubin at the Wall Street Journal, on how passthrough businesses are adapting to the new corporate tax code -- largely as many people warned on its passage.

The issue: Corporations, pass-through businesses, and the highest income individuals, all used to pay about the same rate. The tax reform lowered the corporate rate to 21%. If it left the pass through rate intact, many of those businesses would incorporate. Also, the same economic arguments for a lower corporate tax apply equally to pass throughs. So, they lowered the pass through rate as well. But now high income people, facing a 40% federal rate (plus a 13.2% state rate in California, plus other taxes) have an incentive to become a pass through business rather than take wages. So Congress came up with a bunch of rules to try to limit that. Certain kinds of businesses -- doctors, lawyers -- couldn't become pass throughs. There are income limits and...
Dallas attorney Garry Davis plans to break up his immigration-law practice. One firm will have all the lawyers. The other will record the profits.
...Mr. Davis... figures he can still benefit from the break by splitting his law firm, Davis & Associates, into one entity holding four lawyers and another holding the 26-person administrative staff, who take information from new clients, put together immigration applications and handle other tasks. Profits in this part could be subject to lower taxes. 
... Mr. Davis’s approach, which some have dubbed “crack and pack,” seeks to get around a provision denying high-earning lawyers, doctors and other professionals a tax break available to plumbing contractors, restaurateurs and architects...By separating the lawyers from other parts of the business, he hopes to lower the business’s overall tax bill while changing little in his day-to-day operations.
Another:
Karen Brosi, an accountant in Palo Alto, Calif., is telling high earners who consult on engineering projects to indicate on tax returns that they are “engineers”—a group not subject to the income limits for service businesses—rather than “consultants,” who are. 
The article goes on with scheme after scheme. It didn't touch real estate, where the real pass through bonanza is.

The margin of incorporating to take advantage of the full 21% rate is still there, only incorporating just the cash flows that fully benefit from that treatment>
Marvin Blum, a wealth planner in Fort Worth, Texas, is pitching a related strategy to his clients: Profit meant to be reinvested into a business is channeled into an entity that pays the new, lower 21% corporate tax rate, while profit that is meant to be distributed to owners in the near term goes into a pass-through entity that pays just the individual taxes. He calls it the “half and half.”

The economic lesson is the same -- trying to tax one kind of income, like commodity imports from one country -- is likely to fail. As I've argued before, here for example, once we try to tax income, we're pretty much stuck with the current mess of individual, corporate, and estate and gift taxes.   The only real solution is to tax consumption rather than income.

The political lesson is more somber. As the article wryly notes:
It isn’t clear how the IRS will look at such arrangements or how it will determine where profits are made. The agency hasn’t yet issued regulations in this area.

The private sector’s old game of cat-and-mouse with the Internal Revenue Service and Congress, in other words, is intensifying, and is likely to play out over years in regulations, audits, appeals and litigation.
Forget the rates. My great sadness at this tax "reform" is that the once in a generation chance to radically simplify the tax code went up in smoke. Instead, you can see that we will have 20 years of wealthy business owners -- just the type to make sure they know their local congressperson well -- in and out of Washington pleading for an IRS ruling or a line in a bill treating this or that kind of pass through income differently. The lawyers, accountants, and lobbyist full employment act is in good shape. 
Back when the Federal Government was funded by tariffs, by the way, the same great game went on with dizzying differential tariff treatment for different kinds of goods.

One has to admire the capacity of Americans for innovation. My, our people are good at restructuring corporate forms towards better efficiency. Too bad we are devoting so much immense talent to gaming regulations and the tax code rather than productive innovation.
Read the whole story
stefanetal
48 days ago
reply
Republican ‘tax simplification ‘!
Northern Virginia
Share this story
Delete

Should-Read: David E. Broockman et al.: The Political Behavior of Wealthy Americ...

1 Share

Should-Read: David E. Broockman et al.: The Political Behavior of Wealthy Americans: Evidence from Technology Entrepreneurs: "American politics overrepresents the wealthy. But what policies do the wealthy support?...

