Monday, July 30, 2012

Mitt Romney Heaps Praise on Israel's Extremely Socialist Health Care System

This guy supports socialized health care - first in Massachusetts, and now
in Israel. I wonder if Republicans think he's a communist.

I rather feel like Mitt Romney's trip abroad isn't going quite according to plan. He spent his time in Britain making gaffes at an Olympic pace, and now he's gone to Israel and heaped praise on Israel's highly socialized health care system. It's like he didn't realize that it's highly socialized:
"When our health care costs are completely out of control. Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of the GDP in Israel? 8 percent. You spend 8 percent of GDP on health care. And you’re a pretty healthy nation," Romney told donors at a fundraiser at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, speaking of a health care system that is compulsory for Israelis and funded by the government. "We spend 18 percent of our GDP on health care. 10 percentage points more. That gap, that 10 percent cost, let me compare that with the size of our military. Our military budget is 4 percent. Our gap with Israel is 10 points of GDP. We have to find ways, not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to finally manage our health care costs."
Lest you think that Israel accomplished this miracle with the free market, the government of Israel provides a handy list of all the rights enjoyed by every Israeli citizen under the National Health Insurance Law:
  • Every Israeli citizen is entitled to health care services under the National Health Insurance Law.
  • Every resident has a right to register as a member of an HMO of his/her choice, free of any preconditions or limitations stemming from his/her age or the state of his/her health.
  • Every resident has a right to receive, via the HMO of which he or she is a member, all of the services included in the medical services basket, subject to medical discretion, and at a reasonable quality level, within a reasonable period of time and at a reasonable distance from his/her home.
  • Each member has a right to receive the health services while preserving the member’s dignity, privacy and medical confidentiality.
  • Every Israeli resident has the right to transfer from one HMO to another.
  • Each member has a right to select the service providers, such as doctors, caregivers, therapists, hospitals and institutes, from within a list of service providers who have entered into an agreement with the HMO to which the member belongs, and within the arrangements in place for the selection of the service providers, and which the HMO publishes from time to time.
  • Each member has a right to know which hospitals and institutes, and other service providers, are included in the agreement with the HMO, and what are the selection processes at the HMO.
  • Each member has a right to see and to receive a copy of the HMO regulations.
  • Each resident has a right to receive from the HMO complete information concerning the payment arrangements in place in the HMO for health services as well as the HMO’s plans offered for additional health services (CIP).
  • Each member has a right to complain with the Public Inquiries commissioner at the medical institute that treated the member, to the person in charge of investigating member complaints at the HMO of which s/he is a member, or to the complaints commissioner for the national health insurance law in the Ministry of Health.
  • Each member has a right to file suit at the district labor court.
Even though the health care system is thoroughly socialist, the Israeli health care system somehow manages to provide excellent care to ALL its citizens, for less than half the cost (per-person) than the U.S. health care system.

Amazing!

Except it's not amazing at all.

The two advanced countries with the most privatized health care systems (the U.S. and Switzerland) are also the countries that have the highest per-capital health care expenditures, and they don't have better outcomes than countries with highly socialized health care systems that manage to spend much less for the same (or better) health outcomes:


Furthermore, both the U.S. and Switzerland perform poorly on the health care spending curve (below the line is below-average performance, while above the line is above-average performance):


I'll also note that those charts are from 2000, so they're rather out of date. The disparity between spending and outcomes had grown even larger by 2007:


So why is this?

