Tuesday, December 23, 2014

WSJ.com - The Marvel of American Resilience

Some hope for the coming new year…




Imagine an economic historian in the year 2050 talking to her students about the most consequential innovations of the early 21st century—the Model Ts and Wright flyers and Penicillins of our time. What would make her list?


Surely fracking—shorthand for the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that is making the U.S. the world’s leading oil and gas producer—would be noted. Surely social media—the bane of autocrats like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and of parents like me—would also get a mention. Mobile apps? Check. The emerging science of cancer immunotherapy? Hopefully, with fingers tightly crossed.


After drawing up this list, our historian would then observe that each innovation had “Made in USA” stamped all over it. How strange, she might say, that so many Americans of the day spent so much of their time bellyaching about the wretched state of their schools, the paralyzed nature of their politics, their mounting fiscal burdens and the predictions of impending decline.


Perhaps because I grew up as an American living abroad, I’ve always been struck by the disconnect between American achievement and self-perception. To this day I find it slightly amazing that, in the U.S., I can drink water straight from a tap, that a policeman has never asked me for a “contribution,” that my luggage has never been stolen, that nobody gets kidnapped for ransom, that Mao-esque political purges are conducted only in the editorials of the New York Times .


Try saying the same thing about everyday life in Brazil, Russia, India, China or South Africa—the so-called Brics countries once anointed by a Goldman Sachs guru as the economies of the future.


But back to our future historian. Why, she might ask her students, did the U.S. dominate its peers when it came to all the really big innovations?


Fracking would make a good case study. The revolution happened in the U.S. not because of any great advantage in geology—China, Argentina and Algeria each has larger recoverable shale gas reserves. It didn’t happen because America’s big energy companies are uniquely skilled or smart or deep-pocketed: Take a look at ExxonMobil ’s 2004 Annual Report and you’ll barely find a mention of “fracturing” or “horizontal” drilling.


Nor, finally, did it happen because enlightened mandarins in the federal bureaucracy and national labs were peering around the corners of the future. For the most part, they were obsessing about the possibilities of cellulosic ethanol and other technological nonstarters.


Instead, fracking happened in the U.S. because Americans, almost uniquely in the world, have property rights to the minerals under their yards. And because the federal government wasn’t really paying attention. And because federalism allows states to do their own thing. And because against-the-grain entrepreneurs like George Mitchell and Harold Hamm couldn’t be made to bow to the consensus of experts. And because our deep capital markets were willing to bet against those experts.


“When I talk to foreigners, they’re even more impressed than many Americans by this renaissance,” says my Journal colleague Gregory Zuckerman, author of “The Frackers.” “They understand that it only could have happened in America.”


Fracking has now upended energy markets, pummeled petrodictators, confounded OPEC, forged deeper North American economic ties, slashed U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions to their lowest level since 1995, and sunk a nail into the coffin of most renewable-energy schemes (though there will be no slaying that zombie, as our future historian would also know).


Fracking is one industry. In time, the advantages it has given the U.S. will fade as the technology is more widely disseminated. Then it will be on to the next thing. Which, it is safe to say, will also be of American origin and design.


Here, then, is the larger lesson our future historian will draw for her students: Innovation depends less on developing specific ideas than it does on creating broad spaces. Autocracies can always cultivate their chess champions, piano prodigies and nuclear engineers; they can always mobilize their top 1% to accomplish some task. The autocrats’ quandary is what to do with the remaining 99%. They have no real answer, other than to administer, dictate and repress.


A free society that is willing to place millions of small bets on persons unknown and things unseen doesn’t have this problem. Flexibility, not hardness, is its true test of strength. Success is a result of experiment not design. Failure is tolerable to the extent that adaptation is possible.


This is the American secret, which we often forget because we can’t imagine it any other way. It’s why we are slightly shocked to find ourselves coming out ahead—even, or especially, when our presidents are feckless and our policies foolish.


We are larger than our leaders. We are better than our politics. We are wiser than our culture. We are smarter than our ideas. Enjoy the holiday.


Monday, October 13, 2014

WSJ.com - Research shows that music training boosts IQ, focus and persistence

WSJ.com - Research shows that music training boosts IQ, focus and persistence


Music is no cure-all, nor is it likely to turn your child into a Nobel Prize winner. But there is compelling evidence that it can boost children’s academic performance and help fix some of our schools’ most intractable problems.


Music raises your IQ.

