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Archive for August 10th, 2010

With his usual bluntness, Professor Walter Williams of George Mason University explains why profiling is not always a sign of racism or sexism. And it certainly doesn’t necessarily indicate animus. His column explains that rational profiling can lead to injustice for law-abiding young black men, but he hits the nail on the head by stating that any resulting anger should be directed at young black male criminals who make other people (of all colors) more likely to profile. The same could be said about young Muslim men who object to extra attention at airports. For the 99 percent-plus that just want to peaceably travel, it must be very irritating to deal with suspicion. But they should be angry at the radical Islamists who have created legitimate apprehension. I don’t know if there are any policy lessons, but Walter’s column (as always) is worth reading.

Prostate cancer is nearly twice as common among black men as white men. It would…be a best practice for a physician to be attentive to — even risk false positive PSAs – prostate cancer among his black patients. What about physicians who order routine mammograms for their 40-year and older female patients but not their male patients? …Because of a correlation between race, sex and disease, the physician is using a cheap-to-observe characteristic, such as race or sex, as an estimate for a more costly-to-observe characteristic, the presence of a disease. The physician is practicing both race and sex profiling. Does that make the physician a racist or sexist? Should he be brought up on charges of racial discrimination because he’s guessing that his black patients are more likely to suffer from prostate cancer? Should sex discrimination or malpractice suits be brought against physicians who prescribe routine mammograms for their female patients but not their male patients? …Is an individual’s race or sex useful for guessing about other unseen characteristics? Suppose gambling becomes legal for an Olympic event such as the 100-meter sprint. I wouldn’t place a bet on an Asian or white runner. Why? Blacks who trace their ancestry to West Africa, including black Americans, hold more than 95 percent of the top times in sprinting. That’s not to say an Asian or white can never win but I know the correlations and I’m playing the odds. If women were permitted to be in the sprint event with men, I’d still put my money on a black male. Does that make me a sexist as well as a racist? …Ten years ago, a black D.C. commissioner warned cabbies, most of whom are black, against picking up dangerous-looking passengers. She described dangerous-looking as a “young black guy … with shirttail hanging down longer than his coat, baggy pants, unlaced tennis shoes.” She also warned cabbies to stay away from low-income black neighborhoods. Cabbies themselves have developed other profiling criteria. There is no sense of justice or decency that a law-abiding black person should suffer the indignity being passed up. At the same time, a taxicab driver has a right to earn a living without being robbed, assaulted and possibly murdered. One of the methods to avoid victimization is to refuse to pick up certain passengers in certain neighborhoods or passengers thought to be destined for certain neighborhoods. Again, a black person is justifiably angered when refused service but that anger should be directed toward the criminals who prey on cabbies. Not every choice based on race represents racism and if you think so, you risk misidentifying and confusing human behavior. The Rev. Jesse Jackson once said, “There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery — then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

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John Goodman of the NCPA has a great article about how the current healthcare system is heavily distorted by government policies that result in people making decision with other people’s money (or at least what they perceive as other people’s money). The excerpt below is a good summary of John’s key points, but I’ll add a couple of rhetorical questions. What do you think would happen if government created a tax break that made it attractive to expand auto insurance to cover the cost of oil changes and trips to the gas station? Would that make that market more efficient or less efficient? Would Jiffy Lube and Sunoco charge higher prices or lower prices? What would happen to administrative costs?

Almost everyone believes there is an enormous amount of waste and inefficiency in health care. But why is that? In a normal market, wherever there is waste, entrepreneurs are likely to be in hot pursuit — figuring out ways to profit from its elimination by cost-reducing, quality-enhancing innovations. Why isn’t this happening in health care? As it turns out, there is a lot of innovation here. But all too often, it’s the wrong kind. There has been an enormous amount of innovation in the medical marketplace regarding the organization and financing of care. And wherever health insurers are paying the bills (almost 90 percent of the market) it has been of two forms: (1) helping the supply side of the market maximize against third-party reimbursement formulas, or (2) helping the third-party payers minimize what they pay out. Of course, these developments have only a tangential relationship to the quality of care patients receive or its efficient delivery. The tiny sliver of the market (less than 10 percent) where patients pay out of pocket has also been teeming with entrepreneurial activity.  In this area, however, the entrepreneurs have been lowering cost and raising quality — what most of us wish would happen everywhere else. …Wherever there is third-party payment, the goal of innovation is to produce more products that qualify for reimbursement, even if the effects on patient outcomes are only marginal. Wherever there is no third-party reimbursement, innovators are focused on ways to lower cost and raise quality. Take cosmetic surgery. Over the past two decades there has been an enormous amount of innovation in the field — all of the cost-lowering, quality-raising variety. That explains why the volume of cosmetic surgeries grew six-fold over the past 20 years, while the real price declined by more than one-third. Similarly, there has been remarkable innovation in LASIK surgery — another area where third-party payers are not. Yet the real price of LASIK surgery has declined by 25 percent over the past decade. The same principle can be seen at work in the international marketplace. For example, India has a potentially huge market for medical care. But 80 percent of health care spending in that country is private and there is very little health insurance. So some of the companies that make expensive technology for the developed world are now finding ways to produce the same services for a fraction of the price. GE Healthcare, for example, has introduced a portable electrocardiogram machine into the Indian market that will perform the heart exam for 20 cents (compared to a normal price of $50). Siemens (another maker of high-end, expensive equipment) has built mobile diagnostics units for the Indian market with X-ray, ultrasound and pathology systems.

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I never thought “penile implant” was a term I would use on this blog, but that’s because I never thought I would read a story about taxpayer funding of the procedure. The only good news is that this is a story about fringe benefits for the politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels, so European taxpayers are being raped (no pun intended) rather than American taxpayers. But phallic implants are just the tip (no pun intended) of the iceberg. European taxpayers also provide unlimited viagra, heroin replacement drugs such as methadone, and mud baths to the euro-crat elite. Even American politicians haven’t figured out how to bilk taxpayes like this (or, if they have, they are clever enough to keep the information hidden).

EURO MEPs can claim for viagra on their health insurance – and the taxpayer picks up the bill. All Brussels officials and politicians can get the sex aid drug for free if needed. They can even claim for heroin replacement methadone under the European Commission scheme. Other free options include willy implants, the UK Independence Party discovered. Marta Andreasen, an MEP for the party, said: “It is utterly bonkers what British taxpayers are funding for Eurocrats. “Surely if they want these things, they should be able to pay themselves. It is a total waste of taxpayers’ cash.” …Last year it was revealed MEPs receive public funding for massages and feng shui. Other perks which qualify include mud baths, hydromassage and mild electric shock treatment. The TaxPayers’ Alliance last night blasted the wasteful perks in Brussels. Spokesman Matthew Sinclair said: “Taxpayers expect to see their money spent on providing essential services, not Viagra. The Government should insist on a better deal from Brussels.”

P.S. I’m very proud of myself for resisting the impulse to make jokes about “stimulus.”

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