Basically, it boils down to the fact that providing health care really is different than providing just about any other good or service - the provision of health care is rife with market failures in ways that few other markets are. I'll let Paul Krugman explain:
Health care can’t be marketed like bread or TVs...
There are two strongly distinctive aspects of health care. One is that you don’t know when or whether you’ll need care — but if you do, the care can be extremely expensive. The big bucks are in triple coronary bypass surgery, not routine visits to the doctor’s office; and very, very few people can afford to pay major medical costs out of pocket.
This tells you right away that health care can’t be sold like bread. It must be largely paid for by some kind of insurance. And this in turn means that someone other than the patient ends up making decisions about what to buy. Consumer choice is nonsense when it comes to health care. And you can’t just trust insurance companies either — they’re not in business for their health, or yours.
This problem is made worse by the fact that actually paying for your health care is a loss from an insurers’ point of view — they actually refer to it as “medical costs.” This means both that insurers try to deny as many claims as possible, and that they try to avoid covering people who are actually likely to need care. Both of these strategies use a lot of resources, which is why private insurance has much higher administrative costs than single-payer systems. And since there’s a widespread sense that our fellow citizens should get the care we need — not everyone agrees, but most do — this means that private insurance basically spends a lot of money on socially destructive activities.
The second thing about health care is that it’s complicated, and you can’t rely on experience or comparison shopping. (“I hear they’ve got a real deal on stents over at St. Mary’s!”) That’s why doctors are supposed to follow an ethical code, why we expect more from them than from bakers or grocery store owners.
You could rely on a health maintenance organization to make the hard choices and do the cost management, and to some extent we do. But HMOs have been highly limited in their ability to achieve cost-effectiveness because people don’t trust them — they’re profit-making institutions, and your treatment is their cost.
Between those two factors, health care just doesn’t work as a standard market story.
All of this doesn’t necessarily mean that socialized medicine, or even single-payer, is the only way to go. There are a number of successful health-care systems, at least as measured by pretty good care much cheaper than here, and they are quite different from each other. There are, however, no examples of successful health care based on the principles of the free market, for one simple reason: in health care, the free market just doesn’t work. And people who say that the market is the answer are flying in the face of both theory and overwhelming evidence.
The sad part is, we have known this for at least 50 years, ever since the publication of Kenneth Arrow's seminar article, "Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care" (.pdf warning) - read that if you want an incredibly in-depth economic discussion of why socialized medicine is the only proven way of providing cost-effective health care.

And Mitt Romney agrees, apparently, even if he doesn't realize that's what he's saying. Must be a commie, at least according to the Republicans.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Former Citibank CEO Also Says Big Banks Should Be Broken Up

This guy practically invented the idea of a megabank, and even he says
they're all out of control and should be broken up!

I've got a very brief follow-up to my last post - apparently it's not only old-school libertarians who thought that big banks (and big corporations in general) should be broken up / nationalized if they grew past a certain size, but now even the man who invented the modern megabank is jumping on the "break them up" bandwagon.

From NPR:
Sandy I. Weill, the former Citigroup CEO who helped usher in the era of super banks, said during an interview with CNBC today that big banks should be split up.
"What we should probably do is go and split up investment banking from banking, have banks be deposit takers, have banks make commercial loans and real estate loans, have banks do something that's not going to risk the taxpayer dollars, that's not too big to fail," Weill told CNBC. "If they want to hedge what they're doing with their investments, let them do it in a way that's going to be mark-to-market so they're never going to be hit."
They should be broken up, said Weill, "so that the taxpayer will never be at risk, the depositors won't be at risk, the leverage of the banks will be something reasonable..."
Bloomberg explains why this is a big deal:
"Weill helped engineer the 1998 merger of Travelers Group Inc. and Citicorp, a deal that required repeal of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law that forced deposit-taking companies backed by government insurance to be separate from investment banks. The New York-based company became the biggest lender in the world before almost failing and taking a $45 billion taxpayer bailout in 2008."
In a separate interview with CNBC, Sheila Bair, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., said she was "flabbergasted" by Weill's reversal.
"He and his institution were in the lead in pushing for the repeal of Glass-Steagall and then, of course, Citigroup is the poster child for too-big-to-fail in the bailouts during the 2008 crisis," Bair said. "It is truly ironic."
After the Weill interview, CNBC also talked to Bethany McLean, who writes for Reuters. She called Weill's comments "astonishing."
Here's video of that interview:
My my, that is quite a reversal. I can't help but wonder what personal journey made him change his mind about the value and virtue of megabanks. Of course, I'm sure the merger made him a millionaire many times over, but still, it's good that people are capable of learning - though I'm sure he'll be holding on to those millions he earned. For more on Weill's change of heart, you can head over to Robert Reich's blog.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Old-School Liberterians Thought Huge Banks Should Be Nationalized

Henry Simons was/is a hero of the modern libertarian movement. If he were still alive,
he'd probably be calling for the nationalization of the U.S. megabanks.

