Friday, December 04, 2009

Mrs. S writes 

A second column on health care. She says "the devil is in the details." She gets a lot of them into 650 or so words, working through an interview with state Rep. Steve Gottwalt. A couple people have said to me they really liked this one, so please check it out.

To see more devils, behold Canada, where the rate of increase of medical spending is growing faster than available revenues.
Provincial government health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 7.4% over the 10-year trend period examined in this report (1999/2000 to 2008/2009). At the same time, the average annual growth rate for total available provincial revenue has been only 6.5%. Provincial government health spending has also grown faster than provincial GDP, which grew at an average annual rate of only 6.4% over the same period.

...The most recent one-year growth in government health spending was 8.3% (on average across all provinces), while the growth in total available revenue was only 5.2%.
So how do you fix that? In Canada, they queue:
Unfortunately, provincial governments typically attempt to slow the growth of health spending by restricting or delaying access to publicly insured health care. For example, the most recent data show that wait times for access to medical services have increased in every province over the 10-year trend period (Esmail et al., 2008). In addition, provincial publicly funded drug programs are, to an increasing degree, covering only a small percentage of new medicines. Such policies have the effect of slowing growth in government health spending in the short term. However, the rationing of health goods and services cannot continue indefinitely without increasing medical risks for patients.
Link added.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Thinking about media and bias 

Saturday's Final Word featured Society for Professional Journalists and St. Cloud Times reporter Dave Aeikens, the podcast of which is now available (link when it's live.) Following on our discussion of the press restrictions of the Minnesota Legislature, Dave provided us with examples where online and "legacy" journalists (hey, if it works for toxic assets, why not?) are working together to blur the lines between who is a journalist and who is not. In fact, he was adamant that the line could not be drawn.

In the second half we turned to the idea of media bias; I am one who does not think there is groupthink in the media (Janet might disagree with me here, but read through to be sure), but that writers tend to reflect individual preferences and are reinforced in doing so when they think their audience will favor. Some of the economic research that convinces me of this is a paper by Mullainathan and Shleifer (2005 AER, ungated copy here, hereinafter MS.) It was their example of the two stories on the unemployment rate that I read to Dave. I think there's slanting of stories, which as MS point out can be a rational response to a biased readership. The market for the StarTribune contains the congressional district of Keith Ellison, so you write stories Ellison supporters would like. That's not bias, that's responding to incentives.

With that in mind, consider this opinion piece written by Randy Krebs in the Sunday St. Cloud paper. He illustrates his belief that he has intolerant readers by reporting on phone calls he receives after the paper reports on "Rep. Steve Gottwalt�s bill requiring people to remove headgear for their driver�s license photo." A few sentences later he writes, "A couple of different readers called separately to express support for Gottwalt�s initial idea." Mr. Krebs takes the rest of the column to call these two callers intolerant. Wouldn't a reader think that by extension Krebs thinks Gottwalt is, too?

Except that the paper reported weeks ago (in an article co-authored by Dave Aeikens, just to tie this together) that after meeting with Muslim groups, who felt the law was discriminatory against their religious practices, Gottwalt revised the bill to strike a better balance. This point appears nowhere in the Krebs opinion unless you ask why Krebs called it "Gottwalt's initial idea." It seems to me Krebs was aware of that change, but because it was inconvenient to his story he made his way quickly around that point to get back to attacking the droogs who dared ring his phone.

So is that bias? I don't think so; even if it is, Mr. Krebs is certainly entitled in an opinion piece to express it. I suspect though it's a bit more like slanting; there is nothing false about what Krebs has written, but he's in need of props to tell his story of religious intolerance and found these callers handy. It would muddy his story to remind people of Gottwalt's revision, so that doesn't make it into the op-ed.

Dave argues in the podcast that without newspapers bloggers have nothing to say. But newspapers in fact present us with something to do: to demonstrate slanting, and yes, re-slant for our readers. Since it appears more liberals self-select into careers in journalism (see for example here and here for evidence, for starters), those who want a different slant are served by both Fox and by center-right bloggers.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Rank ignorance 

Rankings of things tend to annoy me. I would always prefer to know the actual values involved, but we tend to like lists. But they get you in trouble when people try to change how their measuring things.

Today's example is from our local paper. It takes exception with the Tax Foundation's rankings, largely because the Foundation thinks tax efficiency is a proper goal of public policy. The Foundation adds federal taxes to its ranking of the states, though as the link points out, removing federal taxes changes Minnesota's ranking not at all for 2007. Of course the letter writer forgot to tell you that.

He then switches to a report issued by the Minnesota Taxpayers Association, which includes both data based on taxes per capita and taxes per $1000 personal income. Using the latter measure, and using all state and local taxes, he finds that Minnesota ranks 23rd. Of course, he is now comparing apples and oranges. But he says "That one state has higher-income residents than another has nothing to do with the level of state and local taxes."

