Blog#130 Nobel Economics Intro


Blog 130 – Nobel Prize Economics Introduction

“This research could reduce global poverty” claimed Jakob Svensson, member of the Prize Committee  as the Nobel Prize in Economics was announced. [1] The  only problem is, the work it celebrates can do no such thing. It is substantively myopic, ideologically  conservative,  technically weak, and probably net harmful in dealing with the serious real problems it addresses. wrong and harmful.

The biggest problem — and perhaps it  is a problem as much of the Nobel Prize committee and jury as of the recipients of the prize—is the hoopla that  celebrates  the work for which this prize was offered as making a big contribution to solving a big social  problem, the problem of poverty. The author’s’ work does indeed talk of “alleviating the problem of poverty ,” the problem of poverty the prize was won for [2]for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.”-but the work is dealing with it in an extremely superficial way, looking at some of its undesirable effects on its victims , proposing to rationalize ;and make more efficient small steps designed at best to ameliorate the  consequences of poverty, it doe not in any way address its  causes. In announcing the Nobel Prize award in economics, the prize jury said, “This year’s laureates have introduced a new approach to obtaining reliable answers about the best ways to fight global poverty,” the jury said. “The authors found efficient ways of combating poverty by breaking down difficult issues into smaller, more manageable questions, which can then be answered through field experiments, the jury said.”pp 78.

Thus, while doing what it does do may make a relatively small contribution to some minor obstacles to reducing poverty a little, it should not be allowed to detract from the attention needed to tackle the real causes of poverty. To present, as a proposal to alleviate children’s poverty, a proposal to put surveillance cameras in classrooms as a way of reducing teacher absenteeism on the theory that it reduces the effectiveness of their teaching  and thus their students’ ability to cope with poverty, really requires some thought about the other implications such a course might have. Attention to examining teacher’s pay, or  their working conditions, or their  teaching supplies or administrative support, working conditions, should  certainly deserve some thought as well. Is surprising us by proving that deworming children leads to improved attendance at school really “a new approach to obtaining reliable answers about the best ways to fight global poverty?,”


[1] Prize announcement. Nobel Prize.org. Nobel Media AB 2019. Tue. 29 Oct 2019. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/economic-sciences/2019/prize-announcement/

[2] “The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2019 was awarded jointly to Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer “

Blog #129 – Medicare and Beyond — For a Secure Health System


Blog #129 MEDICARE AND BEYOND – FOR A SECURE HEALTH SYSTEM

Beyond Medicare. How about a Secure Health System, analogous to the existing Social Security System?

We are a better country than we often want to acknowledge. We have a Social Security system, out of concern that old age should be secure and free of financial worry. We have an Unemployment Insurance system, out of concern that workers unable to find work in the open market should not be left in poverty or indigence. And we have Medicare, which can be seen as a fumbling step towards a health security system. We recognize, though we don’t often say so, that the Declaration of Independence’s call for government to provide for the security of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as inalienable rights is an appropriate, indeed indispensable function of government, that that means measures guaranteeing all members of society security in having at least minimum access to what it takes to make those rights meaningful.

Wouldn’t a Secure Health Care system fit right into that pattern? Isn’t ill health, like old age, like joblessness, like physical vulnerability, a cause of painful insecurity that  we would like no one to have to suffer from – need we doubt the parallel appropriateness of police protection for all, or environmental protection for all?

Doesn’t every civilized country care, both practically and legally, for the health and welfare of its citizens, and directly implement minimum standards for what that entails?

What, then, would a “Secure Health System” in the United States mean? – a system in which every person can count on the fact that , if  they become ill, they will be taken care of, will receive the  treatment and the care that  they need??  

It would mean the setting of minimum standard of health care to which all are entitled, without regard to incomes or health problems, the treatment, the medications, the comforts, that their condition requires. If individuals are able to provide that for themselves without government assistance, good and fine, let them; do so, but whether or not they can do so on their own,  all are entitled to security in having the minimums, no questions asked. We don’t deny the rich police protection because the can afford private security, nor deny the children of the rich public education because they can afford private schools. Beyond that, if they want and can afford more, more power to them. We don’t ask social security recipients it they have better pensions, children if their parent can afford better schools, home owners if they have private security systems. All members of society are entitled to security in obtaining the benefits of civilization, period.                                                                 

Why should health care be any different? It shouldn’t. Yet it involves one of the few necessities of life in which direct provision by government is now very limited, in which major provision is by private entities and personnel, by and large, by the private sector, with  an interest in high  prices for their  own benefit.

Health care in the U.S. needs fundamental change today.  