The NYTimes published one of the more intellectually stimulating op-eds I've read recently, highlighting how Henry Simons, one of the founding fathers of modern libertarianism, would almost certainly be appalled at how large and powerful megabanks in the U.S. and abroad have become.

Regular readers of this blog might recognize that this blog has certain libertarian tendencies, particularly towards issues of justice and jurisprudence, as well as culture war issues, while this blog tends to find most modern libertarian economic principles morally abhorrent, as they tend to advocate a dog-eat-dog, let-the-poor-starve world in which wealth makes right.

Old-school libertarians, however, seemed to be concerned foremost with guaranteeing the greatest amount of freedom for the largest number of people (though this blogger would also point out that it's hard to cherish or care about freedom if you're starving, naked, or homeless) - and that's a principle I can get behind, even if I would disagree with the old-school libertarians about exactly what that means for the practice of governance.

One surprising result of the old-school libertarians' love of freedom was a willingness to acknowledge that corporations could simply grow to be too large - and if they became too large to control and began to infringe upon the freedoms of the public, then it was the responsibility of the government to step in and nationalize those corporations in order to protect the freedoms of the many.

From the NYtimes op-ed:
The Barclays interest-rate scandal, HSBC’s openness to money laundering by Mexican drug traffickers, the epic blunders at JPMorgan Chase — at this point, four years after Wall Street wrecked the global economy, does anyone really believe we can regulate the big banks? And if we broke them up, would they really stay broken up?
Most liberals in Washington — President Obama included — keep hoping the banks can be more tightly controlled but otherwise left as is. That’s the theory behind the two-year-old Dodd-Frank law, which Republicans and Wall Street are still working to eviscerate.
Some economists in and around the University of Chicago, who founded the modern conservative tradition, had a surprisingly different take: When it comes to the really big fish in the economic pond, some felt, the only way to preserve competition was to nationalize the largest ones, which defied regulation.
This notion seems counterintuitive: after all, the school’s founders provided the intellectual framework for the laissez-faire turn against market regulation over the last half-century. But for them, “bigness” and competition could easily become mutually exclusive. One of the most important Chicago School leaders, Henry C. Simons, judged in 1934 that “the corporation is simply running away with our economic (and political) system.”
Simons (a hero of the libertarian idol Milton Friedman) was skeptical of enormity. “Few of our gigantic corporations,” he wrote, “can be defended on the ground that their present size is necessary to reasonably full exploitation of production economies.”
The central problem, then as now, was that very large corporations could easily undermine regulatory and antitrust strategies. The Nobel laureate George J. Stigler demonstrated how regulation was commonly “designed and operated primarily for” the benefit of the industries involved. And numerous conservatives, including Simons, concluded that large corporate players could thwart antitrust “break-them-up” efforts — a view Friedman came to share.
Simons did not shrink from the obvious conclusion: “Every industry should be either effectively competitive or socialized.” If other remedies were unworkable, “The state should face the necessity of actually taking over, owning, and managing directly” all “industries in which it is impossible to maintain effectively competitive conditions.”
At the height of the Depression, eight major economists (including Frank H. Knight) put forward a “Chicago Plan” that called for outright ownership of Federal Reserve Banks, the nationalization of money creation, and the transformation of banks into highly restricted savings-and-loan-like institutions.
To be sure, Simons later revised some of his views, and in the main he and others weren’t focused on financial crises. After all, in the mid-20th century, banks were far less concentrated than they are today, when the five biggest — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs — dominate the industry, with combined assets amounting to more than half of the nation’s economy.
It’s also true that not all Chicago School economists (not to mention their descendants) agreed with Simons, especially on the controversial issue of nationalization. But the logic of his argument remains: With high-paid lobbyists contesting every proposed regulation, it is increasingly clear that big banks can never be effectively controlled as private businesses. If an enterprise (or five of them) is so large and so concentrated that competition and regulation are impossible, the most market-friendly step is to nationalize its functions.
What about breaking up the banks, as many on the left favor? Recent history confirms another Chicago School judgment: while a breakup might work in the short term, the most likely course is what happened with Standard Oil and AT&T, which were broken up, only to essentially recombine a few decades later.
Nationalization isn’t as difficult as it sounds. We tend to forget that we did, in fact, nationalize General Motors in 2009; the government still owns a controlling share of its stock. We also essentially nationalized the American International Group, one of the largest insurance companies in the world, and the government still owns roughly 60 percent of its stock.
Of course, it would probably take another financial meltdown to make banking nationalization politically tenable. But given how the sector has behaved since the last crisis, a repetition seems inevitable, and sooner rather than later. When it comes, we would do well to keep the work of Henry C. Simons and his acolytes in mind when we contemplate how to rebuild a more equitable economy.
It's actually relatively straightforward logic - if what you care about most is individual freedom, and a corporation (or set of corporations) has grown so large that it threatens individual freedom, and there's no reasonable way to control them or ensure market competition, then the only logical option that remains to the government is nationalization.

