Sunday, July 25, 2010

Unintended Health Insurance Consequences

Some major health insurance companies will no longer issue certain types of policies for children, an unintended consequence of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law, state officials said Friday.

[ . . . ]

The major types of coverage for children - employer plans and government programs - are not be affected by the disruption. But a subset of policies - those that cover children as individuals - may run into problems. Even so, insurers are not canceling children's coverage already issued, but refusing to write new policies.

The administration reacted sharply to the pullback. "We're disappointed that a small number of insurance companies are taking this unwarranted and unnecessary step," said Jessica Santillo, a spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services department.
Yesterday it was unintended consequences of "financial reform."

I wonder how people in the administration know these actions by insurance companies are "unwarranted and unnecessary?" It seems to me they must lack the knowledge these businesses need in their efforts to make a profit, and thus a living for many people, by supplying others with health insurance. The "health care reform" statute seems to attempt to force insurance businesses to structure risk pools in specific ways that would not otherwise have been chosen by these businesses. It seems to me one likely result of such government actions will be that at least some insurance businesses find that it is better to stop insuring than to try to earn a living insuring and following the government's new statute.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Economists on Government & This Recession

Some argue that we need more deficit spending—another stimulus package—to boost the economy. I agree that the economy needs a boost, but not in the form of increased deficit spending. In my view, the economy is being held back by high deficit spending and related policy uncertainties. The large deficits are causing the federal debt to explode, raising concerns about how it will be financed.

So what has been the government’s response in the current crisis? Besides spending stimulus, it was tax incentives for new home buyers and cash for clunkers if you bought a new car. All three are programs for borrowing output, homes and cars from future production and sales. Using subsidies to pump up home sales beyond what people could afford was the problem that led to the crisis. Now the problem is touted as the solution.

Liability For An Uncertain Future?

The nation's three dominant credit-ratings providers have made an urgent new request of their clients: Please don't use our credit ratings.

The odd plea is emerging as the first consequence of the financial overhaul that is to be signed into law by President Obama on Wednesday. And it already is creating havoc in the bond markets, parts of which are shutting down in response to the request.

Standard & Poor's, Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings are all refusing to allow their ratings to be used in documentation for new bond sales, each said in statements in recent days. Each says it fears being exposed to new legal liability created by the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

The new law will make ratings firms liable for the quality of their ratings decisions, effective immediately. The companies say that, until they get a better understanding of their legal exposure, they are refusing to let bond issuers use their ratings.

[ . . . ]

Once the bill is signed into law, advice by the services will be considered "expert" if used in formal documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That definition would make them legally liable for their work, meaning that it will be easier to sue an firm if a bond doesn't perform up to the stated rating.

That is a change from the current law, which considers ratings merely an opinion, protected like any other media such as a newspaper.

Perhaps this is a nice illustration of the unintended consequences of actions taken by government, in this case Congress and the President. I assume Congress and the President did not intend for providers of bond credit-ratings to respond to their legislation by deciding to no longer be providers of bond credit-ratings.

On the other hand, perhaps Congress and the President did intend for this result. Who will provide bond credit-ratings if private businesses won't? I guess government could.

I also wonder why it is thought to be a good idea to say a provider of credit-ratings has liability for actions taken by others who consult these ratings. It seems to me that trying to create such liability amounts to saying the providers of credit-ratings should be liable for an uncertain future. The future is inherently uncertain, and while credit-ratings may provide some information about the risk involved in certain kinds of actions taken today, it seems to me foolish to believe that credit-ratings accurately predict the uncertain risk, much less remove the risk.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tax Cuts For The Most Fortunate

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner:
We believe it is appropriate to let those tax cuts that go to the most fortunate expire

Most fortunate?

So, I wonder how these guys think a person gets income? To use a phrase like "most fortunate" suggests to me that they don't think income is earned, because if it is earned then large income may go to those who work hardest and that have the greatest abilities in producing goods and services for others.

I wonder how these guys think a person gains wealth? It seems to me wealth is chosen. In order to have wealth, I think a person has to choose to save something out of current income by not spending everything that he or she earns. I don't think the bottom line is that a person is fortunate to have wealth. It seems to me a person is wise to try to choose wealth by not consuming all that he or she earns.

Tax Increases & The Economy

Ever wonder about the idea that tax increases can be bad for the economy? Well the TAXPROF BLOG points out that apparently the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers has just published research which "indicates that tax increases are highly contractionary":
Christina D. Romer (Chair, Council of Economic Advisers) & David H. Romer (UC-Berkeley, Department of Economics) have published The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes: Estimates Based on a New Measure of Fiscal Shocks, 100 Am. Econ. Rev. 763 (2010). Here is the abstract:

This paper investigates the impact of tax changes on economic activity. We use the narrative record, such as presidential speeches and Congressional reports, to identify the size, timing, and principal motivation for all major postwar tax policy actions. This analysis allows us to separate legislated changes into those taken for reasons related to prospective economic conditions and those taken for more exogenous reasons. The behavior of output following these more exogenous changes indicates that tax increases are highly contractionary. The effects are strongly significant, highly robust, and much larger than those obtained using broader measures of tax changes.
Since the lead author is an adviser to the President, I'm wondering why the President, and members of Congress as well, are interested, especially in a period of recession and high unemployment, in letting tax cuts during the Bush Presidency expire. Hmmm. . . .tax increases "are highly contactionary." Maybe these elected representatives think the Romers aren't very good economic researchers? Maybe these elected representatives think there is good reason to believe things will be different this time around? Maybe these elected representatives have other goals than seeing the economy pull out of this recession?

Congress Created Them All

DON BOUDREAUX in a letter to the Washington Post:
You’re right to worry that Uncle Sam responded to the public’s anxiety about terrorism by creating an overgrown intelligence bureaucracy with bloated budgets that strain our wallets and arbitrary powers that mock the Constitution as they threaten our freedoms . . . Will bureaucrats in, say, the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection spend taxpayer funds more wisely than do bureaucrats in the NSA? Is the power to command people to purchase health insurance, or the power to prohibit consenting adults from buying and selling certain kinds of financial instruments, really so mild and beneficial that we should calmly welcome the exercise of these powers while we simultaneously quake with fear at the exercise of “intelligence” powers?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

July 4, 1776

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. -- Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

. . . And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Federal Taxes on the Rich & the Poor

Average Federal Tax Rate by Income Quintile, 1979-2007

The pattern of average tax rates has varied over time. The lowest three income quintiles have seen steady declines in their average rate. The tax rate on the fourth quintile was flat over most of this period, before declining in the early part of this decade. The tax rate on the top quintile has fluctuated more, with periods of increases and decreases.
By the way, since this information comes from the CBO, we should assume that every member of Congress has this information available to him or her, or at least to staff members. So, the next time a member of Congress in on a soapbox opining about taxes on the rich and the poor, you will be able to judge the veracity of the assertions.

Independence Day?

Our government has managed to create endless opportunities, but not for ordinary people—only for political operators and influence peddlers, with the Obama Administration pushing some 4,500 pages of medical and financial regulation just in its first 18 months.
Something to celebrate this Independence Day, eh?