Music training can reduce the academic gap between rich and poor districts.

Music training does more than sports, theater or dance to improve key academic skills.

Music can be an inexpensive early screening tool for reading disabilities.

Music literally expands your brain.


Yet music programs continue to be viewed as expendable. A 2011 analysis in the Journal of Economic Finance calculated that a K-12 school music program in a large suburban district cost $187 per student a year, or just 1.6% of the total education budget. That seems a reasonable price to pay for fixing some of the thorniest and most expensive problems facing American education. Music programs shouldn’t have to sing for their supper.

Friday, September 5, 2014

WSJ.com - Whatever Happened to Global Warming?

WSJ.com - Whatever Happened to Global Warming?


The U.N. no longer claims that there will be dangerous or rapid climate change in the next two decades. Last September, between the second and final draft of its fifth assessment report, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change quietly downgraded the warming it expected in the 30 years following 1995, to about 0.5 degrees Celsius from 0.7 (or, in Fahrenheit, to about 0.9 degrees, from 1.3).


Even that is likely to be too high. The climate-research establishment has finally admitted openly what skeptic scientists have been saying for nearly a decade: Global warming has stopped since shortly before this century began.


"The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998," wrote Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia in Britain in 2005. He went on: "Okay it has but it is only seven years of data and it isn't statistically significant."


If the pause lasted 15 years, they conceded, then it would be so significant that it would invalidate the climate-change models upon which policy was being built. A report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) written in 2008 made this clear: "The simulations rule out (at the 95% level) zero trends for intervals of 15 yr or more."


Well, the pause has now lasted for 16, 19 or 26 years—depending on whether you choose the surface temperature record or one of two satellite records of the lower atmosphere.


It has been roughly two decades since there was a trend in temperature significantly different from zero. The burst of warming that preceded the millennium lasted about 20 years and was preceded by 30 years of slight cooling after 1940.


This has taken me by surprise. I was among those who thought the pause was a blip. As a "lukewarmer," I've long thought that man-made carbon-dioxide emissions will raise global temperatures, but that this effect will not be amplified much by feedbacks from extra water vapor and clouds, so the world will probably be only a bit more than one degree Celsius warmer in 2100 than today. By contrast, the assumption built into the average climate model is that water-vapor feedback will treble the effect of carbon dioxide.


But now I worry that I am exaggerating, rather than underplaying, the likely warming.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

WSJ.com - The salt libel: Scientific debates are rarely 'settled.'

WSJ.com - The salt libel: Scientific debates are rarely 'settled.'


We were told the science was settled. Yet new research suggests that salt is not nearly as dangerous as the government medical establishment has been proclaiming for many decades—and a low-salt diet may itself be risky.


Yet the latest USDA food pyramid, which was updated as recently as 2011, clings to simplistic low-salt pseudo-science. The FDA is pressuring food manufacturers and restaurants to remove salt from their recipes and menus, while the public health lobby is still urging the agency to go further and regulate NaCl as if it were a poison.


The larger point is that no scientific enterprise is static, and political claims that some line of inquiry is over and "settled" are usually good indications that real debate and uncertainty are aboil. In medicine in particular, the illusion that science can provide some objective answer that applies to everyone—how much salt to eat, how and how often to screen for cancer, even whom to treat with cholesterol-lowering drugs, and so on—is a special danger.


Government regulation often can lock in bad advice and practices and never changes as quickly as the evidence evolves.



Wednesday, May 28, 2014

WSJ.com - Doctors' War Stories From VA Hospitals

WSJ.com - Doctors' War Stories From VA Hospitals



U.S. doctors are well aware of the problems with VA hospitals because many of us trained at them. There are 153 VA hospitals. Most of them are affiliated with the country's 155 medical schools, and they play an integral role in the education of young physicians. These physicians have borne witness to the abuses and mismanagement, and when they attempt to fight against the entrenched bureaucracy on behalf of their patients, they meet fierce resistance.


The veterans who receive their care at VA hospitals are the kindest and most grateful patients that I have had the privilege to care for in my career. Unfortunately, they are getting shortchanged. The time to repair this national embarrassment is long past.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

WSJ.com - Ignoring an Inequality Culprit: Single-Parent Families

Ignoring an Inequality Culprit: Single-Parent Families

Intellectuals fretting about income disparity are oddly silent regarding the decline of the two-parent family.