What might a system providing Secure Health in the United States look like? It would not deal with insurance companies or facilitators. Doctors and hospitals and drug companies would submit their bills to it, and be paid, verifying only that the services billed for were actually rendered. The plan would be financed by a small tax akin to a payroll tax, levied on all adults. If proceeds were insufficient to cover all claims, the national government would keep it solvent, just like social security.

If necessary, some of Elizabeth Warren’s revenue proposals might be adopted as needed. The savings from eliminating paper-work and enhanced bargaining-power with providers, i.e. pharmaceutical companies, private hospitals, should produce major savings in cost – and annoyances..

              For more limited improvements in the current Medicare system,               see        Pmarcuse.wordpress.com, Blog #128, Solving the Fake Medicare Opt-out problem:    

Blog 128 – Solving the fake Medicare opt-out problem


Solving the fake Medicare opt-out problem,   with a fair health care system.

The debate about letting the healthy and the wealthy opt-out of Medicare is a fake debate. Each component has a pretty simple and feasible answer. The real debate is only as to the profits of insurance companies.

All the issues raised by the question of whether patients should be allowed to opt out of paying the Medicare tax if they buy their own private insurance can be fairly handled, with a little effort. Raising the issue is a booby-trap laid by insurance companies wanting to sell their policies and maximize their profits.

The response requires respecting the basic principle is that it is both morally and socially just and economically sound that the healthy share in covering the health care needs of the ill, that the wealthy share in helping with the needs of the less-well off– principles that are well accepted in core governmental policies, from social security to unemploment insurance public housing to the setting of progressive tax rates and our ddalyl-[too-day relations with each other. .

The basic answer is that in a fundamentally fair economy all should share in the ability to have good quality health care, regardless of their wealth or health. And all should have the same options. Further, the obscene level of paper work and rules and regulations about coverage should be eliminated. The need to worry about coverage, co-pays, prior conditions, time limits, source of coverage, overlapping policies is unnecessary, produces nothing, and is not cost-effective. Having a single payer or Medicare for All, or Universal Coverage, system (beware— “Medicare” means different things to different people) is not hard to structure. . Economically Medicare for all can simply give greater strength to taxpayers as against medical suppliers, when users can bargain collectively in setting rates with providers, preventing pharmaceutical companies and medical providers from taking advantage of their near monopoly position to fix rates. morally, simply requires adjusting tax and reimbursement rates to reflect the extent of need and the availavblity of the parties’ resources to met them. resources to meet them. A class system of medical care, in which the rich get better and faster care at the expense of the less-well-off A system of medical care in which the rich get better and faster care at the expense of the less-well-off is generally accepted as socially undesirable. Helth cares should be considered a necesity of lilfe, not a commondity to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Such a class system can be avoided by not permitting providers to refuse treatment to patients on the basis of the source patients use for covering their bills, Medicare vs. private insurance. The medical profession as a whole should join in fixing fair reimbursement rates for all providers, bearing in mind a good faith obligation of fairness both to providers and patients. Care can be provided by providers of the user’s choice, not only to the healthy and the wealthy, who are likely to get unfairly favorable treatment from insurance companies and providers if they can pay more for treatment than the less well-off. Options should be equal for all. This is a democracy, and fairness is a core value.

(Elizabeth Warren’s plan recognizes all of the above. On the cost side, see: https://prospect.org/health/warrens-medicare-for-all-plan-includes-no-new-taxes-on-the-middle-class/).

For an even better, but probably today not yet politically feasible solution, see Blog #129, Medicare and Beyond: for a Secure Health Care System.

Blog 127 – Donald Trump the Great Negotiator


Blog #127 Donald Trump the Great Negotiator:

     The Secret of his Model

     Phase One. Have your staff in secret negotiate a meeting with your negotiating opposite number. Select an occasion and a setting that is photogenic.Meet your opposition there, shake hands, and become buddy-buddy with him or her. Tell the world how well you get along together, praise him or her effusively, Make a photo op out of it.

Phase Two. In a private meeting ideally just one to one, find out what your opposite most wants in the negotiations by asking your opposite directly. Tell your opposite that what is wanted is feasible, and promise it will be considered. Tell your opposite a few things you want that are likely easiest for your opposite to give. Forget about it, and move on.

Phase Three. Arrange a cordial handshake while arranging for further negotiations by staff. Announce publicly a complete private agreement with a promise that almost everything your opposite wanted is feasible and will be considered, holding back just enough and fudging key points so it won’t be seen as a complete surrender. In return, get a promise that everything you want is feasible, and a promise it will be considered. Proclaim a success for the negotiations, with a final embrace and warm words towards your opposite, and arrange a suitable photo op.

