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Thursday, April 29, 2004

Did National Health Insurance Cost Jobs in Canada?


Surprisingly, the answer is no, at least on average, according to health economics guru Jonathan Gruber and Maria Hanratty. National health insurance in Canada started in the province of Saskatchewan in 1962, and later spread to the rest of the country, with different provinces adopting it over the course of several years. Gruber and Hanratty use a sophisticated statistical methodology to control for a number of possible factors affecting employment. The gist of their methodology is simple though. They look at employment growth before and after national health insurance was adopted in each province, and compare provinces with national health insurance to those without.

They find that overall, employment and wages both increased by about 3% following the introduction of national health insurance. But doesn't this contradict the basic economic model I discussed a few days ago? Yes and No.

First, I was discussing national health insurance finance out of general revenues, that is, the income tax. But in many Canadian provinces national health insurance was financed simply by mandating that everybody pay premiums to buy into the national insurance scheme (with low-income people receiving subsidized insurance). Because the cost of insurance didn't vary with work, there was no work disincentive. Low-wage workers were provided with subsidized insurance, with the subsidies reduced as their income rose, so they did face work disincentives. But since subsidized insurance had been available previously, there was little change in their incentives. When looking at different provinces, Gruber and Hanratty find that employment fell in provinces that funded national health insurance entirely out of general taxation, and employment rose in those that relied heavily on mandatory premiums.

But basic economic models would predict that at best, employment would remain constant under a mandatory premium scheme, not rise. Gruber and Hanratty speculate that national health insurance might have reduced "job lock," and hence allowed workers to switch companies more easily, and they also point out that it probably improved the health of Canadians. Workers better able find the right employment match, and healthier workers, are both more productive, and so the demand for labor would increase, with more jobs being created.

The Canadian experience has important lessons for the U.S., Canada is probably the one country in the world most similar to America. Also, the U.S. government already provides free medical insurance to low income families (Medicaid) which has strong work disincentives (since workers lose Medicaid entirely if they make too much). So there is some reason to hope that the U.S. would have Canada's happy outcome if we also adopted national health insurance: higher wages, more jobs, and healthier people. At least, we could have this kind of outcome if we get the details of financing national health insurance right.
 

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More on International Law in Falluja


Juan Cole has responded to my post (I emailed him too), defending his position that the U.S. is violating international law in Falluja. Before I address his specific points, a word on the larger issue. Cole believes that the U.S. is the "Occupying Power" in Iraq, and hence under the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention, is responsible for ensuring adequate security, health care, food, religious materials, and so on, to the Iraqis. But the U.S. is not the occupying power in Falluja. U.S. troops cannot even enter without being shot at. So again, Cole's position places an impossibly heavy burden on U.S. forces, demanding that they fulfil the duties of a government in an area that the don't control in any meaningful way.

The U.S. Army's field manual The Law of Land Warfare, quotes the 1907 Hague Convention as offering a definition of occupation that accords much more closely with common sense:
Military Occupation
Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army.
The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised. (HR, art. 42.)

So, I don't think that U.S. troops can reasonably asked to perform the duties of Occupiers in Falluja. But if U.S. actions aren't illegal, are they immoral, or a tactical error? Well, it does seem like using bombs and airborne artillery against the insurgent troops may be a tactical error, if it causes a lot of civilian casualties. Cole says U.S. forces should "clearing Fallujah neighborhood by neighborhood rather than by aerial bombardment." This would presumably get more U.S. soldiers killed, but fewer Iraqi civilians. I don't think that morality demands this trade-off in wartime, or even that asking U.S. troops to die to protect enemy civilians is necessarily moral itself. Still, in a war where the aim is partly humanitarian (to help the Iraqis), it's clearly a much closer call.