That's what old-school libertarians would think if they lived in today's world - somehow, I doubt we'll be hearing those kinds of prescriptions from their intellectual heirs anytime soon.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why There Will Be More Mass Shootings Like the Batman Movie Massacre

The guy on the right? He's special (perhaps even unique). The guy on
the left? He's not special at all. You should expect more like him.

I'm not going to go out on a limb at all by predicting that there are going to be more mass shootings like the one that happened in Colorado in the wee hours of July 20, 2012. In fact, back in January, I said that shootings like this are inevitable in the United States due to the combination of two simple facts:
  • the mental health system in this country sucks. Though this kid was not as obviously mentally unbalanced as Jared Lee Loughner was (the kid behind the 2011 Tuscon shooting), there were serious warning signs that he was coming apart at the seams, but for some reason, he didn't get the help he needed.
  • as a country, we have decided that citizens should have access to practically unlimited quantities of assault weapons and ammunition. We don't even regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys.
If you combine those two facts, it is not hard to conclude that massacres like the Batman Movie Massacre, Tuscon, etc. are inevitable. We are a big country with lots of people, and a tiny fraction of those people are batsh*t crazy. If you give batsh*t crazy people access to assault weapons, this country will occasionally face massacres like that in Aurora - it's a statistical inevitability. So, unless the U.S. wants to completely change its approach to mental health and/or assault weapons in the hands of citizens, we are just going to have to get used to paying the price of the semi-regular massacre. Since the U.S. is a pretty violent society, I'm guessing that we'll just stick with the status quo and act "shocked, shocked I tell you" when things like this happen, even though a quick statistical analysis demonstrates that massacres like this are inevitable.

The shooting in Aurora, Colorado, was a definitely a senseless tragedy, but I'm not shocked now, and I'm not going to be shocked when this happens again somewhere else in the U.S. Neither Jared Lee Loughner nor James Eagan Holmes are special or unique - I'm sure there are many (hundreds? thousands?) of people alarmingly similar to them out there. Not surprisingly, mass shootings are becoming horrifically banal - the U.S. has averaged at least one high-profile mass shooting each year since 2005, while the U.S. actually experiences about 20 mass shootings EACH YEAR - it's just that only one per year usually becomes a media sensation. In fact, the Batman Movie Massacre was the SIXTH mass shooting in the U.S. in just THIS JULY ALONE:
The Aurora incident is already the sixth mass shooting in the month of July alone.
Only three days earlier, 17 people were injured in Tuscaloosa, Alabama after a gunman opened fire in a downtown bar. One week prior, three people were killed and two were injured after another rampage erupted during a Dover, Delaware soccer tournament.
In Chicago, Illinois, where the homicide rate for June 2012 was 50 percent higher than just a year earlier, three separate outbursts in only the last 20 days have left four people dead and at least another 13 seriously hurt. So far in 2012, more people have been killed in the metropolitan Midwest city than the number of US servicemen in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, two suspects fired at least 61 bullets in an outburst in Queens, NY that, while yielded no fatalities, left several people injured — including children. At the time, the Wall Street Journal reported that the NYPD recorded 730 shooting incidents this year alone, showing a 12 percent increase from the same time in 2011.
You heard it here first, folks - more mass shootings are coming. They're a statistical inevitability, unless the U.S. decides that it wants to do something about preventing its citizens from owning semiautomatic assault weapons and about providing effective mental health care to all its citizens. So, to all you future mass murders out there - you're not going to shock and surprise me, as sad as that sounds.

