The Literary Drover No. 5270

Get ready: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-12-13/debt-worldwide-hits-record-184-trillion-or-86-000-per-person

The Literary Drover No. 5268

So . . . the wheels are coming off. Sans high speeds. Huh: http://www.niemanlab.org/2018/11/i-had-to-borrow-money-to-pay-my-rent-civils-tokenomics-has-left-some-of-its-journalists-wondering-where-their-salary-is/

The Literary Drover No. 5086

Tell. Me. A. Good. Story: https://variety.com/2019/biz/news/recession-hollywood-movie-business-trump-1203096883/

The Literary Drover No. 4880

That went well. Not – https://thehill.com/opinion/finance/412928-middle-class-is-disappearing-in-california-as-wealth-gap-grows

The Literary Drover No. 4876

Storytellers, take note: https://www.fastcompany.com/90250828/the-death-of-hollywoods-middle-class

The Literary Drover No. 4326

You may charge what you want for the price of admission, but tell me a good story:

https://variety.com/2018/film/box-office/average-movie-ticket-price-increases-2018-1202877380/

The Literary Drover No. 2197

[I will agree and even concede – Victor Davis Hanson is an acquired taste. When I first started reading his writing – inflicted, as it was by a friend who proved correct that I would come around to his writing and opinions – I had to wonder where he was coming from. It turns out. . . California: Prime real estate for people watching and wondering where the human race overall is headed. Off a steep cliff onto jagged rocks would be appropriate, given the antics of many of late. But . . . all the same, I always enjoy what Victor Davis Hanson has to say. Especially where California is concerned and how it serves as a litmus test for not only the United States of America but the entire planet.

Believe or not: This has to do with Jhon Collector. Consider the cautionary tale that follows, told well.]

Is California Cracking Up?

by Victor Davis Hanson

With poor education, a budget deficit, and crumbling infrastructure, Californians shouldn’t be focused on idealistic social programs.

Corporate profits at California-based transnational corporations such as Apple, Facebook, and Google are hitting record highs.

California housing prices from La Jolla to Berkeley along the Pacific Coast can top $1,000 a square foot.

It seems as if all of China is willing to pay premium prices to get their children degreed at Caltech, Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, or USC.

Yet California — after raising its top income tax rate to 13.3 percent and receiving record revenues — is still facing a budget deficit of more than $1 billion. There is a much more foreboding state crisis of unfunded liabilities and pension obligations of nearly $1 trillion.

Soon, new gas tax hikes, on top of green mandates, might make California gas the most expensive in the nation, despite the state’s huge reserves of untapped oil.

Where does the money go, given that the state’s schools and infrastructure rank among America’s worst in national surveys?

Illegal immigration over the last 30 years, the exodus of millions of middle-class Californians, and huge wealth concentrated in the L.A. basin and Silicon Valley have turned the state into a medieval manor of knights and peasants, with ever fewer in between.

The strapped middle class continues to flee bad schools, high taxes, rampant crime, and poor state services. About one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients reside in California. Approximately one-fifth of the state lives below the poverty line. More than a quarter of Californians were not born in the United States.

Many of the state’s wealthiest residents support high taxes, no-growth green policies, and subsidies for the poor. They do so because they reside in apartheid neighborhoods and have the material and political wherewithal to become exempt from the consequences of their own utopian bromides.

Blue California has no two-party politics anymore. Its campuses, from Berkeley to Claremont, have proven among the most hostile to free speech in the nation.

A few things keep California going. Its natural bounty, beauty, and weather draw in people eager to play California roulette. The state is naturally rich in minerals, oil and natural gas, timber, and farmland. The world pays dearly for whatever techies based in California’s universities can dream up.

That said, the status quo is failing.

The skeletons of half-built bridges and overpasses for a $100 billion high-speed-rail dinosaur remind residents of the ongoing boondoggle. Meantime, outdated roads and highways — mostly unchanged from the 1960s — make driving for 40 million both slow and dangerous. Each mile of track for high-speed rail represents millions of dollars that were not spent on repairing and expanding stretches of the state’s decrepit freeways — and hundreds of lives needlessly lost each year.

The future of state transportation is not updated versions of 19th-century ideas of railways and locomotives, but instead will include electric-powered and automatically piloted cars — all impossible without good roads.