Suppose a scientific conference on cancer prevention never addressed smoking, on the grounds that in a free society you can't change private behavior, and anyway, maybe the statistical relationships between smoking and cancer are really caused by some other third variable. Wouldn't some suspect that the scientists who raised these claims were driven by something—ideology, tobacco money—other than science?


Yet in the current discussions about increased inequality, few researchers, fewer reporters, and no one in the executive branch of government directly addresses what seems to be the strongest statistical correlate of inequality in the United States: the rise of single-parent families during the past half century.


Why isn't this matter at the center of policy discussions? There are at least three reasons. First, much of politics is less about what you are for than who you are against….  And intellectual and cultural elites lean to the left. So, quite simply, very few professors or journalists, and fewer still who want foundation grants, want to be seen as siding with social conservatives, even if the evidence leads that way.


Second, family breakup has hit minority communities the hardest. So even bringing up the issue risks being charged with racism, a potential career-killer.


Finally, there is no quick fix. Welfare reform beginning in the mid-1990s offered only modest marriage incentives and has been insufficient to change entrenched cultural practices. The change must come from long-term societal transformation on this subject, led by political, educational and entertainment elites, similar to the decades-long movements against racism, sexism—and smoking.


But the first step is to acknowledge the problem.


Monday, May 5, 2014

WSJ.com - The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease

The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease

Are butter, cheese and steak really bad for you? The dubious science behind the anti-fat crusade





"Saturated fat does not cause heart disease"—or so concluded a big study published in March in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. How could this be? The very cornerstone of dietary advice for generations has been that the saturated fats in butter, cheese and red meat should be avoided because they clog our arteries. For many diet-conscious Americans, it is simply second nature to opt for chicken over sirloin, canola oil over butter.


The new study's conclusion shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with modern nutritional science, however. The fact is, there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.


One consequence is that in cutting back on fats, we are now eating a lot more carbohydrates—at least 25% more since the early 1970s. Consumption of saturated fat, meanwhile, has dropped by 11%, according to the best available government data. Translation: Instead of meat, eggs and cheese, we're eating more pasta, grains, fruit and starchy vegetables such as potatoes. Even seemingly healthy low-fat foods, such as yogurt, are stealth carb-delivery systems, since removing the fat often requires the addition of fillers to make up for lost texture—and these are usually carbohydrate-based.


The problem is that carbohydrates break down into glucose, which causes the body to release insulin—a hormone that is fantastically efficient at storing fat. Meanwhile, fructose, the main sugar in fruit, causes the liver to generate triglycerides and other lipids in the blood that are altogether bad news. Excessive carbohydrates lead not only to obesity but also, over time, to Type 2 diabetes and, very likely, heart disease.


Sticking to these guidelines has meant ignoring growing evidence that women on diets low in saturated fat actually increase their risk of having a heart attack. The "good" HDL cholesterol drops precipitously for women on this diet (it drops for men too, but less so). The sad irony is that women have been especially rigorous about ramping up on their fruits, vegetables and grains, but they now suffer from higher obesity rates than men, and their death rates from heart disease have reached parity.

Friday, March 28, 2014

WSJ.com - Climate Forecast: Muting the Alarm

WSJ.com - Climate Forecast: Muting the Alarm


"In climate science, the real debate has never been between "deniers" and the rest, but between "lukewarmers," who think man-made climate change is real but fairly harmless, and those who think the future is alarming.


Almost every global environmental scare of the past half century proved exaggerated including the population "bomb," pesticides, acid rain, the ozone hole, falling sperm counts, genetically engineered crops and killer bees. In every case, institutional scientists gained a lot of funding from the scare and then quietly converged on the view that the problem was much more moderate than the extreme voices had argued. Global warming is no different."



Friday, January 31, 2014

The Imperial Presidency of Barack Obama



The president's taste for unilateral action to circumvent Congress should concern every citizen, regardless of party or ideology. The great 18th-century political philosopher Montesquieu observed: "There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates." America's Founding Fathers took this warning to heart, and we should too.


Rule of law doesn't simply mean that society has laws; dictatorships are often characterized by an abundance of laws. Rather, rule of law means that we are a nation ruled by laws, not men. That no one—and especially not the president—is above the law. For that reason, the U.S. Constitution imposes on every president the express duty to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."


Yet rather than honor this duty, President Obama has openly defied it by repeatedly suspending, delaying and waiving portions of the laws he is charged to enforce. When Mr. Obama disagreed with federal immigration laws, he instructed the Justice Department to cease enforcing the laws. He did the same thing with federal welfare law, drug laws and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.


