Can Health Care Bill Get GOP Off the Schneid?

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health insurer bailout

For those who are “woke” to Obamacare’s failures, the Senate GOP’s health insurance reform bill has plenty to hate and maybe some things to love. There are likely to be some changes in the bill before it goes to a vote, which now has been delayed until sometime after Congress’ July 4th recess. Known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA), the bill is another mixed bag of GOP health care reforms and non-reforms. It is the Senate Republicans’ effort to improve upon the bill passed by the House of Representatives in May. The non-reforms are tied to an inability to repeal all aspects of Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act, or ACA) within the context of budget reconciliation, a process which permits a simple majority for approval of changes linked in some way to the budget (the so-called Byrd rule). Yuval Levin offers an excellent discussion of the bill and the general motivations for the form it has taken:

They are choosing to address discrete problems with Obamacare within the framework it created and to pursue some significant structural reforms to Medicaid beyond that, and they should want the merits of their proposal judged accordingly. Their premise is politically defensible — it is probably more so than my premise — and the proposal they have developed makes some sense in light of it.

It’s necessary to get one thing out of the way at the outset: the CBO’s scoring of the Senate bill is flawed in a massive way, like the earlier score of the House bill. The estimate of lost coverage for 22 million individuals is based on the CBO’s errant predictions of Obamacare coverage levels. (See here and here, and see Avik Roy’s latest entry on this topic.) Does anyone believe that enrollment on the exchanges will decline by 15 million in 2018 due to the elimination of the individual mandate? That’s over 40% more than total enrollment in 2017, by the way. Even if we attribute the CBO’s prediction to the elimination of both the individual and employer mandates, it would be an incredible plunge, especially given the means-tested tax credits in the BCRA. Does anyone believe that coverage levels under Obamacare would increase by 18 – 19 million by 2026 (mostly on account of the individual mandate)? That is the baseline assumed by the CBO in its scoring of the BCRA, which is laughable. A more realistic estimate of lost coverage under the BCRA might be 2 to 3 million, but remember that many of those coverage losses would not be “forced” in any sense. Rather, they would be purposeful refusals to take coverage with the demise of the individual mandate. But they would tend to be the healthiest of the current, coerced enrollees.

A related point has to do with hysterical claims that the BCRA will “kill thousands of people”. Someone cooked-up this talking (screaming?) point to rally the ignorant left and perhaps frighten the ignorant right (including a few GOP Senators). As Ira Stoll explains, there are several reasons to dismiss these assertions, not least of which is its tradeoff-free conceit. More ugly detail on the basis of these claims can be found here.

Will the BCRA “gut” Medicaid, as Charles Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and other have claimed? Program spending would not decline by any means, only its growth rate. Enrollment would decline with tougher eligibility rules, but as noted above, tax credits more generous than the Medicaid savings (relative to Obamacare) would help replace lost Medicaid coverage with private insurance. Steve Chapman has contributed one of the most nitwitted commentaries on Medicaid reform that I have seen. Not only do critics consistently ignore the proposed tax credits for coverage at low incomes, but they never address the monumental waste in the program., something that would likely improve under the budgeting requirements and additional discretion given to states by the BCRA.

An even crazier scare story going around is that the Senate bill will cut Medicare benefits. That is not the case, though the bill repeals an Obamacare Medicare tax increase on the self-employed.

Getting back to the broader BCRA, here are some of the major provisions:

  • Medicaid reform to replace the budgetary disaster of federal matching with per capita caps or block grants, and state program control.
  • Means-tested tax credits for insurance purchases would extend to low-income individuals who might otherwise lose their expanded Medicaid eligibility. According to Levin, this group is weighted toward the unmarried and childless.
  • Greater state authority over regulation of the individual insurance market. This is accomplished through the availability of state waivers from many Obamacare regulations, including essential health benefits.
  • Almost all Obamacare tax provisions would be repealed. One exception is the “Cadillac” tax on high-cost employer plans starting in 2026 (after a temporary hiatus). Many of these repeals would benefit individuals broadly as taxpayers, employees, business people, and patients.
  • Expanded allowable age rating to 5/1 from 3/1. This helps limit adverse selection by pricing more risk where it exists, and the means-tested credits would help offset higher premiums for older individuals with low incomes.
  • Provides about $130 billion in “stabilization” funds for insurers over a three-year period. This is an attempt to keep premiums down during a transition over which the GOP probably hopes to enact additional deregulatory measures. Is this a practical maneuver? Yes, but it also reflects a bit of “corporatism-when-it’s-convenient” hypocrisy.
  • Eliminates funding for Planned Parenthood. Presumably funding could be restored later were the organization to split off its abortion services into a financially distinct division, which compliance with the Hyde Amendment would seem to require.
  • Retains coverage for pre-existing conditions.
  • Elimination of the individual and employer mandates, including the tax penalty. However, individuals who go without coverage for two months would face a six-month waiting period before they could re-qualify for coverage.

Eliminating the mandates is great from a libertarian and an economic perspective. The coercion inherent in those requirements is bad enough. In practice, the individual mandate has proven less effective in encouraging enrollment than Obamacare’s architects had hoped, which makes the CBO’s conclusions all the more puzzling. The employer mandate gives firms an incentive to reduce hours and employment, so it has extremely undesirable labor-market implications.

Most criticism of the BCRA from the right has centered on its failure to fully repeal Obamacare insurance and health care regulations. The continuation of Obamacare community rating is a major shortcoming of the bill, as it distributes the financial risks of medical needs in ways that do not correspond to the actual distribution of health risks. The result is the very same adverse selection problem we have witnessed on the Obamacare exchanges. Unfortunately, this raises the specter that we’ll be stuck with some form of community rating in the long-term, along with employer-provided coverage and the ill-advised premium tax deductions, which tend to inflate premium levels.

Michael F. Cannon of the CATO Institute calls the BCRA an Obamacare rescue package. John C. Goodman is largely in agreement with Cannon, stating that Republicans have no real desire to repeal Obamacare. Peter Suderman at Reason has many of the same concerns. In addition to community rating, Cannan (and Senator Rand Paul) are unhappy that Medicaid spending continues to grow under the bill with a new program of subsidies (tax credits) to boot! They also condemn the so-called “stabilization” or “cost-sharing” subsidies that would be paid to insurers under the bill. While a broader range of plans would become available, there is little confidence that insurers will be able to offer the purely catastrophic plans that could bring premiums and/or deductibles down substantially.