...Many accounts implicitly assume the wealthy are monolithically conservative and that increases in their political power will increase inequality. Instead, we argue there is substantial heterogeneity by industry, wherein the wealthy from an industry can share a distinctive set of political preferences. Consequently, how increases in the wealthy’s influence affect inequality depends on which industries’ rich are gaining influence and which issues are at stake. We demonstrate our argument with three original surveys, including the two largest surveys of wealthy Americans to date: one of technology entrepreneurs—a burgeoning wealthy demographic— and another of political campaign donors. We show that technology entrepreneurs support liberal redistributive, social, and globalistic policies but conservative regulatory policies—a bundle of preferences rare among other wealthy individuals. Consistent with our theoretical argument, we also present evidence that suggests these differences arise from their distinctive predispositions...

Read the whole story
stefanetal
75 days ago
reply
Northern Virginia
Share this story
Delete

Beware Anthem's sneak attack on emergency care coverage

2 Shares

M

ost people buy insurance to protect financially against potentially catastrophic events and emergencies. But if you have health insurance through Anthem, a health insurance company that covers an astounding 1 in 8 Americans, watch out: You may be on your own in an emergency.

Anthem has introduced a restriction on emergency care coverage, effectively denying most if not all coverage if they decide after your ED visit that you didn’t have an emergency condition. Say you went to an emergency department for severe abdominal pain and nausea that sounded like your cousin’s appendicitis, only to find out the cause was a nasty stomach virus.

After the dust has settled, Anthem reviews the bill and decides that your visit was inappropriate and could have been treated in your doctor’s office or at an urgent care center. The company then covers only a fraction of the cost, if any, and you are responsible for most of the bill. What’s more, this expenditure would not count towards your deductible or out-of-pocket limit.

advertisement

Last year, Anthem and its subsidiaries notified its members in Georgia, Kentucky, and Missouri of this new policy. It is part of a national cost-cutting strategy for the Indianapolis-based insurance giant, which posted a $2.46 billion profit in 2016. The American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American College of Emergency Physicians have publicly denounced this policy, and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri is investigating it.

Undeterred, the company announced its denial policy in three more states earlier this year. In Massachusetts, Unicare, an Anthem subsidiary that provides health benefits for Massachusetts public workers policies, buried a “non-emergency” clause on page 47 of its member’s handbook without any announcement at all.

This restriction defeats the core purpose of having insurance — to cover unexpected emergencies.

Vox told the story of a young Kentucky woman who went to an emergency department for severe abdominal pain. Anthem declined to cover her $12,000 bill, saying the visit was not an emergency because the final diagnosis was an ovarian cyst.

Judging the appropriateness of a trip to the emergency department after the fact is unfair. Why? Because it is difficult for individuals who are acutely ill to determine if they have a condition that qualifies as an emergency. Is that pain in the center of your chest a heart attack, or is it just heartburn? Is that sharp headache just another migraine, or is it a burst brain aneurysm?

Patients will be forced to be their own doctors, weighing a trip to the emergency department for what could be lifesaving care against possible financial repercussions if they guess wrong.

Even the most experienced emergency triage nurses frequently get it wrong. A 2013 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that, at the start of emergency visits, they identified as non-urgent only 13 percent of patients who ultimately had diagnoses that didn’t qualify as emergencies. The reason? Those patients had the same spectrum of symptoms that brought nearly 90 percent of patients to the emergency department.

This tactic of reviewing emergency department visits after the fact isn’t new. In the 1990s, managed care companies commonly denied coverage for emergency care. And insurers tried to discourage patients from going to the emergency department by requiring pre-authorization for such visits. Patients sometimes deferred lifesaving care for fear that their insurance would not cover it.

In response, states and the federal government passed laws requiring insurers to cover emergency care based on the prudent layperson standard. This standard defines emergency medical conditions as “acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that a prudent layperson, who possesses an average knowledge of health and medicine, could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in [serious deterioration of health].”

Maryland passed the first prudent layperson standard in 1992. Other states followed, and it became federal law in 1997 as part of the Balanced Budget Act. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act renewed this standard for emergency care coverage as one of the 10 essential health benefits.

