Good news on global warming

Here’s some good news that will, predictably, not be publicized. First, a little background. The doomsday scenarios in global warming do not rely on CO2 for all of the warming. At most, CO2 could only account for a 3 degree Celsius rise in temperature, and that is in theory, and over the next 100 years or so. All of the rest of the predicted temperature gains rely on positive feedbacks to boost the temperatures.

Well, there are feedback mechanisms at work, but they are negative ones, not positive ones. This article is a great example of good science, it uses actual data to test a hypothesis. Something that has been overlooked is that anthropological global warming models are not falsifiable, they are not hypotheses. No, this doesn’t mean that they are true, it just means that they lay outside of what can be determined by science. I will spare you the philosophy of science speech and get right to the punch line… If you cannot test an assertion, it is a belief. That is not science. It is not enough to gather data and make guesses as to why that data is the way they it is. You have to test your idea, that is science.

The article I linked to above is straightforward science. Why don’t we hear about it? Why do people want bad news about global warming? Why do people get angry instead of breathing a sigh of relief when this sort of thing is released? WHY DON”T MORE PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THIS?

AIG and GM

GM was already a disaster, now we have the government coming in to prop it up. Great… Here’s what’s going to happen, and you won’t hear it in the news. Most of the board will be let go, with millions and millions of dollars as severance. Millions, approaching billions will be paid to GM dealerships, and you know who will get that money; it won’t be the salesmen or mechanics, I can tell you that!

Why is there no outrage over this? GM has been responsible for trillions worth of waste and lost shareholder equity. Why were people willing to string up people over at AIG but are willing to give these people a pass? At least AIG could have possibly made money on their business model, GM was well on its way to collapse before the economy went into the tank. The hypocrisy here is sickening to me. Why are my tax dollars going towards paying off GM’s overextended dealer network? Why are we paying for their incompetence? Where is the outrage?

The tide is turning…slowly

This week has made some chinks in the armor in the “war on drugs.” First, our secretary of state admitted that the US shares some of the blame for the violence that is occurring along the border with Mexico. It wasn’t a perfect confession of course; She didn’t broach the idea that our laws are what cause the violence, but it’s a start. Acknowledging that our government is partially responsible is a good first step, but I worry that this will lead to a “war on arms smuggling,” or perhaps a “war on money smuggling” instead of the obvious cure to stop the wars.

The other interesting development came from New York state. They are going to repeal a lot of the mandatory sentencing guidelines for first and second time drug offenders and give judges the option of sending people to rehab for other drug related crimes. In addition, they are going to allow people currently incarcerated for those offenses to redo their sentences. This is great move, it’s certainly the humane thing to do. In addition to the possibility of not ruining people’s lives by sending them to jail, the state estimates that it can save upwards of 250 million a year by implementing these policies.

I’m getting the distinct feeling that people are beginning to understand how cruel, costly, and ineffective this “war” really is. People that know me well know that I do not think that recreational drug usage is a good idea, I don’t even drink very often. I do believe that people that use drugs have enough problems without the government breathing down their necks and threatening them with jail time. Maybe you’ve heard that old joke, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to a kid that tries pot? He could go to jail..” I also am convinced that it is the illegality of the drugs that leads directly to the violence and the other crimes committed in order to obtain them. After all, how many times do we hear about people robbing and stealing in order to support their alcohol habit? Anyway, I’m glad to hear that there’s some progress being made, let’s hope the momentum continues to build and we can finally end this war.

Some great explanations of inflation

If you’re confused about the arguments that have been floating around about inflation, economic growth, and prosperity in general, I recommend this post over on econlog. This is part of an ongoing review of Murray Rothbard’s “For a New Liberty” published back in 1978 (available online at The Mises Institute BTW). You can get concise critique of the suddenly popular Keynesian approach to economics plus a critique of that critique. The Austrian business cycle theory is explained pretty well and I think that is a service in and of itself. I wonder when people are going to rediscover this theory that as been right over and over again…

Some of the review is a bit dense, but once you get into the body it goes pretty smoothly. I find that the comments are especially educational. Caplan quotes tyler Cowen (from marginal revolution), someone that I normally bow down to. But in this case, it doesn’t make much sense to me. There is a devastating critique of Cowan’s “banana” theory in the comments. This is good stuff and fairly approachable.