Avik Roy has defended the Senate bill for its proposed reforms to Medicaid, replacement of Obama’s Medicaid expansion with tax credits for private coverage, and transitional tax credits to smooth jumps in premium levels as income rises from low levels. This is an improvement over the House bill. However, marginal tax rates would be high under the BCRA for individuals in the range of income over which the credits phase out, which is a legitimate “welfare trap” criticism.

David Harsanyi also believes the bill is a good start:

If Republican leadership had told conservatives in 2013 that they could pass a bill that would eliminate the individual and employer mandates, phase out Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, cut an array of taxes, and lay out the conditions for full repeal later, I imagine most would have said ‘Sign me up!’

Naturally, most critics of Obamacare have strong misgivings about a bill that would leave major components of the ACA’s structure in place. That includes Ibamacarevregulation of health care delivery itself, not just health insurance coverage. The BCRA might incorporate signifiant changes before it goes to a vote, however. One can only hope! Rand Paul has suggested breaking the bill into two: repeal of the ACA and other spending provisions, though it’s not clear how a repeal bill would qualify under the Byrd rule. Either way, the GOP intends to follow-up with additional health care legislation and administrative changes. Were a bill enacted soon, there is some chance that additional legislation could garner limited bi-partisan support. Long-term stability of the health insurance and health care markets would be better-served by a stronger semblance of political equilibrium than we have seen in the years since Obama was elected.

 

 

Sharing Apps and Market Benefits

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Transaction costs prevent lots of trades. So many that we often aren’t aware of their potentiality. Michael Munger asserts that transaction costs are so prohibitive that we tend to accumulate a lot of stuff that we could otherwise do without. That’s what he says in “Why we can’t break up with our stuff — yet“.

Transaction costs of all kinds have fallen dramatically over time. One of the greatest innovations in “transactions technology” was the avoidance of barter with the broad acceptance of a medium of exchange (money). Without a medium of exchange, trade requires a “double coincidence of wants”, which often makes the effort to engage in trade impractical. No less important was the establishment of secure property rights such that the integrity of a contract or transaction was protected, whether enforced by possible repercussions from other traders or through the police power of the state. Secure property rights and the use of money facilitated the development of markets and pricing that conveyed better information about scarcity. Other historical developments that reduced transaction costs include better transportation, communication, packaging, and more efficient distribution and supply chain management. In a variety of complex transactions, such as real estate, standardization of contracts has reduced transaction costs.

Those costs have been reduced dramatically of late by new communication and computing technologies. The size of these reductions is difficult to quantify in such prominent examples as Uber ride-sharing and Airbnb home-sharing, but there is no question that the new supplies of rides and accommodations would not have materialized absent the enabling on-line “apps”. The ease, low-cost and minimal risk of these transactions is incredible.

Suppose that hotels in Soho average $400 per night for a suite and that Airbnb rentals in Soho average $300. It’s fair to say that the average Airbnb host in Soho, without Airbnb, faced transaction costs in arranging for qualified occupants of at least $100 plus Airbnb’s fees. Probably much more. Now, it’s true that the hotel suites and the Airbnb rentals are fundamentally different “products”, but they are alternatives for meeting a particular need.

Similar reductions in transaction costs are occurring across a wide variety of sectors besides transportation and vacation rentals: trading in new and used goods, handymen, concierge services, snow plowing, home-sitting, food delivery, and hook-ups are but a few examples.

Munger’s twist on this story is that dramatically lower transaction costs will mean we’ll all need to own much less “stuff” on average, because we can “share”, or at least buy what we need at minimal transaction cost. Or, what we have will be used more intensively because we can share it profitably.

Munger mentions the high cost of owning an auto that he uses for about 5 out of 168 total hours in a week. The costs include dedicated “storage” space, both at home and at work, and sometimes the extra cost of “storing” it in airport parking. He could certainly afford to arrange alternative forms of transportation. Is owning the auto worthwhile because the transaction costs of the alternatives are too high? Well, Munger owns a nice car and he probably likes to drive it, so there is more to it than transaction costs. Still, if we mention the “convenience” of having a car at one’s disposal, that is really an expression of transaction costs avoided via ownership.

If the cost of arranging an acceptable and ready alternative is minimal, why own a car? This decision is very real in certain congested locales with costly real estate (e.g., parking New York City). In short, Munger believes even fewer individuals will bother to own personal autos, or that those cars will be less idle (rented to users), as technology reduces transaction costs:

Why do I pay to store my car rather than let other people use it and collect rent? Transaction costs. …But we are living in the beginning of a pivotal era that will transform our relationship to ‘stuff’ (we’ll need less of it) and to each other (we’ll share more). For all of human history until about 1995, the desire to reduce transaction costs was tied to the desire to sell a particular product. Now, entrepreneurs are combining three things — mobile platforms, software apps, and internet connections — to sell reductions in transaction costs with no product attached. And that combination will change everything.

Will that also mean fewer personally-owned kitchen appliances? Home furnishings? Clothing? Power tools? Stereo components? Probably not. Even if it’s easy to find a willing renter for my power tools or stereo components from time-to-time, I might not want to bother with the required exchanges (at pick-up and return). I use power tools from time-to-time, but I won’t want to shlep back and forth to rent them from someone when I could own them myself at relatively low cost? Perhaps I’ll rent a tiller or a power washer, but not a power drill. Maybe I could hire a gopher on the Air-gopher app to get the tools I need and return them when I’m done, but that adds back to my transaction costs. So there are certain limits to how far this can go in reducing our “stuff”.

Nevertheless, there is no question that there will be many new trades and competitive opportunities to exploit as transaction costs fall, and that implies more choice, lower prices, and less waste in the larger allocative sense. Those, I believe, are the major benefits of sharing technologies. For example, if you enjoy cooking but are the sole member of your household, imagine an app that allows you to sell your extra preparations to other individuals, or to give them away at a minimal transaction cost. Or, if you are able to perform odd jobs but prefer to take them at your convenience, you will likely be able to bid for projects of your choice. If you have a talent for teaching guitar, you could solicit business and even provide the lessons remotely through an on-line app. The major impediment to the development of such market innovations is potential interference by government or other entrenched interests who wish to prevent competition. Licensing laws and various forms of regulation and taxes could easily smother or eliminate the benefits of sharing technologies, and that would be a shame.

