Monday, November 30, 2009

Sitzerland Minaret Referendum

Switzerland, known for its referendum system, approved by 58 percent a ban on minarets. "One Swiss member of parliament declared "the foundations of Switzerland's direct democracy have failed." How can direct democracy encourage substantive votes and discourage votes that are symbolic? As the Wall Street Journal put it, the ban merely means that the average Swiss citizen will be less likely to see an obvious symbol of Muslim. It does nothing to to address issues that the five percent of Swiss who are Muslem have or any issues they may create.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Corruption, of course, is a well-known widespread problem. And it is getting worse. It certainly affects Afghanistan! where one expert said that part of the problem is focusing on particular individuals and not on the process.

Could participatory democracy be the answer? The ancient Greeks used randomly chosen large juries; five hundred people randomly chosen by lot the day of or day before are difficult to bribe. Decisions made by sortition jury, when chosen truly randomly, when the numbers int he jury higher are much less likely to be corrupt than those made by a single minister, judge or other government official.

In an age of portable cameras, it is possible to capture images and sound from officials. MyLifeBits, a project of Microsoft, puts a camera on individual and allows them to record what they doing. It is intended to augment one's memory. (Who did I speak to in Front of the Empire State Building a while back?) However, countries concerned with corruption can put these on government officials, and perhaps company officials as well to help prevent an Enron, and these can be reviewed by citizen juries, perhaps chosen from the unemployed. Afghanistan, for example, has fourty percent unemployment which many have blamed for the problem with violence and instability.

Health Care Cost Control

Health Care Reform has now become Health Insurance Reform, putting "the squeeze on insurance companies." But it does nothing about lowering health care costs and the incentives on physicians and others to do more and more procedures, and to salami slice the health care activity and bill to make more money.

Our participatory democracy plan is to make the insurance companies and other large payers spend a certain amount of money. The health care providers would provide the best care they possibly can, and on the basis of same, after the fact, the participatory democracy juries in collaboration with experts and computer software provided by the insurance companies decide how to allocate the fixed pot. For group plans, the sortition juries are selected from the premium payers, the group covered. For those plans subsidized or completely paid for government, the sortition juries are chosen from the general population.

In other words, fix the costs, but leave the autonomy to the doctors on how to practice!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Health Care Poll

The Associated Press polled Americans on health care. Eighty-two percent are in favor of a ban on insurance companies discriminating against those in poor health. However, when told that this ban would cause most to pay more for health insurance, 31 per cent of Americans are now against it and only 43 percent support it.

The questions should have been Would you support a ban on insurance companies not insuring those with pre-existing conditions who had an opportunity to buy health insurance, could afford same, but chose not to do so?

Would you support an insurance company not insuring someone with a pre-existing condition who lost their insurance through no fault of their own (e. g. got laid off)?

A bureaucracy might not be able to distinguish between the two but a sortition jury could have. It is also the premise of my alternative to a public insurance plan, a sortition plan. That is, there is no public "insurance" but there is a public "pool" of money to which both the person covered and the public (as part of general taxes) would pay for. When an individual got sick, they would petition for approval to have the public pool pay for this. A sortition jury would look at both the illness and treatment involved. It would also look at how much the person contributed to the public pool and their income in comparison to the contributions made. Thus, the eighty dollars that the proverbial washer-women contributed might have more weight than the eight hundred dollars that the YUPPIE contributed.

Sixty-seven percent agreed that everyone should have "at least some health insurance" with only 27 percent opposition. However, sixty-four percent are opposed to a tax penalty for not having insurance. And even half of Democrats oppose fines to enforce the requirement to get insurance.

I proposed a broader requirement of financial responsibility and this, obviously ambiguous one, be interpreted by sortition juries.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Health Care Rationing Board

Congress bills will create in "global rationing" board on Medicare which will fix the amount to be spent for all procedures starting in 2019. The Board will choose how much to pay for each procedure. (Until then, it will only change Medicare Advantage and prescription drug plan.)

The Wall Street Journal article was against such rationing. They pointed out that the Washington board does the same thing and has elimited knee arthroscopy and is set to ban knee replacements and MRI's for cancer.

The alternative to a rationing board is sortitioning juries and to prevent the agony of rationing, they should not make the decision until after the care is rendered.

Miscellaneous Rants against the Financial MisSystem

What is the purpose to society of the Currency Carry Trade? Individuals borrow money in a country that has a low rate of interest such as Japan or the United States. They then lend in some other place where interests rates are higher as the interest rates go up.

Donald Tsang, chief executive of Hong Kong, and Liu Mingking chairperson of China's Banking Regulatory Commission expressed concern about the low interest rates that the United States Central Bank is targeting.

