Friday, June 18, 2010

Quotes of the day

The truth is that the volume and complexity of the knowledge that we need to master has grown exponentially beyond our capacity as individuals. Worse, the fear is that the knowledge has grown beyond our capacity as a society. When we talk about the uncontrollable explosion in the costs of health care in America, for instance—about the reality that we in medicine are gradually bankrupting the country—we’re not talking about a problem rooted in economics. We’re talking about a problem rooted in scientific complexity. Half a century ago, medicine was neither costly nor effective. Since then, however, science has combatted our ignorance. It has enumerated and identified, according to the international disease-classification system, more than 13,600 diagnoses—13,600 different ways our bodies can fail. And for each one we’ve discovered beneficial remedies—remedies that can reduce suffering, extend lives, and sometimes stop a disease altogether. But those remedies now include more than six thousand drugs and four thousand medical and surgical procedures. Our job in medicine is to make sure that all of this capability is deployed, town by town, in the right way at the right time, without harm or waste of resources, for every person alive. And we’re struggling. There is no industry in the world with 13,600 different service lines to deliver.--Atul Gawande

A reasonable health care reform would shift the incentives so that when I go and get expensive health care, I pay enough of the costs to get me to think twice about whether the benefits outweigh the costs. It makes sense to have catastrophic coverage. That's the idea behind insurance: When someone is unlucky, you don't want that to ruin their life financially. But we as a society often will spend vast sums at the end of a life trying to keep someone alive for an extra month. It's not something society likes to talk about, but I think people should face a tradeoff: Do I want my mother to live another week, or do I want to have enough money to send my kids to college? ... The other real problem in the U.S. system is that health care is tied to employment, and that leads to people getting locked into jobs. Everyone agrees that that's not an ideal solution, and the current bill if anything makes the connection stronger rather than weaker. It seems like we did everything wrong with the health care bill. --Steven Levitt

The shrimp boats that are sitting idle today are sitting idle partly because BP decided to drill in the gulf, but also partly because the shrimpers chose to operate in the vicinity of an oil rig. In this case, making BP feel the costs of its own decisions entails insulating the shrimpers from the costs of theirs. In this particular case, I’m inclined to believe that it’s a good thing for BP to pony up. But contrary to what I’ve been reading around the web, there’s absolutely nothing in economic theory to dictate that conclusion; instead the conclusion depends on the particulars of the case. Is it cheaper to deal with the problem of spills by encouraging oil companies to be more responsible, or by encouraging others to stay out of their way? That’s an empirical question. Theory can’t answer it. The various commentators who think they can justify holding BP liable by crying the word “externality”—and stopping there—exhibit a commendable grasp of environmental economics circa 1930. But this is 2010.--Steve Landsburg

... the Coast Guard ordered the [oil cleanup] stoppage because of reasons that Jindal found frustrating. The Coast Guard needed to confirm that there were fire extinguishers and life vests on board, and then it had trouble contacting the people who built the barges.--DAVID MUIR and BRADLEY BLACKBURN

[President Obama] went back to the same well he has drawn from repeatedly; blame the previous administration and their “failed philosophy.” Whether justified or not, this refrain is getting old. Even the president’s appeals to America’s greatness sounded old. Can his speechwriters really do no better than remember when we won World War II and put a man on the moon?--Alex Tabarrok

President Obama has a solution to the Gulf oil spill: $7-a-gallon gas. That's a Harvard University study's estimate of the per-gallon price of the president's global-warming agenda. And Obama made clear this week that this agenda is a part of his plan for addressing the Gulf mess. So what does global-warming legislation have to do with the oil spill? Good question, because such measures wouldn't do a thing to clean up the oil or fix the problems that led to the leak.--Ben Lieberman

Well, basically we have a world-class budget deficit not just as in absolute terms of course – it’s the biggest budget deficit in the history of the world – but it’s a budget deficit that as a share of GDP is right up there. It’s comparable to the worst we’ve ever seen in this country. It’s biggest than Argentina in 2001. Which is not cyclical, there’s only a little bit that’s because the economy is depressed. Mostly it’s because, fundamentally, the Government isn’t taking in enough money to pay for the programs and we have no strategy of dealing with it.--Paul Krugman, 2004

Many economists, myself included, regard this turn to austerity as a huge mistake.--Paul Krugman, 2010

The austerity/stimulus debate is make-work for the chattering classes. It’s conspicuous cogitation that avoids the hard, simple questions. What, precisely, should we do that we are not yet doing? What are the things we do now that we should stop doing? And how can we make those changes without undermining the deep social infrastructure of our society, resources like legitimacy, fairness, and trust?--Steve Randy Waldman