I’ll close with a digression on Munger’s hypothesis: why do I own or keep a lot of “stuff? It’s not all about transaction costs. Most people harbor nostalgic feelings for their “stuff”. I hate parting with my old shirts, old drivers licenses, theater programs, and ticket stubs. Most of those things have approximately zero market value. Some people believe it’s just plain wasteful to pitch something that can be put back into working order, like an old lawnmower. Transaction costs might be to blame, but the failure to junk the mower in the first place may be driven by a depression-era instinct for penny-pinching. The hoarder might simply underestimate the benefits of a new mower, or perhaps they deserve credit for undertaking a restoration project they enjoy.

I find myself hoarding all kinds of things that I think might be useful to me somehow, someday. Particularly things like miscellaneous nuts & bolts, sundry pieces of hardware, wire, old fixtures, pieces of lumber, and my late Dad’s old tools. I’m certain I won’t ever use 95%+ of these items, but it’s reassuring to have the inventory. Then again, every time I need an odd item, I find myself in my basement work room searching through all that stuff. Invariably, I end up on my way to the hardware store to get what I need. So much for minimizing transaction costs. What would it cost me to pitch all of it? An afternoon of painful evaluation… yet that too represents a transaction cost!

Net Neutrality: Degradation For All

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The FCC recently voted to reverse its earlier actions on so-called net neutrality, which would have treated internet service providers (ISPs) as “common carriers” and subjected them to detailed federal regulation of their services, pricing, and profits. Many believe net neutrality would ensure a sort of fairness and nondiscrimination on the internet, but it is actually a destructive regulatory regime under which certain firms are allowed to extract economic rents from the efforts of others. Warren Meyer has a nice take on this at Coyote Blog:

Net Neutrality is one of those Orwellian words that mean exactly the opposite of what they sound like…. What [it] actually means is that certain people … want to tip the balance in this negotiation towards the content creators ….  Netflix, for example, takes a huge amount of bandwidth that costs ISP’s a lot of money to provide. But Netflix doesn’t want the ISP’s to be be able to charge for this extra bandwidth Netflix uses – Netflix wants to get all the benefit of taking up the lion’s share of ISP bandwidth investments without having to pay for it. Net Neutrality is corporate welfare for content creators.

I made the same point almost three years ago in “The Non-Neutrality of Network Hogs“. Meyer emphasizes that in the net-neutrality fight, the primary tension is between content creators and ISPs (and transport providers), but it is like any other battle to capture the gains from a vertical supply chain. Think of suppliers of goods versus shippers, for example, or traditional publishers versus delivery services, or oil extraction versus refining. Ultimately, all of the various parties must cover their costs in order to survive, and obviously each would like to capture a larger share of the value from its stage of the production process. In a series of arms-length transactions, one might assume that their shares would correspond roughly to the value they add to the final product, but things are more complicated than that. Much depends on the competitive state of the market and on the cost structures faced by different parties.

While the ISPs are often said to exercise monopoly power, there are few if any local markets in which that is actually the case, even in rural areas. Almost everywhere in the U.S., local internet markets could be better described as oligopolistic: there are at least a couple of rival firms (and alternatives for consumers), even if the technologies are sometimes radically different, so some competition exists. The same is true of the internet backbone.

Obviously, content providers compete with one another in a large sense, but many popular forms of content are unique and consumers demand access to them through their ISPs. Therefore, some content providers exercise a degree of monopoly power. And they might also require a lot of bandwidth.

The nature of the costs faced by ISPs and content providers is quite different. The latter have a much lower proportion of fixed costs than ISPs, who must invest in network capacity. Ultimately, the costs of providing that capacity must be priced. At first blush, it seems natural for users of capacity to be billed proportionately, but allocating those costs over customers and over time is a complex undertaking. Like all problems in economics, however, network usage involves a scarce resource. A large increment to demand can lead to network congestion and higher costs, not only directly to the ISPs but to users experiencing a degradation in the speed and quality of their service. ISPs have traditionally had the flexibility to negotiate with large content providers, reaching mutually agreeable terms. That’s what brought us to the state of today’s internet, and most observers would say that it’s pretty damn good!

It is the network that makes all of these wonderful services possible. The ISPs provide and maintain that network, and they must provide for expansion of that network as traffic grows. It is important that ISPs have adequate incentives to do so. However, the form of regulation to which so-called common carriers are subjected is known historically for its failure to provide good incentives. That history goes back as far as 130 years in transportation and about 80 years in telecommunications. This is why many analysts, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, contend that common carrier status for ISPs, and “net neutrality”, would lead to shortfalls in network capacity and a deterioration in the quality of service. It would also reward large content providers (think Netflix) in the short term at the expense of ISPs, essentially giving the former access to the existing network at less than cost. That’s the whole idea for industry advocates of net netrality, of course. But in the end, net neutrality is a shortsighted goal, even for the content providers.

The content providers have made every effort to propagandize the public, stoking fears that the ISPs are treating certain kinds of traffic unfairly. Without net neutrality, would ISPs unfairly discriminate against certain kinds of content? Or against certain types of users? Price discrimination is one of the primary criticisms of the presumed behavior of ISPs in the absence of net neutrality. Economist Bronwyn Howell points out that price discrimination is not unusual, however, and is not necessarily undesirable. Indeed, consumers of internet, telephone, mobile, and cable TV services seem to prefer certain forms of price discrimination! Consumers with heavy usage who purchase flat rate monthly internet access pay a lower charge per Gb than light users. Consumers who purchase “bundles” of internet and voice service may benefit from price discrimination relative to those who choose not to bundle their services. Strictly usage-based pricing would prevent price discrimination on this basis, but few would advocate the abolition of bundled offers, which provide benefits in terms of flexibility of use and predictability of cost, yielding net welfare gains for many consumers at no incremental cost to others. Like all voluntary trade, these are positive sum transactions: consumers capture more  “surplus” value while ISPs earn a greater contribution to the fixed costs of the network.

When ISPs charge a data rate based on usage, consumers face a positive marginal cost on incremental data. As usage increases, its marginal value to the consumer declines; the consumer will not use data beyond the point at which its value equals the data rate they pay. That places a cap on consumer surplus (the area above the price and below the consumer’s demand curve). When the consumer faces a zero marginal cost (an unlimited data plan), their usage rises to the point at which its marginal value is zero. The total amount of “surplus” in that scenario is larger, and it is possible for an ISP to split the gain with the consumer by offering a price for unlimited usage. Thus, as long as the network capacity is in place, both parties are made better off! If not, the practice can lead to congestion, but competition for users often dictates that such packages be offered.