I just hope that neither I nor anyone I know have the rotten luck to be caught in any of your upcoming massacres.

Lighter-hearted P.S. After a rather dark post, here we have a hilarious (if somewhat impractical) suggestion on preventing gun violence from Chris Rock (vulgar language warning applies):

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Romney's Big Unemployment Idea Is ... a Bush-Era Idea That's a Proven Failure

Putting jobs first? Not so much, Mr. Romney.

Sometimes, blog titles just write themselves, like today.

Mitt Romney, showing the brilliant business acumen that made him a multimillionaire many times over, announced that his big idea for reviving jobs and reducing unemployment is ... a Bush-era idea that is a proven failure.

What's it they say about insanity - something about trying the same thing while expecting different results, right?

Anyway, here are the details, from NPR, which rather charitably says that the Bush-era idea "has mixed results" rather than "is a proven failure," though the latter is more accurate:
In 2004, the Bush administration conducted an experiment to begin privatizing a small part of the federal retraining program.
"The justification was that you would better manage yourself than if people in the public sector were giving you guidance about training and re-employment services," says Stephen Wandner, a former senior economist at the Labor Department.
The program worked by giving unemployed workers an account containing $3,000 to get back on their feet. They could use the money to pay for job training, or just to help them in the job search. For instance, it could pay for travel to job interviews or for printing resumes.
"It was entirely theirs," says John McAllister, chief deputy director of the Labor Department in Idaho. "There [were] no restrictions on it whatsoever."
Idaho is one of the states that participated in the program. McAllister says if people got jobs right away, they were free to take the money as a bonus and spend it how they wanted. McAllister says he thought the prospect of getting a bonus would encourage people to look for work more aggressively. Instead, he says, they mostly used the money for what are called supportive services.
People used the money to pay for things that made it possible for them to hold down jobs. It went to pay for day care or new work clothes or car repairs. McAllister says people didn't really need encouragement to look for work.
"I think we misjudged the population we were dealing with," he says. "They had difficulty even getting to a job. They had to solve that before they could get the bonus. We got the cart before the horse, is one way to put it."
The program was never extended after it ended. An independent report issued a few years later concluded the program wasn't a big success. Now, Romney has talked about reviving the program if he's elected, though he hasn't provided many details about what he would do differently.
The Romney campaign didn't respond to requests for comment.
Also not surprising at all: the Romney campaign - sticking to their strategy of refusing to say what Romney would actually do as President - refused to comment on their proposal to revive a failed Bush-era idea as the solution to unemployment.

As should be obvious from this blog, Romney is not my man - I just can't get behind a politician who lies so effortlessly, so often, so needlessly, and so transparently - but it also doesn't help that his proposed solutions for the country 1) have already been tried by George W. Bush, who was objectively one of the worst Presidents in American history, and 2) have already been proven to fail. Seriously, Mitt - at least come up with ideas that haven't already been proven to fail; show some effort, man!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Skin Facts, Visualized, Or, Why to Stay Out of the Sun

Summer is seriously on my mind - we're going through another heat wave here in DC, less than two weeks after the last heat wave that set records and saw the "feels like" temperature soar close to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (that's 49 degrees Celsius, for you non-imperial units users out there). This one shouldn't be quite as bad, topping out with a "feels like" of 103 or so, but still - it's way too hot for me.

So, naturally, this infographic caught my eye - I did not know that up to 90% of the visible signs of aging are caused by sun damage. You know that nice summer tan people try so hard to get and maintain? Yeah, that's a sign of sun damage. (I'm reminded of a previous post of mine on irrational decision making with the example that people would rather get cancer than be pale. Not me - I'd much rather be pale than get cancer. Cancer sucks WAAAAY more than being pale.)

Hmmm ... I've definitely had more than 5 sunburns, so I've more than doubled my risk for skin cancer. But, nowadays I know the limitations of my skin and simply don't do things that involve even moderate amounts of sun exposure, unless I'm willing to slather myself in sunscreen. Sigh - I am such a pale, pale man, but there's not much I can do about that. Anyway, on with the show:


Via Daily Infographic.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Current Congress is the Worst Congress that Money Has Ever Bought

My continued apologies for a rather slow posting schedule - I've been in a bit of a blogging malaise and haven't had much luck convincing myself to take the time and energy to write, on top of my work responsibilities and everything that goes along with preparing for one's first child. There have actually been some pretty important events of note this past week - the LIBOR fixing scheme and revelations that Romney continued to lead Bain Capital through 2002, even though he told everyone he left in 1999 - though the media continues to focus on unimportant stories like the fact that the U.S. Olympic team's uniforms were made in China or the Penn State football scandal. (I know many people are interested in the football scandal, yes, but it's not important in the way that finding out the world banking system is officially run by crooks and liars or finding out that a Presidential candidate may be a felon is important.) And, predictably, the media has it all wrong as well, devoting far more coverage time to Penn State and Chinese uniforms than the LIBOR scandal.

I hope to get over this malaise and get back on track with posting regularly soon - it's just not a fun prospect to sit down and think seriously about the extremely difficult problems facing progressives in the U.S. and the world right now.

So, for today, I'm going to let Ezra Klein do most of my thinking for me - he posted an epic indictment of the current U.S. Congress today, entitled "14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever." It's worth reading in full, so I'm reproducing it here:

The 112th Congress is a no good, very bad, terrible Congress. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
This week, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. On its own, such a vote would be unremarkable. Republicans control the House, they oppose President Obama’s health reform law, and so they voted to get rid of it.
But here’s the punchline: This was the 33rd time they voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Holding that vote once makes sense. Republicans had promised that much during the 2010 campaign. But 33 times? If doing the same thing twice and expecting a different result makes you insane, what does doing the same thing 33 times and expecting a different result make you?
Well, it makes you the 112th Congress.
Hating on Congress is a beloved American tradition. Hence Mark Twain’s old joke, “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” But the 112th Congress is no ordinary congress. It’s a very bad, no good, terrible Congress. It is, in fact, one of the very worst congresses we have ever had. Here, I’ll prove it:
1. They’re not passing laws.
Let’s start with the simplest measure of congressional productivity: the number of public bills passed into law per Congress. The best data on this comes from the annual “resume of congressional activity,” which goes back to the 80th Congress — the same Congress President Harry Truman dubbed the “do-nothing Congress.” But they did a lot more than this Congress:
The 112th Congress — this Congress — is the last bar on the right. The one that’s way smaller than the other bars. To be fair, the 112th Congress remains in session, while the other congresses on the chart have completed their work. But the 112th is three-quarters done, and it’s not yet half as productive as the next least-productive congress. Plus, Congress doesn’t typically work in last-minute sprints; most bills are passed in the first half of a congressional session. As such, it’s very unlikely that the 112th will manage to pull even with anyone else on the chart.
Now you may say that this simply reflects divided government. But while there are many instances of divided government on that chart — the 104th Congress, for instance, when Newt Gingrich and his Republican revolutionaries faced off against President Bill Clinton and still managed to pass 333 public laws — there’s no session of Congress with such a poor record of productivity.
2. They’re hideously unpopular.
According to Gallup, the 112th Congress set a record for unpopularity in February, when only 10 percent of Americans said they approved of the job Congress was doing. The previous record was set in December of 2011, when only 11 percent approved of Congress. So this Congress is number one … in being hated by their constituents. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado made this memorable graph of all the things that are more popular than Congress:
3. They’re incredibly polarized.
The best measure of congressional polarization — which is to say, the distance between the two parties — is the DW-Nominate system developed by political scientist Keith Poole. DW-Nominate works by measuring coalitions. It looks to see who votes together and how often. And it works. Its results line up with both common sense and alternative ways of measuring ideology, like the scorecard kept by the American Conservative Union.
So what does it say about this Congress? Well, the 112th Congress is the most polarized since the end of Reconstruction:

