• Time to Get Off the Bus


    I think I’ve now read at least half a dozen mainstream media figures lamenting the absurd level of coverage that the mainstream media is giving to Sarah Palin’s bus tour cum summer vacation cum presidential campaign tryout. Note to the nation’s editors: your own reporters think that chasing her around like a starstruck junior high school kid is nuts. Isn’t it time to pull the plug and let her tour the United States with the privacy she allegedly wants?

  • What’s Your Problem?


    Gallup says today that doctor-assisted suicide is the “most controversial cultural issue” in its recent poll. Why? Because it’s the issue where opinion is divided most closely. I’m not sure that’s really much of a proxy for “most controversial,” but I guess it’s their poll, not mine.

    What struck me about their list, though, was how few of these things I object to. Out of 17 issues, there were only four I objected to, and even there my objections depend on circumstances. There really wasn’t a single one that I just flatly, always think is morally unacceptable. I’m not sure what this says about me.

    Anyway, here’s the list. See if you can guess the four I found kinda-sorta unacceptable. (Hint: I don’t really have a problem with human cloning, though I suppose I might change my mind if a cloned race of superhumans takes over the world and enslaves the rest of us.)

  • Building Better Teachers


    Dana Goldstein, writing about our need for better teachers, sums up my skepticism over the entire ed reform agenda in one sentence:

    But what if the United States is doing teacher reform all wrong?

    Well, yes. What if we are? Unfortunately, this is a question that hangs over practically every initiative to improve our schools. We just don’t know for sure if they work, and studies to prove things one way or the other are almost impossible to conduct properly.

    So what’s the problem with our efforts to build better teachers, anyway? Are we doing it all wrong?

    That’s the suggestion of a new report from the National Center on Education and the Economy, a think tank funded mostly by large corporations and their affiliated foundations. The report takes a close look at how the countries that are kicking our academic butts — Finland, China and Canada — recruit, prepare and evaluate teachers. What it finds are policy agendas vastly different from our own, in which prospective educators are expected to spend a long time preparing for the classroom and are then given significant autonomy in how to teach, with many fewer incentives and punishments tied to standardized tests.

    OK, fine. Here’s some anecdotal evidence that this might be true. It comes from my mother, who was talking to one of her old teacher buddies, who recently got a job teaching teachers how to teach students to write critically about literature. Apparently it’s to improve the performance of kids in AP English classes, who have been immersed in the wretched five-paragraph format their entire lives and don’t know how to write coherently about abstract subjects.

    And that’s fine. But my reaction was the same as my mother’s: aren’t AP English teachers supposed to know how to do this already? Why do they need a coach? What have they been doing their entire teaching careers if they haven’t been teaching their kids how to write about literature?

    So that’s that. But of course, the plural of anecdote is claptrap, so this doesn’t mean anything. The real question is whether better trained teachers in the Finnish mode are really what we need to get better schools. Considering the almost universal contempt that teachers and everyone else have for ed schools, that’s either hard to believe or else self-evidently true. I can’t quite tell which. But there are a lot of other reasons that Finnish and Chinese schools might produce better test scores than ours, and adopting their models of teacher training would be fantastically expensive. So we had better figure it out before we commit to some massive nationwide program to train better teachers.

    But how do we figure it out? Good question. See the beginning of this post for my non-answer.

  • Healthcare Reform and Political Coalitions


    Robert Pear reports that hospitals are unhappy over new federal regulations that pay them based on the cost of care they provide to Medicare patients compared to other hospitals:

    For the first time in its history, Medicare will soon track spending on millions of individual beneficiaries, reward hospitals that hold down costs and penalize those whose patients prove most expensive….Hospitals could be held accountable not only for the cost of the care they provide, but also for the cost of services performed by doctors and other health care providers in the 90 days after a Medicare patient leaves the hospital.