Especially in the presence of positive network externalities, it makes no sense for the ISPs, as a group, to price users or traffic out of the market, unless they are punished for doing otherwise at below cost. As always, pricing is an exercise in balancing costs with the benefits to potential buyers. It should remain a private and unfettered exercise ending only in trades that are mutually beneficial.

And what of network capacity and the big content providers? At the “price discrimination” link above, Howell says:

… available bandwidth allowed Netflix to happen, not the other way around. But now, as Netflix comes to dominate existing bandwidth, leading to higher costs, it is causing externalities (delays) and higher costs (ISP fees are now rising in real terms in some markets) to pay for new capacity.

Should the ISPs charge all customers higher rates in order to manage growth in traffic and fund new capacity? How can they allocate costs to the cost-causers? Usage-based data rates are one simple alternative. Tiered rates would act to minimize the extent to which light users are penalized. ISPs have also negotiated with individual content providers directly, reaching agreements to compensate ISPs for access to their customers. Tim Wu, the Columbia Law professor credited with coining the term “net neutrality”, was quoted at the last link bemoaning these types of deals:

‘I think it is going to be bad for consumers,’ he added, because such costs are often passed through to the customer.

Well, yes! Netflix charges its customers, and it will attempt to recover these payments for network capacity. Streaming is an integral component of the service they offer, and they cannot do it without the ISPs. Would Wu propose that the pipes be provided at less than cost?

Some have said that it is more economically efficient for ISPs to charge users directly for incremental short-run network “externalities” caused by large data demands. (Conceptually, it is better to think of these costs as long-run marginal costs of network expansion.) It may be that a tiered rate structure can approximate the optimal solution, and packages are often tiered by download speed. Nevertheless, passing costs along to large content providers is a viable approach to allocating costs as well.

Another argument is that small content providers cannot afford these payments. However, if they don’t generate a significant amount of traffic, they probably won’t have to negotiate special deals. If they grow to require a large share of the “pipe”, it would indicate that they have passed a market test. Ultimately, their customers should pay the costs of providing the capacity in one way or another.

Net neutrality and regulation of ISPs is the wrong approach to encouraging the growth and value delivered by the internet. It would stifle incentives to provide the needed capacity and to develop new network technologies. We certainly didn’t get here by treating the ISPs like public utilities. Rather, the process was facilitated by the freedom to experiment technologically and contractually. ISPs are well aware that the value of their networks are enhanced by ubiquity. Affordable access to a broad share of the population is in their best interest. In the end, consumers are sovereign and should be the sole arbiters of the value offered by ISPs and content providers. Regulators will promise to protect us, but the inevitable result will be a market hampered by rules that degrade the network, leading to substandard service and a less vibrant internet.

Administrative Supremacy, Lost Checks and Balances

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The two-for-one regulatory order issued by the Trump White House in January raises some practical difficulties in implementation. It requires that federal agencies eliminate two regulatory rules for every new rule promulgated, both in terms of the number of rules and any incremental regulatory costs imposed. Two out for every one in. Questions surrounding the meaning of “a regulation”, how to define incremental costs, and whether a particular rule is actually mandated by legislation are not trivial. Nevertheless, the spirit of this order is admirable and it serves as the leading edge of the Administration’s attempt to roll back the scope and impact of excessive government authority.

The cost of regulation is vast. Economists at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University have estimated the total cumulative cost of regulation in the U.S., finding that regulation has reduced economic growth by 0.8 percent per year since 1980. Without the additional regulatory growth since 1980, the U.S. economy would have been about 25 percent larger than it was in 2012. That’s a $4 trillion shortfall, or roughly $13,000 per person.

While regulation and administrative control over the private economy takes an increasing toll on economic growth and human welfare, the problem goes beyond economic considerations: administrative agencies have “progressively” usurped not just legislative but also judicial power. The concentration of executive, legislative and judicial power constitutes a “fourth branch of government“, a development inimical to the principles enshrined in our Constitution and a prescription for slow-boil tyranny. It facilitates rent seeking and corporatism just as surely as it creates a ruling class of individuals who act on their personal and arbitrary inclinations. We are ruled by men backed by police power, not impartial laws.

Glenn Reynolds writes that unelected rule makers and central planners are able to manipulate decisions across a broad swath of the economy and society. He quotes a new book by Philip Hamburger of Columbia Law School called “The Administrative Threat“:

Government agencies regulate Americans in the full range of their lives, including their political participation, their economic endeavors, and their personal conduct. Administrative power has thus become pervasively intrusive. But is this power constitutional?

A similar sort of power was once used by English kings, and this book shows that the similarity is not a coincidence. In fact, administrative power revives absolutism. On this foundation, the book explains how administrative power denies Americans their basic constitutional freedoms, such as jury rights and due process. No other feature of American government violates as many constitutional provisions or is more profoundly threatening. As a result, administrative power is the key civil liberties issue of our era.

Two previous posts on Sacred Cow Chips have dealt with Hamburger’s work. The first, “Hamburger Nation: An Administrative Nightmare“(1) provides the following explanation of his position:

Hamburger examines the assertion that rule-making must be delegated by Congress to administrative agencies because legislation cannot reasonably be expected to address the many details and complexities encountered in the implementation of new laws. Yet this is a delegation of legislative power. Once delegated, this power has a way of metastasizing at the whim of agency apparatchiks, if not at the direction of the chief executive. If you should want to protest an administrative ruling, your first stop will not be a normal court of law, but an administrative review board or a court run by the agency itself! You’ll be well advised to hire an administrative attorney to represent you. Eventually, and at greater expense, an adverse decision can be appealed to the judicial branch proper.

The exercise of rule-making authority, and even extra-legal legislative action by the administrative state, has economic costs that are bad enough. Hamburger also emphasizes the breakdown of the separation of executive and judicial powers inherent in the enforcement and adjudication of disputes under administrative law. This was the subject of the second Sacred Cow Chips post referenced above: “Courts and Their Administrative Masters“. It reviewed an unfortunate standard established by court precedent involving judicial (“Chevron”) deference to administrative agency fact-finding and even interpretation of law. While the decisions of administrative courts, which are run by the agencies themselves, can be appealed to the judicial branch, such appeals often amount to exercises in futility.

