Getting Old Sucks

I wasn’t impressed with Ezekial Emanual’s article, Why I Hope to Die at 75.

Arnold Kling calls it “excellent and important” and asks commenters to spare him the “snark about Emanuel, Obamacare, and death panels.”

I’m not sure what annoyed me more, Emanual’s article or Kling asking to be spared the blindingly obvious, and in my opinion, wholly deserving snark.

I’m assuming the snark Kling doesn’t want is something like:

Since, Emanual is an architect of Obamacare, you see, and now he’s writing that he doesn’t want to live past 75 because life just isn’t worth living past that point (according to him), you see, and there was this whole (we were politically-correctly brainwashed to believe) stupid political meme about Obamacare leading to government “death panels” deciding who is worthy of being allocated precious medical resources and who is not and should just die so as to not be a burden on “society”, you see, it kind of seems like…uh…there may have been something that stupid meme, but we are still too brainwashed want to admit that?

The resistance to snark reminds me of the resistance people like Elie Wiesel’s family and friends had to the warning signs that their lives were changing in early 1940s in Transylvania as German troops approached and occupied their enclave.

The secondary title of Kling’s blog is “taking the most charitable view of those who disagree.” Wiesel’s enclave took a too charitable view with those approaching troops and Hitler’s intentions and they suffered mightily for it.

David Henderson is less charitable on Emanual’s article. He found the article and Emanual “troubling”. Thank you! He describes Emanuel’s attitude as:

“Sometimes wrong; never in doubt.” The man (Emanuel) really does seem to think he knows how everyone should live.

In his article, Emanual tries to convince the reader that this whole dying at 75 thing is just his personal opinion and he’s not suggesting anything by it. Henderson says to that, “Basically, I just don’t believe him.”

My opinion on Emanual’s article: It’s dumb.

I think it’s a good example of personal preference bias. At age 57, Emanual holds a personal preference for his life to end at 75 because of some stats that says he has a 50/50 shot have reduced faculties after 80.

While he assures us he’s properly taken his current age and state of mind into account and will not change his mind as he approaches 75 (though he doesn’t plan suicide), talk is cheap.

The rationale he provides in the article affirms for me that he is a dangerous idiot. His view on what constitutes a life worth living at a different age is unimaginative and narrow, and reminiscent of all of us proclaiming at 18 that if life can’t be like it is when we’re 18, it ain’t worth living.

Tyler Cowen is more imaginative in thinking about how life could be worth living at an old age with reduced faculties:

And to sound petty for a moment, I don’t want to pass away during the opening moments of a Carlsen-Caruana match, or before an NBA season has finished (well, it depends on the season), or before the final volumes of Knausgaard are translated into English.  And this is a never-ending supply.  The world is a fascinating place and I fully expect to appreciate it at the age of eighty, albeit with some faculties less sharp.  What if the Fermi Paradox is resolved, or a good theory of quantum gravity developed?  What else might be worth waiting for?

For those who make it another 23 years, look forward to Emanual’s follow-up: Life after 75: I was wrong! Why I was still thinking like a teenager when I was 57.

Advertisements

Why the bottom 50% should look within

Economist Tyler Cowen wrote a column in the New York Times, entitled Why Emerging Markets Should Look Within. Here’s a couple of key sentences:

While they [emerging market nations] have all been affected by global economic tides, these nations are facing crises because of problems in their national governance. And if we look elsewhere around the world, we find that governance has been re-emerging as a major factor behind success or failure in many emerging nations.

With all the discussion about income inequality, it made me think that the same could be said about the bottom 50% on the income scale.

It’s assumed that the bottom 50% are victims of larger economic forces that are beyond their control. It’s assumed those forces are holding them back and more government intervention is needed to level the playing field (while the magnitude and failures of past interventions are swept under the rug).

But, there’s very little discussion on what the bottom 50% can do about the things over which they have control.

Sure, there may be larger forces that hold some people back. One of the shocking lessons of adulthood is how much bureaucracy there is, even in market-driven enterprises, and how little merit counts. Also, attempts to shunt the bureaucracy often have the opposite effect.