Less than 40 percent of California residents identify themselves as conservative. But red-county California represents some 75 percent of California’s geographical area. It’s as if large, rural Mississippi and tiny urban Massachusetts were one combined state — all ruled by liberal Boston.

Now, a third of the state thinks it can pull off a “Calexit” and leave the United States. Calexit’s unhinged proponents have no idea that they are mimicking the right-wing arguments of the Confederate states that prompted the Civil War.Like South Carolina residents in 1861, Calexit advocates seem to assume that federal law should apply everywhere else except in California. Many of these California residents also believe that the federal Environmental Protection Agency should always override local ordinances, but not so with another federal bureau, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

South Carolina started the Civil War by shelling and capturing federal property at Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay. Calexit wannabe secessionists similarly assume that thousands of square miles of federal property — from California federal courtrooms and post offices to national parks such as Yosemite to huge military bases such as Camp Pendleton — belong to the state and could simply be confiscated from the federal government.

Calexit proponents assume California can leave the union without an authorizing amendment to the Constitution, ratified by three-fourths of all the states. And they fail to see that should California ever secede, it would immediately split in two. The coastal strip would go the way of secessionist Virginia. The other three-quarters of the state’s geography would remain loyal to the union and become a new version of loyalist West Virginia.

Buying a home on the California coast is nearly impossible. The state budget can only be balanced through constant tax hikes. Finding a good, safe public school is difficult. Building a single new dam during the California drought to capture record runoff water in subsequent wet years proved politically impossible.

No matter. Many Californians consider those existential problems to be a premodern drag, while they dream of postmodern trains, the legalization of pot-growing — and seceding from the United States of America.

The Literary Drover No. 1926

The solution to the growing problem is simple – tell me a good story:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/13/business/media/hollywood-china-box-office.html

The Literary Drover No. 558

[Despite the romantic notions regarding the Writing Life it tends to be rather unglamorous. Especially where finances are concerned – in my opinion any time a politician declares a plan to save the world (or their self-serving wretchedness) a justified collective moan emanates from the direction of their constitutes, tempered with pronounced fear and concern. More often than not these plans – spawn of The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, and The Keystone Cops – will end up inflicting damage without equal and cost more money than the politician expected.

Not that they are held responsible for their incompetence. Hardly ever. Instead a new plan is proposed, at great expense.

If someone is thinking of getting me a gift I would like an elected official who bucks the trend of late: Competent, honest, moral, and ethical. (You might as well throw in flying pigs, just to keep it real.)]

Congressional Republicans’ Obamacare Replacement Won’t Cut It

by MICHAEL TANNER

They had seven years to design an alternative to one of the worst laws in recent memory and this is what they came up with?

If you want to see political malpractice in action, you don’t have to read Donald Trump’s latest tweet — just look at the mess Republicans have made of repealing and replacing Obamacare. Given seven years to come up with a replacement for one of the most poorly designed (and most scrutinized) laws in modern history, Republicans somehow managed to botch both the politics and policy.

Replacing Obamacare should have been a low bar. The health-care law did expand coverage, but by less than most accounts would lead one to believe. Of the roughly 20 million Americans who have gained coverage under Obamacare, nearly 11 million are on Medicaid, which provides little of actual value in terms of care. This small benefit came at the expense of virtually destroying the individual insurance market. Premiums for the benchmark silver plan have roughly doubled since the law was implemented, while out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance, have skyrocketed. Consumer choice has dwindled with insurance companies pulling out of the market — roughly a third of U.S. counties and five states have just one insurer offering Obamacare plans — and provider networks shrinking. Keeping your plan and your doctor has become a laugh line.

The law’s taxes and regulations have slowed America’s economic recovery, and, according to some studies, reduced its job growth. Most importantly, Obamacare is teetering on the edge of an adverse-selection death spiral. As premiums rise, healthier consumers are abandoning the market. Without a pool of healthy people to offset the costs of the sick people who rushed to sign up for Obamacare, a phenomenon exacerbated by the law’s requirement that insurers cover preexisting conditions, insurers are forced to raise premiums still more, beginning the cycle anew. Obamacare’s collapse seems more a question of “when” than of “if.”