VoteView.com
Another way of seeing the same thing is to look Congressional Quarterly’s “Party Unity” score, which measures the number of “in which a majority of Democrats opposed a majority of Republicans.” In 2011 — so, in this Congress — the House set a new record on that measure, with 75.8 percent of its roll call votes pitting Democrats and Republicans against each other:
That’s what you get when you vote to repeal the other party’s signature legislative achievement 33 times.
4. They’ve set back the recovery.
In 2011, congressional Republicans came closer than ever before to breaching the debt ceiling and setting off a global financial crisis. In the end, they pulled back moments before we toppled into the abyss. But by then, they had already done serious damage to the recovery.
Early in the year, the economy seemed to be gathering momentum. In February, it added 220,000 jobs. In March, it added 246,000 jobs. In April, 251,000 jobs. But as markets began to take the Republican threats on the debt ceiling more seriously, the economy sputtered. Between May and August, the nation never added more than 100,000 jobs a month. And then, in September, the month after the debt ceiling was resolved, the economy sped back up and added more than 200,000 jobs.
Payrolls weren’t the only evidence that the debt ceiling fight interrupted the recovery. You can see it in Gallup’s data on consumer confidence, too. “Confidence began falling right around May 11, when [House Speaker John] Boehner first announced he would not support increasing the debt limit,” observed economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers in a column for Bloomberg View. “It went into freefall as the political stalemate worsened through July. … After July 31, when the deal to break the impasse was announced, consumer confidence stabilized and began a long, slow climb that brought it back to its starting point almost a year later.”
Perhaps, after this near-death experience, you would expect the leaders of the 112thCongress to be chastened. Your naivete is touching. Among congressional Republicans, the debt-ceiling debacle was viewed as something of a success — and certainly a strategy worth repeating.
“Whoever the new president is, is probably going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. ”Then we will go through the process again.” Speaker of the House John Boehner was even more direct. ”We shouldn’t dread the debt limit. We should welcome it.”
5. They lost our credit rating.
After the debt ceiling debacle, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the United States’s credit rating for the first time in the country’s history. Why? Because the 112th Congress convinced them that they could no longer trust the American government to refrain from crashing the global economy for no good reason. Or, as they put it, “the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges.”
6. They’re terrible even when they’re “super.”
The supposed upside of the deal to lift the debt ceiling led to the creation of the Special Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — better known as “the supercommittee.” The supercommittee, which was comprised of an equal number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers from both the House and the Senate could, with a simple majority vote, send its recommendations to the rest of the Congress, where they couldn’t be filibustered, amended or otherwise blocked. So that was the carrot: Figure this out, and, in a stunning break from business-as-usual in the sclerotic 112th, the members of the supercommittee could get some big done.
There was also a stick: Failure would trigger the so-called “spending sequester,” which would cut more than a trillion dollars in dumb, blunt ways that neither party liked and that would badly damage a slowly recovering economy.
So how did the supercommittee do? They failed. Now the sequester is armed and members of Congress are frantically trying – and, as of yet, failing – to find a way around it. That’s life in the 112th: Having proven incapable of solving one of the country’s problems, they voluntarily created another problem that they also don’t know how to solve.
7. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. 