    ….Under the new health law, Medicare will reduce payments to hospitals if too many patients are readmitted after treatment for heart attacks, heart failure or pneumonia. In addition, Medicare will cut payments to hospitals if they do not replace paper files with electronic health records, and it will further reduce payments to hospitals with high rates of preventable errors, injuries and infections.

    In related news, Aaron Carroll reports that physicians, who used to be rabidly opposed to national healthcare, are now substantially in favor of it:

    Remember, this was support for federal legislation to establish National Health Insurance. That’s far more radical than the PPACA. And 59 percent of physicians supported it. That was an increase of 10 percent from what we found five years earlier, and it was statistically significant. More than half the respondents from every medical specialty supported it, with the exception of surgical subspecialties, anesthesiologists and radiologists. That means support included a majority of general surgeons, medical subspecialists and obstetricians/gynecologists.

    Aaron calls this a problem for the AMA, and I suppose it is. But I think it’s also a problem for hospitals: to a large extent, the interests of hospitals and physicians are not only diverging, but becoming actively opposed. In the past, physicians probably would have been as opposed to these new Medicare regs as hospital administrators, but I’ll bet that’s largely not the case anymore.

    As an analogy, this strikes me as having mirror-image similarities to No Child Left Behind, another piece of legislation designed to force efficiency on a particular sector of the economy. At first, parents were largely in favor of NCLB while teachers and school administrators were largely opposed. But as time has passed and suburban schools have started to suffer from the law (either because they’re given failing grades or because inner city schools start competing effectively for the best teachers), the ground has shifted: parents and teachers now find themselves frequently in agreement that NCLB has gone further than they like. This provides a growing political coalition to change or water down the law.

    In healthcare, it’s the same dynamic in the opposite direction: a political coalition is breaking up. Doctors and patients are starting to align one way, while hospitals and insurance companies are aligning in another way. The good news is that this makes it less likely that healthcare reform will be repealed. There just isn’t a united political coalition in favor of it.

  • Chart of the Day: The Death of Small Businesses


    Like me, you’ve probably been hearing for years that small businesses are the engine of job creation in the United States. But that’s an outdated view. The number of new startup businesses has declined sharply since the beginning of the recession, while the number of jobs created by startup businesses has been declining for over a decade. As this chart from the BLS shows, the number of jobs created by new businesses peaked in 2000, began declining at the start of the Bush administration, and has been plummeting ever since:

    The number of new establishments for the year ending in March 2010 was lower than any other year since the series began….The number of jobs created by establishments less than 1 year old has decreased from 4.1 million in 1994, when this series began, to 2.5 million in 2010. This trend combined with that of fewer new establishments overall indicates that the number of new jobs in each new establishment is declining.

    ….The number of jobs created from establishment births peaked in the late 1990s and has experienced an overall decline since then. The decrease in birth-related employment during the latest recession is the largest in the history of the series, followed closely by the period of “jobless recovery” after the 2001 recession.

    Since the recession began in 2008, the biggest net generator of jobs has been neither small businesses nor large businesses. It’s been medium-sized businesses.

  • New York, New York


    It’s vacation time again! Soon, anyway. I’ll be in New York for a few days at the end of June, and I’m looking for suggestions for things to do. Last time I did this I was accompanied by Marian and some friends who had never been to New York before, so lots of standard tourist stuff was on the agenda. This time I’m on my own, so I’d be interested in ideas that are a little off the beaten path. This worked pretty well last time, so I thought I’d ask readers for suggestions again.

    Not that the usual stuff is off limits. I’m definitely going to spend a few hours at MOMA. I haven’t been there in ages and my hotel is right nearby. And I’ve never been to the Bronx Zoo. Is it worth a visit if the weather isn’t too bad? Or maybe a Yankees game at the new stadium if I can find someone who wants to go with me. Beyond that, though, I have no plans. What should I do and what should I eat while I’m there?

  • Letting the Dead Pay for Medicare, Part 2


    Nobody’s reading the blog today, right? So that makes it a good time to revisit a topic at great length that’s politically out of the question and will never happen.

    I’ve always been open to the idea of means testing Medicare, and a few days ago I suggested a different way of doing it: after death instead of before. For each Medicare recipient, keep a running tally of the cost of their care, and when they die deduct the premiums and copays they’ve been responsible for. What’s left over gets taken out of their estate, the same way back taxes would. Rich people would end up paying their entire bill, poor people with no estates would end up paying nothing, and those in the middle would pay a portion that depends on how big their estate is. Will Wilkinson wasn’t impressed:

    I’ve got a better idea. Don’t give the elderly rich any government money for health care. Let them pay for it, because they’re rich! And give other seniors just the assistance they need—no more, no less—to buy a health plan of a certain minimum level of coverage. Now, I know this is a fantastical idea for crazed, science-hating, Rand-thumping Jacobins, amounts to destroying Medicare as we know it, and is good for nothing but losing elections. But for all that it seems at least as practical as picking over dead peoples’ estates.

    That phrase — “picking over dead peoples’ estates” — is, of course, the Achilles’ heel of my proposal, since that seems to be the instinctive reaction of just about everyone to the idea of allowing the government first crack at estates. Still, let’s put that aside for the moment. Is means testing of living people really as practical as means testing dead people, as Will suggests? I don’t think it is.

    First off, let’s review Welfare Economics 101. The problem with means testing — any means testing — is that it acts like a gigantic tax on earnings. Suppose, for example, that you receive $5,000 from the government if your income is below a certain level. If you start earning more, your benefits go down. Maybe the income threshold is $10,000, and for every $1,000 above that you lose $500 in benefits. Do you see the problem? It’s like a 50% tax on everything you earn over $10,000, and that reduces the incentive to work hard and earn more.

    This is a well-known problem with all means-tested programs, and there’s no ideal solution to it. You just have to muddle through. The Medicare version of this is that means testing would reduce the incentive to work and save while you’re young. Why bother if it’s just going to get eaten up by Medicare expenses later in life? Why not live for the moment, keep your income below the means-testing threshold, and then take advantage of free Medicare when you’re old?

    Beyond that, there’s the problem of how to means test and what the threshold should be. Will says that we should give people “just the assistance they need,” but that’s not as easy as it sounds. Should means testing be done on income or wealth? If it’s income, then you’re giving away benefits to people who might have modest retirement incomes but lots of assets. Why should they be allowed to keep their expensive homes and cars and boats and stock portfolios while Uncle Sam pays for their hip replacement? But if you means test on wealth, then you force people to impoverish themselves before they qualify for care. Do you want to be the one to tell granny that she has to sell her house and all her belongings before she gets a dime from the government? I didn’t think so.

    Well, how about just limiting means testing to the genuinely rich? If you have a retirement income of $200,000 and $10 million in assets, then you can certainly pay for your own medical care. No argument there. The problem is that the genuinely rich only account for about 2% of the population. Maybe 5% tops. Sure, you can make them pay for their own care, but it’s not going to make much of a dent in Medicare spending. So why bother?

    So now consider my idea. You can earn and save money in your youth and know that you’ll still have it in your old age. You can spend it as you like. We don’t need any complicated formulas for figuring out who qualifies for free Medicare and who doesn’t. We don’t need to impoverish granny and take away her house.

    Instead, we just keep track of what you spend and then take it out of your estate when you don’t need it anymore. Will people try to hide assets or give them away in order to avoid Uncle Sam’s bite? Sure. But think about this for a moment. The average cumulative Medicare bill after you’ve died will be on the order of $100-200,000. The really rich, who have the means and the legal talent to do fancy estate planning, aren’t going to run down their estates below that amount. It’s just too piddling, and they want to have at least a few millions unencumbered by legal chicanery throughout their lives. Conversely, the working and middle classes mostly don’t have the ability (i.e., money for expensive lawyers and estate planners) to cheat their way out of this. That leaves the upper middle classes, and they’ll probably try to evade some of their Medicare expenses. But that’s a relatively small number of people — and without minimizing the problem here, it really is possible to regulate a lot of it away. If Medicare had first claim on estates the same way the IRS does, it would mostly get all the money owed to it. Just giving them first claim on homes would go a long way toward keeping things kosher.

    This doesn’t completely get rid of the Welfare 101 problem, of course. There’s still a certain amount of disincentive to earn and work while you’re young, knowing that you can’t bequeath every last dime of your money to whoever you want to. But the disincentive is a lot less. Your parents love you and all that, but guess what: they mostly love themselves even more. They’ll do a lot more to protect their own access to their wealth than they will to protect yours.

    To some extent, of course, all I’ve done is shift the problem: there’s now an incentive to spend all your money not during your working years but during retirement. Why not, if it’s all just going to Uncle Sam after you die anyway? There’s no question this will happen, but my guess is that it will happen less you might think. I don’t know if there’s any empirical evidence on this score (how would you get it?), but there’s a limit to how much people want to spend down their wealth. Mostly they don’t want to sell their houses while they’re still alive, for example, and if they’re the saving types they probably want to keep a certain amount of their savings around no matter what. Besides, if you means test Medicare, this incentive to spend down your savings during retirement exists regardless of whether the bill comes due before or after death.

    So, roughly speaking, that’s my case. Charging for Medicare expenses after death solves the problem of trying to figure who deserves what and how much you can afford. We just don’t bother. We simply tot up the charges and then take it out of your estate. If there’s no estate, that probably means you were poor and couldn’t have afforded to pay for it in the first place. If there’s a big estate, it means you were rich and can pay for 100% of your Medicare costs. And for the middle classes, which are by far the trickiest for any means testing policy, it allows effective means testing that, almost by definition, takes from you only money that you can truly afford to pay.

    There is, of course, no reason this has to be a standalone policy. We still need to rein in the growing costs of Medicare no matter what. You might also want some pretty strict rules about what you can do with your money if you’re currently in a nursing home being paid for by Medicare or Medicaid. (Though the rules on this are already pretty strict in a lot of states, which really do require you to impoverish yourself before you qualify for aid.)

    But still: this would almost certainly raise a huge amount of money. It would raise it not based on what you might use in the future, but on what you’ve actually used during your life. And it would raise that money from people who don’t need it anymore.

    Let me repeat that: It would raise the money from people who don’t need it anymore. If you want to think of this in ghoulish “picking over dead peoples’ estates” terms, you can. But it’s not. What it is is charging people for a service based on whether they can afford it; it’s allowing them to live their actual lives free of fear and impoverishment; and it’s settling an account the same way that anyone else would who has a claim on an estate. Do you think of a supermarket as ghoulish if they insist that granny’s estate pay for the grocery bill she ran up during her final year of life?

    There might be technical reasons that make this unworkable (though I suspect most of them could be resolved tolerably well), but philosophically I just don’t see the objection. It’s fair, it’s efficient, it raises a lot of revenue, and it lets people live their lives decently for as long as they’re alive. What’s not to like?

  • Lead, Prisons, and Crack: Why Violent Crime is Down


    Crime guru James Q. Wilson surveys the evidence for why violent crime rates have dropped so dramatically over the past two decades. The state of the economy, he says, seems to have little to do with it:

    One obvious answer is that many more people are in prison than in the past. Experts differ on the size of the effect, but I think that William Spelman and Steven Levitt have it about right in believing that greater incarceration can explain about one-quarter or more of the crime decline.

    ….There may also be a medical reason for the decline in crime. For decades, doctors have known that children with lots of lead in their blood are much more likely to be aggressive, violent and delinquent. In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency required oil companies to stop putting lead in gasoline….A 2007 study by the economist Jessica Wolpaw Reyes contended that the reduction in gasoline lead produced more than half of the decline in violent crime during the 1990s in the U.S. and might bring about greater declines in the future.

    ….Another shift that has probably helped to bring down crime is the decrease in heavy cocaine use in many states….Drug use among blacks has changed even more dramatically than it has among the population as a whole….Among 13,000 people arrested in Manhattan between 1987 and 1997, a disproportionate number of whom were black, those born between 1948 and 1969 were heavily involved with crack cocaine, but those born after 1969 used very little crack and instead smoked marijuana.

    So if I can put words into Wilson’s mouth, the decline in crime is perhaps one-quarter due to increased incarceration, one-quarter due to reduced cocaine use, and one half due to reductions in blood lead levels in children. Better policing might be part of it too, though the evidence is spotty. Oddly, though, Wilson’s own summary is different: “At the deepest level, many of these shifts, taken together, suggest that crime in the United States is falling […] because of a big improvement in the culture.” Aside from the reductions in cocaine and crack use, however, none of this sounds all that cultural to me. It sounds like we cleaned up the environment and built a lot of new prisons. It’s hard to see an awful lot of room for cultural explanations here.

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 27 May 2011


    My sister headed off to England for a vacation yesterday, and before she left she insisted that I post some extra special catblogging today so that she’d have something good to look at while staving off jet lag on her first evening in town. We always do our best on that front, but it really all depends on the cats, doesn’t it?

    So how’s this? On the left, Inkblot is camped out on our new sofa, which Karen hasn’t yet been over to see. So this is her first look at it. Inkblot’s bright-eyed expression is due to timing: I took this picture last night just as Marian was shuttling food around for dinnertime, and that perked him up. On the right, Domino is basking (as usual) in the sun this morning. However, this picture’s extra specialness was probably dimmed a bit because she kept batting the camera strap around instead of holding still in some kind of extra specially cute pose. Still, I hope this does the job.

    Have a good Memorial Day weekend, everyone. There will probably be a light bit of posting this weekend, but normal blogging will resume on Tuesday.

  • Zanran, the Search Engine for Nerds


    Do you like charts and graphs? If you read this blog, there’s a good chance you do. So you might want to check out a new search engine, Zanran, which is specifically designed for finding data and statistics. It’s still in beta, and I’ve only played around with it a little bit, but it seems promising. If you give it a try, let us know in comments what you think.

  • Has Politico Upped Its Game?


    In an aside to a post about how dismally ignorant Republican lawmakers are about the debt ceiling and what it means, Jon Chait says:

    As a journalistic side note, I should point out that Politico has really upped its game and is now producing far more good political coverage than any other outlet, as the large number of my items keying off Politico stories would testify.

    You know, that seems to be true. I’m not a religious reader of Politico, and it’s not as if they’ve never run good stuff in the past, but the ratio of solid pieces to idiotic gossipmongering does seem to have gone up lately. Anyone else notice the same thing?

  • Pakistan is Shocked by Reports of Islamists in its Ranks


    Today’s Captain Louis Renault Award goes to the Pakistani military:

    Embarrassed by the Osama bin Laden raid and by a series of insurgent attacks on high-security sites, top Pakistani military officials are increasingly concerned that their ranks are penetrated by Islamists who are aiding militants in a campaign against the state….Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who like the government has publicly expressed anger over the secret U.S. raid, was so shaken by the discovery of bin Laden that he told U.S. officials in a recent meeting that his first priority was “bringing our house in order,” according to a senior Pakistani intelligence official.

    ….It is unclear how authentically committed Kayani and other top military leaders are to cleansing their ranks.

    You can count me among those who think it’s unclear just how authentically committed the Pakistani military is to rooting out Islamists in its ranks. Or that any of its top officials were genuinely “shaken” by the discovery that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan. Or that they seriously expect us to believe they plan to do anything at all about this. As long as these guys are helpful — or perceived to be helpful — in Pakistan’s neverending struggle against the Great Satan India, they’ll have an endless supply of high-level sponsors. When they’re no longer helpful, they’ll get purged. American desires really have nothing to do with it.

  • Mindshare vs. Demographics


    Karl Smith notes a Gallup poll showing that half of all respondents think more than 20% of Americans are gay or lesbian:

    What makes this interesting to me is not that people are bad at demographics.

    It’s that I would assume that people’s immediate experience is influencing their estimate of all of America. Yet, 52% of America can’t be experiencing anything like 1 out of every 5 people I know is gay.

    So my guess is that most people don’t really get what these numbers mean in terms of their daily life. Of course, to some extent we already knew that but it always interesting to see it come out in actual data.

    Yes, people in general are pretty bad with numbers, but I think the real explanation for this is a lot simpler: gay and lesbian issues have been getting a lot of attention in the news lately, and that naturally makes people think they’re more numerous than they really are. And personal experience probably has little to do with it. They themselves might know very few gays, but they just figure that’s because all the gay people live in San Francisco or Seattle or New York.

    The real number, by the way, is around 3-4%.

  • Free Money for Europe!


    During the financial crisis the Fed made hundreds of billions of dollars available to European central banks in order to facilitate payments that needed to be made in U.S. dollars. But Bloomberg’s Bob Ivry reports that there was much more going on: the Fed was actually making direct — and very secret — loans to European banks at interest rates as low as 0.01%.

    The $80 billion initiative, called single-tranche open- market operations, or ST OMO, made 28-day loans from March through December 2008, a period in which confidence in global credit markets collapsed after the Sept. 15 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

    ….“I wasn’t aware of this program until now,” said U.S. Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who chaired the House Financial Services Committee in 2008 and co- authored the legislation overhauling financial regulation. The law does require the Fed to release details of any open-market operations undertaken after July 2010, after a two-year lag.

    ….Credit Suisse’s borrowing peaked at about $45 billion in September 2008….RBS’s use of ST OMO hit about $30 billion in October 2008….Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank’s use peaked at about $20 billion in October 2008, its chart shows.

    This is via Felix Salmon, who comments:

    Why did the Fed set up a short-term lending program which seems to have been aimed overwhelmingly at European banks? And how does lending $45 billion to Credit Suisse support the flow of credit to U.S. households, in any but the most circuitous manner? It’s probably not worth asking the Fed these questions. But it does seem that the governments of Switzerland, Germany, France, and the UK should all be sending thank-you letters to 33 Liberty Street if they haven’t already done so: it’s entirely possible that the New York Fed bailed out their banks without those governments even knowing about it. That’s just how generous we are, in this country.

  • It’s Gonna Be a Long Primary Season


    A recent tweet from Tim Pawlenty:

    Seriously? This is the kind of childishness it takes to compete for the tea party vote these days? “Aren’t there any grown-ups left in the GOP?” asks Mark Kleiman.

  • School Reform in New Orleans


    Alex Tabarrok links to a New Orleans Times-Picayune story showing the dramatic effects of school reform in New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It’s impressive. Statewide, the number of kids scoring at basic or above went up about five percentage points. In New Orleans it went up around 25 points in the charter-oriented Recovery School District.

    Still, be careful. New Orleans has changed a lot in the past six years. The median income has increased from $31,000 to $40,000. The black share of the population has decreased by five percentage points. And the share of residents living in high poverty neighborhoods has gone down by nearly ten percentage points. Those are pretty big changes, and all of them are well known drivers of test scores.

    At a glance, the New Orleans test scores look even more impressive than you’d expect when you take those demographic changes into account. But we’ll need a considerably more detailed analysis before we can genuinely conclude that their educational reforms have really worked.

  • The Future of Solar Power


    GE is bullish on solar power:

    Solar power may be cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels and nuclear reactors within three to five years because of innovations, said Mark M. Little, the global research director for General Electric Co.