“…courts apply a test of judgement as to whether the administrative agency’s interpretation of the law is “reasonable”, even if other “reasonable” interpretations are possible. This gets particularly thorny when the original legislation is ambiguous with respect to a certain point.

…the courts should not abdicate their role in reviewing an agency’s developmental evidence for any action, and the reasonability of an agency’s applications of evidence relative to alternative courses of action. Nor should the courts abdicate their role in ruling on the law itself.

This paper on Judicial Deference to Agencies by Evan D. Bernick of Georgetown Law makes the case that judicial deference is a violation of the constitutional separation of powers, concluding that:

… in cases involving administrative deprivations of core private rights to ‘life, liberty, or property,’ fact deference violates Article III’s vesting of ‘[t]he judicial power’ in the federal courts; constitutes an abdication of the duty of independent judgment that Article III imposes upon federal judges; and violates the Fifth Amendment by denying litigants ‘due process of law,’ which requires (1) judicial proceedings in an Article III court prior to any individualized deprivation of ‘life, liberty, or property’; and (2) fact-finding by independent, impartial fact-finders.

Inez and Jarrett Stepman in Townhall note that there are almost three million well-paid federal employees with job security that would make most private sector workers envious.

Though the abolishment of the spoils system [which allowed civil service hiring and firing based on political party] was meant to mitigate corruption and incompetence, it has resulted in a toxic combination of enhanced agency power and an entrenched civil servant class with its own institutional—and frequently political—interests, virtually unaccountable to the president or any other elected official.

The Stepmans discuss legislation that might stem the usurpation of lawmaking power by the administrative state. They are convinced that the administrative state must be reigned-in. Ironically, expanded executive authority means that the process of reversal is not that difficult in many cases. By way of example, here’s a piece on the ease of undoing certain Obama era regulations. Executive orders, or “the pen and the phone” in Obama’s charming parlance, lack legitimate legislative authority and can be reversed by new executive orders. I firmly believe that reversing the earlier orders is the right thing to do at the moment, but the unchecked authority that makes it possible (and the supremacy of the administrative state) is a source of economic instability, and it must end. Eric Boehm makes this point eloquently in Reason at the last link above:

New policies that affect wide swaths of the economy and reshape entire business models should go through Congress, or at the very least should be subject to the public rulemaking process. Guidance documents and other ‘dark matter’ regulations that by-pass those processes can be un-made as quickly as they were made, leaving businesses to deal with an ever-changing and unpredictable regulatory state that does not really help anyone, no matter which side you’re on in any individual policy fight.

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(1) The principle title “Hamburger Nation” was intended as a play on Glenn Reynolds’ paper “Ham Sandwich Nation: Due Process When Everything Is a Crime“, in which he discussed the judicial implications of over-criminalization and regulatory overreach.

 

Paris Climate Dance: a Concon

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Ah, Paris, we bid you adieu. For both scientific and economic reasons, the Paris Climate Accord is pure numbskullery. We should all be grateful that President Trump has decided to revoke the expensive promises made by Barack Obama under the agreement in a willful effort to appease the world’s rent seekers.

From a scientific perspective, the accord’s prescriptions are premised on a partial effect: absent any feedbacks, carbon emissions would raise the atmospheric temperature slightly. But feedback effects are massively important, as anyone familiar with the climate models’ terrible track record of predictive performance might guess. Water vapor, cloud formation, wind currents, and the response of the Earth’s biomass are just some of the effects that impinge on the relationship between atmospheric carbon and temperatures. In addition, carbon forcings are relatively minor compared to the energy impulses delivered by natural sources, including solar activity and the Earth’s varying axial tiltPaleoclimate data shows that the world has been this warm before, and warmer.

The economic case against the Paris Accord is even stronger. The very idea that authorities would impose huge material sacrifices on mankind in an effort to prevent a threat for which the evidence is so weak should give pause to any rational individual. Beyond that, however, the real function of the accord was not so much carbon mitigation as it was a shift in the distribution of wealth. This quote of Steven Allen, in a scathing assessment of the agreement, is instructive (forgive his mid-sentence switch to sarcasm):

Mainly, it’s about taking money from taxpayers and consumers and businesspeople and electricity ratepayers and giving it to crony capitalists, and taking money from people in relatively successful countries and giving that money to rich people in poor countries, to the benefit of members of governing elites who support the Paris deal for the good of humanity and not at all because they expect to line their pockets with it.

World carbon emissions were expected to keep rising at least through 2030 under the agreement. The subsidies it promised to crony capitalists in the renewable energy industry were to generously fund technologies that are not economically viable without government support, to the detriment of relatively clean-burning fossil fuels, not to mention nuclear power. The U.S. promised to reduce absolute carbon emissions, but the world’s greatest emitter of carbon dioxide, China, promised only to seek to limit emissions per unit of GDP, but not until sometime down the road. That means China’s level of emissions might not reverse, given the rapid growth of the Chinese economy. India’s commitment is similar. And Russia promised a reduction relative to a depressed 1990 level of emissions, which means they have plenty of room for growth.

As for the U.S., where absolute carbon emissions have been decreasing since 2007, the Paris Accord relied on so-called “voluntary” limits to be imposed by federal mandates. Financial demands were made by developing countries under the deal: $100 billion per year. And who would pay for that? Taxpayers in the developed countries, of course. One can only imagine the lust of unaccountable third-world officialdom for those funds. Thus far, the U.S. has paid only $1 billion into the so-called Green Climate Fund, and at least half of that was taken from a State Department account from which disbursal did not require Congressional approval.

Jeffrey Tucker, who is anything but a fan of Donald Trump, minced no words in his assessment of the Paris “treaty”. Here are a few selected quotes:

The Paris Agreement is a ‘voluntary’ agreement because its architects knew it would never pass the US Senate as a treaty. Why? Because the idea of the agreement is that the US government’s regulatory agencies would impose extreme mandates on its energy sector: how it should work, what kinds of emissions it should produce, the best ways to power our lives (read: not fossil fuels), and hand over to developing world regimes billions and even trillions of dollars in aid, a direct and ongoing forcible transfer of wealth from American taxpayers to regimes all over the world, at the expense of American freedom and prosperity. …

The exuberant spokespeople talked about how ‘the United States’ had ‘agreed’ to ‘curb its emissions’ and ‘fund’ the building of fossil-free sectors all over the world. It was strange because the ‘United States’ had not in fact agreed to anything: not a single voter, worker, owner, or citizen. Not even the House or Senate were involved. This was entirely an elite undertaking to manage property they did not own and lives that were not theirs to control. …

The Paris Agreement is no different in its epistemological conceit than Obamacare, the war on drugs, nation-building, universal schooling, or socialism itself. They are all attempts to subvert the capacity of society to manage itself on behalf of the deluded dreams of a few people with power and their lust for controlling social and economic outcomes.

