Lawmakers, press and the public need to understand the strength of this “doubling down” phenomenon of and guard against it when adopting policy positions.
In simplified form, the dynamic runs as follows:
1) Government, in response to a perceived need, takes action to meet that need in a manner that distorts economic behavior and produces predictable adverse effects.
2) The public consequently experiences problems and expresses concern.
3) The problems themselves become justification for additional government actions that worsen the distortions and the resultant problems.
4) As problems worsen, the public more urgently demands corrective actions.
5) Steps #3 and #4 are repeated ad infinitum.
We have seen and continue to see this dynamic operate in many areas of economic policy. To cite but a few:
Worker Health Benefits
With the best of intentions the federal government has long exempted worker compensation in the form of health benefits from income taxation. Lawmakers aren’t scaling back the flawed policy that fuels these problems.There is wide consensus among economists that the results of this policy have been highly deleterious. As I have written previously, this tax exclusion “depresses wages, it drives up health spending, it’s regressive, and it makes it harder for people with enduring health conditions to change jobs or enter the individual insurance market.” Lawmakers have reacted not by scaling back the flawed policy that fuels these problems, but rather by trying to shield Americans from the resulting health care cost increases. This has been done through the enactment of additional health programs and policies that further distort health markets and which themselves drive personal and government health spending still higher.
Federal Health Programs
The federal government has enacted programs such as Medicare and Medicaid to protect vulnerable seniors and poor Americans from ruinous health care costs.
The positive benefits of these programs co-exist with well-documented adverse effects. For example, it is firmly established that creating these programs pushed up national health spending, driving health costs higher for Americans as a whole. Consumer displeasure over these health cost increases subsequently became a rationale for still more government health spending, rather than reducing government’s contribution to the problem. Examples of this doubling down include the health exchange subsidies established under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as its further expansion of Medicaid. As the problem of high health care costs remains, proposals have proliferated to expand government’s role still further; for example, some have proposed making Medicare available to the entire US population. Though intended to provide relief, such legislation inevitably adds to national health spending growth. Read the rest of this entry »
Coal could be a source of cheap, nontoxic fluorescent nanoparticles useful for biomedicine.
Mike Orcutt writes: Glowing graphene: An electron microscope image shows fluorescent carbon nanoparticles extracted from anthracite coal.
Coal can be turned into large volumes of glowing quantum dots, according to Rice University researchers.
The new method could represent a very cheap way to produce fluorescent carbon nanoparticles that could be useful in biomedicine, and especially in the imaging of living human cells and tissues, says James Tour, a chemistry professor at Rice. Tour, who led the research, says early tests suggest that the particles are nontoxic, and says his group is working on developing the particles into fluorescent probes and drug-delivery vehicles.
The researchers used sound waves to agitate three types of coal—bituminous, anthracite, and coke—each treated with acid. They then heated the samples for 24 hours. The resulting particles, which range in size from two to 40 nanometers, were made of several layers of graphene oxide, an atom-thick carbon compound with a highly ordered structure. The size of the particles made from each type of coal was distinct, and each size emitted a different color of fluorescence.
Tour and his colleagues say there is enough evidence to call the carbon particles quantum dots. Quantum dots are nanoparticles in which electrons are confined to a space smaller than their wavelength, a phenomenon which gives rise to fluorescence; different-sized dots glow different colors when excited by a light source. Tour acknowledges that future research might reveal the particles to be fluorescent due to factors other than this phenomenon, but he says that wouldn’t change the potential technological applications.
Dave Wilson chuckles as he talks about his unorthodox political campaign.
“I’d always said it was a long shot,” Wilson says. “No, I didn’t expect to win.”
Still, he figured he’d have fun running, because he was fed up with what he called “all the shenanigans” at the Houston Community College System. As a conservative white Republican running in a district whose voters are overwhelmingly black Democrats, the odds seemed overwhelmingly against him.
Then he came up with an idea, an advertising strategy that his opponent found “disgusting.” If a white guy didn’t have a chance in a mostly African-American district, Wilson would lead voters to think he’s black.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. didn’t hesitate last fall when a questioner asked him about the biggest constitutional challenge the Supreme Court faced.
Roberts told the audience at Rice University in Houston that the court must identify “the fundamental principle underlying what constitutional protection is and apply it to new issues and new technology.” He said, “I think that is going to be the real challenge for the next 50 years.”