29 October 2009

The Armchair Economist is now blogging

Huzzah! His new stomping grounds can be found here: The Big Questions. He is promoting his new book of the same name, which is out next week. It is subtitled "Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics and Physics," which sounds exactly like my bailiwick.

This is fine news indeed. Steven Landsburg is as sharp as they come. This is going directly into the favorites folder in my feed reader right now.

I wish even a quarter of the people who read Levitt & Dubner's Freakonomics would also pick up Landsburg's vastly superior work, The Armchair Economist. That's the book that made me realize there was more to economics than intersecting supply curves and fiddling with arbitrary macro variables and playing at being physicists but with worse calculus skills. I think it and EconTalk were the two things that turned me on to economics.

Landsburg has only been at this one day, and he's already got two good posts up about health care and metaphysics. Read them.

Okay, I can't resist some excerpts since I'm here:

So if public insurance is going to provide anything that private insurance doesn’t already provide, it will to have to do it by dipping into general tax revenues—maybe not at first, but surely soon. And that way lies madness.

Once those general revenues get tapped, all discipline goes out the window. With all that cash at hand, it becomes harder and harder to deny a claim. Nobody’s saying no, and the cost of health care spirals out of control.

Eventually you’re left with the health-care equivalent of Fanny Mae or Freddie Mac—an institution with dual mandates to earn a profit (or at least break even) and to serve the public—and therefore an excuse to fail on all fronts. When it loses money, well, that’s because it was trying to serve the public. When it fails to serve the public, well, that’s because it was trying to be financially responsible.
Amen. This is a particular annoyance to me; I discussed it previously here.
It saddens me that support for universal coverage and a public option has become, in many circles, a sort of litmus test for compassion and caring about the poor. It particularly saddens me to hear the president say that “What we face is a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles.” It’s the details of policy that change people’s lives. The moral imperative is to get them right.
Amen again. Spending other people's money has as much to do with generosity and compassion as sending other people to war has to do with courage and bravery.

Arnold Kling blogged about Landsburg's view that there is no bureaucratic efficiency to be gained by a public option, and concludes with this very important question:
Which leads me to a question I have had all along about the public option. Will it have to comply with state regulations? If so, then it will be misleading to talk about the public option, because it is unlikely that the same plan will work in all fifty states. If not, then it is misleading to talk about the public option being on a level playing field with private health insurance.
Shifting gears, I also agree with Landsburg's assessment that Richard Dawkins is a very smart fellow but utterly wrong about God. Landsburg seems to lay out a what may be a Platonic position in that short post, but I need to know more before judging. I like it so far though. I especially appreciate the way he incorporates the very existence of mathematics into his cosmology, and he's certainly right to say that the important question is not "Why is there life?" but "Why is there a universe at all?"

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