The popular fascination with climate scare stories has provided a useful channel of influence for would-be central planners and redistributionists. These social dementors reject the proposition that science is a process of continuing challenge and testing, thereby subverting the very notion of scientific inquiry. They make the laughable claim that 170 years of temperature data, much of which is quite sketchy, is sufficient to draw strong conclusions about the trends and dynamics of the climate on a four billion year-old planet.

Even worse, the climate alarmists insist that they have a monopoly on scientific knowledge, despite a significant share of skeptics in the climate science community. But in pursuit of that monopoly, the alarmists have gone so far as to undermine the integrity of the peer review process in the climate literature and to manipulate temperature data to exaggerate recent records. They have promoted the false claims that cyclonic storm energy has increased with carbon concentration and that sea levels are rising at an increasing rate. (Coastal property values don’t seem to reflect those concerns.) They would have us confuse actual climate data with model predictions, and they continue to offer prescriptions based on carbon-forcing models after many years of terrible forecast performance. They claim that a small increment (one part per 10,000) to the concentration of a trace atmospheric gas will dominate other forces exerting far greater variations in energy. They ignore the benefits that an increase in nourishing carbon dioxide and warming can provide. And they make the anthropocentric claim that a costly sacrifice by mankind, in an attempt to reduce that trace gas slightly if at all, will pay off reliably by reducing global temperatures, despite the very modest claims on those grounds by the Paris Accord itself.

Here is a link to 17 earlier posts on Sacred Cow Chips having to do with the hypothesis of anthropomorphic global warming, including this one written in late 2015, at the time of the Paris Climate Summit.

Trump Budget Facts and Falsehoods

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The innumerate left is unhappy over cuts in various categories of spending in the budget proposal submitted by the Trump Administration last week. However, they have adopted “talking points” that are incorrect in an effort to rail against the budget. There is no reduction in overall spending in the proposal. Instead, there is a reduction in the growth of total spending. Ryan McMaken calls the mistaken assertions about spending “the media version of ‘cuts’“. The budget plan calls for an increase in total spending of 41% ($1.7 trillion) by 2027, versus 63% ($2.6 trillion) under the baseline (based on current law). Many of the actual cuts and growth reductions are in so-called discretionary spending. However, in one key mandatory component, Medicaid, spending increases by 39% under the plan, or $146 billion, versus 82% under the baseline. That is not a spending cut.

Another issue over which the Trump budget has been attacked is the so-called “math error,” or “double counting” of economic growth, to which former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers alluded with apparent delight. The gist of it is that the proposal somehow double-counted the salutary effects of growth in eliminating the projected deficit over the next ten years. In other words, the tax cuts proposed by Trump would be not just revenue-neutral due to stronger growth; they would result in an increase in tax revenue sufficient to eliminate the deficit by 2027.

Thus far, the Trump tax reform plan has been revealed in only a one-page summary released in late April. In static terms, it implied a loss of revenue of $5 trillion over ten years, though the summary left many features unclear. There could be additional provisions to broaden the tax base that might bring the ten-year static revenue loss down to somewhere between $3 and $4 trillion. In dynamic terms, however, the impact of the tax cuts would be smaller. The cuts would stimulate the economy (yes, they would!), but the precise impact on growth is unknown. In the budget, economic growth is assumed to increase from 1.8% to 3.0% annually over most of the ten year period. That has been criticized as unrealistic, but such a boost would likely be enough to make the tax cuts revenue neutral.

Here is a summary of the budget from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The tables at the back of the document, on pages 27 and 29, provide enough information on the cumulative ten-year changes to evaluate Summers’ double-counting claim. Keep in mind that his claim applies to changes expressed relative to a baseline. The proposed budget shows a total ten-year deficit projection of $3.2 trillion, compared to baseline of $6.7 trillion. So the deficits are reduced by a total of $3.5 trillion over the full ten years.

Individual and corporate income tax receipts are virtually unchanged over the ten-year period. There’s our revenue neutrality. Other receipts are down by $0.9 trillion, however. Most of that decline is attributed to a $1 trillion “allowance for repeal and replacement of Obamacare”, presumably elimination of taxes on such things as medical devices, Cadillac insurance policies, and fines for failing to comply with insurance mandates. So increased tax revenues do not account for the decline in the budget deficit.

Total cumulative outlays are reduced by $4.6 trillion in the budget proposal relative to the baseline. That more than accounts for the ten-year deficit reduction. Like the policies or not, the decline in spending is sufficient, relative to the baseline, to fully explain the deficit reduction. Yes, the budget assumes that some of the spending reductions are afforded by the faster assumed rate of economic growth, such as welfare payments, but that is not double-counting.

Revenue neutrality of the tax cuts is certainly an assumption worth questioning, especially because the summary of the tax plan gave every impression of abandoning neutrality. Neutrality was probably imposed on the budget plan as a matter of convenience. In a sense, it made the job of presenting the Administration’s spending priorities (like them or not) a cleaner exercise. For another, while budget reconciliation rules do not require the tax plan to be revenue neutral, Senate leaders have stated their strong desire for neutrality. The Trump budget proposal thereby allows Congress’ budget process to get underway while deferring the introduction of a more detailed and potentially controversial tax plan, one that is obviously still in flux and is likely to involve a loss of revenue, even in a dynamic sense.

The assumed change in economic growth is not solely attributable to tax effects, however. It would be reasonable to expect some growth to be driven by deregulation and the “deconstruction of the administrative state“, as Steve Bannon described so eloquently. This intention is embodied in the budget proposal. In that sense, it was unnecessary for OMB to impose revenue neutrality of the tax plan to eliminate the budget deficit over ten years. The economic growth spurred by deregulation would generate some of the extra growth in tax revenue.

I happen to like many of the priorities expressed in the proposed budget, despite the document’s lack of specificity. This includes the deregulatory initiatives, Obamacare repeal and replacement (we’re waiting…), and some of the welfare reform proposals. I am not happy about the scale of the shift toward defense, and I am not happy that government continues to grow in the aggregate. And as for the still-incubating tax reform plan, I like many of the features originally described, though not all.