Simply put, Anthem’s retrospective denial of emergency care coverage is unethical and illegal. It threatens patients’ safety and their access to emergency care. Individuals covered by health insurance with this restriction won’t have the financial protection they expect when seeking care for a medical emergency. Instead, patients may find that their insurance did not cover the visit cost when they receive a bill out of the blue.

Patients will be forced to be their own doctors, weighing a trip to the emergency department for what could be lifesaving care against possible financial repercussions if they guess wrong.

Despite the outrage by lawmakers and physician organizations, Anthem has continued to expand this dangerous policy nationally, threatening to reverse the progress we’ve made in patient safety and access. More striking is that Anthem is sneaking these restrictions to emergency care coverage without announcement, such as through Unicare in Massachusetts.

Denying retrospectively determined “inappropriate” emergency department visits is as unsafe today as it was 25 years ago. Patients across the nation need to examine the details about emergency care coverage in their health insurance plans, especially if they are covered by Anthem, Unicare, Blue Cross Blue Shield, or one of the other subsidiaries. This fine print needs to be exposed so physicians and patients can fight back, as they have in Ohio, where the state legislature will introduce a penalty for restrictions such as Anthem’s policy. After all, in an emergency, your life — or savings — will depend on it.

Shih-Chuan (Andrew) Chou, M.D., is an attending emergency physician and health policy research fellow, and Jeremiah D. Schuur, M.D., is the vice chair of clinical affairs for the Department of Emergency Medicine, both at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The opinions expressed here are the authors’ and do not reflect the views and opinions of Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Read the whole story
stefanetal
76 days ago
reply
Northern Virginia
satadru
76 days ago
reply
New York, NY
Share this story
Delete

War in Germany: 1848 and the impasse of conservative militarism in Prussia

1 Comment

How did Metternich contain the revolutionary threat? Would Germany have been more peaceful if liberalism had triumphed in 1848? Marx, Engels and the promise of revolutionary war.

Lecture slides here:

Tooze WinG2018 Lecture 9 1815-1850

The post War in Germany: 1848 and the impasse of conservative militarism in Prussia appeared first on ADAM TOOZE.

Read the whole story
stefanetal
77 days ago
reply
Very nice lecture series.
Northern Virginia
duerig
77 days ago
Interesting. The current Revolutions podcast series is also about the revolutions of 1848. Next week moves back to Germany, so I might listen to this for spoilers. :)
stefanetal
77 days ago
The Tooze lecture is good in putting events 'in perspective.' The one factual tidbit I learned is Paul I of Russia's assassination. From wiki: "Paul's premonitions of assassination were well-founded. His attempts to force the nobility to adopt a code of chivalry alienated many of his trusted advisors. The Emperor also discovered outrageous machinations and corruption in the Russian treasury. Although he repealed Catherine's law allowing corporal punishment of the free classes, directing reforms that resulted in greater rights for the peasantry, and providing for better treatment for serfs on agricultural estates, most of his policies were viewed as a great annoyance to the noble class and induced his enemies to work out a plan of action. A conspiracy was organized, some months before it was executed, by Counts Peter Ludwig von der Pahlen, Nikita Petrovich Panin, and the half-Spanish, half-Neapolitan adventurer Admiral Ribas. The death of Ribas delayed the execution. On the night of 23 March [O.S. 11 March] 1801, Paul was murdered in his bedroom in the newly built St. Michael's Castle by a band of dismissed officers headed by General Bennigsen, a Hanoverian in the Russian service, and General Yashvil, a Georgian. They charged into his bedroom, flushed with drink after dining together, and found Paul hiding behind some drapes in the corner.[42] The conspirators pulled him out, forced him to the table, and tried to compel him to sign his abdication. Paul offered some resistance, and Nikolay Zubov struck him with a sword, after which the assassins strangled and trampled him to death. He was succeeded by his son, the 23-year-old Alexander I, who was actually in the palace, and to whom General Nikolay Zubov, one of the assassins, announced his accession, accompanied by the admonition, "Time to grow up! Go and rule!" The assassins were not punished by Alexander, and the court physician James Wylie declared apoplexy the official cause of death.[43][44]"
stefanetal
77 days ago
I also didn't think of the Punctation of Olmütz as such a big deal, but Tooze put lots more emphasis on it.
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories