The withdrawal of Aetna from many of its Obamacare markets has unleashed a torrent of commentary about how Obamacare is now well and truly doomed. From Republicans, this is the usual hot air. From Democrats, it's a little different. It's also way overblown, and I'm happy to see Jonathan Chait make the case for Obamacare's basic solvency here. Go read it.

For myself, I just want to focus on one of Chait's points: The reason Aetna withdrew is that they weren't making money. The reason they weren't making money is because their premiums were too low. The reason their premiums were too low is because they were competing with other insurers for business. In other words, competing on a level playing field, they couldn't succeed. That's life in a free market.

So what happened? For some reason, insurers underpriced their policies substantially when Obamacare was introduced. It's possible that their actuaries all badly miscalculated the makeup of the market. Or it's possible that they were underpricing deliberately as a way of building market share. Or maybe a combination of both.

My own guess is that the underpricing was mostly deliberate. After all, even the Congressional Budget Office had a pretty good idea of what average premiums ought to be, and it's hard to believe that a bunch of experienced insurance companies couldn't do the same math as the CBO. Either way, though, this is, once again, life in a free market. Some vendors make mistakes and fail. Some can't compete and fail. Some just decide to focus on other markets.

The flip side of this is that free markets usually stabilize eventually. In the case of Obamacare, this means premiums have to go up. Sorry. However, as that happens, new insurers are likely to enter. Eventually supply will more or less equal demand, and the market will find an equilibrium. This is why I'm much less panicked over Obamacare's immediate problems than most people.

Obamacare is an artificial market in many ways, but that's true of health care in general, which is highly regulated and has well-known eccentricities. Nonetheless, Obamacare is a market, and right now it's operating like one. Prices are looking for an equilibrium, consumers are deciding whether to participate, and vendors are jockeying for position. That's not painless, but then, nobody ever said capitalism was painless.

Of course, if you do want painless, we know how to do that too: true national health care funded through taxes. Dozens of countries do this, and it works fine.

Short of that, we could still reduce the pain considerably. Is Obamacare too expensive for many people? Yes. That could be fixed by increasing subsidies. Are insurers losing money in the early years? Yes. That could be largely fixed by funding the risk corridors. Are the poor still underserved? Yes. That could be addressed by adopting the Medicaid expansion in all states. Are there plenty of details here and there that ought to be cleaned up? Yes. That could be fixed via legislation.

If Republicans actually cared about providing health care to people, all of this would be trivial. But they don't. To the extent that Obamacare has problems, this is why. There's nothing inherent in the design that prevents it from operating successfully. In fact, as the chart on the right shows, even now, with all its problems, Obamacare is operating more successfully than anybody thought it would when it was first passed. 20 million newly insured people is nothing to sniff at.

I can't even go to lunch anymore without missing the latest loathsome excretion from Donald Trump's mouth. Here's the headline:

Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005

This is not a big surprise. Is there anyone on the planet who didn't already figure that Trump talked lewdly about women routinely? Probably not. In any case, here's the extremely lewd conversation, caught on a hot mic while Trump was chatting with Billy Bush for a 2005 appearance on Access Hollywood:

Trump discusses a failed attempt to seduce a woman, whose full name is not given in the video.

“I moved on her and I failed. I’ll admit it,” Trump is heard saying. It was unclear when the events he was describing took place....“I did try and fuck her. She was married,” Trump says....“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married,” Trump says.

At that point in the audio, Trump and Bush appear to notice Arianne Zucker, the actress who is waiting to escort them into the soap opera set.

Your girl’s hot as shit, in the purple,” says Bush, who’s now a co-host of NBC’s “Today” show....“I’ve gotta use some tic tacs, just in case I start kissing her,” Trump says....“And when you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump says....“Grab them by the pussy,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

Trump's excuse is that he's heard Bill Clinton say a lot worse. Or something.