On many of those policy issues, reasonable minds can disagree. Mr. Obama may be right that some of those laws should be changed. But the typical way to voice that policy disagreement, for the preceding 43 presidents, has been to work with Congress to change the law.


In the past, when Republican presidents abused their power, many Republicans—and the press—rightly called them to account. Today many in Congress—and the press—have chosen to give President Obama a pass on his pattern of lawlessness, perhaps letting partisan loyalty to the man supersede their fidelity to the law.


But this should not be a partisan issue. In time, the country will have another president from another party. For all those who are silent now: What would they think of a Republican president who announced that he was going to ignore the law, or unilaterally change the law? Imagine a future president setting aside environmental laws, or tax laws, or labor laws, or tort laws with which he or she disagreed.


That would be wrong—and it is the Obama precedent that is opening the door for future lawlessness.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

WSJ.com - The Great Destroyer

The Great Destroyer

ObamaCare wreaks havoc on health care, the economy, American freedom and Obama's presidency.



Most interestingly, the administration and congressional Democrats seem genuinely surprised that their prized legislation, which was to be the crown jewel of the president's legacy and the culmination of decades of liberal ambition, simply doesn't work. Did these folks ever study history, economics or sociology? If they had, they would have known there was little chance of success for their attempt to snatch one-sixth of our economy and thrust it under a complex set of bureaucratic regulations, market disincentives, higher costs and new taxes.


Large government interventions in the market almost always fall short of their backers' dreams (although not usually this rapidly). Such programs suffer from a common set of flaws, all of which are found in ObamaCare. First, and perhaps foremost, is the hubris inherent in the assumption that bureaucrats in Washington (or Moscow, Beijing or Pyongyang) know better than families, individuals and businesses do what is best for them.


ObamaCare embodies the usual hypocrisy of large liberal programs, as the administration bestows benefits and exemptions on favored constituencies and the politically connected. We see waivers for big labor, relief from inconvenient mandates for congressional staff, and decisions timed to minimize harm to Democrats in the next election. Conversely, those who don't have politically correct views are ignored or mocked. We see lip service given to conscientious objections to abortion and birth control, but ObamaCare policies that run roughshod over these objections.


Perhaps most disappointing, we can observe in the administration's handling of ObamaCare a now all too familiar subversion of the rule of law, a fundamental precept of our nation's founding and of democracies everywhere. George Will notes that the administration has apparently decided it can adopt legislation by press conference as Mr. Obama simply announces changes to the law or that he will not enforce certain provisions. His administration then proceeds to strong-arm businesses and demonize critics.


There is the usual governmental failure to anticipate how people respond to economic incentives. Why would the administration expect the required large numbers of healthy, young people to enroll in ObamaCare in response to higher premiums? Why would the administration expect businesses to refrain from adjusting their staffing decisions based on the additional cost of ObamaCare?


Finally, we see the familiar curse of unintended consequences as the fantasy of better, more affordable insurance with more options runs into the reality of higher costs and fewer options. The failed exchange and the cancelled plans were just the beginning, followed by sticker shock at the cost of the government-mandated coverage and doctors being dropped from networks or opting out.


We don't yet know every way in which ObamaCare will damage our health-care system, our economy and our freedom, but we can be sure more pain is coming.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

WSJ.com - Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results

Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results



"It's time to revive old-fashioned education... with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here's the thing: It works.  Studies have now shown, among other things, the benefits of moderate childhood stress; how praise kills kids' self-esteem; and why grit is a better predictor of success than SAT scores.


All of which flies in the face of the kinder, gentler philosophy that has dominated American education over the past few decades. The conventional wisdom holds that teachers are supposed to tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads. Projects and collaborative learning are applauded; traditional methods like lecturing and memorization—derided as "drill and kill"—are frowned upon, dismissed as a surefire way to suck young minds dry of creativity and motivation.


But the conventional wisdom is wrong. And the following eight principles explain why.

1. A little pain is good for you.

2. Drill, baby, drill.

3. Failure is an option.

4. Strict is better than nice.

5. Creativity can be learned.

6. Grit trumps talent.

7. Praise makes you weak…

8.…while stress makes you strong.