On to Cole's specific points. Cole acknowledges that "some interpretations of Article 3 do exclude guerrilla wars from consideration," since the article after all refers to conflict "not of an international character." For example, this is the interpretation of the Red Cross. But, says Cole, the International Criminal Court has defined "not of of an international character" to include "a resort to armed force between states." If so, ignoring the plain language of the treaty reflects badly on the ICC, not the U.S., and is an example of why we haven't signed on to the ICC.

Cole further argues that the conflict in Falluja resembles a civil war, and hence article 3 applies. But if so, very little of the Geneva Convention applies, since the convention mainly governs conflicts between states that have signed the treaty! I don't think this is a legalistic point. The Geneva convention wasn't handed down from on high, or mandated by the World Government, it is a treaty we signed, and respect because we expect our enemies to respect it too.

Finally, Cole refers to me as "somebody." But I am somebody! I am the Chef. The Ragout Chef! Chef Ragout!


 

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

U.S. Violating International Law? Not in Falluja.


According to the usually reliable Iraq expert Juan Cole, U.S. the attack today on guerrillas in Falluja with AC-130 gunships is likely to cause civilian casualties and is thus "illegal" under international law. Unlike most anti-war types that cry "illegal!" whenever the U.S. does something they don't like, Cole refers us to actual laws allegedly violated by the U.S. Specifically, he says that we've violated articles 3 and 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Since I find these constant cries of "illegal! illegal!" really irritating, I'm going to take this opportunity to rebut the argument of someone who, if not an international lawyer, is at least smart and knowledgable, and should be taken seriously.

I'm not an international lawyer either, but it seems pretty clear to me from reading the treaty that both of the articles Cole cites are much more limited than he believes them to be, and neither apply to the assault on Falluja.

Article 3 says: "In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict" is prohibited from killing "persons taking no active part in the hostilities." [my emphasis] But this article only applies in "conflict not of an international character," which is to say, domestic rebellions, civil wars, and the like.

Article 33 says: "No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited...Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited." [my emphasis] Notice that this article only applies to "protected persons," not to just anybody. And what is a "protected person?"

Article 4 defines a "protected person." It says: "Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power." There are also further restrictions on who qualifies as a protected person, such as that soldiers don't qualify for these particular protections. So, a protected person is basically, a civilian who has been arrested or detained. Since the civilians in Falluja that were allegedly killed weren't in U.S. custody, article 33 doesn't apply either.

Notice that under Cole's interpretation, the burden on the military is impossibly heavy. No matter how many precautions are taken, any accidental killing of a civilian during the course of combat would be an illegal act. But instead, article 33 only applies in circumstances where civilian casualties can be easily avoided, when the civilians are actually in custody. And article 3 only forbids killing civilians in the case of civil war, which is to say it only asks a government to avoid killing its own citizens.
 

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Monday, April 26, 2004

Math, Done Just Right


A commenter writes: "The microeconomics & the math are maybe a bit more intuitive for me than for you."

Not so! We love math here at the Ragout Kitchen! Unlike some economists who burn the mathematics, at the Ragout Kitchen, we gently saute it with olive oil and garlic, and garnish it with a few sprigs of logic.
 

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Sunday, April 25, 2004

Hillarycare


Via Matthew Yglesias, I learn that Hillary Clinton thinks that Canada's National Health Insurance gives Canadian firms a "competitive advantage."

The United States' closest economic rivals have mandatory national health care systems rather than the voluntary employer-based model we have. Automakers in the United States and Canada pay taxes to help finance public health care. But in the United States, automakers also pay about $1,300 per midsize car produced for private employee health insurance. Automakers in Canada come out ahead, according to recent news reports, even after paying higher taxes.

At the same time, American companies are outsourcing jobs to countries where the price of labor does not include health coverage, which costs Americans jobs and puts pressure on employers who continue to cover their employees at home.
In other words, Hillary thinks that national health insurance will create jobs. This is an
argument we used to hear frequently, back when Clinton put government health care on the table. Now, there are lots of benefits to national health care, such as the fact the the government is more efficient at providing health insurance than private firms, but more jobs ain't one of the benefits.

