James Pethokoukis

Another look at the VAT

August 20, 2009

Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute notices that several New Europe countries are raising their VATs to deal with huge budget deficits and concludes thusly:

Turns out U.S. healthcare system is actually, like, really good

August 20, 2009
University of Pennsylvania researchers Samuel Preston and Jessica Ho have looked at the low-life expectancy numbers in the United States and asked the question: “Is the health care system at fault?” Here is their answer (bold is mine):
Life expectancy in the United States fares poorly in international comparisons, primarily because of high mortality rates above age 50. Its low ranking is often blamed on a poor performance by the health care system rather than on behavioral or social factors. …  We find that, by standards of OECD countries, the US does well in terms of screening for cancer, survival rates from cancer, survival rates after heart attacks and strokes, and medication of individuals with high levels of blood pressure or cholesterol. We consider in greater depth mortality from prostate cancer and breast cancer, diseases for which effective methods of identification and treatment have been developed and where behavioral factors do not play a dominant role. We show that the US has had significantly faster declines in mortality from these two diseases than comparison countries. We conclude that the low longevity ranking of the United States is not likely to be a result of a poorly functioning health care system.
So if not the healthcare system, then what?
But measures of population health such as life expectancy do not depend only on what transpires within the health care system – the array of hospitals, doctors and other health care professionals, the techniques they employ, and the institutions that govern access to and utilization of them. Such measures also depend upon a variety of personal behaviors that affect an individual’s health such as diet, exercise, smoking, and compliance with medical protocols. The health care system could be performing exceptionally well in identifying and administering treatment for various diseases, but a country could still have poor measured health if personal health care practices were unusually deleterious. This is not a remote possibility in the United States, which had the highest level of cigarette consumption per capita in the developed world over a 50-year period ending in the mid-80’s (Forey et al. 2002). Smoking in early life has left an imprint on mortality patterns that remains visible as cohorts age (Preston and Wang 2006; Haldorsen and Grimsrud 1999). One recent study estimated that, if deaths attributable to smoking were eliminated, the ranking of US men in life expectancy at age 50 among 20 OECD countries would improve from 14th to 9th, while US women would move from 18th to 7th (Preston, Glei, and Wilmoth 2009). Recent trends in obesity are also more adverse in the United States than in other developed countries (OECD 2008; Cutler, Glaeser, and Shapiro 2003).

GOP uses Dem playbook to kill healthcare reform

August 19, 2009

What’s good for the donkey is good for the elephant — or at least as politically effective.

The U.S. economy in the second half … and beyond

August 19, 2009

ISH Global Insight is looking for a U-shaped recovery: 2 percent growth in 3Q, 2.4 percent in 4Q and then 1.8 percent next year. This would be typical following a banking crisis/recession.  I think this will make for a very unhappy electorate.

What Americans really want in healthcare reform

August 19, 2009

This is a great analysis of healthcare polling by Humphrey Taylor, head of The Harris Poll (via The Health Care Blog):

Obama and “W”

August 19, 2009

Not that “W’ (as in the 43rd president), but a W-shaped economy.  I was on CNBC today talking healthcare with Howard Dean, and he said he thought the economy would improve and then worsen again. Would that be good or bad for the Obama agenda? Certainly it was a weak economy that got Obama elected and helped him push through the $800 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. But high unemployment has been sapping his popularity. And that has been bad for his agenda, especially healthcare reform. If Dean’s forecast is correct, the Dems better pass healthcare while they can. There might be a lot fewer of them in Congress after 2010.

Why healthcare co-ops are a political solution, not an economic one

August 19, 2009

Here is a devastating critique of the idea of healthcare co-ops in place of a true public option (via Tim Foley at Change.org):

John Wayne Syndrome: Americans like tall, square-jawed presidents during tough economic times

August 18, 2009

Will Americans go big in 2012? President Obama is a smidgen under 6’2″, Mitt Romney is 6’2″, Sarah Palin is 5’5″ … Tell us more, New Scientist:

America’s new love affair with Treasury bonds

August 18, 2009
The always perspicacious Andy Busch of BMO Capital Markets notes how US households are suddenly into bonds — and then looks around the corner:
This has been the major, major shift in the structure of the US Treasury market that was unanticipated. From Q1, US households held $643.9 billion in Treasury debt and that is up from $256.6 billion in Q4 2008. Households bought an astounding 84% of new US Treasury issuances in Q1. The total holdings represent about 1% of US household assets. According to the WSJ, “Although that is the highest since 2001, Treasurys regularly made up 5% of assets in the 1950s, and as recently as 1995 they were 2.6% of assets. History suggests there is plenty of room for households to increase their holdings.”

Best campaign tag line …

August 18, 2009

… comes from my pal Dan Proft who is running for governor of Illinois: “Illinois isn’t broken. It’s fixed.” Nice.