Monday, September 30, 2013

WSJ.com - An Obama-Cruz Shutdown



The first thing to keep in mind is that this does not mean "anarchy," in Harry Reid's typically subtle formulation, or even a complete government shutdown. Functions deemed "essential" will continue, and it's debatable how many of those really are crucial to daily American life. The military will be paid, Social Security checks will still go out. Many Americans will be inconvenienced, but tens of millions may come to realize how easily they can do without most of the vast federal Leviathan.


A second reality is that both parties are responsible for getting to this point. Americans chose a divided government in 2010 and again in 2012, electing House Republicans as a check on Democrats whose undiluted liberalism alarmed millions of voters when they ran the entire government in 2009-2010. The inability to compromise now is rooted in the wide disagreement about the role of government that now separates the two parties.


This is a President who is eager to negotiate with dubiously elected Iranian mullahs but can't abide compromise with duly elected leaders of Congress.


Mr. Obama also refuses to bend on any part of ObamaCare—except when he unilaterally announces bending in his own political interest. He decided on his own, and contrary to the plain text of the law, to delay for a year the business mandate to provide insurance for employees.


Mr. Obama's refusal to negotiate suggests that he wants a shutdown—either over the budget or debt limit. His agenda is dying on Capitol Hill, because of Senate Democrats as well as House Republicans. With his approval rating down and independents leaning toward the GOP, he figures his only chance to salvage a second-term domestic legacy is to restore Nancy Pelosi as Speaker in his final two years. His best opening to make that happen is a shutdown or debt-limit crisis that he will try to blame on Republicans. A shutdown is as much his strategy as it is Mr. Cruz's.

Monday, March 4, 2013

WSJ.com - Republicans and Their Faulty Moral Arithmetic

Republicans and Their Faulty Moral Arithmetic 

Conservative values and money issues are worth less than concern for the poor.



Conservatives are fighting a losing battle of moral arithmetic. They hand an argument with virtually 100% public support—care for the vulnerable—to progressives, and focus instead on materialistic concerns and minority moral viewpoints.

The irony is maddening. America's poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children.

Meanwhile, the record of free enterprise in improving the lives of the poor both here and abroad is spectacular. According to Columbia University economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin, the percentage of people in the world living on a dollar a day or less—a traditional poverty measure—has fallen by 80% since 1970. This is the greatest antipoverty achievement in world history. That achievement is not the result of philanthropy or foreign aid. It occurred because billions of souls have been able to pull themselves out of poverty thanks to global free trade, property rights, the rule of law and entrepreneurship.

The left talks a big game about helping the bottom half, but its policies are gradually ruining the economy, which will have catastrophic results once the safety net is no longer affordable. Labyrinthine regulations, punitive taxation and wage distortions destroy the ability to create private-sector jobs. Opportunities for Americans on the bottom to better their station in life are being erased.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

WSJ.com - Head Start for All



…what "study after study" really suggest is that government-funded pre-K programs are best when they are targeted at low-income, disadvantaged or minority children—those with the most need. Such a modest, practical reform may lack Mr. Obama's preferred political grandeur, but the other reason he didn't propose it is that the government has already been doing it for a half-century.


That would be Lyndon Johnson's Head Start program, birth date 1965. In December of last year, the Health and Human Services Department released the most comprehensive study of Head Start to date, which took years to prepare. The 346-page report followed toddlers who won lotteries to join Head Start in several states and those who didn't through the third grade. There were no measurable differences between the two groups across 47 outcome measures. In other words, Head Start's impact is no better than random.


Counting Head Start, special education and state-subsidized preschool, 42% of four-year-olds are now enrolled in a government program. Federal, state and local financing for early learning is closing in on $40 billion a year, double what it was a decade ago. But can anyone say that achievement is twice as good—or even as good?


The problem of America's undeveloped human potential is real, but Mr. Obama has set up a non-falsifiable evidentiary standard for government. The public schools fail the poor, but reforming them is hard and would upset the unions. So instead liberals propose Head Start to prepare poor kids for kindergarten. Head Start has little to show after 47 years, but rather than replacing it, the new liberal solution is to expand it to everyone.


Meanwhile, pundits who claim to be empiricists lecture Republicans to agree to all this so they don't appear to be so hostile to government. Everyone pretends that spending more on programs that have demonstrably failed is a sign of compassion and "what works," government expands without results, and the poor are offered only the false hope of liberal good intentions.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

WSJ.com - Are Polar Bears Really Disappearing?