The standard economic analysis of national health insurance, financed out of general taxation, is pretty simple. Since folks get the same health insurance whether or not they work, and since their income is taxed more heavily, they have less incentive to work. So for these two reasons, national health insurance costs jobs. A good (but very technical) discussion of the standard analysis can be found in health-economics-guru Jonathan Gruber's study of Canada's system [requires subscription].

So, that's the conclusion of the standard analysis, the conventional wisdom among academic economists everywhere. Below, I sketch out the argument in lotsa detail. Of course, to say that national health insurance will cost jobs, is not to say that it's a bad idea. We fund lots of programs that reduce work and cost jobs, such as Medicare and Social Security, which probably cause people to retire earlier.

The other important caveat is that standard economic analysis has to be pretty simplified in order to get clear conclusions. And the real world is a complicated place. One fact not included in the standard analysis is that national health insurance might make people healthier. Besides being nice for its own sake, a healthier country would be a more productive, and so there would be more hiring and more work. The basic economic model leaves lots of other stuff out too.

So it would be nice to know what has actually happened in countries that have implemented national health insurance. A casual glance at the data suggests that most countries with with national health insurance have higher unemployment rates than the U.S. A casual glance might not be that convincing, so tomorrow I'll discuss a careful study of Canada's experience, by a health economics guru.



Why National Health Insurance Costs Jobs: a Simple Economic Analysis.

What about Hillary's argument that national health insurance lowers the costs of hiring a worker? Won't that create jobs? Hillary's argument, I think, is just:

1. In the U.S., bosses currently pay their workers wages and provide health insurance.

2. With national health insurance, bosses would only have to pay wages.

3. Therefore, with national health insurance, bosses' hiring costs will be lower, and they will hire more.

Now, the fallacy here is the assumption that national health insurance has no effect on wages. In reality, workers and bosses bargain over wages and benefits. If health insurance costs go down, wages will rise to offset the increase. The short explanation for why is that with the fall in employment costs, bosses want to hire more workers, but (as I pointed out above), workers want to work less. For example there are some people whose primary motivation for working is to get health insurance, and they will drop out of the labor market after national health insurance is implemented. With more demand for labor, and less supply of labor, wages go up.

The idea that the cost of employer-supplied health insurance affects wages should be pretty familiar. In the U.S. today, when health insurance costs go up, wages fall (or rise less) to offset the increase (or equivalently, workers are required to pay a larger fraction of health costs). When health insurance costs fall, as bosses' costs fall to zero with national health insurance, the opposite will happen and wages will rise.

How do I know that wages will rise by at least enough to fully offset the cost of health insurance? Well suppose wages do rise exactly enough, can that situation last? For example, suppose that without national health insurance the wages for a particular job were $20,000/year + $3,000 in health insurance, and with government health care, wages rise to $23,000. Then the compensation offered for working would be the same both before and after national health insurance ($23,000). If that were all that happened, bosses would want to hire just as many workers as before, and just as many workers would want to work, so employment would be the same as without national health insurance.

But that isn't all that's going on. A compensation offer just as generous as before isn't worth as much as before. The reasons are exactly the same as those I initially gave for why national health insurance costs jobs. Because they get health insurance whether they work are not, some people won't be tempted by an offer that had previously motivated them to work. Also, because taxes have to rise to pay for the national health insurance, $23,000 isn't worth as much after taxes as it was before. So if wages rise to exactly offset the cost of health insurance, fewer people will want to work than before national health insurance was implemented. But at the same time, bosses will want to hire just as many people as before. So, this situation can't last and wages will have to rise some more.

So wages have to rise more than enough to cover the old cost of health insurance, and that means that bosses won't hire as many people. So national health insurance will cost jobs.
 

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Refusing to Take Yes for an Answer


In today's Washington Post, the PLO's chief negotiator writes,
Israel's non-negotiated disengagement from Gaza will cause many Palestinians to conclude that violence, and not negotiations, is the only option for securing their rights.

