Friday, 8 January 2010

From the department of bad statistics

I’m glad to see that some things never change; in this case, it’s the low quality of local news reporting in Laredo. Pro8News breathlessly reports that Mexican drivers are ‘less likely to be ticketed’ since less than 25% of parking tickets in Laredo are issued to Mexican-licensed vehicles.

This story just begs to be placed on a research methods final as one of those “identify all of the problems with this analysis” questions. Bonus points for invoking Bayes’ theorem.

Monday, 9 November 2009

QotD, Stupak amendment edition

From TigerHawk’s reaction to the furor surrounding the Stupak anti-abortion amendment to the House version of the health care bill:

The real problem, of course, is that this fight reveals the ugly truth of statist health care: That personal medical decisions are no longer a matter of private bargaining, but of political argument. The fight over abortion funding is not an exception, it is a harbinger. Medical decisions are becoming more ethically complex and culturally contentious, not less. Do you really want the legislature deciding who may pull what plug, whether men can get drugs for longer-lasting erections, or whether functional neurosurgery to treat depression, addiction, or obesity is a good idea? Speaking only for myself, I would rather that my employer dangle these benefits in its campaign to retain me than have the matter settled by some clown Congressman from a safe seat in a distant state.

Somehow I don’t think TigerHawk is the only one with similar sentiments.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Myth versus reality

This evening’s exercise in compare and contrast.

The textbook public policy process (seriously, whip open any book with "Public Policy" in the title, or any college intro to American government text that covers policy, and you'll see this or a paraphrase):

  1. Define the problem.
  2. Propose alternative solutions.
  3. Promulgate some specific solution as law.
  4. Implement the solution.
  5. Figure out if it works. Rinse and repeat if necessary.

The health care reform process thus far:

  1. The problem is defined, sort of. “Health care is broken and/or really expensive.” I mean, seriously, nobody has even defined the problem in any more specific way that remotely relates to the bills being proposed. Textbook stage 1 problem statements would resemble “Americans have to fill out ridiculous amounts of paperwork every time they get within 300 feet of a doctor” or “People treat emergency rooms like places they should go when there isn’t an actual emergency situation.”
  2. Instead of considering policy alternatives, throw a lot of stuff that is largely unrelated except having something to do with “health care” into a giant, opaque bill. Actually, several of them. Several of which manage to solve problems that nobody has identified, like “older Americans will be forced to see a counselor every five years so they can have a depressing conversation about dying” without giving an explanation of either how this is a good idea or how it saves anyone money. Although it does solve the problem “how can various rent-seeking groups get all of the population to use their services on a regular basis?” which isn’t really a health care problem, but I digress.
  3. Yell and scream a lot about how everyone is trying to murder their political opponents, old people, and/or key Democratic voting blocs, and particularly about how people are being unpatriotic by yelling and screaming at each other.

Thus, I conclude that the policy process model is actually prescriptive, not descriptive. No wonder nobody asked me to teach policy again in the fall. (I lack faith that stages 4 and 5 will correspond to the official versions either, should we see those.)

Chris’s probably silly (and completely non-libertarian, which is an under-appreciated asset for potential policy solutions in D.C.) health care plan:

  • Allow anyone who wants it to be covered by Medicaid. Make everyone over the current Medicaid eligibility thresholds who chooses to enroll pay for it using some formula scribbled in the margins of a draft copy of this post. Every time someone who doesn’t have insurance shows up at an emergency room, they get a stern talking to about signing up for Medicaid or something else while they’re sitting on their butt anyway during triage. People who do this for minor ailments get the stern talking to several times before they are seen so they get the point, and a brochure stapled to the crap they leave with. People who continue to show up without insurance for minor ailments get escalated to meet Mike Tyson and then receive immediate treatment (for Tyson, not the minor ailments).
  • Allow anyone who loses his or her job to buy into COBRA until becoming employed by an employer offering health care or becoming eligible for public assistance through Medic*. Throw money at people receiving unemployment benefits to buy in.

Voila. Everyone who wants it can now afford insurance and has access to it. That was two paragraphs. We can put that in legislature-ese and make that a 30-page bill. The rest of the nonsense is about “cost control” which isn’t going to happen in practice, since we can’t compare costs to counterfactual reality (the world without “cost control” or other worlds with different “cost control”). This crap is going to be ridiculously expensive no matter what, and whatever costs we might be able to control (doctors using two little band-aids instead of one big one, prescribing the Really Awesome Cholesterol Drug instead of the Not Quite So Awesome Cholesterol Drug That Doesn’t Work But Is Cheaper In Theory, throwing people in the Really Fancy Scanner rather than just having them sit on some film and swallow some U-238) are rounding errors in that.

Besides, Hugo’s paying so who cares?

Wednesday, 20 August 2008


The policy syllabus is done and the website is more-or-less up-to-date; I’ll probably update the CV and teaching philosophy/research interests statements over the weekend, but that doesn’t need to be done for a couple of weeks yet.

In the meantime, I get to wear fancy regalia tomorrow, although I’m really not sure it’ll be that much fun given tomorrow’s weather forecast.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Murdering trees

Two syllabi down, one (the graduate public policy seminar) to go. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I want the students to do in the policy class, although I think I have it narrowed down to three relatively brief papers plus a take-home final.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Policy schmolicy

I’ve been duped drafted into teaching a graduate public policy seminar in the fall. Would any of my fair readers have suggestions on textbooks? I’ve already ordered exam copies of the Mungowitz’s tome from Norton and CQ’s two possibilities; anything else I should seriously consider?

Update: An email correspondent recommended Public Policymaking: An Introduction by James Anderson and Theories of the Policy Process by Paul Sabatier.