Monday, May 22, 2017

Short Posts 5/22/17: On Conservative Ethics, Gerrymandering and Cats

1.  Donald Trump's budget proposal is the sadists' wish-list.  It won't pass, but as this Slate piece states, that shouldn't make us less frightened:

It is essentially a stack of papers telling Republicans that they are free to go wild butchering essential pieces of the safety net in order to fund extraordinary tax cuts for the wealthy and increased defense spending. Food stamps? In Trump’s proposal, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program gets $193 billion in cuts over 10 years, and would allow states to stiffen work requirements for the program. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, aka welfare as we now know it? Its already anemic funding gets slashed by $21 billion. The administration is already trying to spin this kind of hatchet work as “welfare reform”—but it's mostly just a signal to conservatives that they can get their cleavers out, should they feel compelled. The same goes for the $800 billion in Medicaid cuts, which mirror the reductions in the House health care bill, and the reported reductions to Social Security Disability Insurance.

A harsher, more cruel country is in the making.  But at least the market for yachts will boom.

2.  If the above doesn't give you a hint about the ethics of such politicians as Mick Mulvaney, Trump's director of the Office of Management and Budget,  or Paul Ryan or other Republican radical extremists, consider what Mulvaney said earlier  about people with type 2 diabetes.  After accepting the idea of health insurance for serious medical conditions he added:

“That doesn’t mean we should take care of the person who sits at home, eats poorly and gets diabetes..."

The economic term for Mulvaney's comment might be moral hazard.*  But what he says also links to the conservative assumption that the rich people deserve being rich and the poor people deserve being poor.  The former work hard (or pick their parents carefully), whereas the latter are lazy and shiftless and made bad choices about their parents.

A belief in economic determinism is common among conservatives and some stripes of fundamentalists.  It ignores all the rich people who are lazy and shiftless but with trust funds or who got their money using shady means or by marrying well, and it ignores all the ways the society has made it possible for the rich to become rich (the creation of the infrastructure for trade, the creation of the Internet for trade and communication, the publicly funded education of workers for the firms the rich own and so on).  And it also ignores all the poor people who work two or three full-time jobs but must still choose between paying for their children's medications and food.  Finally, it ignores the racist roadblocks poor people of African ancestry must face to compete in the economy.

Another way of looking at the same ethical concepts is by thinking of that old saying "the buck stops here."  It's used to denote someone who takes responsibility for his or her own mistakes, who doesn't blame others for them.

But we can also interpret it differently:  "the dollars stay here." That interpretation often matches the conservative ethics better, in my not-so humble opinion, especially given all the social welfare the conservatives want to give to the rich and to the large corporations.

3.  And now to something completely different:  A piece of good news.

North Carolina's congressional district maps were struck down by the Supreme Court because they were judged to be unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.  This is important, because one of the reasons for the Republican domination in so many states is gerrymandering.  For an example how that works, see the picture below:

4.  I might have to come back as a cat, because they have no trouble developing a healthy self-esteem:


* Moral hazard refers to a situation where the mere fact of being insured can affect the probability of the insurable loss.  A classic (and criminal) example would be this:  A person gets fire insurance for a warehouse and then burns it down to collect the insurance compensation.

When applied to medical insurance, moral hazard can be of two types:  The ex ante type would affect the probability that one gets sick, the ex post type would affect how large the medical expenses are after one has become sick.

It's the latter moral hazard which is considered more important, because what one might want to consume in medical care obviously depends on the available funds, and there are fewer incentives not to consume more if more care is covered by one's insurance policy.  The incentives for ex ante moral hazard are not terribly high, given that illness is painful and can be life-threatening.