The President of the European Parliament also criticizes Israel for withdrawing. Now, I can understand why the Palestinians are upset about many things, but what's wrong with Israel pulling out of Gaza? There will be fewer targets for Palestinian terrorists? There will be a civil war between Hamas and the PLO?

Jonathan Cook, a British journalist writing in an Egyptian newspaper, defends the Palestinian position by predicting a civil war in Gaza between Palestinian factions, and continued terrorism aimed at Israel! Really, I swear, Cook means to support Palestinian statehood with these claims. He concludes, "by Sharon's reckoning, if Gaza can be promoted as the image of Palestinian statehood, a state in the West Bank will be stillborn." He may be right about that.
 

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Margarine Eclipse


I've been listening a lot to Stereolab's latest album, Margarine Eclipse. I highly recommend it: languorous, dreamlike vocals in French and English with an electronic dance beat. If you liked 1996's Emperor Tomato Ketchup, you'll like this one too. If you didn't like their earlier albums, like Transient Random Noise-Burst with Announcements, you might like their newer stuff. It's less droning and more melodic.
 

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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Kerry's Plan to Fight Outsourcing: Protectionist?


In another comment, Peter points out that the Economist has criticized Kerry's anti-outsourcing plan, which involves charging same tax rates to American-owned companies operating abroad as they pay at home:

"His tax plan nonetheless amounts to protectionism by other means. For it is aimed squarely at discouraging manufacturing abroad by American companies. But it is a bizarre type of trade barrier, because it hits only imports from American firms abroad. A Japanese-owned factory in Malaysia, for example, exporting semiconductors to America but paying only local taxes, would be at a great advantage against a similar American-owned plant, which would be subject to America's higher tax rate. Mr Kerry thinks he is encouraging bosses to keep jobs at home. Instead, he may just prod American consumers to buy even more from foreign companies."

This article reads to me a lot like the scattershot criticism from the National Review I cited yesterday. The Economist says Kerry's plan is "protectionism by other means...[it may] prod American consumers to buy even more from foreign companies." So the Economist criticizes protectionism in the beginning of the paragraph, but switches to mercantilism by the end, worrying that Americans will buy too much from those darned foreigners. Huh?

Peter doesn't cite some of the weaker points in the article. The Economist points out that many other countries don't tax overseas profits of their companies [So? Is this is a good policy?] It says what's really needed is to drastically cut corporate income taxes, like Russia and Estonia [!] have [Perhaps we really should adopt Russia's corporate tax policy. But this isn't a criticism of Kerry's plan, just a claim that it doesn't go far enough]. And again, the Economist seems to be endorsing mercantilism, raising fears of "tax competition" from other countries with low corporate tax rates [Huh? Isn't trade a good thing?].

I think the article's logic is supposed to work this way: Kerry is a protectionist. Kerry's plan won't achieve protectionist ends. Therefore, Kerry is foolish for proposing it. But a simpler explanation for why Kerry is proposing this plan is that he isn't a protectionist. Instead, he's trying to calm protectionist impulses in the public, and at the same time decrease distortions in the economy (by equalizing corporate taxes at home and abroad) and increase investment (by lowering corporate tax rates).

But back to the article's strongest point, which is that the Kerry plan will make imports of goods from Japanese-owned plants in Malaysia cheaper than similar imports from American-owned plants in Malaysia. But, once again, so what? Why should we care about whether Malaysian workers report to Japanese bosses or American ones? Why should we care if American subsidiaries in Malaysia are sold to Japanese companies? Neither affects American jobs and neither affects real economic activity in Malaysia or America.

