Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Music

On The Requirement For Individuals To Buy Health Insurance

The question that the recent challenge to President Obama's health care law hinges on at the Supreme Court of the United States.

That particular requirement has created difficulties on both sides of the political aisle though for slightly different reasons. Yet it is a fairly central aspect of the new health care law. If it goes, what will happen to the availability of affordable coverage for people with pre-existing conditions?

To see why that could be a problem, think of the worst incentives the combination of no individual mandate and affordable coverage for people with pre-existing conditions might create:

It could make sense for someone not to buy insurance (or only buy insurance for catastrophic events at low cost) until that person is diagnosed with, say, diabetes or some other chronic condition if getting a policy at a reasonable price is feasible at that point. If enough people use that strategy, the average costs of insurance will rise, simply because a larger percentage of the insured will consist of high users of care. These higher costs will then make insurance even less attractive for those who are not yet ill.

Or put in another way, the particular combination of no individual mandate and no punishment for entering with a pre-existing condition would give low-risk individuals (the young and healthy, say) incentives to stay out of the system until they need it. But that would raise the average costs for all in the insurance pool.

The usual market solutions for this problem in other insurance markets are premia based on experience rating: If you have a poor driving history, you pay more for car insurance, for example. But that solution would bring those refusals of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions (except at a much higher premium) right back.

The question, then, is how much of the health care law could stand without the individual mandate, should the Supreme Court vote against it.

As I've written before, the health care funding system of this country is a patchwork, and some of the patches exist almost due to historical accidents. That would be the case with insurance ties to one's place of employment, for example. But a more troublesome patch, in my opinion, is the use of the insurance model to pay for health care. Most health care consumption fails to satisfy the rules for insurable events.

Here's a related thought: A single-payer system does, in fact, have something very much like the individual mandate in it. This is because single-payer systems are usually funded from taxes or tax-like fees, and taxation is obligatory. I'm pretty sure that allowing opting out from that mechanism would damage those systems, too.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, More Abortion Restrictions Planned

Mother Jones summarizes yet another forced birth proposal, this time from the state of Arizona. The proposal has several interesting parts. I have no idea how likely it is to pass but it's worth studying because it tells us about the intentions of the forced birthers.

From that angle this is worth noting:
The bill doesn't stop there. Under this law, if a doctor performs an abortion after that 18-weeks, he or she can be charged with a crime, have his or her license revoked or suspended, and can be held liable for civil penalties if the father of the fetus decides to pursue legal action.
Emphasis mine.

How would Arizona determine the "father of an aborted fetus"? Never mind. What struck me about all this is that once a fertilized egg is defined as a child all parental laws would apply from the moment of conception, right? I mean in the kind of world the forced birthers want to exist.

Thus, in that world, the minute a woman is pregnant the man who impregnated her would have extra rights over her body because of her pregnancy. She is now the aquarium for his future child, after all. That the aquarium is also a person is where the complications enter.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Adrienne Rich, RIP

Adrienne Rich has died at the age of 82. The New York Times has an obituary and Ms Magazine has a poem in her memory by Marge Piercy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Today's Action Alert

This seems like a useful appeal:

This month the UN Commission on the Status of Women failed to adopt agreed conclusions at its 56th session on the basis of safeguarding "traditional values" at the expense of human rights and fundamental freedoms of women.

Together with our partner feminist and women's rights organisations, we say NO to any re-opening of negotiations on the already established international agreements on women’s human rights and call on all governments to demonstrate their commitments to promote, protect and fulfill human rights and fundamental freedoms of women.

We have outlined our concerns in the statement below, which will be submitted to UN Member States, CSW and other relevant UN human rights and development entities.

Thank you for your support.

In solidarity,

Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)
International Women's Heath Coalition (IWHC)
International Women's Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW ASIA PACIFIC)
Women Living under Muslim Laws/ Violence is not our Culture Campaign
To read the concerns, click on the link.