The video of all this was "obtained" by the Washington Post, which raises the obvious question of just who found this and who decided to leak it. And is there more?

Hilbert has finally discovered that the patio bench is a great place for an afternoon snooze. It's high enough that he can keep an eye on things, and the lattices allow a nice breeze to cool his tummy. He is in cat heaven.1

1The bed, the pod, the sewing room, the teal chair, the dining room table, the printer, the guest room, a corner of the dresser, and a patch of favored dirt in the corner of the yard are also cat heaven. It's a pretty good deal for a cat around here.

Let's show both of my usual pollsters today. After declining in mid-September, Sam Wang's meta-margin is back up to a 3.3 percent lead for Hillary Clinton:

Wang's current prediction is that Clinton has a 93 percent chance of winning and will rack up 323 electoral votes. The Senate will be tied, 50-50. And here's Pollster:

Clinton is 6.5 percentage points ahead of Trump, exactly where she was when the primary race ended on June 7. In the generic House polling, Pollster has Democrats ahead by about 5 points. That's not enough to get giddy about Democrats taking back control, but it does suggest that Republicans will probably have a smaller majority next year than they do now.

Over at Foreign Policy, Max Boot writes one of my favorite evergreen columns:

In struggling for some explanation for the inexplicable events of this election season — in particular, the fact that someone as unqualified and ignorant as Donald Trump is as close as he is to the most powerful post in the world — I keep coming back to a conversation that a friend had with her trainer at a posh gym in Manhattan.

[SPOILER ALERT! It turns out the trainer didn't know much civics.]

For years, I’ve been more sanguine than most about the state of the American education system....I now realize that I was being Pollyannaish.... two thirds of high school seniors were unable to identify the 50-year period in which the Civil War was fought...World War I... three branches of government... Gettysburg address... One third of the respondents couldn’t name the vice president and half didn’t know that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. Only one third knew that the Constitution is considered the nation’s highest law.

Et cetera.

Are kids these days really so woefully ignorant? Maybe! Are they any more woefully ignorant than their elders were back when America was a world powerhouse standing up against global communism? Let's go to the tape:

  • The demographic most likely to support Trump is the elderly, who learned their civics 50 years ago. The demographic least likely to support Trump is recent grads.
  • The most detailed recent survey of civics knowledge, What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters, covering the postwar era through 1997, concluded that "citizens appear no more or less informed today than half a century ago."
  • A few years later, in a review of the same subject, political scientist William Galston came to the same conclusion: "There is no evidence that overall levels of civic knowledge have altered much over time." (In fairness, Galston also calls this "remarkable" since education levels have increased substantially over the past half century.)
  • The NAEP has conducted a national civics test since 1988. The results have been basically the same the entire time.

Put this all together, and it suggests that knowledge of civics and history has remained about the same from the end of World War II to the present day. Now, it may well be that this level of knowledge is inadequate. I'll leave that judgment to others. But all the evidence points in the same direction: the average American has always had a pretty meager understanding of civics and American history; nothing much has changed in recent years; and this has had no noticeable effect on the quality of presidents we elect.

This makes perfect sense, too. Does anyone truly think that Trump is doing well because his supporters don't understand how the filibuster works? Or the way that Marbury v. Madison originated the concept of judicial review? Of course not. They like him because he's going to build a wall, he's suspicious of Muslims, and he doesn't like political correctness. We could have an elected one-man dictatorship in America and none of that would change.

Bottom line: Stop griping about how ignorant the young 'uns are these days unless you've got some real evidence to back it up. The Greatest Generation may have been great,1 but they didn't know any more about civics than your average Bernie fan.

1I will, again, leave this judgment to others.

Yesterday Matt Drudge warned us that NOAA was exaggerating the danger of Hurricane Matthew in order to hype the dangers of global warming. Liberals scoffed. But today, even the New York Times was forced to admit Drudge was right. Who's laughing now, libtards?