By contrast, the problem that Kerry proposes to deal with -- American plants relocating abroad for the sake of lower taxes -- is a classic case of a "distortion" in economic activity due to the tax code. And another article in the Economist points out a related distortion caused by current policy. Because American companies don't have to pay taxes on foreign income until they bring it home, they try do avoid doing so. There may be as much as $600 billion in un-repatriated American profits invested overseas in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
 

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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Kerry/Clinton


toomuchtimeonhands writes: "Kerry seems to have picked up a lot of Clintonian advisers and economic themes in preparation for the general election. This is a very good thing, I think you would agree, and the policy you mention is one manifestation. Are there others?"

Yes, one thing I've realized have looked at a few of Kerry's economic proposals is that they're pretty similar to policies that the Clinton White House was working on. Observers wiser than me have pointed out that Kerry seems to be relying heavily on Clinton's economic team for advice.

Another example of a recycled Clinton program is Kerry's plan to provide federal grants to "hire 100,000 new firefighters" (and also to increase federal grants to fire departments for anti-terrorist "first responder" equipment and training). This calls to mind of course, Clinton's plan to hire 100,000 cops (which Kerry also wants to fund).

So, is relying on Clinton's team a good thing? Well, a return to Clinton's economic policies would surely be a vast improvement. As would spending adequate amounts of money on port security, first responders, and otherwise protecting us against terrorism. Still, I blame Gene Sperling, Robert Rubin, and those guys for convincing Clinton to back off from investments in infrastructure and education in his first few years in office, and pressuring Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and other countries to allow loosely regulated "hot money" capital flows into their country, causing a global economic crisis in Clinton's last few years in office.
 

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A White Horse is not a Horse


I want to respond to some of my commenters. Taking the most important one first, mygreatoz praises "Lou Malnotti's Deep Dish pizza places!!! It's the most divine pizza ever...pastry dough crust, rich fillings, topped with cheese then savory tomatos." Wisely, mygreatoz does not deny that NYC's pizza is better than Chicago's "deep dish pizza."

It is true that I have eaten, at Zachary's Pizza in Oakland, some excellent "deep dish pizza." However, we most not forget the words of Gongsun Longzi, author of the White Horse Dialogue, who is said to have replied,

when told that he could not travel on a certain road with his horse, that his horse was white and that because the rule mentioned horses and not white horses, it did not apply to him: "A white horse is not a horse."

Hence, I say: deep dish pizza is not pizza. QED.
 

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Going Positive: Admirable Qualities of John Kerry (Part 3)


In the same tax-day issue of Slate is an excellent article praising Kerry's anti-outsourcing corporate tax reform. Kerry proposes to equalize taxes on income corporations earn domestically and abroad:

Today in America if a company is trying to choose between locating a factory in Michigan or Malaysia, our tax code has a feature called "deferral" that provides major tax savings if they locate abroad...

A company with $10 million in profits in Michigan will pay taxes at the standard corporate tax rate; but if that company moves to Malaysia and makes that same $10 million in profits, they can avoid paying US taxes -- perhaps forever -- as long as they keep the money overseas. They have a special tax incentive to send jobs overseas that may have little or nothing to do with normal market or economic forces.

The reform I'm proposing today is based on a simple principle: Money made by American businesses overseas should be taxed at the same rate as money made by businesses here at home.


This seems to me, and to Timothy Noah, author of the Slate article, like a pretty straightforward good government initiative: there's no reason to give special tax breaks to companies that locate operations abroad. Apparently, the plan was put together by Gene Sperling, who was part of Clinton's economic team. So once again, we have Kerry proposing something sensible, and working with smart advisors. Also, despite Kerry's overheated rhetoric about corporate "Benedict Arnolds," what he is proposing in response to fears of foreign competition is not at all protectionist.

According to Kerry, equalizing taxes on overseas profits would raise about $12 billion a year, which he would spend on lowering the corporate tax rate, and giving tax breaks to corporations that provide health insurance or create jobs. Now one might say that $12 billion isn't a lot of money in a $2,000 billion federal budget, which is true, but, as they say, "a billion here, a billion there, and soon you're talking real money."

