Phoneblogging: Baghdad to Belgrade Edition

On this, the week of Iraqi elections, this image seemed poignant:

I was at Seattle’s wonderful MOHAI museum yesterday, where they have an exhibit celebrating the first round-the-world flight, in 1924, which took off from Seattle. One of the pilots wrote this passage in his journal en route from Belgrade to Baghdad. In case you can’t read it, here’s what it says:

From Baghdad to Belgrade, July 9 – July 12, 1924

We crossed the snow-capped Taurus by the route of the Berlin Baghdad Railway. When the airplane comes into its own, it is destined to have an immense influence on the peace of the world. it will bring all peoples into contact, and war will soon be out of date.

Keep in mind that this is just 10 years after Belgrade was the epicenter of World War I, and only a couple years after the creation of the state of Iraq, and the first Iraqi kick-the-Brits-out revolution.

Elections!

Iraqi elections were a sight to behold yesterday. Cheers to the Iraqi people for standing up to the insurgents and voting. They want control of their country back. They want the U.S. out. And yesterday they just took a big step towards showing us the door.

I know it’s been making the rounds, but this one is my favorite.

With any luck, in 50 years, they’ll grow into a robust, dynamic democracy, and then turn their backs on us just like Germany and France. :)

We can only pray.

Re: Re: Re: Abortion

Can’t believe I’m getting dragged into this one …

Bruno, I agree that any position based solely on morality is ultimately indefensible in the context of liberal democracy.

Here’s what I say about abortion.

IF:

1) There was no violence against women

AND IF:

2) The costs of motherhood (and parenthood) were not perceived to be so high (expensive, loss of career, etc.)

THEN:

*) There would be absolutely no need for abortion, and we could define it, properly, as murder (except in cases of the mother’s health, etc.)

However, since the first two conditions do not (will not?) exist, we have to keep abortion safe and legal.

As a bonus, I add:

Bonus) It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it, that instead of bombing clinics, if Radicals really want to end abortion they should work for the rights of women and support social policies (such as inexpensive child care and health care) that reduce the costs of parenthood.

Alas! I really need to get back to work. Rip away, lads!

More on Health Care

Need to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s today, but when a certain Virginian calls me out on health care, I’m honor-bound to respond.

Ryan writes: “Isn’t the fact that corporations are taking over where the government would not an example of the market correcting its own failure?”

My answer: Yes! Absolutely!

My point was not to criticize corporate America for stepping up to the plate. That these private companies have chosen to provide health care in the absence of public leadership actually proves a point I’ve been trying to make for a long time: as long as corporations internally factor in the long-term costs of their actions to their short-term planning, in many cases they’ll eventually “do the right thing” without government needing to impose burdensome regulation. In my view, this is because organizations that do factor in long-term consequences will eventually realize a competitive advantage over organizations that do not.

What I was trying to point out was that a) health care, as a public good with positive externalities, is certainly something properly provided by government and b) the Radicals running our government are so inept and without concern for America’s citizens that they are failing grostesquely to provide leadership on this issue, thereby forcing corporate America to take up the slack.

Without getting into too much detail (mainly because it would take me a while to remember the math) … for every good (“good” in the economic sense), there’s both a “private marginal benefit” (PMB) and a “private marginal cost” (PMC) There’s also a “social marginal benefit” (SMB). Theory predicts that public goods will be underprovided by the market because the PMC exceeds the PMB, even though if the SMB could be added to the PMB, it would exceed PMC. This is a more formal definition of “market failure,” and it’s something that can be demonstrated mathematically.

There’s also the more basic idea of “marginal costs” and “marginal benefits.” The idea is that, for most goods, the first unit purchased will have a higher marginal benefit than the second, the second more than the third, and so on, with the inverse relationship for marginal costs. Any organization (or individual) will consume a given good until MC=MB, subject to budgetary constraints.

So, back to the discussion at hand. Since the corporations are choosing of their own volition to provide this low-cost health care for their workers, one possible implication is that health care, a public good, is so underprovided, that the benefits to corporations are exceeding their costs, even given that the corporations will not capture the full benefit of their actions.

I think that’s a shame. It’s the equivalent of one shipowner deciding that the risks are so great — or the value of her cargo so high — that it’s worth it to pay for a lighthouse on her own. Or it’s the equivalent of a group of people deciding that public schools are so poor, or public policing so bad, that they want to send their kids to private schools and live in gated communities, even though they still pay taxes.

And that’s the real tragedy here. While the 100,000 or so part-time employees of Sears and the others can be thankful, and while we should applaud these corporations for taking this action, there are still millions of uninsured people in the United States. This kind of private provision of public goods only serves to further undermine the idea of equal opportunity — it widens the gaps between the haves and the have nots. It’s another example of the Radicals helping to create an exclusive club for their cronies and the middle-class workers they’ve frightened into supporting them.