Many believe that the Administration’s economic growth assumptions are unrealistic, and many dislike the spending priorities. Those cannot be used as excuses for mischaracterizing the proposal, however. Reductions in some spending categories occur only relative to the baseline growth path. They are not real cuts in spending. Likewise, Summers’ double-counting allegation is false. The recovery of tax revenue via economic growth is not double counted, and there is no “math error”. The proposed reductions in spending relative to the baseline more than account for the deficit reduction. I suspect that Summers’ motives were strictly polemic and not grounded in a careful examination of the budget proposal. He is not innumerate. What’s worse, a number of economists swallowed the “double-counting” story hook, line, and sinker.

The Renewable Energy Jobs Hoax

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James Taylor at Forbes reveals the dishonest math behind the claim that renewable energy generates more jobs than “conventional energy”, i.e., fossil fuels. It’s a simple trick, as Taylor explains:

“… renewable energy advocates create the broadest possible definition of workers ‘supported’ by the solar power industry, falsely claim that the solar power industry ’employed’ all these workers, and then compare that to the narrowest possible definition of just a single segment of workers ‘directly’ employed in the ‘extraction’ component of the much larger natural gas industry.

Taylor notes that, “In reality, renewable energy isn’t even in the same universe of job creation as conventional energy.” He goes on to cite the report on which these claims are based and picks it apart. The renewable energy job assertions are obviously self-intereseted, as rent seeking lobbyists know that the political class is dominated by easy marks for renewable energy wonder-stories.

Of course Taylor is correct that the claims about renewable energy jobs are false in the aggregate sense. However, it might or might not be true in the marginal sense, and that’s clearly the sense in which the claim is intended to be taken, despite the fact that the data used is not marginal in nature. If true, it’s not a selling point for renewable energy subsidies because “more jobs” represents a greater marginal cost.

And that brings us to an even more critical issue missed by Taylor: public policy should not be based on the objective of direct job creation. Jobs are a cost, not a benefit. We value the finished goods, not the inputs required to produce them. If you don’t quite get that, imagine two bids for the construction of new kitchen in your home. Same plans, same completion date, similarly brilliant customer reviews of the competing contractors. Without knowing the actual bids, if one contractor tells you it’s a three-man job and the other says it’s a four-man job, you’ll be pretty certain which bid you’ll want to accept.

Ah, but you say, that’s not a fair comparison, because I’m paying for it. Yes you are, just as taxpayers (and more generally society) must pay for the subsidies that lobbyists wheedle out of politicians. Or you say, Ah, but we want more renewable jobs because we want renewable energy, ’cause it’s just right. Maybe, maybe not, but if that’s so, then the idea that the cost is higher because more jobs are required per unit of energy is not a good rationale.

It’s often the case that public policy aimed at “creating jobs” is not accompanied by higher output, lower prices, or even… more jobs! For example, tariffs on foreign goods give an advantage to American producers, but at the cost of job losses in import industries and higher domestic prices that harm consumers more broadly, and thereby reduce jobs. When certain industries or firms are subsidized by the government, the taxpayer is harmed directly, not to mention suppliers of alternatives. This is true at the local and national levels: politicians love to talk about job creation when they offer incentives for new facilities or relocations to their jurisdictions, but these subsidies may put other local firms at a competitive disadvantage and leave taxpayers holding the bag for public services supplied to the recipient firm. When government undertakes large taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects, which might or might not boost productivity, the taxes are damaging and the projects are often poorly planned and lack effective cost controls. Jobs are not a reason to support such projects.

Similar points have been discussed in the past here on Sacred Cow Chips, with links to articles emphasizing the distinction between direct jobs created and economic welfare like this one. “Jobs” should never be a policy objective in and of itself. As Tim Worstall explains in a brief review of Mark Zuckerberg’s recent commencement address at Harvard, jobs simply are not the point! Policy must have a better rationale than the high cost of the labor input!

Markets and Mobility

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Government aid programs tend to perform poorly, especially in developmental terms. In the U.S., anti-poverty programs keep the poor running in place, at best. Yes, they provide minimal income, but they seldom offer a way out and usually discourage it. Moreover, the administration of such programs diverts a significant share of funds to well-heeled civil servants and away from the intended recipients. Foreign aid programs are probably even worse, functioning as catch basins for funding corrupt officials. Progressives, in particular, persist in taking the paternalistic view that we must rely on government action to “care for” and “protect” the poor, able or not. Markets, on the other hand, are held to offer no promise in fighting poverty. In fact, the general assumption made by the progressive left is that markets exploit them.

The truth is that markets offer great promise for encouraging economic mobility. Arnold Kling offers a good conceptual construct in a recent post: while humans are often subject to irrational tendencies in their assessment of choices, their interactions in markets offer a way of smoothing irregularities and disparate bits of information, providing useful signals about the availability of resources and demands for their use. The result is a flow of information that best signals opportunity. Kling calls the process of market interactions the “collective mind”. Rather than encouraging individuals to fully participate in effective markets, free of intervention, we instead deny them the best opportunities for gain. The notion that the poor must be “protected” from markets is embedded in policies like wage and price controls, benefit mandates, overtime rules, drug laws, occupational licensing, and innumerable other harmful regulations. The poor should have the unfettered ability to avail themselves of the social efficiencies of Kling’s collective mind.

Last Thursday, Don Beaudroux’s “Quotation of the Day” was taken from an essay by Ludwig von Mises in which he characterized private property in a market economy as “property by consumer consensus”. In other words, consumers reward sellers who create value, and those rewards accumulate in the form of private property. Likewise, consumers punish poor performance, which has a cumulative negative impact on one’s ability to accumulate or hold onto private property. The benefits conferred by consumer preference do not stop with the owners of the firm. Others productively affiliated with the firm also reap gains in rewards, allowing them to accumulate private property. And of course, consumers are the beneficiaries in the first place: in their judgement the firm delivers value in excess of price. The key here is that free market rewards and penalties are deserved and based on productivity in meeting desires, and only the market can distribute property so efficiently. The able poor can certainly add value and thereby accumulate property, if only given the opportunity.

Jeffrey Tucker has stated that “Only Markets Can Win the War on Poverty” (ellipses are my edits):

The default state of the world is grueling poverty, universal insecurity, and short lives. When governments do come along, they nearly always serve themselves first. … Capitalism made huge progress toward the conquest of poverty. For the first time in history, the productive resources of society turned from serving mainly the elites toward serving the common person. This change alone began to flip the power narrative of social evolution.

