July 14, 2006

Most Underrported Story of the Week in Ohio

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 3:40 pm

Ohio’s Rainy Day Fund Exceeds $1 Billion:

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft said the state is making a deposit of $394 million to the Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as the state’s rainy day fund. This deposit will push the fund’s balance past the $1 billion mark for the first time in five years.

The rainy day fund serves as the state’s savings account. The balance will be increased to $1.01 billion, the highest it has been since July 2001, according to a Thursday news release.

The deposit was made possible by a combination of stronger-than-estimated state fiscal year 2006 tax receipts and significant underspending by state agencies, the governor’s office said in the release.

That’s quite a contrast to how The Toledo Blade’s editorial board presented it earlier this week:

Instead of siphoning $390 million from a state budget surplus for the fiscal year ending June 30 for up-front costs of a new tax cut timetable, why not save the whole thing?

Ohio’s rainy day fund, depleted early in the decade to balance the books, needs to be replenished. The state would be better off putting the entire $390 million into its reserves, said state Sen. Teresa Fedor. The Toledo Democrat is right to call Mr. Taft’s move “shortsighted.”

“Conveniently,” neither The Blade nor Ms. Fedor acknowledged that the tax cut represents only half of what could have been put into the rainy day fund. You would almost think from reading the editorial that nothing, or almost nothing, was going into the fund.

I don’t know how much flexibility the law actually gives him, but financially Taft could have reduced the state’s income tax by 16.8% instead of 8.4% and energized Ohio’s economy even further. He might as well have, since he’s getting no credit, or even acknowledgment, from Ohio’s major newspapers for doing a perfectly reasonable 50-50 split.

Excerpt of the Day: Milton Friedman on “Self-Interest”

Filed under: Economy,Quotes, Etc. of the Day — Tom @ 1:35 pm

Hillsdale College’s July 2006 issue of Imprimis has a must-read retrospective interview with Nobel-winning economist and legend Milton Friedman. It is primarily about “Free to Choose,” his 1980 book and television series, that remains one of the most important treatments ever of the four-way intersection between economics, markets, politics, and freedom.

At the very end of the interview, Friedman had this to say to interviewer Larry Arnn, Hillsdale President, about “self-interest,” and in the process revealed how Arnn and so many others misunderstand the idea:

Larry Arnn: I have one more question for you. You describe a society in which people look after themselves because they know the most about themselves, and they will flourish if you let them. You, however, are a crusader for the rights of others. For example, you say in Free to Choose—and it’s a very powerful statement—a tiny minority is what matters. So is it one of the weaknesses of the free market that it requires certain extremely talented and disinterested people who can defend it?

Milton Friedman: No, that’s not right. The self-interest of the kind of people you just described is promoting public policy. That’s what they’re interested in doing. For example, what was my self-interest in economics? My self-interest to begin with was to understand the real mystery and puzzle that was the Great Depression. My self-interest was to try to understand why that happened, and that’s what I enjoyed doing—that was my self-interest. Out of that I grew to learn some things—to have some knowledge. Following that, my self-interest was to see that other people understood the same things and took appropriate action.

LA: Do you define self-interest as what the individual wants?

MF: Yes, self-interest is what the individual wants. Mother Teresa, to take one example, operated on a completely self-interested basis. Self-interest does not mean narrow self-interest. Self-interest does not mean monetary self-interest. Self-interest means pursuing those things that are valuable to you but which you can also persuade others to value. Such things very often go beyond immediate material interest.

LA: Does that mean self-interest is a synonym for self-sacrifice?

MF: If you want to see how pervasive this sort of self-interest is that I’m describing, look at the enormous amount of money contributed after Hurricane Katrina. That was a tremendous display of self-interest: The self-interest of people in that case was to help others. Self-interest, rightly understood, works for the benefit of society as a whole.

There’s quite a bit of difference between the “self-interest” that Friedman describes and the “selfishness” so many free-market believers are frequently accused of.

Friedman, who is almost 94, is sharper than almost everyone else is at 34.

Patient Self-Diagnosis: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Filed under: Economy,Marvels,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 10:13 am

Peter Huber has a mind-boggling subscription-only piece in Forbes’ July 24 issue that really shouldn’t stay weblocked. It’s about patient self-diagnosis. The technology is here to achieve it, and it could revolutionize medicine as we know it:

The Patient’s Right to Know

Some years ago the Food & Drug Administration concluded that a grown woman can handle learning that she’s pregnant all by herself. She may therefore buy a pregnancy detection dipstick from a pharmacy without a prescription. But the agency won’t let her buy a dipstick that reports whether she’s infected with HIV. That news must come from a doctor or approved counselor, in person or by phone.