Kerry's plan has also been criticized for not doing much about outsourcing, since American companies have many other reasons for locating overseas besides tax subsidies. Oddly, these criticisms come from the right. The critics are probably correct that Kerry's plan will have only a minor effect on outsourcing. For one thing, much of the corporate tax avoidance it's aimed at involves only paper shifts of corporate activity: setting up mail-drop corporate headquarters in tax havens like the Cayman Islands. But none of the (mostly silly) complaints about outsourcing I've heard propose doing anything about it, even doing something foolish. Kerry, on the other hand, is proposing a (modest) step in the right direction.
 

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The French are Liars! (Part 4)


I hadn't planned to continue my series on French perfidy, but the anecdotes continue to roll in....

Slate has been running a series about the release of the latest vintage of French wines. Last week, Slate's writer spent the day with Jeffrey Davies, an American expatriate involved in the wine trade.

In the mid-1980s, [Davies] entered the Bordeaux wine trade, starting a negociant firm. One of the peculiarities of the Bordeaux is that the chateaux don't sell their wines directly to clients; instead, they sell to negociants, who are responsible for selling the wines to importers ... But there are walls he has been unable to breach, presumably because he is an American. Though he is friends with many of the leading figures in the Medoc, it has been difficult for him to get allocations from top chateaux; promises have been made, but the wines never seem to materialize.

So, yet another anecdote (or anecdotes, really since the article speaks of broken "promises," plural), about the French propensity to regard promises and contracts as being more flexible and contingent than an American might.

By the way, the article sings the praises of St. Emilion, "an enchanting place...worth a detour." I've been there, and though it's a nice place, it's pretty touristy.
 

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Thursday, April 15, 2004

Going Positive: Admirable Qualities of John Kerry (Part 2)


Throughout his political career, Kerry has accepted almost no special interest Political Action Committee money.
 

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For Sale: Reservations at Alain Ducasse


Via the libertarian gourmands at the Marginal Revolution comes a link to a fascinating article about how to bribe the maitre d' to get a last-minute reservation at NYC's most popular upscale restaurants.

Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution describes this as an example of "markets in everything." But surely, from the point of view of economic theory, the real puzzle is why there is no legitimate, up-front market where diners can bid for coveted reservations? Instead, we have a shadowy market of bribes and under-the-business-card payments to the maitre d', so unknown that even the sophisticated editors of Gourmet magazine don't believe it exists, until their intrepid reporter uncovers the shocking truth. Why do the restaurant owners let their employees pocket the payments for best tables and 7pm Friday reservations?

My view on how to get a reservation at NYC's best restaurants: go for lunch, not dinner.
 

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Apple on Hot Dogs and Pizza


Johnny Apple's latest article is out, discussing the best "proletarian food" of Chicago, which mostly means hot dogs and sausages. It's another terrific effort, covering everything on a bun from polish sausage to "Calvados-infused smoked duck sausage with citrus-mustard cream." Who'd a thunk that a once great political reporter turned conventional wisdom regurgitating hack would write such wonderful articles about food?

And he even tells it like it is, pronouncing the superiority of NYC's thin crust pizza over Chicago's deep dish "pizza," testifying,
I can't help agreeing with a highly regarded local chef, a lifetime Chicago resident, who told me, after imploring me not to mention him by name lest he be run out of town for his perfidy, "There are a dozen pizza-by-the-slice joints in New York that beat any pizza in Chicago hands down."
 

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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Going Positive: Admirable Qualities of John Kerry, Part 1


It's easy to find many, many reasons to vote against, or even impeach, George Bush. But are there good reasons to vote for John Kerry with enthusiasm, rather than just as the lesser of two evils? Of course, we all know about his war-hero record in Viet Nam, but I've decided to look deeper.

To start with, I've been looking through Kerry's Senate press releases. Kerry seems to have devoted a lot of attention to the Vaccines for the New Millennium Act. The act would increase subsidies for research into vaccines for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The bill also provides a 50% subsidy to sales of these vaccines in developing countries.