I went north for a simple reason: I wanted to be a hero of the environmental movement and write a poetic obituary for a doomed species. The Center for Biological Diversity—the environmental group that sued the U.S. government to put polar bears on the Endangered Species list—had predicted that "two-thirds of the world's polar bears could be extinct by 2050."
But after months of reporting and hundreds of bear sightings, I kept running up against an inconvenient truth: There were a lot of well-meaning, well-credentialed scientists, wildlife officers and local experts who simply didn't believe that polar bears were one ice cube away from extinction. And they had the numbers to prove it.
Which was good news for the bears…even if it was terrible news for their careers as symbols of environmental doom.
Let's start with what we know. Almost everybody agrees that there are between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears alive today. Here's another thing almost everyone agrees on: That number is a whole lot bigger than it was 40 years ago.
"Polar bears are one of the biggest conservation success stories in the world," says Drikus Gissing, wildlife director for the Canadian territory of Nunavut.

Friday, November 30, 2012

WSJ.com - This Unserious White House


The president's team specified no amounts or details on spending cuts. Rather, the White House wants more spending: at least $50 billion in new stimulus, an extension of unemployment insurance, a one-year deferral of the sequester, new money to refinance underwater mortgages, a Medicare-doctor fix . . . and a partridge in a pear tree.


Oh, the White House also wants Congress to give Mr. Obama the authority to increase the debt limit, whenever he wants, as much as he wants.


What do Republicans get in return? Next year, the White House will agree to talk to the GOP about cutting as much as $400 billion from entitlement programs. Maybe. If Democrats get around to it. Which they won't—because they'll have everything they've wanted.


How to put this tax-and-more-spending offer in perspective? It is far in excess of what the Democrats asked for in last year's debt-limit standoff—when the political configuration in Washington was exactly the same. It is far more than the president's own Democratic Senate has ever been able to pass, even with a filibuster-proof majority. It is far more than the president himself campaigned on this year.


But the president's offer is very much in keeping with his history of insisting that every negotiation consist of the other side giving him everything he wants. That approach has given him the reputation as the modern president least able to forge a consensus.


Monday, September 24, 2012

WSJ.com - How to Stop Hospitals From Killing Us

This article is scary.  I also posted it to Facebook, so if anyone in the medical community wants to comment either about the problem or the proposed solutions I’d like your insights.  They all sound good to me, but I admit I'm an outsider and may not see all the impacts.


WSJ.com - How to Stop Hospitals From Killing Us*


Medical mistakes kill enough people each week to fill four jumbo jets. But these mistakes go largely unnoticed by the world at large, and the medical community rarely learns from them. The same preventable mistakes are made over and over again, and patients are left in the dark about which hospitals have significantly better (or worse) safety records than their peers.

If medical errors were a disease, they would be the sixth leading cause of death in America—just behind accidents and ahead of Alzheimer's. The human toll aside, medical errors cost the U.S. health-care system tens of billions a year.

It does not have to be this way. A new generation of doctors and patients is trying to achieve greater transparency in the health-care system, and new technology makes it more achievable than ever before.


Monday, September 10, 2012

WSJ.com - Corporate Cronyism Harms America

Cronyism 101:



The role of business is to provide products and services that make people's lives better—while using fewer resources—and to act lawfully and with integrity. Businesses that do this through voluntary exchanges not only benefit through increased profits, they bring better and more competitively priced goods and services to market. This creates a win-win situation for customers and companies alike.

Only societies with a system of economic freedom create widespread prosperity. Studies show that the poorest people in the most-free societies are 10 times better off than the poorest in the least-free. Free societies also bring about greatly improved outcomes in life expectancy, literacy, health, the environment and other important dimensions.

So why isn't economic freedom the "default setting" for our economy? What upsets this productive state of affairs? Trouble begins whenever businesses take their eyes off the needs and wants of consumers—and instead cast longing glances on government and the favors it can bestow. When currying favor with Washington is seen as a much easier way to make money, businesses inevitably begin to compete with rivals in securing government largess, rather than in winning customers.

We have a term for this kind of collusion between business and government. It used to be known as rent-seeking. Now we call it cronyism. Rampant cronyism threatens the economic foundations that have made this the most prosperous country in the world.

We are on dangerous terrain when government picks winners and losers in the economy by subsidizing favored products and industries.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

WSJ.com - A Nation Adrift From the Rule of Law

The numerous deviations from the rule of law is probably my #1 complaint against the Obummer administration.