This can’t be right, and it can’t last. Diagnostic technology is on a collision course with the FDA.

A dipstick (or something much like one) is coming to diagnose just about anything: infectious disease, disease caused by your own cells gone haywire or the threat of disease caused by imperfect genes. Want to know what’s lurking inside your own body? There will be a cheap, simple and completely private way to find out. A drop or swab of urine, blood, saliva or mucus will supply the answer. No doctor, nurse or lab technician will be needed.

….. For almost any protein or nucleic acid of interest, we now know how to build an exact antiprotein or antiacid that interacts very specifically with its twin. It’s also quite easy to graft on a more colorful chemical or two, so that when the protein antibody gloms onto the protein body the gray dipstick turns blue.

The chemistry is as sensitive, discriminating and reliable as a bloodhound’s nose. And it is–or soon will be–at the point where we can mass-produce it, put it on a stick and detect–at a few dollars a dip–the infinitesimal traces of whatever may be eating you.

Huber then discusses how an HIV-detection kit was developed by drug companies but disallowed for true in-home use (samples are sent to a lab, a step that is technically superfluous), because of fears that people couldn’t handle learning the results in the privacy of their homes. Then he cuts to the nub of the argument, the fault line that divides those of us believe in personal responsibility and those who believe that people have to be coddled and taken care of:

….. Now ask yourself: Why should you have to wait for the FDA to decide whether you can be trusted to learn about such things outside a doctor’s office? It is easy to accept that many drugs are too dangerous to be administered without expert supervision. But diagnosis is just communication. In your own home, at least, you have more right to leer at (or couple with) the body of a stranger than to interrogate your own. The doctor-patient relationship hinges on informed consent, but the FDA says only a doctor may do some of the informing.

Americans put a high premium on privacy. Legal scholars and Supreme Court justices have disagreed whether a broad right to privacy is implied by Fourth Amendment language that prohibits unreasonable “search or seizure” of “persons, houses, papers, and effects.” However broad or narrow that right may be, it ought to protect your right to dip a stick at least as fully as it protects your right to consult a doctor.

Some people treasure privacy too much even to talk to a doctor. Or they may simply lack perfect faith in the what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas promises that doctors make. ….. If the Constitution protects privacy at all, it ought to protect the go-it-alone privacy of a dipstick at least as much as show-and-tell privacy in an office.

The coming battles over self-diagnosis may be fierce. What if self-diagnosis eliminates the need for half or more of all doctor visits and lab tests? How will the massive bureaucracies known as Medicare, Medicaid, the health-insurance companies, and the nationalized health services in foreign countries deal with self-diagnosis? I fear that the answer is “probably as the FDA has,” with an excess of caution, and a nanny-state mentality that patients aren’t able to handle the truth or its implications.

This would seem to be an ideal opportunity for the “health care as a right” folks to unite with free marketeers to encourage rapid development of and minimal regulatory interference in the private creation of self-diagnostic tests. One interesting issue will be how much patent protection a privately-developed test deserves (or can maintain, even if granted).

When you think about it, there really is no good reason to leave diagnostic ability bottled up the medical-care community.

UPDATE: There’s also the question of whether our “good friends” at the life insurance companies would insist on administering these “self”-diagnostic tests themselves, or demand that applicants reveal the results of all self-tests as a precondition for issuing a policy.

Bizzy’s AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links (071406)

Free Links:

  • A significant improvement in brain-computer interaction that amounts to assisted psychokinesis (HT Drudge) –

    A man paralysed from the neck down has shown he can open email, control a TV and move objects with a robotic arm by thought alone.

    The 25-year-old American patient, Matthew Nagle, had a computer-linked implant placed in his brain that enabled him to operate devices just by thinking about it.

    Brain-computer interfaces have been demonstrated before, in humans and animals. But this is the biggest step taken so far towards developing “bionic” systems that can restore motor function in people who have lost control of their limbs.