There are a number of things that are impressive about Kerry's work here. First, it's important: these diseases kill about 5 million people a year. There are few things the U.S. could do that would help more people. Of course, although AIDS and TB are big problems in the U.S, the bill is largely directed at saving lives in poorer countries overseas. So I give Kerry kudos for working on an issue that hasn't gained him much political credit, given the unpopularity of the foreign aid with American voters.

At the same time, this type of aid should be popular, since besides potentially saving huge numbers of lives, and increasing economic growth around the world (sick people don't produce much), it spreads goodwill towards America. According to the Pew global surveys, what people in other countries admire the most about Americans is our scientific and technological leadership.

Another admirable feature about this bill is that it is well designed, according to certified genius Michael Kremer, an economist at Harvard, who says that the two-pronged approach of subsidizing both research and sales is vital. Writes Kremer: "The enhanced R & D tax credit will provide an immediate benefit for firms doing research in the area. The tax credits for sales will provide incentives for firms to follow through by designing appropriate vaccines for the regions where the diseases are most deadly and will help increase accessability of any vaccines developed." A leader who consults experts when designing policy initiatives would be a refreshing change.

And finally, the proposal is bipartisan, co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. It hasn't passed, but it's on the agenda if he's elected President.
 

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Friday, April 09, 2004

The French are Liars! (Part 3)


Check out the blog of a Liar at menteur.com (Liar.com). I admit that I'm not sure why this French humorist calls himself a "liar," but I note that few Americans appear interested in adopting the title. If any of my English-speaking readers are inspired to take up this "nomme de web," note that Liar.com and Liars.com are for sale.
 

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Thursday, April 08, 2004

More on Norwegian People's Aid


An NPA representative has replied to my email, saying that they aren't able to accept donations over the internet, but she was able to provide a postal address.

Norsk Folkehjelp/Norwegian People's Aid
Postbox 8844 Youngstorget
0028 Oslo
Norway

Since it's a foreign charity, donations are probably not tax deductible.

If I haven't talked you out of donating to NPA, despite all the good work they do helping the Sudanese resistance, clearing land mines, and so on, here are some quotes from a NY Times article extolling Norway's comparative advantage in peacemaking, "A Nation That Exports Oil, Herring and Peace."

Now more than ever, Norway seems to be the international capital of peace. The Nobel Peace Prize, awarded here since 1901, is only a glossy part of it.
....
Over the last decade, Norwegians have had a hand in peace talks between Communist rebels and the Philippine government; Croatia and Yugoslavia, and Colombia's government and the FARC rebel movement. Norwegians have ventured into Cyprus and Somalia and Sudan.

In 1996, they helped negotiate a cease-fire, signed in Oslo, between leftist guerrilla leaders and the Guatemalan government, ending an armed conflict that had claimed 100,000 lives over 35 years.
...
[A Norwegian diplomat says] that Norway "cannot be the fire brigade" for the world. "But," he added, "we can be a kind of social worker."
 

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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The French are Liars! (Part 2)


Pascal Baudry, in his recent book, "Francais et Americains: l'autre rive" (French and Americans: the other side), a book that discusses French and American culture and seems to be quite popular in France, discusses the difference in French and American attitudes towards contracts.
For Americans, "after the contract is signed, generally after a careful legal examination, it is destined to be applied, and each of the parties will follow it....in the French case, a first difference: that which has been announced is not what will happen...In effect, when they sign, the French don't truly have the intention of respecting the contract." [my translation] "Lorsque le contrat est sign, gnralement aprs un examen juridique attentif, il est destin tre appliqu, et chacune des parties sy emploiera...Dans le cadre franais, une premire diffrence : ex post, ce nest pas ce qui avait t annonc qui sest produit....En effet, quand il a sign, le Franais navait pas vraiment lintention de respecter le contrat." [p. 95.]
In other words, the French see a business relationship as something that is continually up for re-negotiation, contract or no. Baudry quotes an American as saying, "When you sign [a contract] with the Germans, it's over. When you sign with the French, it begins."
 