Austrian business cycle theory has been prover correct over and over again in the past. It is currently predicting a substantial inflation to come from the government’s actions. Ignore it at your own risk…

Weird dreams

And no, I’m not talking about the one I had last night where I was the starting goalie for the Washington Capitals. I did pretty well, only let in one goal and we won the game, but no one gave me any pat on the back for it, nobody said anything…

No, I’ve been having some strange dreams about a girl I knew in high school. People from high school have been making random cameos in my dreams ever since I graduated. They are usually sitting at the next table, say hi to me, or do some other insignificant thing. In all cases, they are either people that I liked or people that I knew but had no real connection with, and they were totally beside the point in the dream.

I’ve had three dreams recently starring a girl that I never liked. The latest one was last night. She always seemed snotty to me, unjustifiably stuck up (she wasn’t very good looking or very bright), and regularly rubbed me the wrong way. I’m quite sure she didn’t think much of me either. She has taken on a prominent role in these dreams, we’ve had long discussions and arguments in all of them.

i hate it when my dreams have stuff that is annoying or uncomfortable, what a waste! I don’t know what to think about these though, in each dream, I start out hating her and by the end we are at least polite. In one, she actually gave me quite a compliment and left me feeling pretty good about myself. I have no idea why my brain is bringing her up at all, I haven’t thought of her since the last time I saw her. On top of that, I have no idea why we go right back to disliking one another and end up appreciating the other one by the end. What sort of random neural firings are going on to cause that?

Anyway, after last night, I’m wondering WTF is going on in my dreams. Why can’t I remember one of the girls I thought was so hot back in high school? Why can’t I wake up thinking that they think I’m wonderful? My brain continues to be a mystery to me…

I have an MRI appointment! and more on health costs

At long last I am going to have an MRI. My doctor wasn’t getting anywhere with the insurance company, so he wanted to arrange another visit to get a more particular differential to present to them. Of course, that meant that there was going to be another charge for a visit, plus probably more lab work etc. There wasn’t much difference between what the insurance company was going to pay (if they agreed to it) and what I’d pay out of pocket in the first place. When you added another doctor’s visit just to get the insurance to cover it, I was going to end up paying more. So I said screw it and scheduled one.

Just google for “low price MRI” and you’ll pull up a bunch of sites to help you find a good price. It turns out that AZ and Vegas have some of the lowest prices. At $350 for an MRI without contrast, it might make sense to fly out there to get one if you need a bunch done.

Mine cost me $800 because I needed one with and without contrast. That’s still pretty good, and still the same or less than using my doctor’s usual place with my insurance. It pays to shop around! Now if only the insurance companies would pick up on this we might get somewhere on prices…

Here’s a website and blog fighting the fight for lower cost medical care. It’s called Out of Pocket, and I hope many more pop up like it!

AIG

This is getting ridiculous. I can’t take any more of this “outrage.” First off, those bonuses were in the contracts of those employees. When you negotiate a contract, you try to get as much as you can, who among us wouldn’t have signed those contracts? Yes, it looks like they were stupid ones for AIG to sign, but they did. To my mind, it is symptomatic of a badly run company, as is going into the red by billions and billions of dollars.

So the employees signed contracts that were beneficial to them. Is it their fault that AIG got federal money? It does sound like one division (which did get bonuses) was largely responsible for the collapse of the company. But here’s the thing, absent federal bailout money, those people would not have gotten any bonuses because AIG would have been in chapter 11. Bad decisions usually end up hurting the people that make them.

The bailout money was designed to keep AIG running and part of that is honoring their contracts. Those people do not deserve they money that is in their contracts, but it is in there. A deal’s a deal. This bailout is what allowed the contracts to be paid, they are what prevented those people from being thrown out. When you prop up failed businesses, you end up being saddled with their bad decisions, why is this a surprise? It is exhibit “A” for why we, as taxpayers, shouldn’t be involved in companies like this, they pay amazing amounts of money to people that are first class screw ups.