Trayvon Martin (by Suzie)

I've deleted my post on the Trayvon Martin case because I do not wish to hurt Echidne or her blog. If I write again, I will take into consideration the insights I've gained. For those who would like to follow the Martin case, I recommend the Orlando Sentinel, which was the first to report it and has done a thorough job of following it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

While The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Get The Blame

That's the common story in the news, though the two parts are mostly split into separate categories so that we would not notice the connections. Thus, we get stories like this one, about who it is who is doing well in this economy, and then we get stories which tell us about planned budget cuts in the federal and state governments, about belt tightening and about the need to cut corporate taxes. Or the reminders about the importance to have "skin in the game," a term which in this context refers to all those "freeloaders" who coast on the coattails of the One Percent.

It's a bipolar world. Or at least a world where the Powers That Be seem to have forgotten the overall goals the economy should have: To offer the largest possible number of people a decent chance in life.

That includes work which pays enough for survival and some time off from that work. It should include basic education and health care which are affordable and a civil society which treats people with some respect. All the markets and corporations matter only as means towards that goal, not as goals themselves.

Things Few People Know About You

Do you remember those tag games in the early dawn of blogging? A common one was to write down something about oneself few people knew, something interesting enough to be read by others.

After all these intervening years I finally came upon one suitable fact about me:

I never learned to crawl as a baby. I scooted around in a sitting position (a modified lotus position), pretty fast, I've been told, and then started walking.

So what interesting facts few people know about you?

And yes, this is a fluff post, to be inserted as air between the usual condensed and indigestible posts I deliver.

How About Them Teachers? Ripping Us All Off, From Primary School To Universities!

An opinion column in the Washington Post argues that professors don't work enough:

Through the first half of the 20th century, faculties in academic institutions were generally underpaid relative to other comparably educated members of the workforce. Teaching was viewed as a “calling” in the tradition of tweed jackets, pipe tobacco and avuncular campus life. Trade-offs for modest salaries were found in the relaxed atmospheres of academic communities, often retreats from the pressures of the real world, and reflected in such benefits as tenure, light teaching loads, long vacations and sabbaticals.
With the 1970s advent of collective bargaining in higher education, this began to change. The result has been more equitable circumstances for college faculty, who deserve salaries comparable to those of other educated professionals. Happily, senior faculty at most state universities and colleges now earn $80,000 to $150,000, roughly in line with the average incomes of others with advanced degrees.
Not changed, however, are the accommodations designed to compensate for low pay in earlier times. Though faculty salaries now mirror those of most upper-middle-class Americans working 40 hours for 50 weeks, they continue to pay for teaching time of nine to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks, making possible a month-long winter break, a week off in the spring and a summer vacation from mid-May until September.
Such a schedule may be appropriate in research universities where standards for faculty employment are exceptionally high — and are based on the premise that critically important work, along with research-driven teaching, can best be performed outside the classroom. The faculties of research universities are at the center of America’s progress in intellectual, technological and scientific pursuits, and there should be no quarrel with their financial rewards or schedules. In fact, they often work hours well beyond those of average non-academic professionals.
What's the writers' real point? This:
I take no issue with faculty at teaching-oriented institutions focusing on instructional skills rather than research and receiving a fair, upper-middle-class wage. Like good teachers everywhere, they are dedicated professionals with high levels of education and deserve salaries commensurate with their hard-earned credentials. But we all should object when they receive these salaries for working less than half the time of their non-academic peers.
The cost for such sinecures is particularly galling when it is passed on to the rest of the middle class and to taxpayers in states that are struggling to support higher education. Since faculty salaries make up the largest single cost in virtually all college and university budgets (39 percent at Montgomery College), think what it would mean if the public got full value for these dollars.
This is part of the war against any public sector worker and any teachers. The newest trend in the conservative "don't look at the man behind the curtain" tactics. As income inequality increases and one percent of the top one percent gets almost all of the recent gains ordinary people are asked to turn their inchoate feelings of unfairness and their bitterness against someone else.

In this case that "someone else" is the second rung of the academia, the rung on which, by the way, the vast majority of female faculty members may be found. It is those people who work too few hours and have too long vacations. Well, according to this opinion writer (who runs a competing type of educational institution).

So does such faculty work too little for too much money? That is, after all, the argument in this opinion column. Professors should be made to teach much more and have less time off, without any change in their overall pay. Oh, with the exception of the superstars, naturally!