[The late Paul] Samuelson profoundly misread Hayek’s book, The Road to Serfdom. Hayek said that “the planning against which all our criticism is directed is solely the planning against competition – the planning which is to be substituted for competition.” So because Scandinavian countries emphatically do not plan in this way, Samuelson was mistaken to say that their socialism is of the sort that Hayek believed paved the road to serfdom. Those countries have reasonably free trade, only light regulation of capital markets and business, and strong private property rights. In short, all Scandinavia retains what for Hayek was the most significant protection against serfdom: competitive economies. And while Hayek would disapprove of the size of Scandinavian welfare states, he stated explicitly that “Nor is the preservation of competition incompatible with an extensive system of social services.”--Don Boudreaux

ESPN and ABC (NYSE:DIS) are projecting an average of 400 million soccer fans will watch each of the 64 games that it will televise during the 2010 World Cup. Only 106.5 million people watched the Super Bowl in February 2010, an all-time record for NFL football.--Derek Hoffman

... what made [Referee Koman] Coulibali’s Call-of-Folly so maddening is that even soccer experts could not tell us why it happened. Even an honest bad call — even Jim Joyce’s imperfect game call, for instance — is something digestible. He thought the guy was safe. OK. But this… what did he see? What mistake was made? Can a referee simply disallow a goal for fuzzy reasons that only he seems to know? The world has grown used to the foggy quirks of soccer — extra time, diving, stretchers for players who immediately run back out on the pitch, calls made without explanation. But most of us are not used to these things. And, for so many, this was a lousy introduction to soccer’s whims. In the end, the draw gives the United States an excellent chance of advancing to the knockout round. If the U.S. beats Algeria, it probably will move on. But a victory would have given the U.S. an excellent chance to win the group. And a victory would have given a lot of people all across the country a moment to remember… and a story to tell when people asked, “So, when did you become a soccer fan?” Instead, it will baffle a lot of people who wanted something to remember. And it will give a lot of people who didn’t like soccer in the first place a chance to say: “What the heck was that?”--Joe Posnanski

Pixar's newest gem is currently scoring a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, a movie review aggregation website, which means that there is not a single negative review among the hundreds of critics on RT's expansive roster. (Avatar, by comparison, earned an 83%.) For Pixar, this is merely par for the course. Toy Story 2 also scored 100%. The first Toy Story? 100%, of course. Last year's Up? A pathetic 98%. Not only does Pixar claim the highest batting average of any major film studio among ornery critics, but also it's become the single most financial successful studio in movie history, on a film by film basis. What's the secret? High doses of self-criticism and patience. From story idea to the silver screen, the Pixar team takes more than 1,100 days to produce and perfect its CGI masterpieces. It is precisely this methodical approach to film-making -- a self-critical process that boarders on navel-gazing -- that makes Pixar special and consistently successful ...--Derek Thompson

If you show off imaginary cool technology in a film or TV series, then kids, teenagers and enthusiastic technologists of all ages will try their damnedest to make it come true. When James T Kirk beamed down to an alien planet and flipped open his communicator, when Spock waved his tricorder over strange life forms and murmured "intriguing . . .", when the crew of the Enterprise teleported, carried phasers, communicated with their computer by voice and carried data around on little plastic sticks, a generation looked at it and thought: that's a future I want to live in. And so with Minority Report. In the manner of all the best science-fiction, it included numerous gadgets but didn't rely on any of them as the key to its plot, which still revolved (as was Dick's predilection) on people's ability to deceive themselves about truth, lies and reality. For a lot of geeky fans, however, the plot was incidental to the possibilities offered by the technologies on show. And there were plenty: pre-crime (predicting that a particular person will commit a crime); iris recognition (picking you out from a crowd on the basis of the unique pattern of your iris); personalised advertising (where what you see on hoardings is targeted specifically to you); e-paper (electronic paper, for newspapers with moving images that people can read on trains); 3D video (do we have to explain this?); computer-guided cars (which follow preset patterns); spider robots (for tracking people); jetpacks; and some rather unpleasant police restraint technologies – including the sick stick (makes you sick on contact) and "the collar" (which effectively paralyses you once fitted). Things such as gesture computing were still way off (though a jetpack had been used in the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympic Games). But, eight years on, Spielberg and his technical advisers look as though they were too cautious . . .--Charles Arthur

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