Phase Four.

Forget about it, and move on. Consider firing anyone in the cabinet or head of a major federal agency who is publicly taking the results of the foregoing negotiations seriously. Or expressing doubts that they should be implemented.

Phase Five.

If further delay becomes politically embarrassing, find something minor but concrete that you and your opposite can do to demonstrate progress, with a written firm commitment to implement if found feasible in detail. Example:  a freeze on any negative changes by either side for a stated time. Announce it publicly, with appropriate photo op.

Phase Six

Forget about it, and move on.  Consider firing anyone in the cabinet or head of major federal agency or acting as an advisor who is publicly taking the results of the foregoing negotiations seriously.

Phase Seven.

When the time for the freeze, for example, runs out, arrange for a further high-level meeting. Find something concrete that you and your opposite can do to demonstrate progress, and put in writing as a commitment, such as establishment for a permanent joint consulting committee between you and your  opposite to work on details. Arrange for a celebratory photo op. Announce the result as a great deal, perhaps one of the greatest deals ever made. In North Korean negotiations, the well developed model, Trump: “the encounter “historic” and “very legendary.” Forget about it, and move on

Phase Eight, Phase Nine, Phase Ten.

Forget about it, and move on. We have good relations. There are other priorities. Any criticism in partisan.

Blog 126 -Reading the Green New Deal


Vision, Measuring Stick, and Organizational Impetus

Blog 126 – Reading the Green New Deal

A Vision, a Measuring Stick, an Organizational Impetus.

A “Green New Deal Resolution” has just been introduced in Congress. It was drafted by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and supported by some of the  most socially concerned elements on the mainstream political stage today. It has been, I believe, widely misunderstood, intentionally by conservatives, haltingly defended by many who  agree with its emphasis on the urgency of environmental issues but are less sure of its effectiveness as a political statement.

I believe it is a mistake to read the Green New Deal Resolution as if it were the working schedule that a group of legislators had adopted as a detailed formal step by step agenda and time-table for legislative activities for the next session of Congress. It is much too early for that, for some new and some experienced Congress-people and social activists to assemble or present as specific thought-out and carefully formulated set of draft measures ready for immediate vote by a deliberative body, particularly by a Congress with its own ways of working and getting things done, in a somewhat rule-ridden assembly.

 That’s not how the proposed Green New Deal should be read. It is somewhere between a vision and a rallying -cry, and is important as both.. It has three aspects, which together make a real contribution to the signers’ objectives: 1) setting forth what goals they have set for themselves and how they are connected to each other[1], 2) how they or others might gauge their progress to those goals, and, implicitly, 3) a possible way to use their effort organizationally and politically. The signers presumably hope to lure many others to join them in developing and implementing their jointly developed goals through realistic programs and legislation that will pass political muster and work. The New Green Deal Resolution is not a set of draft legislative measures or the platform for an organization, though it could well be steps to both.

As a vision, I would read its text as written to be useful towards presenting a unified view of what its authors are about: putting together quite a variety of ideas on a variety of subjects, paying attention to what academics call their intersectionality, what their children might call how the head bones are connected to the arm bones are connected to shoulder bones are connected to leg bones.  It is intended to avoid being a grab-bag of sweets it would be nice to have, and rather to present a coherent vision of a goal and a future, a destination for the group’s efforts, a platform on which the edifice of a green New Deal and a coalition for its effectuation could be built. It can help fix priorities across a wide band of topics, with a comprehensive logic tying them together, a reasoned way of establishing the goals for their individual terms of office, an argument for others to join in.

But the statement can have a further very concrete and useful function: as a measuring-stick against which to judge what is underway by what is actually needed, to tell how far progress has been made, what exactly has been accomplished and what remains to be done. It can be used  as a tentative report card, a measuring stick by which the doer is willing to be judged, a way of telling, as time goes on, what is likely to be pie in the sky, what in each period is forgettable red  fodder, what is digestible blue meat, and what is hoped for as dessert. One might fantasize about a non-partisan panel of experts, political and civic leaders, and activists, meeting annually to follow through in the directions that the Green New Deal’s authors have proposed, but that would really be pie in the sky.