Instead of the government owning up to their bad decision, they are outraged, OUTRAGED that money is being paid to the very people that got the company into that situation. Now they are going to take back that money by force. If the government didn’t want money going to people that didn’t deserve it, they should have allowed AIG to go through bankruptcy. One of the usual occurrences of chapter 11 proceedings is to remove management, remove or redo debt, and redo contracts.

What a bunch of buffoons we have in DC. What scares me even more is the general idiocy of the public at large. Yes, those people do not deserve to be paid, but why aren’t we angry at the people that bailed out the company instead of letting it go under? The government is what prevented just desserts from being distributed to the people that screwed things up.

How to keep healthcare costs down

My medical issues have been very illuminating. I need some MRIs and the insurance company is balking at paying for them. There’s a chance that they may come around, but an even better one that they won’t. But I need those MRIs, so what do I do? Like anything else I might buy, I’m shopping around.

I asked the regular place my doctor uses for MRIs what they charge for a single one. It is a hair under $3000. Ouch! Independent labs look like they are charging anywhere between $2000 and $2500 but I’m not sure that my insurance will be accepted at those places. That’s a little better but still… I have an insurance plan that pays 80% while I have a 20% copay. I’m going to ignore the deductible just to make the calculations easier. So, if my insurance does “pay” for the MRI, I would be out 20% or $3000, that equals $600.

What a lot of people don’t know is that if you pay up front, you can get big discounts. My doctor’s regular place will give you a 20% discount. That’s not bad, but there are much better deals to be had. With a little looking around, you should be able to find a place that will do an MRI and have a radiologist read it for you for $650 (without contrast stuff being injected into you, that’s extra), maybe even less depending where you are.

Of course that got me thinking. It is well known that insurance companies only pay a small percentage of whatever bills they get from medical establishments, but the copay is determined by the full amount. I assume that the $650 that the companies charge for cash payments is pretty close to what they end up getting paid when they jump through all of the insurance company hoops. In other words, all of those “hoops” cost the office money to process and there is a the issue of waiting for the payment to come through. After you subtract those costs the office probably clears $650 even though the insurance company eventually cuts them a check for something closer to $1000.

In any event, I know that $650 is a lot less then thousands of dollars. Why doesn’t my insurance company allow me to negotiate the best rate I can, pay for it, and then reimburse me. Let’s look at the typical dealings. I go to the MRI place and get one done. They charge $3000 to my insurance company and get some proportion of that. I’m thinking it’s going to be in the $800 to $1000 range, but I’m just guessing. I then have to pay a $600 copay. How about this alternative universe, I go to the MRI place and negotiate a price of $650 if I pay up front. I then submit that claim to my insurance company and they reimburse me my 20% copay of $130. The insurance company pays a total of $520.

What just happened? The total cost of the procedure and the work involved has just dropped. It’s true, I have to do a little more legwork and I have to wait to be reimbursed, but my total cost has gone down, the insurance company’s payments have gone down, and the provider gets their money much quicker.

If this model became popular, you can bet that competition would drive down the prices, just like it does for everything else. Making the consumer initially bear the entire cost of the procedure is a sure fire way to lower the overall cost of medicine. I know, there are some problems with this when you start to talk about really big things, but as a basic framework, it is a good model. One of the primary reasons that healthcare is so expensive is because consumers are so insulated from the costs. Consumers are likely to order every test and procedure without once considering the cost. That will make the price creep up no matter what kind of service we’re talking about.

Health insurance is so weird, if it were more like home insurance, everything would be much less expensive. It may seem counter intuitive to people, but paying up front would mean lower prices, insulating ourselves from the pricing mechanism is not in our best interests.

I’m still alive!

I haven’t been writing much, I’ve just been in a funk. My health issues are driving me a bit batty. Well, it isn’t the issues so much as getting them diagnosed. I have now been to a neurologist who told me that I needed some MRIs done, and they are currently wrestling with the insurance people. SIGH. Once I get word on what it is I have I can start to make some plans. Until then, I’ll just hang out in limbo…

The economic news continues to bother me. I have noticed an uptick in frustration with the government screwing around with things. It seems like more and more people are coming around to the idea that the feds are really just delaying the inevitable with entities like Citigroup and GM. The quicker we let those things shake out, the quicker we can start putting the pieces back together.

Hopefully I’ll have something interesting to say soon, and hopefully I’ll be in the mood to write about it…