And the Maverick Economist has been questioning problems when the Central Bank borrows against something other than Treasury bonds and the European Central Bank is facing risk from some of the other banks with which it dealt with. And the Maverick Economist sparked quite a debate by asking whether gold is a bubble as so much is either in vaults or in jewelry. This creates economic costs as cyanide or mercury is used in mining. Sometimes the companies go bankrupt before they clean up the mess; and the executives get paid as well. The Maverick economist says that half of the gold we have mined is available as jewelry and the other half as central stores, but the New York Times says that eighty percent of new gold is going to jewelry, often in China and India. Using figures from the Earth Encyclopaedia and the Wikipedia Article on world Wide Energy consumption, it looks like Gold mining is one tenth of one percent of worldwide energy consumption. And often mining companies do not disclose the environment liabilities to their investors. One of the problems of having a financial system where people can trade stocks before the firm pays the damages. And we should make executives at firms hold on and invest in approved investments and not spend them until we know for sure whether their decisions help either the company or the world in general. And the World Trade Bank has been financing environmentally dangerous gold mines. And often those in the area receive no benefit from the gold mines as they create few jobs and displace far more people.. All investments should get approval from a sortition jury that they perform a real function.

And I just heard that a local restaurant in my town went out of business. It was making its payments, but it was obligated to buy out the land lord after ten years. It did not have the cash. Three Buildings including the restaurant are sitting unused for which the landlord is asking $400,000.00.

Ludwig von Mises

The Wall Street Journal had an opinion piece by Mark Pitznagel on Ludwig von Mises, I remember trying to read him as a child or teenager when I was on a libertarian phase. He argued that half baked investments will liquidate in a free economy, but if the government creates cheap credit, one is likely to have a banking collapse. And, he like, Taleb says the banking system is then dramatically likely to have errors. That is why we should have a share economy.

Ludwig von Mises turned down a "lucrative job offer from the Viennesse bank Kreditanstalt" proclaiming, 'A Great crash is coming, and I don't want my name in any way connected with it.' The calendar had said it was mid 1929.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Stimubucks, Share Economy, targetted spending

Germany promoted a share the work scheme where they gave subsidies to firms who did not lay off workers but rather reduced their hours. Germany had little increase in unemployment. (But he did not add that all Europe has had high unemployment in general.) He also argued in favor of a Works Progress Administration Krugman has made clear that he prefers a conventional stimulus. I have argued that a target fiscal stimulus, targeted by sortition juries, should be aimed specifically at reducing unemployment.

Calories, Fast Food Restaurants, and the Badness tax

We found that requiring fast food chains to post calories on their menus does not reduce peoople buying the fattening foods. This editorial argues that the poor are extremely price sensitive and that one should provide "proper incentive" I suggested replacing our tax system with a "badness tax" on items which would include the healthfulness or lack thereof as well as other factors like global warming, conventional pollution, and labor standards.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Black Swan, On Debt

My alma mater, Polytechnic Institute, now Polytechnic Instiute of New York University, hired Nassim Nicholas Taleb, of Black Swan fame. He said, "a complex financial system cannot tolerate debt" because debt "doesn't allow someone to make mistakes."

Of course, here I advocated the share economy, an economy without debt, and without nonlinearity as everything is a percentage of everything else.

Source, Polytechnic Cable, Spring 2009, page 7 to 8, Volume 36 No Two.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

Another article on the problems with the cash for Clunkers Program

Stimulus Bill and Protectionism

A Problem with the Stimulus bill is that the money might go to build a wind farm. That is good, but the windmills will be manufactured in China, which angers at least one Senator.

No Layoff Share-economy companies

I wrote about the share economy, where companies share their revenue with their employees. During recessions, their employees make less; but there are no layoffs.

NPR had a section today about manufacturers who produce high-tech goods and have highly skilled and trained work force, do not want to lose their loyal employees. Frank Koller wrote a book, Spark about no-layoff companies. Of course there are reasons that companies are reluctant to cut wages rather than lay people. Truman bowley discussed this many years ago in Why Wages don't fall during a Recession They are reason more than the inertia of organizing a busines s differently, or management taking on a different set of headaches, or even labor unions, as mentioned in the story.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cash for Clunkers is a Clunker;

The Cash for clunker problem didn't really accomplish anything! Most of the trades got marginally better gas mileage.

As I have advocated before, each stimubuck should be approved by a sortition jury as being beneficial, whether it be mortgage help, a new energy project, or helping someone buying a new car or house. The question to the sortition jury is simply, does this make real world sense?

Prosecutors framing innocent men for murder; Wait to reward them.

I spoke before about rewarding important government officials and those running companies or investment banks many years after they work, e. g., when they retire. Here is a reason why. Prosecutors and framed a man for murder. Twenty-five years, they finally discover the records of this frame-up. The Iowa Supreme Court released him and exonerated him. Iowa does not permit people to sue prosecutors. So they sued under Federal Civil Rights provisions and this is a Supreme Court Case.

A sortition jury should review the pension amount for major public officials. Those who were wrongfully convicted would present their information. Those who were victimized by criminals could also present the case--that the persons were brought up on charges before hand. But the prosecutors might have declined to prosecute--or flubbed the trial.

They would look at groups of prosecutors and compare the good and the bad of each and distribute the income from the pension pool accordingly.