It is, to be a bit partisan, the mirror-perfect opposite of Donald Trump’s way of proceeding, of the way in which he and his organization have approached their responsibilities as the governing body of a great and complex nation} with no stated over-all goals, no assessing accomplishments and failures by any set of standards, no perspective on what the ultimate outcome is hoped to be. Perhaps as an alternative to the Trump, the  backers of the Green New Deal, who are after all politically progressive Democrats, with the  support of multiple  grass-roots and socially activist organizations, a diverse group  of some of the most socially concerned elements on the mainstream political stage today, including hose in the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, such as Alexandra Casio-Cortez, a principal author of the Green New Deal Resolution – perhaps such a group can become the nucleus of a larger permanently organization that  can show in practice what the vision of an environmentally sound, humane, democratic vision, an alternative to Donald Trump’s chaotic non-vision night be, and what steps are needed to move towards that vision  systematically and together. [ A full list of Individuals (and Organizations) supporting the Green New Deal resolution is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green NewDeal#Individuals.

Best wishes to its authors


[1] Compare it to how the Pentagon goes about laying out its horrendous Overmatch policy formulation of U.S. global objectives, in which the word “peace” hardly appears and no vision of its ultimate consequences is even attempted.  Michael Klare, “Why ‘Overmatch’ Is Overkill,’” The Nation Jan. 14, 2019.[

Blog #125 – Rent Control and California Prop 10


submitted to LA Times October 31, 2018 Likely only of interest to Californians.

To the Editor, Los Angeles Times

Proposition 10 can be confusing. It does NOT establish rent controls anywhere. The Costa-Hawkins law, which Prop 10 repeals, is a state law that simply takes away the decision-making from local communities on whether or not there should be specific forms of rent regulation on specific types of housing units and established its prohibitions state-wide, overruling local decisions. Proposition 10 repeals that law, leaving decision-making on rent regulations in the hands of local communities, where almost all other land use decisions, e.g. zoning and land use planning regulations are now lodged.

Proposition 10 is essentially a home rule proposition. A YES vote restores local control of key housing decisions. If it passes, it will then be up to local voters to decide what kind of regulations of rents they want, if any, want, if any. They can then consider Gary Painter’s compelling arguments for adopting rent controls to spur more building (LA Times, Op-Ed, October 31), and it will be their decision.

Peter Marcuse
Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning
Columbia University
Home address:
3775 Modoc Road
Santa Barbara, Calif. 93105
Phone: 805 879 7714
Pm35@columbia.edu

Blog #124 – Dear Artificial Intelligence


Dear Artificial Intelligence.
On reading economics, thinking Artificial Intelligence might help.
But recalling Faust on self-doubt and Bernie Sanders on winners and losers

Here I sit, a PhD. a retired legal technician,
I’ve had to study the latest economics as if on a mission
I’ve spent hours on the web and can do no more.
Yet here I sit, poor fool, and am no wiser than before,

Maybe artificial intelligence will solve all those problems
I won’t have to go back and read all those volumes
JI can just lie back and let it all sink in
And I will know who will lose and who will win.

Yet if I think about it just as bit more
I’ll realize I actually knew the answer to that before.

To wit the answer is:

The winners will be those that were rich and have all the money,
Whose words were all so persuasive, all dripping with honey
Who only do what their lawyer says the law will allow,
Who sometimes acted quickly and sometime acted slow.
But whether the markets are frozen or runny
Whether the forecasts are cloudy or sunny
The rich always turn out to be winners. Wow isn’t that funny?

And I had to read economics to learn that?
Working hard while others grew fat?
And still not have the power to change it at all?
Maybe Artificial Intelligence will help where the natural fails?
And is better than just flipping a coin and calling heads or tails?

But that doesn’t mean Artificial Intelligence can’t have any good use
Only that what it’s taken to be doing can be seriously misleading
By ignoring whose hand and whose interest is doing its feeding.
Not disclosing who owns its product can lead to dangerous abuse.
Pretending that if something is the result of A.I.,
Without disclosing who’s asking the questions
What stake they have in what the answers are,
Against such practices there should be a bar.

Dear A.I., the problems economics describes seem intractable to me,
The answers, A.I. or no, seem to me nowhere in sight.
I’m not even sure I know which ones are harmful, which ones right.
So A.I., if you’re so smart, please tell me what I should do,
And I’ll go do it, and if it goes wrong, blame the results on you.
Of course if it succeeds, I’ll take the credit for having seen the light.

So remember, Dear Artificial Intelligence,
You may think you’re so smart
But– you and we know you don’t have a heart,
You can’t tell the good from the bad
You don’t know if you’re being used honorably or being had
You may know moral values by their name,
And you may even refer to them without shame
But letting feelings influence your work is for you are a no-no
People are just numbers in some algorithm you have developed.
You can’t tell whether the level of happiness produced is high or is low.
All most of your clients seem to care about is the dough.