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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Tragedy or Triumph?


Many in the blogosphere seem convinced that yesterday's uprising by Moqtada al-Sadr's Shiite militia is a disaster. But Juan Cole, an Iraqi expert, doesn't seem to be hyperventilating too much. He states the key to the whole situation: "Journalists kept asking me today why Muqtada chose to act now, why he didn't just wait for the Americans to leave. The answer is that the CPA had clearly targeted him, and forced his hand." Cole is referring the the U.S. arrest of one of Sadr's lieutenants, and closure of his newspaper.

My optimistic take is that Sadr, who's a theocratic wannabe, was going to start shooting sooner or later. It's much better that he started now, before he's ready, and while Coalition forces are still at full strength. I notice that Sadr seems to be doing everything he can to rein in his followers. So, there's every reason to think that this is a cleverly planned provocation my the Coalition, that's paid off big time: the Coalition can now arrest Sadr and his leadership, and disarm his militia.

Of course if this wasn't the plan all along, and Bremer et al didn't anticipate this uprising, we're in big trouble.
 

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Friday, April 02, 2004

Genocide Watch


NY Times columnist Nick Kristoff has written movingly about the genocide currently underway in the Sudan, in Darfur, along the Sudan-Chad border. Apparently the Sudanese government is fanning local antagonisms and providing support for local Arab populations to wipe out their Black neighbors. Reuters reports:
Arab militias are conducting an organized campaign of ethnic cleansing to drive out black Africans from Sudan's Darfur region and the government is doing little to stop it, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator said on Friday.
Reports suggest that 500,000 or more refugees have fled the area. Many readers no doubt are asking, what can I do? Kristoff, on his blog, suggests donating to Doctors Without Borders, which he says is "perhaps the most involved" organization assisting the Sudanese refuges in Chad. Now Doctors Without Borders is a fine organization, and I donate to them. But clearly, what victims of genocide need, as the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto could have told you, are weapons. How can they defend themselves without arms? But how to help? It looks like Norwegian People's Aid, an international relief organization founded by the Norwegian trade union movement might be the ticket. They've been accused of providing weapons to the rebels fighting the slave-traders who govern Sudan. "Slave traders," by the way, is simply statement of fact, not an exaggeration. I don't know if these Norwegian do-gooders are really shipping arms to the rebels, but they make clear that they support the rebels, rather than following most other NGOs in maintaining an immoral neutrality in the battle between the genocidal slave-traders and the rebelling slaves. And the US government also works closely with the NPA to provide assistance to the Sudanese opposition. See this Philadelphia Inquirer article, which is the best brief summary I've found on the web. Unfortunately, NPA's website doesn't make clear how to send a donation. I've sent an email asking how to help. I'll keep you posted.
 

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Feel Safer?


Via the physics paleo-blog What's New, I hear that the Transportation Security Administration is now canceling flights on the word of psychic tipsters. "In these times, we can't ignore anything," says a TSA spokesperson.

 

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Thursday, April 01, 2004

More Exploding Kitchenware


Via, Crooked Timber, I hear that Southern Living magazine (circulation 2 million +) has recalled a recipe as a "potential fire and safety hazard."


Please DO NOT USE the Icebox Rolls recipe that appeared on p. 154 of the April 2004 issue of Southern Living. It has been determined that heating the water and shortening, as described in the original recipe, is dangerous, and may pose a fire and safety hazard. DO NOT USE this recipe.


Apparently, the original recipe called for boiling water and shortening together for five minutes, a plan likely to cause hot bits of fat to spatter around the kitchen. Probably, the worst effects result from pouring cold water into a pan with hot shortening, causing a jet of steam to launch a cloud of fat droplets, or so some speculate.

It's also possible to make water alone explode! By superheating it in a microwave.
 

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