Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Does the UK need a tea party?

I would love to see the reaction of the tea partiers if this were proposed in the US!
The UK's tax collection agency is putting forth a proposal that all employers send employee paychecks to the government, after which the government would deduct what it deems as the appropriate tax and pay the employees by bank transfer.
See here for more on the proposal, from CNBC.

I grant that it is not all that different from the withholding that we endure, but something about the cosmetics of "your check got sent to the IRS before you" doesn't seem quite right.

Good for a laugh.

Monday, September 13, 2010

On The Road to Price Controls

A while back I was angry with Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary for Health and Human Services, for her shameful ranting against insurance companies that raised prices -- see this earlier post, for instance: http://robertghansen.blogspot.com/2010/02/price-increases-on-individual-health.html.

But it now gets even worse. After some insurance companies announced future rate increases for individual plans, the Secretary of HHS wrote a letter to the insurance industry. As reported in the WSJ:
The Health and Human Services secretary wrote that some insurers have been attributing part of their 2011 premium increases to ObamaCare and warned that "there will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases."
The whole Sebelius letter can be read here.

What would the government do to companies that passed out "misinformation" and had "unjustified" (gasp!) rate increases? One action would be to ban such companies from participating in the insurance exchanges that were mandated in the new health care bill. From the Sebelius letter:
We will also keep track of insurers with a record of unjustified rate increases: those plans may be excluded from health insurance Exchanges in 2014.
And this is even scarier:
Later this fall, we will issue a regulation that will require state or federal review of all potentially unreasonable rate increases filed by health insurers, with the justification for increases posted publicly for consumers and employers.
Potentially unreasonable? Definition, please?? In anything close to a market economy, would one expect to have to justify to the Federal government every price increase? Does the Obama Administration wonder any longer why it is being painted as anti-business?

Guest Post on Net Neutrality

A recent student of mine, Brent Mattis, wrote the following on net neutrality. It makes some good points, especially the one on the heterogeneity of consumers, with some willing to accept lower tiers of service quality for a lower price.

"My friend posted a funny image showing the price structure of a
future ISP if proposed network neutrality regulation fails to pass:


It basically resembles the worst parts of your cellphone and cable
subscriptions. The services are expensive, the offerings are limited,
in short it's awful.

If that truly was the future of high-speed internet access without the
proposed legislation I'd have to debate setting aside my libertarian
sympathies on the issue. Fortunately, for the reasons I'll ellucidate
below I think that is NOT what the future of internet access will be
without network neutrality regulation.

First let's take a trip down memory lane. Back in 1999, my house had
two options for high-speed internet access, ADSL for $60/mo or ISDN
for $150/mo, both provided by the local phone monopoly.

In that a situation I could imagine a company like Bellsouth tampering
with access as envisioned by the artist above. Now however, customers
have significantly more options. To enforce mediocre, high-price,
non-neutral service, ISP's would have to form a cartel.

Fortunately, cartels are only stable in two situations:
1) the resource being offered has very limited natural supply (imagine
there are only two iron ore mines in the world)
2) the government grants cartel-like privileges to the firms (for
example, airlines prior to deregulation).

Because of the relentless march of technology, the former seems pretty
impotent. Between DSL, Cable, Microwave, WiMax, 3G, LTE, 4G, Muni
WiFi, Satellite, Powerline, FiOS, 802.20, WiFi Mesh networking, I
think it would be nigh impossible for BellSouth to provide both bad
services and high prices. If Bellsouth told me they would charge me
$80 dollars/mo for service without access to Usenet or Bittorrent, I'd
tell them, thanks but no thanks. In a competitive market place,
customers are king. Take one example, when Comcast started to throttle
Bittorrent traffic, hellfire and brimstone rained down upon them...
other ISP's certainly took note.

This isn't to say that in a competitive scenario, such as the one I
feel is likely, some ISP's might provide 'content-constrained'
internet service, for a very cheap rate. Many gamers might love to pay
$10/mo for a low latency connection that blocked access to Usenet and
Bittorrent. Other folks might opt for a free service that used a
gatekeeper that set Bing as their permanent homepage. These are
options that benefit the company and the consumer. These are options
that wouldn't exist in a world with government mandated network

We can't say in advance what the market structure will evolve to, but
I would caution that putting the FCC in charge of the ISP industry
will likely have unintended consequences. If the FCC holds the power
to license ISP's, we will be one step closer to the cartelization that
would all but guarantee high prices and shitty service."

The (Difficult) Route to No Tax Rate Increases

How do Republicans arrange for maintaining the Bush tax cuts for everyone when the Democrats want to raise rates for those earning more than $250,000? Impossible feat? Maybe not.

The key is to present the Democrats and the President with only two alternatives: either the Bush cuts are maintained across the board, or everyone sees their taxes go up. No in-between option of "cuts only for the middle class."

I suspect that Democrats would rather take cuts for everyone than the alternative of no cuts at all. Sure, their base of liberals would be furious that the "rich" are getting a tax cut, but the liberals are going to vote Democrat anyway. How many votes will they lose if November comes, the economy is still moribund, and there has been no action on preventing the largest tax increase on record to take effect come 2011?

So how do we get to the point where the Dems have only those two choices? The Republicans have to make Democrats think that they are willing to accept a stalemate -- no tax cuts for anyone. The rational fear of an impasse, given my assumption above that the cost of no tax cut is really high for the Democrats, will make them accept the less desirable alternative of cuts for everyone.

How do Republicans credibly signal to Democrats their willingness to accept a stalemate?

Ironically, I think John Boehner might be off to a good start with these words:
In a pre-taped interview to appear on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner said that, if approving a bill to extend breaks for middle class income Americans were "the only option," he would support it.

To make the threat of opposing "cuts only for the middle class" credible, the Republicans need to establish a public record that they could point to in their defense, if the end result is a logjam and all tax rates go up. This is what Boehner said -- he will not oppose a middle class-only cut. And the White House jumped on his statement, giving it even more publicity and authenticity. So now the Republicans are on record for not opposing a cut only for the middle class. Clearly if we don't get that, it will be the Democrats' fault!

Of course, now the Republicans do have to work for the whole package, cuts for everyone. They need to play chicken, holding off any vote for as long as possible, making the Dems more and more nervous that there will be too little support for cuts only for the middle class. Tell them that there would be enough votes for an across the board maintenance of the Bush cuts, but that the middle class only option looks like it will fail...

Still a long shot, but I can see the road-- well, a small path -- to victory on this one.