And this revolution continued for two some two-hundred years, during which time the average life span expanded dramatically, infant mortality collapsed, incomes rose, and the great project of universal ennoblement achieved an unprecedented boost. And this trend continues today wherever markets are given freedom to function, property rights are secure, and people can associate and trade without molestation by the elites. … In short, capitalism made huge progress toward the conquest of poverty.

Markets are not harmful to the poor. To the contrary, as Tucker says, they have helped lift billions out of poverty around the globe. But government increasingly plays the role of big provider and arbiter of what can and can’t be traded, by whom, and at what price. The suspension of the market mechanism by this process denies the poor the opportunities made possible via participation in free markets, whereby Kling’s “collective mind” processes massive quantities of information and acts upon it spontaneously. But the “collective mind” concept, as a description of market interactions, is too simple: we know that individuals act on the signals provided by the market and are rewarded based on how effectively they do so. There is no doubt that the poor can do that too. It’s time to cast aside the paternalistic and destructive notion that the able poor must be insulated from markets.

The CBO’s Obamacare Fantasy Forecast

Today the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its report, or ‘score’, on the version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) that recently passed in the House of Representatives. It is similar in most respects to the CBO’s score of the earlier version of the bill that never came to a vote. This time, the CBO reduced by one million its estimate of the number of Americans that it projects would lose insurance coverage relative to the status quo (Obamacare). The new estimate is just as unrealistic as the first, for the reasons discussed in an earlier post on this blog:

Sacred Cow Chips

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is still predicting strong future growth in the number of insured individuals under Obamacare, despite their past, drastic over-predictions for the exchange market and slim chances that the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid will be adopted by additional states. Now that Republican leaders have backed away from an unpopular health care plan they’d hoped would pass the House and meet the Senate’s budget reconciliation rules, it will be interesting to see how the CBO’s predictions pan out. The “decremental” forecasts it made for the erstwhile American Health Care Act (AHCA) were based on its current Obamacare “baseline”. A figure cited often by critics of the GOP plan was that 24 million fewer individuals would be insured by 2026 than under the baseline.

It was fascinating to see many supporters of the AHCA accept this “forecast” uncritically. With the AHCA’s failure, however, we’ve been given an opportunity to witness the distortion in what would have been a CBO counterfactual…

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Ex Ante Agreements, Ex Post Gripes

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Anyone signing a contract better know the terms to which it binds them. They sign voluntarily and do so because they believe it has value. They are presumed to understand what they are obligated to pay and when; what they are entitled to receive, when, and under what circumstances; what actions (and non-actions) are required of them to “perform” under the contract; and what recourse they have should the counter-party fail to perform. The value they perceive upon signing is always based on an expectation. Sometimes, that expectation summarizes risks they are paying to avoid, even as a counter-party is more than willing to carry the risk. The contract is signed and everyone is happy… enough.

Health insurance is an example to which I’ve dedicated ample space over the past couple of weeks (see the links in the left margin). Obviously, one buys health insurance before knowing an entire series of outcomes. The contract specifies what kinds of expenses the insurer is obligated to pay. Insurance is a highly complex product, and so an insurance policy or contract must be relatively complex, as the cartoon above suggests. In a well-functioning market, however, the insured pays a premium no higher than they consider worthwhile. Everyone would like to pay less, but absent a government mandate (heh!), no one is obligated to buy.

The ink is dry and life goes on. The premium is paid, health needs arise, costs are incurred, and sometimes those costs exceed a limit (the deductible) above which the insurer is obligated to pay at least a portion.

A calamitous health event typically brings heavy costs, and this possibility is exactly why people buy coverage, and it is exactly why insurers demand sufficiently stiff premia. These things happen to a fairly predictable percentage of an insurer’s  customers, but with enough variance to make the cash flows risky. As a backstop, insurance contracts sometimes include limitations on total lifetime benefits or on payments for certain kinds of treatments. Pre-existing conditions are a prominent example of limiting the risks that enter the risk pool, but there are other possible limitations on treatments and other aspects of care. While these are known upfront, disastrous health outcomes and their financial consequences are not.

An increasingly common refrain is that no one should profit from an individual’s acute health care needs, and that health insurers do just that. For logical consistency, this same complaint should be leveled against doctors, nurses, paramedics, hospitals, medical equipment manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies. They all earn income by providing for health care needs, whether medical or financial, and income is income, after all. Whether that income is a wage or a profit is irrelevant. They are both forms of compensation for the use of resources. The major difference between insurers and the other income-earners is that insurers handle the financial risk of potential health care needs and pay when those needs arise, within and up to policy limits.

The crux of the complaint, however, is that insurers can deny claims, thus protecting their profits. Certainly there are claims denied for which the rationale can be disputed. Just as certainly, a financially prudent insurance company must impose some limits on the benefits offered by their policies. These limitations might preserve profitability, but they also protect the contingent benefits of other insureds as well as the solvency of the carrier. Those objectives are not independent.

The insurance buyer reveals the value of the contract ex ante, but sour grapes are easily conjured ex post if a claim is denied, no matter the agreed-to provisions of the insurance contract. The insurer is under no greater obligation to pay costs in excess of policy limits than the doctor, the nurse, or the man in the street. Yet insurers take special blame when inadequate coverage is an issue, whatever the reason.

Hospitals and physician practices sometimes provide uncompensated care. There are also a number of support organizations for severely-ill but inadequately insured patients. So, private charity is one answer to the dilemma of extreme health-cost outcomes. Public aid is another, and the appropriate breadth of the state’s role in cases of pre-existing conditions and extreme individual health care costs is a legitimate question.

In the end, private health insurers provide a valuable service by pooling and carrying the financial risk of health care events faced by individuals. Health insurance profits as a share of owner’s equity have fallen well short of market-wide averages in recent years (see my last post), though I regularly hear outrageous claims about excessive profits in the industry.

It’s not unusual for a buyer to feel remorse after signing a deal, but in cases of health coverage shortfalls, one could say that the insured bet too little or qualified for too little, or one could say that society doesn’t set aside enough resources to adequately care for the sick. However, one cannot say that the resources dedicated to arranging private coverage deserve no reward, or that the business should be pillaged on account of certain policy limitations, or that the future claims of other policyholders should be hijacked. Those who proclaim such nonsense are guilty of severe ethical misjudgment.