WSJ.com - Opinion: A Nation Adrift From the Rule of Law

“The notion that we are governed by rules that are transparent and enacted through the legislative process—not by the whims of our leaders—is at the heart of that commitment. If legislators exceed their authority under the Constitution, or if otherwise legitimate laws are misused, courts must step in to prevent or remedy the potential harm.

Though one might excuse departures from the rule of law at the height of a crisis, one would expect to see a prompt reversion to rule-of-law principles immediately thereafter.

By far the most disturbing element of recent trends is that precisely the opposite seems to be taking place. The commitment of government officials to the rule of law has continued to crumble—even after the crisis has subsided.

Rule-of-law matters cannot be separated entirely from questions about the size and role of government. The more government grows, the harder it is to preserve rule-of-law virtues like transparency and clear rules of the game. But the rule of law is nevertheless a distinct and extraordinarily important concern, and it deserves separate consideration as the presidential campaign begins in earnest.

Monday, August 20, 2012

WSJ.com - The Panic Over Fukushima

WSJ.com - The Panic Over Fukushima


The tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011 was horrendous. Over 15,000 people were killed by the giant wave itself. The economic consequences of the reactor destruction were massive. The human consequences, in terms of death and evacuation, were also large. But the radiation deaths will likely be a number so small [best estimate ~100], compared with the tsunami deaths, that they should not be a central consideration in policy decisions.

Looking back more than a year after the event, it is clear that the Fukushima reactor complex, though nowhere close to state-of-the-art, was adequately designed to contain radiation. New reactors can be made even safer, of course, but the bottom line is that Fukushima passed the test.

The great tragedy of the Fukushima accident is that Japan shut down all its nuclear reactors.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

WSJ.com - Why the Doctor Can't See You

WSJ.com - Opinion: John C. Goodman: Why the Doctor Can't See You


When demand exceeds supply in a normal market, the price rises until it reaches a market-clearing level. But in this country, as in other developed nations, Americans do not primarily pay for care with their own money. They pay with time.


How long does it take you on the phone to make an appointment to see a doctor? How many days do you have to wait before she can see you? How long does it take to get to the doctor's office? Once there, how long do you have to wait before being seen? These are all non-price barriers to care, and there is substantial evidence that they are more important in deterring care than the fee the doctor charges, even for low-income patients.


When demand exceeds supply, doctors have a great deal of flexibility about who they see and when they see them. Not surprisingly, they tend to see those patients first who pay the highest fees.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

WSJ.com - Bans on Plastic Bags Harm the Environment


WSJ.com - Opinion: Bans on Plastic Bags Harm the Environment


With the urging of environmental groups backed by the celebrity firepower of actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the city of Los Angles banned plastic supermarket bags last week. The law received added support from the Los Angeles Times, which published a house editorial encouraging the city council to enact the ban. Without presenting any quantitative evidence, the editors wrote that plastic bags pose a "huge cost to the environment" and that reusable totes and paper bags are "better options." Unsupported claims to this effect are widespread in the press and among advocacy groups, but they are at odds with scientific data.

In 2011, the United Kingdom's Environment Agency released a study that evaluated nine categories of environmental impacts caused by different types of supermarket bags. The study found that paper bags have a worse effect on the environment than plastic bags in all nine impact categories…

Furthermore, the study found that the average supermarket shopper would have to reuse the same cotton tote from 94 up to 1,899 times before it had less environmental impact than the disposable plastic bags needed to carry the same amount of groceries…

For example, a shopper would need to reuse the same cotton tote 350 times before it caused less fresh water aquatic ecotoxicity than all of the plastic bags that it would replace over this period. Given the improbability that the same cotton tote would last that long (its expected life is 52 reuses), in most cases plastic bags will have less environmental impact.

The environmental impacts of supermarket bags are dominated by the energy and raw materials needed to manufacture them. Plastic bags are inexpensive because relatively small amounts of energy and raw materials are needed to make them. These same attributes that make plastic bags affordable and light also make them easier on the environment than alternatives like paper bags and reusable cotton totes.

The study did find that with moderate reuse, plastic totes made from polypropylene are better for the environment than disposable plastic bags, but this doesn't negate the fact that standard plastic bags are a more environmentally friendly choice than so-called green alternatives like paper bags and reusable cotton totes. Thus, when governments outlaw plastic bags to "improve the environment," they actually create more pollution.