    “If we can get solar at 15 cents a kilowatt-hour or lower, which I’m hopeful that we will do, you’re going to have a lot of people that are going to want to have solar at home,” Little said yesterday in an interview in Bloomberg’s Washington office.

    ….GE, based in Fairfield, Connecticut, announced in April that it had boosted the efficiency of thin-film solar panels to a record 12.8 percent….The cost of solar cells, the main component in standard panels, has fallen 21 percent so far this year, and the cost of solar power is now about the same as the rate utilities charge for conventional power in the sunniest parts of California, Italy and Turkey.

    Now all we have to do is find lots of sunny places to put it all.

  • Hotels and Their Pervs, Revisited


    Let’s revisit the issue of pervs in hotel rooms. Why not, after all? It started with a New York Times op-ed by Jacob Tomsky, in which he told us that housekeepers are flashed or otherwise sexually accosted by male guests “more often than you’d think.” My off-the-cuff reaction was to suggest a zero-tolerance policy for this kind of thing: “Do it once and you’re thrown out and blacklisted forever. What’s the justification for extending even the slightest forbearance toward this kind of behavior?” Megan McArdle had an answer:

    I travel a lot, and I’ve had housekeepers walk in on me in various states of undress, especially in hotels with turndown service….Not a big deal for me, but I’m sure it could happen to a male traveler perfectly innocently. So could a wardrobe malfunction — the robes in many hotels are not exactly overgenerous, especially for the burgeoning middle-aged physique of a chairborne warrior.

    ….Maybe there should be a blacklist for serial offenders, but again, I was a serial offender at a certain hotel in LA with early turndown hours — I assume they didn’t report me because, well, women don’t usually do that sort of thing.

    That’s a fair point. Mistakes can happen. Still, I’ll bet I know exactly what Megan’s reaction was when this happened. It was, more or less, some version of “eek!” And I’ll bet the reaction of your average perv isn’t “eek!” And I’ll bet that your average housekeeper can tell the difference with about 99% accuracy. That’s why Megan never got a call from a hotel manager about this. Belle Waring puts it this way:

    You, as a woman, know when you’re being flashed vs. when you accidentally walk in on someone who hasn’t heard your knock. Really. Big difference. A man showing you his penis on purpose has a certain way about him, let’s just say. Do I really have to go there?

    In other words, if we’re willing to take housekeeper reports of perv activity seriously — and we should be — there’s a pretty slim chance of blacklisting an innocent man. Still, it’s true: mistakes can happen. And if you have made a mistake, this really isn’t the type you want to punish with instant banishment.

    So how about this instead: Get reported once and you’re given a warning. My guess is that if you just forgot to deadbolt the door, you’ll never forget again after that. Do it again and you’re blacklisted for a couple of years. After all, everyone deserves a chance to turn over a new leaf. So let them back in after two years, but tell them that a third strike means they’re banned for good.

    If this were the policy in a high-end New York hotel, it might not have much effect. You’d just make up a story about why, say, you’ll never stay at the Plaza again. But what about the big chains? Here, for example, is a partial list of Marriott brands:

    • Marriott
    • JW Marriott
    • Marriott Courtyard
    • Residence Inn
    • Fairfield Inn
    • Ritz-Carlton

    As a former business traveler, I can tell you that you’d be in trouble if you got your ass kicked out of all of these. There are just too many cases where one of them is by far the most convenient to your destination, or worse, where one of them is literally the only hotel within 20 miles of your destination. Or it’s a convention hotel and everyone in your company is staying there. What’s more, there’s really no way to make up a plausible story about why you refuse to stay at any Marriott property anywhere in the country. So this would be a considerable motivation to stay on good behavior when you’re traveling.