But, I’ve also been shocked at how little we expect from people who we feel may be victims of such forces. Personal choices matter. Education, savings, responsibility, politeness and learning from your mistakes matter. Being able to overcome obstacles, being resourceful and having good character matter.

The most potent way to help the bottom 50% improve their lot may be to encourage them to focus more on what they can control, instead of waiting for solutions from the government. But, it seems to be in bad form to ask the bottom 50% to look within.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Great Stagnation: Evidence in “Back to the Future?”

At lunch yesterday, a friend said that he has been watching the Back to the Future movies with his children and commented on how much he missed in those when he watched them as a kid.

I had the same experience a while ago when I watched them with my kid. I was amazed at how the makers of the film captured the differences in the times. Things like how the desirable subdivision that was being built in 1985 in an open field on the outskirts of town had gone down hill by 2015. Or, how absurd it seemed, even to a brilliant scientist, that a b-list actor in 1955 could become president by 1985.

While we enjoyed those movies as kids, we hadn’t been around long enough to witness the changes through the decades and see how well that was captured.

However, one comment at lunch got me to thinking. One friend laughed about what the film makers thought 2015 would look like. It was a bit too futuristic.

Could this be evidence for Tyler Cowen’s Great Stagnation?

The movie makers did a great job of capturing differences between 1955 and 1985, even 1885 (gritty water and food with buck shot) and 1985. Those time periods had already happened, so that was easy. You just needed some folks who understood the changes and progress that had been made.

Those time periods happened mostly during the time that Cowen contends standards of living improved faster because there was a lot of “low hanging fruit.”

Now, consider the film makers in the 1980s trying to project what life would be like in 2015. The only template they had to guess was how much life had changed in the previous 30 – 100 years.

Could it be that they thought similar advances would be made? Could the fact that we don’t yet have hover boards be evidence that Cowen is correct and that growth stagnated in the 70s and haven’t yet recovered? Is anybody developing a hover board? If so, let me know.

Enhanced by Zemanta

“I promise a chicken in every pot (chicken not included)”

Tyler Cowen was ‘somewhat surprised‘ to find out that a higher percentage of the uninsured disapprove of Obamacare. I’m not sure whether his surprise was that the disapproval wasn’t higher or lower.

I wasn’t surprised that more disapprove.

As I wrote in my “Wait…What?” post in July of 2012, Obama won votes by promising to solve the problem of the uninsured. Those voters didn’t realize that his solution would be to penalize the uninsured for not buying insurance.

It’s like the old Doctor joke.

Patient: Doc, it hurts when I do this. Can you fix it?

Doc: Yes I can.

Patient: Really? Great! How?

Doc: Stop doing that.

In July 2013, I didn’t think many people had made that connection, yet. I predicted they might when they had to pay the fine. They haven’t paid the fine yet, but are discovering that Obama’s solution was the same as the Doc’s above. Stop not buying insurance.

I offered what I think is a better medical mandate in this post (edited slightly).

If you choose not to purchase insurance and you need medical care, you will be expected to pay for your medical care.

Mine isn’t that much different than Obama’s. But, it doesn’t require government intervention.

Update: James Taranto, at the Wall Street Journal, does a great job of making my first point:

In short, what ObamaCare means to the uninsured who were not uninsurable is higher prices for a product they already were disinclined to buy, along with a punitive tax on not buying it. That seems more like a mugging than a benefit.

Why is there no Milton Friedman today?

This question was put to economists recently. Tyler Cowen, of Marginal Revolution, responded here.

Here’s an excerpt of his response:

In some respects, if there is a Milton Friedman of today, it is Paul Krugman, who both has a Nobel Prize and has a very large popular audience and considerable skills as a communicator. Of course Friedman’s contributions as an economist were far more fundamental. Arguably Friedman deserves three or four distinct Nobel Prizes, while no one would say the same about Krugman, even though most of his serious critics readily would grant he deserves the one.