Voters understand all of this. The latest NBC/WSJ poll showed that fully 95 percent of Americans want the law changed or eliminated, and more than half believe either that it needs a “major overhaul” or that it should be “totally eliminated.” In other words, health-care reform may be complex, as President Trump belatedly realized, but Republicans could have hardly asked for an easier target. Unfortunately, given every opportunity to hit it, they have missed,,

First, rather than having a proposal ready to go on Day One of the Trump administration, they dallied, allowing Democrats to stir up protests at town halls and seize control of the media narrative. Then, they put their plan together in secret, keeping much of the Republican rank-and-file in the dark. While a handful of insiders designed the replacement bill, there was little or no input from groups such as the House Freedom Caucus. Rand Paul’s traveling copy machine may have been a stunt, but it effectively illustrated GOP leadership’s extreme secrecy and paranoia.

It’s little wonder the plan that resulted is already facing opposition from both moderates and conservatives. House committees are expected to start marking up the proposal in committee as early as today, meaning members will have barely had a day to read it. The coming legislative process promises to be every bit as messy as the one that brought us Obamacare in the first place. But as poorly as Republicans are handling the politics of health-care reform, they are doing an even worse job on policy. Rather than embracing free-market reforms — which might have been politically challenging but would have led to lower health-care costs, greater consumer choice, and, eventually, expanded access to care — the Republican plan is essentially an effort to split the health-care baby in two.

There are certainly some good ideas in the Republican plan, including the expansion of health savings and flexible spending accounts and the first glimmers of Medicaid reform. Other important reforms such as allowing the purchase of health insurance across state lines and expanded association health plans are expected to come in a subsequent bill. Moreover, the proposal would strike an important blow for individual liberty versus state control by eliminating the individual and employer mandates. But it would also retain some of Obamacare’s disastrously unworkable (if also popular) provisions, most notable among them the requirement that insurers cover people with preexisting conditions. The preexisting-condition provision in particular represents what is essentially a policy oxymoron: an attempt to insure people who are, by definition, uninsurable.

The Republican plan does attempt to limit the ability of people to game the system, by requiring insurers to charge 30 percent more to people who let their coverage lapse. But that is not going to be nearly enough to offset adverse selection. In fact, without the individual mandate, as offensive and ineffective as it is, adverse selection could grow even worse. The only effective way to deal with preexisting conditions is to take uninsurable people out of the traditional insurance pool altogether, through either state-based high-risk pools or a revised Medicaid program. A scaled back version of risk pools remains in the bill, but Republicans seem to be backing away from it in favor of a bad idea that they wrongly believe will be easier to sell to angry constituents.

To make bad even worse, the GOP plan tosses insurance companies a gift, offering them a subsidy for covering sick and expensive patients. At first read, this provision looks a lot like Obamacare’s insurer bailout, which Republicans, led by Marco Rubio, took such pride in killing. The meat of the Republican plan is its provision of refundable tax credits to subsidize insurance, and on this we should be clear: Such credits are little more than a disguised entitlement program. These subsidies will blow a hole in the federal budget and lead to higher health-care costs in the future. The federal government already subsidizes roughly 87 percent of U.S. health-care spending, either directly or indirectly. These subsidies hide the true cost of care from consumers, making them less price-sensitive and more likely to overconsume. Without consumer pressure, providers have little incentive to reduce costs or improve care. And, compounding this third-party payment problem, Republicans appear ready to drop or scale back plans to cap tax subsidies for employer-provided insurance plans.

The GOP plan also makes its tax credits age-adjusted, meaning a bigger tax break for older Americans. It is true that older Americans generally pay more for insurance because they are sicker and more costly, but the logic of linking subsidies to age rather than income seems sketchy at best. Subsidies will be capped so wealthy seniors can’t benefit, but this still seems like a payoff to a reliable Republican voting bloc. Nor has anyone figured out yet how all the new spending in the bill will be paid for. The proposal does keep all the Obamacare taxes — from taxes on capital gains to taxes on tanning beds — in place for another year. But beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess how it will be funded. Worry about deficit spending is out of fashion in Trump’s Republican party, but this really is something that might be worth determining ahead of time.

None of this is to say that the Republican plan would not be an improvement over Obamacare. After all, it could hardly be worse. But those of us who believe in free markets and individual choice expected more. The House Ways and Means, Energy, and Commerce Committees are expected to start marking up a final bill as early as today, so there is still time to make the Republican proposal better. But if the GOP leadership remains determined to jam through its proposal no matter what, it will have missed an opportunity to implement the kind of health-care reform that would make a real, positive difference.

— Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Going for Broke: Deficits, Debt, and the Entitlement Crisis.