Let's have a thought experiment on all this! Let's consider someone who has the talents and desire to become either a professor in, say, chemistry or biology or to go to medical school. The training in either field takes about the same number of extra years and will leave the person with roughly the same debt.

But the two jobs now offer different packages of hours of work and other conditions. The medical option offers potentially very high pay with high hours of work, the professorial option offers much, much lower pay but with more freedom as to when to work and perhaps how many hours to work altogether.

Now remove the freedom of hours from the professorial option, leave everything else the same and what do you get! Presto! Many fewer entrants into university teaching.

My point is a simple one: Those who believe in the power of markets never seem to believe in that power in the labor markets. If a job is made much less desirable as a package, fewer people will choose to train for that job.

One aspect of teaching receiving much criticism from mostly the conservatives has to do with vacation time. If most Americans, for some weird reason, are not allowed to have time off, how come do teachers get it? This is unfair.

But note the whole package (hours and pay): Even a cursory look at the academic degrees which teaching requires suggests that they are fairly poorly paid, in comparison to the alternatives. Indeed, the pay in those fields matches pay in fields which do not require as much education.

And those vacation times are partly what makes people accept lower pay packages. This is especially true for women who are the main caregivers for their children. Teaching is one of the few fields which allows the kind of work/life balance which only women are supposed to worry about. If that aspect of the jobs is removed what do you think will happen? The pay really is pretty crummy.

That brings me to the real problem in the opinion column: If we wish to determine whether professors are overpaid for their work load, we need to compare like with like and we need to define work properly. Class time is not a good measure for actual work hours unless we decide that actors only work when on stage, performing in front of a live audience.

And it's not correct to compare professors with people who don't have to have doctorate degrees to enter the field. That degree takes time and money and the pay must be enough to compensate for it.

This post is not really about whether people get the right amount of pay for the right amount of compensation, though I do think that people working 80 hours a week are mostly being just placeholders at the end of such weeks and that we should stop thinking that such hours are admirable and not a sign of some pathology or exploitation.

Nope. It's to point out that people react to incentives. If you change the incentives by demanding many more hours of very high-level teaching, you are going to get lower-quality teaching and you are going to get fewer entrants to teaching in general. Academics is not the only game in town for even those with newly minted doctoral degrees, and it has many rivals when we look at the question whether a person enters graduate studies or not.

What happens in the next round if this opinion writer has his way about increasing the teaching loads without any increase in pay?

After some years, colleges and universities cannot find sufficient numbers of qualified applicants for teaching jobs. Either they must raise the salary offer or....? Reduce the teaching load.

Now it could be that the labor markets for academic jobs are malfunctioning or the feudal system might advance to a point where this response would not be forthcoming. But I doubt that. I think people enter the academic occupations fully aware of the fact that the pay is not what they could earn elsewhere. It is the other aspects of the package that attract them. If you change those aspects you change the desirability of the jobs.

Which means that the tax payers might not get away with squeezing more and more teaching from a captive labor force without paying more for it.
Recommended extra reading: Robert Farley's take.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Meanwhile, in China. Female Astronauts Must Not Smell!

I thought this was a joke at first:
China has selected two female astronauts among seven candidates for its next manned space mission that will launch between June and August.
Three Chinese astronauts, also known as taikonauts, will be chosen from the candidates to fly aboard the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft that will manually dock with Tiangong-1, an orbiting module of the country's planned space station, and conduct scientific experiments, said Li Wei, deputy designer for spacecraft systems with the China Aerospace and Technology Corporation.
The two female astronauts, whose identity will be released before the launch, were selected from 15 women who must be married and have given birth naturally, Space International magazine under the China Academy of Space Technology said yesterday. They also must have no scars nor body odor.
It's naturally possible that the same selection rules apply to male astronauts, about body odors and such. But the whole piece reeks to me of that women-as-the-Others treatment:
Xu Xianrong, a professor with the General Hospital of the PLA Air Force, said the female astronauts must be married and have given birth naturally because that ensures their body and mental condition are mature enough.
Link thanks to Moonbootica