    So why don’t the big hotel chains have policies like this? It’s possible there are legal problems, but I imagine a private corporation has very wide latitude about whom it serves and whom it doesn’t as long as it has good evidence that it’s not discriminating based on age, race, ethnicity, etc. Beyond that there are practical problems: to effectively ban someone you need more than just a name. I’d be plenty annoyed if some skeev named Kevin Drum got banned by Marriott and I ended up having to prove I wasn’t him every time I made a reservation. But hotels routinely take credit card numbers and driver’s licenses, and those could be used to prevent ID mismatches. That’s not enough to make it impossible to evade a blacklist, but it would make it pretty difficult.

    So….why not? Are there other good reasons that this would be unwise or unworkable? There might be. Seems worth thinking about, though. Big hotel chains are public companies that are susceptible to public pressure, and I’ll bet most of them already ban guests who trash rooms or otherwise cause them trouble. So they know how to do this. Why not do it to give their housekeepers a decent working environment too?

  • The Graying of America


    Will Wilkinson, in a post that sadly fails to recognize the merits of means testing Medicare after death instead of before, also says this:

    I would add: that nearly a third of the voting public is 65 or older does not quite capture the overwhelming electoral heft of seniors. Retirees are disproportionately likely to actually show up at the polls. Moreover, the interests of seniors are more unified than those of younger voters….America’s silver foxes constitute a more or less consolidated force fighting for the protection of old-age entitlements.

    I was all ready to make a point about this, but then I looked up the numbers and they aren’t nearly as bad as Will thinks. According to the Census Bureau, the 65+ crowd accounts for about 17% of the voting-age population. And according to the 2008 exit polls, that same group accounts for about 16% of the total votes cast. I’m surprised at this, but it appears that not only are America’s seniors not that huge a voting bloc, but they don’t really vote in extra big proportions either.

    (And my original point? I was just going to say that things are worse than Will thinks, because once you hit 55 or so you start to realize that retirement is looming and you start voting as if you’re 65 already. And the 55+ share is obviously even bigger than the 65+ share. However, it turns out that the 55+ share comes to about a third of the population, so it’s no worse than Will thinks after all. It’s merely as bad.)

    (And what is it he doesn’t get about the benefit of means testing Medicare after death instead of before? I wasn’t planning to write another post on this subject since it obviously has no political feasibility, but maybe I will over the weekend. Sometimes a little bit of blue-sky nattering is a good way of exercising the brain cells.)

  • Your Dental Hygienist Questions Answered!


    Earlier this morning we considered the burning question of whether regulation of dental hygienists has contibuted to an increase in income inequality. Before I staked out a position on this I wanted to know if hygienist regulation had increased over time, but sadly, uncredentialed proles like me are denied access to the relevant academic paper unless we fork over $5, thus transferring wealth from me to the economics profession and increasing income inequality along the way. Luckily, reader JR bravely defied the relevant IP laws and sent me a copy. So now I have an answer for you.

    The specific question at hand is whether hygienists are increasingly being required to work for dentists, which would decrease their earning power and increase the profits of dental practices owned by wealthy dentists. The answer is no. From the paper:

    Until 1988, when Colorado first allowed hygienists to practice without the direct supervision of a dentist, hygienists have been required to work for or be under the direction of a dentist. Since that time, seven states have allowed hygienists to be self-employed without the direct oversight of a dentist.

    ….In order to show the growth in hygienists’ autonomy over time, in Figure 1 we develop and show a box-and-whisker graphic analysis of state regulation, which gives the mean and spread of the regulation of hygienists over the period 2001–2007. Panel A shows the overall ranking of dental hygienists’ professional practice environment that is allowed by statute or legal rulings.

    This is followed by lots of Greek letter math that no sane person would try to understand. However, charts are easy to understand, so I’ve helpfully reproduced Panel A on the right, adding a bright red arrow showing the increase in hygienist autonomy over the past decade. The basic shape of things is clear: despite pushback from the dental profession, over the past couple of decades hygienists have been allowed to perform more and more tasks and have been unshackled entirely from the dental profession in seven states. This is (probably) a triumph of improved public policy and a counterweight to growing income inequality. So now you know.