The American economy added 156,000 new jobs last month, 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at a modest 66,000 jobs. The headline unemployment rate worsened slightly to 5.0 percent and the labor force participation rate improved slightly to 62.9 percent.

Beneath the surface, this jobs report was stronger than it looks. The unemployment rate increased only because there were lots of new labor force entrants—some of them probably recent college grads—most of whom found jobs. The number of labor force dropouts declined by over 200 thousand. Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees were up at an annual rate of about 2.9 percent compared to last month. That's not red hot performance, but it continues a streak of decent increases. The labor market doesn't yet qualify as tight, but it's finally tight enough to be generating some consistent wage gains.

Gary Johnson thinks our foreign policy should be less interventionist. That's fair enough. I agree with him. But this is ridiculous:

Attacking Hillary Clinton over what he criticized as her overly interventionist instincts, Mr. Johnson pointed to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians killed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, as well as civilian deaths caused by the American-backed coalition, and said Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state, bore at least partial responsibility…He charged that Mrs. Clinton “bears responsibility for what's happened, shared responsibility for what's happened in Syria. I would not have put us in that situation from the get-go.”

This is nuts. Hillary Clinton played no role in starting the civil war in Syria, and 400,000 people have died there even though Barack Obama chose not to adopt her policy preferences. Our responsibility for what's happened in Syria—whether you think it's large or small—belongs to Obama, not Clinton. Then there's this:

[Johnson] drew a parallel on Wednesday between the Syrian government's targeting of noncombatants in that nation's civil war and the accidental bombing of civilians by United States-backed forces…When pressed four times on whether he saw a moral equivalence between deaths caused by the United States, directly or indirectly, and mass killings of civilians by Mr. Assad and his allies, Mr. Johnson made clear that he did.

Words fail. Yes, the United States is far from perfect. Yes, we sometimes kill innocent civilians. Yes, we often do too little to make sure civilians are safe. All of this is worth protest until we get better.

But we do try to spare civilians. In fact, our rules of engagement are famously restrictive. Bashar Assad, by contrast, deliberately targets civilians in huge numbers. Civilian or not, if you oppose Assad he wants you dead.

Does Johnson really see no difference there? That wouldn't pass muster in a freshman ethics class, let alone the real world. I'd like to see the United States rely less on a military approach to the Middle East, too, but I sure wouldn't want our military in the hands of a guy who apparently sees no real moral difference between a butcher like Bashar Assad and decent but imperfect leaders like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

It's conventional wisdom that this year's presidential campaign is one of the most policy-free of all time. The reason is obvious: Donald Trump is a policy void. He knows nothing, doesn't want to know anything, and brags frequently about how everything you need to know to be president can be learned in an hour or two. His milieu is entertainment and insults, not policy wonkery.

I think this view is wrong, and I'd like to present a thoughtful, nuanced argument against it. Unfortunately, I don't have that in me at the moment. Instead, here's a quickie blog-length micro-essay making my case.

Among political junkies, "policy" means white papers. It means understanding the details of how government programs work. It means charts and tables. It means historical context. It means stuff generally written by folks with PhDs who have deep subject matter expertise.

This is my meat and drink. If this blog had a mission statement, it would be something like this: Bringing policy lite to the masses. I like reading academic papers and trying to explain them in plain English that any ordinary educated person can understand. I like historical context. I respect folks with deep subject matter expertise. I adore charts and tables. And I want to spread all this stuff to more people.

But we live in a country where a third of the population can't name the three branches of government and something like 95 percent probably have no idea how Social Security works. Feel free to sneer if you must, but most people just aren't interested in policy deep dives. And why should they be? Being a political junkie is basically a hobby, like collecting stamps or writing bad poetry. You probably aren't interested in that stuff, and there's no reason lots of people should be interested in your hobby.