  • The $14.6 billion Big Dig project tunnel where a woman driver died when she was crushed by falling 3-ton tiles is being closed. The problems that caused the woman’s death appear to be present elsewhere in the tunnel. Unstated in the article is that Boston traffic traffic for people who had been using the Williams Tunnel (thanks to commenter Kevin for the correction) will be a nightmare for quite a while. Jay Tea at Wizbang has a lot more detail on this 80% federally-funded nightmare.
  • What the …..? — The third paragraph in this New York Times piece about Wal-Mart’s policy on treatment of shoplifters reads thusly (bold is mine):

    According to internal documents, the company, the nation’s largest retailer and leading destination for shoplifting, will no longer prosecute first-time thieves unless they are between 18 and 65 and steal merchandise worth at least $25, putting the chain in line with the policies of many other retailers.

    The breezy assumption that Wal-Mart is the number one, uh, target, for shoplifting is dubious at best given its past zero-tolerance policies. The words were unnecessary and are unsupported, at least in the article. Given the store’s track record of going after shoplifters, I have to think that the crooks would prefer to go after the goods at other stores.

    Apparently some police departments are happy because they won’t be responding to as many calls from Wal-Mart stores about what the cops apparently see as trivial offenses.

    A related Reuters story at USA Today’s web site says that “The National Retail Federation, the largest retail trade group in the USA, estimates that retailers lost about $34 billion in 2005 due to organized retail theft.”

  • The Eurotunnel, which operates the Channel Tunnel link between Britain and France, has filed for bankruptcy. What you might think would be a can’t-miss business has debts of $11 billion.
  • In the UK, 63% of phones returned as “broken” have nothing wrong with them (HT Techdirt, which thinks it’s because they’re too complicated and have inadequate instructions and guidance). I also am surprised at the frequent employment of what I thought was a rarely used meaning of the word “punter” in the Register’s article.
  • Sarbanes Oxley is spreading into areas beyond the corporate realm like an infectious disease — What in the world is the point of having charities triple their audit fees, as has occurred at publicly-traded companies?

Positivity: 10 Year-old Saves Live of Sister’s Baby

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:01 am

10 year-old Alex Maratea is being recognized for her heroic rescue of her sister’s 4 month-old daughter in February:

U.D. girl pulls her nephew from path of speeding train
LINDA REILLY , Times Correspondent

UPPER DARBY, PA — A Stonehurst Hills Elementary School fourth-grader, who saved the life of her nephew who fell onto SEPTA’s train tracks, received accolades for her heroism and quick reaction. Alexandra Maratea, 10, received the Liberty Bell Heroism Award from Mayor John Street at a Philadelphia City Council session recently.
Representatives of the Philadelphia Fire Department and Gov. Ed Rendell also honored Alex and presented her with commendations of heroism.

Both Alex and her sister, Nikki Maratea, 20, have vivid memories of the mid-February incident at SEPTA’s 63rd Street station of the Market-Frankford Elevated line in Philadelphia, when Nikki’s son, Derrian Maratea, then 4 months, fell onto the train tracks while strapped into his stroller.

The trio had walked to 63rd Street to catch the El train headed for the 69th Street Terminal and climbed the steps of the station.

“It was really cold out and really windy,” Nikki said. “I pushed the stroller behind the post to block off the wind,” explaining she went through the gate and was called back by the ticket agent to settle the fare. “I turned and said ‘wait till I get my son situated.’

“In the time it took to take my hand off the stroller, the stroller was gone. The stroller had fallen onto the tracks. The baby was strapped in and face down on the tracks. I’m freakin’ out,” noting she jumped down to get him, but her clothing got caught on some pipes.

“I was trying to get help. I was screaming. I saw a guy walk away to flag down the train to get it to stop. That’s when Alex came from behind me and jumped down and lifted up the stroller,” onto the platform, Nikki said. An unidentified commuter then assisted Alex off the tracks, lifting her up onto the platform out of harm’s way.

Alex told the same story, recalling her sister turning and asking, “where’s the baby?”

“I heard him crying and he was laying down there face down,” Alex said. “I was a little scared. At first I thought it was my fault because I wasn’t looking. My sister got stuck on the pipes, so I jumped down and got the baby up. Then a man jumped down to help me up. I still have the rip in my jacket.

“The baby was crying and I was crying because I thought he was hurt. I couldn’t get up on the platform and the train was coming. We could hear it and we could see it coming. It was less than a block away. I was scared.”

The pre-teen heroine learned later they were inches away from the deadly third rail, which in a train system is the exposed electrical conductor that carries high-voltage power. Stepping on the high-voltage third rail results in electrocution, in many cases leading to death.

Baby Derrian suffered a broken arm and scratches that have since healed.