What about the differences in political orientation? The great policy battles of Friedman’s day were defeating communism and planning, moving away from naive Keynesianism, privatizing, and overcoming an excessive belief in regulation. And today what goals are perceived (correctly or not) as comparably important? Improving income inequality, fixing health care, and reining in the banks. The cynic might toss in ‘fighting austerity and returning to naive Keynesianism.’ It should be no surprise that today’s closest equivalent to Milton Friedman—in terms of being an iconic, popular, Nobel Prize-winning economist—should come from the left rather than from a conservative or a libertarian viewpoint.

I agree, but I would add a few observations. The differences between Friedman and Krugman run deeper than political orientation.

Friedman encouraged and facilitated productive discussion. He didn’t (at least to my knowledge) personally attack his critics. He engaged them and made his points on merit. Friedman got people to think and changed minds.

Krugman muddies the discussion with personal attacks and straw men representations of his opponents’ positions. He doesn’t encourage or facilitate productive discussion. Rather, he polarizes.

As a lad, I saw Friedman on the Phil Donahue show. I had no idea who he was. In fact, I had no cognizant recollection of seeing him on Donahue until I watched Youtube videos of those appearances in the last few years.

But, when I re-watched them, I was taken back to my pre-AC and pre-cable TV days. On a hot summer afternoon, with five channels on TV, Donahue was a last resort from boredom…usually coming after watching Beverly Hillbilly and I Love Lucy re-runs for the umpteenth time.

While I didn’t have much idea what he was talking about, I found his style refreshing. He didn’t get sidetracked with fallacies or caught up with noise making. He simply presented his case. When challenged, he addressed the challenge instead of avoiding it, which stood out to me.

He also struck me as someone, if given a challenge that he had handled a hundred times before, would stop and think about it and give it due consideration.

 

Even at that young age I seemed to notice that productive discussion was rare. That when challenged, folks just repeated their talking points (perhaps with more fervor), but thought it best to not acknowledge the challenge.

So, while Krugman may be today’s Friedman when applying a simple filter (an economist, with a Nobel Prize and a large popular audience that matches with the political trends of the day), he doesn’t have Friedman’s penchant for productive discussion. I don’t get the sense that Krugman changes minds to his way of thinking. Rather, he provides cover for people who already think his way.

Annoyed

I do get annoyed and some people are good at annoying me. David Brooks is one such person. I was especially annoyed when I saw Tyler Cowen quote and link to his column and refer to it as ‘interesting throughout.’ I found that so annoying that it made me question why I like Cowen.

Brooks annoys me because he comes across (to me, at least) as a pompous elitist who fascinates himself and rarely considers that he might be wrong.

While there was much that annoyed me about the quote that Cowen found interesting, I’ll pick on one thing.  In one part, Brooks wrote this:

So the story I’d like to tell is this: Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked. The atomization and demoralization of society have led to certain forms of social breakdown, which government has tried to address, sometimes successfully and often impotently.

I’ll point out a few things I find dumb about this. I’m willing to consider that I’m the dumb one and maybe you can help me see what I’m missing.

First, his evidence of society becoming more individualistic was that the use of the word “preferences” had increased in books that Google can search over different time periods. Is it possible this isn’t a reflection of society becoming more individualistic? Is it possible that it really has nothing at all to say about society?

Second, society is breaking down, but government is trying to help? Society, seems pretty strong to me. Where is it breaking down? It appears to breaking down in the very parts where government has inserted itself the most. 

I wonder if Brooks has ever considered that it is the elitist folks of his ilk, who fancy themselves competent diviners of society’s problems and providers of solutions to those problems (of which, they never pay any direct consequences for being wrong), who may be CAUSING the breakdowns in society?

Lastday

I recently joked with a co-worker that Obamacare may lead us down the path to the world depicted in Logan’s Run. As described by Wikipedia, Logan’s Run:

…depicts a dystopic ageist future society in which both population and the consumption of resources are maintained in equilibrium by requiring the death of everyone reaching a particular age.

The next day, I read Tyler Cowen’s post, What if we all died at 40?