But that doesn't mean they don't care about political issues. Many of them care more than you do. They just don't have much of a jones for white papers. Nonetheless, all of these things are policy:

  • Building a wall to reduce illegal immigration from Mexico.
  • Keeping troops in Afghanistan.
  • Changing our strategy for destroying ISIS.
  • Improving relations with Russia.
  • Toughening visa requirements to keep potential terrorists out of the country.
  • Expanding or repealing Obamacare.
  • Signing an agreement with Iran to halt their nuclear program.
  • Making college free.
  • Halting new trade agreements until they're made better for American workers.
  • Spending more on the military.
  • Insisting that treaty allies pay a higher share of defense costs.
  • Creating a federal maternity leave and child care program.
  • Tackling climate change.
  • Whether we should make America more energy independent via more clean power or more extraction of fossil fuels.
  • Profiling Muslims and surveilling mosques to stay ahead of Islamic terrorism.
  • Appointing liberal vs. conservative Supreme Court justices.
  • Routine stop-and-frisk as a way of combating crime.
  • Raising the minimum wage.
  • Rebuilding infrastructure.

This is a long list, and it doesn't even include the usual evergreens (abortion, guns, tax cuts) or stuff that hasn't broken through enough to really affect things (vets, charter schools, NSA spying). In a nutshell, then, I'd argue not only that 2016 is a policy-heavy year, but that thanks to Donald Trump's, um, earthy approach to things, the differences in policy between the two candidates are sharper than in nearly any election during my adult life. Lack of detail is irrelevant. Nor does it matter if you don't like Trump's earthiness. For the average Joe and Jane, Trump's coarse approach makes his positions more policy-centric than arguments over whether we should use chained CPI for Social Security COLAs or support a public option for Obamacare.

There is, obviously, a vast rhetorical gap between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but their policy gap is equally far-reaching. And my guess is that more people know about their policy differences than in any year in recent memory. If anything, 2016 has featured more policy topics making it into the spotlight than usual. It's the year that policy truly took over an American presidential election.

Tim Fernholz reports today that countries around the world have lost billions of dollars in economic output by shutting down the internet for various reasons:

The countries most affected? India, accounting for $968 million in lost output....[shut] off internet service during school exam periods to deter cheating. To keep students honest, India imposed a ban from 9am to 1pm in certain areas.

Say what? They shut down the whole damn internet for four hours to keep kids from cheating on exams? Yes indeed. And they aren't the only ones:

India: "Mobile internet services will be blocked from 9 am to 1 pm in Ahmedabad....The Revenue Talatis Recruitment Exam is being conducted by 'Gaun Seva Pasandgi Mandal' (Gujarat State Subsidiary Selection Board or GSSSB) across the state....Considering the sensitive nature of the exam for recruitment of talatis, internet service providers have been asked to shut down all internet-based social media services from 9 am to 1 pm to prevent the misuse of mobiles during the exam."

Uzbekistan: "Uzbek authorities suspended Internet and messaging services across the country on August 1 to prevent cheating at university entrance exams....The restrictions on the additional services have become an annual practice on exam day as authorities fight against corruption and cheating."

Algeria: "Algerian authorities have temporarily blocked access to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to try to stop cheats posting high school exam papers online, state media reported on Sunday....'This is to protect students from the publication of false papers for these exams.' "

Iraq: "Iraq has shut down the entire country's internet in efforts to prevent students from cheating in exams....Wondering why the Iraqi government chose to take such a drastic step just for sixth grade finals? The reason why preventing sixth graders from cheating is such a high priority to the government is because, according to Iraqi law, education is compulsory only till the 6th grade. As a result, the pressure is fairly high on sixth graders to score well, as those who don't make the cut are almost definitely pulled out of school."

As you can see, this practice extends all the way from sixth grade to high school to universities to civil service exams. I guess building Faraday cages at all the test centers was too expensive, while strip searching every test taker was considered a step too far. The only option left was to shut down the internet for everyone.

All this said, the most common reason for shutting down the internet was in response to protests and other forms of civil strife. So I guess everyone is sort of used to it.