Morally Speaking

As I should have expected, my go-to guy on moral relativism comes down on the correct side of the slant w.r.t. our little abortion debate:

And if you look at it that way, you can say: should the government be in the business of regulating tragedy? Or should government make an effort, as we do in the cases of other tragedies, ie, hurricaines, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc, to reduce the risks/damages associated with a tragedy when it inevitably occurs.

Agreed. Matski and I can BOTH agree that harm reduction (or risk reduction) is the preferred option when it comes to things like abortion, crime, and drugs.

In other news, Ryan wades in to the health care debate, asking why it isn’t a good thing that 60 companies have come together to offer low-cost health insurance for part-time workers, filling a void that Matski argues ought to be filled by the government.

I think the answer is provided by Daniel Gross, here. Lack of universal health care is putting American companies at a disadvantage. The actions of these 60 companies, though admirable, are a last-ditch desparate attempt to deal with lost productivity associated with uninsured employees. The Times article says as much:

The 60 employers are supporting this program because they say they ultimately pay for the uninsured as hospitals pass on their costs for nonpaying patients. They expect the program to help reduce employee turnover and increase productivity among part-timers.

I applaud these companies for taking matters into their own hands, but it still fails to address the larger problem, and in fact reminds us of how acute the problem has become.

RE: RE: Abortion

Matski, you write:

Our moral judgements, which are based on our religious beliefs, should not influence public policy. While that’s impossible to accomplish in practice, it’s something that we all need to be mindful of, and it’s ultimately what separates progressives from Radical Republicans.

But once we define something as a moral wrong, it seems impossible to defend, in the LONG run. Like slavery, or civil rights, or the death penalty (which Bruno is not necessarily opposed to, but still falls into this category).

Also, I don’t think the free-speech “respect the opinions of others” argument holds up in the face of what could be construed as murder.

I agree intellectually that we can’t legislate morality, but in practice it is one of the most galvanizing forces in politics, and has been at the root of every progressive cause since the abolitionist movement. It’s such a powerful weapon, I’d hate to give it up for the sake of, well… logic. :)

What separates us from Radical Republicans is not that we don’t legislate morality (I happily admit to attempting to legislating morality when it comes to the environment and civil rights), it’s that our morality comes from a humanist perspective.

I think.

Programming Note: This seems a good a time as any to announce that comments have returned to Bruno & the Prof! I’m testing out a new anti-comment-spam feature, called SCode that requires you to enter a string of digits from a picture when you post a comment.

Re: Abortion

Bruno: I think Kerry had it right. Not everyone shares our view that abortion is a tragedy (or maybe a better way to put it is that for some, the alternatives are less moral and therefore abortion is preferrable).

So we can defend the rights of people to have abortions in the same way that the ACLU will defend the right of anyone to free speech. We don’t have to agree with them, but we do have to respect their opinions.

Our moral judgements, which are based on our religious beliefs, should not influence public policy. While that’s impossible to accomplish in practice, it’s something that we all need to be mindful of, and it’s ultimately what separates progressives from Radical Republicans.

Your Government is Failing You

As longtime readers will note, Matski believes there are only two proper reasons for the existence of government — to correct market failure, and to enforce contracts, including the social contract.

For us in the U.S., part of our social contract is that all of us should have an equal opportunity to accomplish our goals in life. It’s a great tragedy that all three branches of our government are controlled by people who want to bar the gates to the palace — Bush and the rest of the Radicals want to protect their privileged status and keep others from joining them in the green meadows of wealth and opportunity. Bush slaps our national traditions in the face, and spits on our character as a people while he flips each and every American the bird.

Bush has decided to support his friends on Wall Street with his shameful proposals for Social Security reform. The purpose of Social Security is not to make a few who bet correctly — and traders — rich, it’s to keep the unfortunate from absolute destitution. By denying the essential, democratizing character of the institution of Social Security, Bush again shows his willingness to throw 230 years of American tradition out the window.

Now comes word that the President and Congress are unable to provide leadership on another critical issue — healthcare. As this story in the New York Times details, a coalition of major American businesses are so fed up with the government’s inability to provide health care, that they’ve decided to take action on their own.

Healthcare is a public good. Economic theory predicts that, as such, it will be underprovided by the marketplace — i.e., it’s an example of market failure, and thus it’s a service properly provided by the government. The fact that our government is failing so badly on this issue that private companies are now experiencing high enough costs to motivate them to address it on their own should give us all pause. This thing is running off the rails, people!

I hate to say it, but I’m almost glad that Radical Republicans control all three branches. Eventually, they’ll have to look in the mirror. What they’ll see will not be pretty.

Blair

“However, if America wants the rest of the world to be part of the agenda it has set, it must be part of their agenda too.” – Tony Blair.

This and other wondeful quotes available here. More proof why Tony is the MAN. More proof why pro-democratic internationalism is best conducted by left-of-center pragmatists and not hard-right ideologues. More proof of how to govern when you don’t have the annoying religious right nipping at your heels.