But the reason for his letter, that Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud) has proposed the state corporate income taxes are too high, is belied by his own report use. The state ranks 8th in corporate income taxes per $1000 personal income. The letter writer uses a measure of all taxes to rebut a specific point about one tax, by playing fast and loose with which rankings one uses. Our top marginal corporate tax rate, 9.8%, is sixth-highest in the nation.

He also plays a little fast and loose with his choice of who is a non-partisan by quoting at the end lovingly from something published by the Economic Policy Institute. If you are going to call the Tax Foundation "extreme conservative", then you don't get to use an institute run by folks like Robert Reich and Robert Kuttner as being unbiased.

Charlie Quimby pointed out something similar in the Mn2020/Mn Free Market Institute spat over Matt Entenza's 32nd ranking. It's not a fruitful debate (and I say this as a fellow of the latter, with some trepidation.) The question is whether taxes effect people's willingness to truck, barter and exchange in Minnesota, and choosing between Minnesota and other states. Rankings and arguments over what's in the numerator or denominator of this or that ratio won't help solve that debate.

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Monday, April 30, 2007

A short, sad note 

I shot a note out to Rep. Steve Gottwalt after seeing that he had missed the vote on the smoking ban (something he was voting for) and the tax debate about which he was passionate. I worried something was not OK. Saturday night I found out that his mother-in-law had passed away on Friday unexpectedly. The funeral is here in St. Cloud tomorrow. Our prayers are with Steve and Paula.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

There is no midpoint between right and wrong 

Three Saturdays ago, I said as the Minnesota Senate left town that they would pass their tax increase under dark of weekend and then go out and get the local papers and the trade unions and teachers and all to beat drums in favor of it.

The Sunday St. Cloud Times outdid itself yesterday. I can barely talk about Edith Rylander's column, except that I believe she's the Edith Archie Bunker really was talking to. Her logic goes like this: Government bought something, it did some good, so government spending is good. The thought that it might be provided for less, or provided better, never enters her meathead. Forget convincing her that government spending builds dependency, she's already gone around that bend.

I gave the column by Randy Krebs attacking Steve Gottwalt a comment here. But I'd like to add something that more belongs on this blog than on a comment, regarding what I see as the education of a freshman legislator.

Recall back to last fall, when Steve Gottwalt and Diana Murphy-Podawiltz vied for the seat in 15A. I covered a debate of theirs, and at the time I said this about Gottwalt:
He is much more a moderate than I thought before, particularly on fiscal issues. While even a moderate stands out against the backdrop of DMP, Steve is nonetheless one to argue for smart, careful fee or tax increases. I was the one who wrote the "name a place that grew after raising taxes" question, and he correctly said "none." But in other places as you see in my notes, he was in favor of higher auto license fees, for MVST -- he and I have sparred on Northstar in the past, as he has a preference for spending programs for transportation. He's much more positively disposed to JOBZ and other business tax incentive programs than I would be.
I heard more of him over the last two months of the election and I saw nothing that changed my view that he wasn't altogether hawkish on tax increases -- just that he wanted accountability. That matched his behavior as a city councilor: Pragmatic, willing to put money into things he can show get results.

Now if one wanted to take a very narrow view of what's happened since then, one might say he hasn't changed a thing. He may still favor tax increases if they come with real accountability. But one very annoying thing about this legislative session is that none of the spending proposals have accountability to them. The education bill is a gigantic pork train; the governor's call for merit pay for MnSCU has fallen on deaf ears. Find a bill that has an accountability component.

I say "he may still favor..." because I don't know. I haven't asked him. But based on what he's been saying lately, I think perhaps he's learned that government is never accountable. As Reagan once said, government is like a baby, "an alimentary canal with a loud voice at one end and no responsibility at the other end." When he gets Cy Thao breathing on him, or Tarryl Clark speeding past him in a town hall meeting (notice how long those things lasted as bipartisan events?) or tries to talk compromise in a committee passing a sex ed bill and gets rolled time and again on party line votes, or ... well, at some point it becomes time to check your premises. Again, I haven't asked him, but I'd say Rep. Gottwalt has indeed changed. He's received an education in partisanship, a new experience for him vis-a-vis the St. Cloud City Council. (Not that the latter isn't partisan, but not to the extent the legislature has become.)

As John Maynard Keynes once said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" The facts of this Legislature have changed. The DFL is now in charge of the House, and it seems hellbent on spending and taxing and not asking the GOP for any input. So my question to Randy Krebs is, was Steve just supposed to sit there and take it?

Maybe he's just learned that there's no midpoint between right and wrong, and the DFL's tax plan is wrong in kind, not just in degree. If that's what Gottwalt has learned, he's shown more intelligence than the St. Cloud Times.

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