Wednesday, June 6, 2012

WSJ.com - Why Obama Strikes Out In Court


WSJ.com - Opinion: Ilya Shapiro: Why Obama Strikes Out In Court*

Three unanimous Supreme Court decisions against the government suggest that the administration has a faulty view of federal power.


As the world awaits the Supreme Court's ruling on ObamaCare, there's a larger story that the pundits are missing: the court's rejection of the Obama administration's increasingly extreme claims on behalf of unlimited federal power.

This term alone, the high court has ruled unanimously against the government on religious liberty, criminal procedure and property rights. When the administration can't get even a single one of the liberal justices to agree with it in these unrelated areas of the law, that's a sign there's something wrong with its constitutional vision.




Monday, May 7, 2012

WSJ.com - Why Colleges Don't Teach the Federalist Papers


WSJ.com - Opinion: Peter Berkowitz: Why Colleges Don't Teach the Federalist Papers

At America's top schools, graduates leave without reading our most basic writings on the purpose of constitutional self-government.

It would be difficult to overstate the significance of The Federalist for understanding the principles of American government and the challenges that liberal democracies confront early in the second decade of the 21st century. 

The masterpiece of American political thought originated as a series of newspaper articles published under the pseudonym Publius in New York between October 1787 and August 1788 by framers Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison. The aim was to make the case for ratification of the new constitution, which had been agreed to in September 1787 by delegates to the federal convention meeting in Philadelphia over four months of remarkable discussion, debate and deliberation about self-government.

By the end of 1788, a total of 85 essays had been gathered in two volumes under the title The Federalist. Written at a brisk clip and with the crucial vote in New York hanging in the balance, the essays formed a treatise on constitutional self-government for the ages.

The Federalist deals with the reasons for preserving the union, the inefficacy of the existing federal government under the Articles of Confederation, and the conformity of the new constitution to the principles of liberty and consent. It covers war and peace, foreign affairs, commerce, taxation, federalism and the separation of powers. It provides a detailed examination of the chief features of the legislative, executive and judicial branches. It advances its case by restatement and refutation of the leading criticisms of the new constitution. It displays a level of learning, political acumen and public-spiritedness to which contemporary scholars, journalists and politicians can but aspire. And to this day it stands as an unsurpassed source of insight into the Constitution's text, structure and purposes.

Yet despite the lip service they pay to liberal education, our leading universities can't be bothered to require students to study The Federalist—or, worse, they oppose such requirements on moral, political or pedagogical grounds.  The bigger problem is that the progressive ideology that dominates our universities teaches that The Federalist, like all books written before the day before yesterday, is antiquated and irrelevant.

By robbing students of the chance to acquire a truly liberal education, our universities also deprive the nation of a citizenry well-acquainted with our Constitution's enduring principles.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

WSJ.com - America's Lost Energy Decade


WSJ.com - Opinion: America's Lost Energy Decade


Ten years ago this week, the U.S. Senate debated whether to open a small section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas production.  Under the terms of the ANWR amendment, a maximum of 2,000 acres in the nonwilderness portion of the refuge (less than 0.01% of the whole) would have been opened to surface development. But the amendment was defeated, and we are paying the price today.

Because oil might take up to 10 years to reach market, we were told that the nonwilderness portion of ANWR could not be part of the solution to our energy challenges. Nearly every senator who spoke against the amendment in 2002 listed this as a factor in his or her decision.

Now, 10 years later, it is plain to see that the argument was not just wrong, but backward. Instead of being a reason to oppose development in ANWR, the time it takes to develop the resource should be treated as a reason to approve it as quickly as possible.

Consider what would be different today had the Senate agreed to open those 2,000 acres a decade ago. If production were coming online right now as expected, it would be providing our nation with a number of much-needed benefits—including a lot more oil.

Oil prices would be restrained, if not reduced, as Alaskan crude made up for both actual and threatened losses around the world. Billions of dollars in new revenues would be generated for the U.S. Treasury, reducing the deficit and providing us with a means to invest in new energy technologies.

Oil imports would be reduced, keeping dollars within our economy to promote growth here at home. Thousands of ANWR-related, well-paying new jobs would be created at zero cost to taxpayers. And a looming national catastrophe—the shutdown for economic reasons of the increasingly empty trans-Alaska pipeline—would be averted.

It's a shame that we are forced to forgo these benefits at a time when all are desperately needed. But this is not just a missed opportunity; it's a cautionary tale.