So much repeal. So little replace. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
We’ve already covered this one, but it bears repeating: House Republicans have now voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act 33 times. Every time they take this vote, it’s time they could be spending on other issues. Other issues like, for instance, what they would do instead of the Affordable Care Act. But though they’ve found the time to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act on 33 separate occasions, they have voted to replace the Affordable Care Act exactly … never.
8. The budget shenanigans of Senate Democrats
In 2009, Senate Democrats passed a budget. In 2010, they marked one up in the Budget Committee, but didn’t bring it to the floor. Beginning in 2011 — so, in this Congress — they just stopped bothering with the whole budget thing altogether.
Publicly, they argue that budget resolutions aren’t binding, and that the 2011 Budget Control Act — the legislation that resolved the debt ceiling standoff — has done the real work of the budget by setting discretionary spending levels for the coming years. Privately, they say they see no reason to vote on a budget that House Republicans will never adopt. That’s also the reason they haven’t taken up President Obama’s budgets. (This has led to the odd sight of Republicans bringing Obama’s budgets to the floor so they can say Democrats voted against them.)
Republicans argue, correctly, that budgets, even when they don’t pass, are where you lay out your vision for the country. Senate Democrats, in refusing to propose or vote for any budgets, are refusing to give voters that information.
9. They can’t get appropriations done on time.
Arguably the most basic job of Congress is to fund the federal government — to simply keep the lights on. That’s done through the annual appropriations process, which requires Congress to pass 13 appropriations bills by October 1st. That hasn’t been happening lately.
Now, to be fair to the112th Congress, they’re not the first Congress to fail to pass the required appropriations bills by the deadline. But as you can see on the graph below, most congresses manage to approve at least a few of them. In fact, the average is three. So how many appropriations bills did the 112th Congress pass by October 1, 2011? Zero.

Data: Congressional Research Service, Graph: Ezra Klein
10. The transportation-infrastructure fiasco.
Surface transportation bills are where Congress deals with another of the most fundamental jobs of federal governance: Setting aside money for roads, runways, bridges, and subways systems, and other mainstays of our transportation infrastructure. Sen. Dick Durbin called them “the easiest bill[s] to do on Capitol Hill.’ At least, they used to be.
In 2005, Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act. That bill expired in September 2009. But Congress couldn’t agree on a replacement. What followed were 10 short-term extensions of the transportation funding. “Stopgaps,” in congressional parlance.
Finally, on June 29 of this year, Congress passed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. But rather than setting transportation policy for four or five years, as was the previous norm, it only set it for two years. And it left most of the major problems — like how to handle the the increasing inadequacy of the gas tax — for later.
11. The FAA shutdown
When it came time to fund the Federal Aviation Administration, House Republicans wanted to cut $16.5 million in subsidies to rural airports and to rewrite the rules around unionizing airports such that workers who didn’t vote would be counted as “no” votes. Senate Democrats disagreed. On July 23, 2011, Congress ran out of time. That meant, in the midst of a severely depressed economy, 4,000 FAA workers and 70,000 airport construction workers were furloughed. The shutdown ended a few weeks earlier. The cost to the government from uncollected airline ticket taxes alone was $350 million.
12. Failing the Fed.
Perhaps no single institution in Washington matters as much during an economic crisis as the Federal Reserve. And for most of the last six years, the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors has been missing a few members. There’s plenty of blame to go around here — including for the Obama administration, which was slow to name nominees and didn’t prioritize their confirmation when Democrats controlled Congress — but the most ridiculous chapter of the story began in 2011, when Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the  Senate Banking Committee, blocked the appointment of MIT economist Peter Diamond.

As Peter Diamond found out, even a Nobel prize in economics doesn't get you confirmed these days. (MIT)
Diamond, who would win the Nobel prize in economics while Shelby was holding up his nomination, couldn’t have had a better background: As an expert on labor market and pension issues, he was ideally situated to advise the Federal Reserve on the nation’s short and long-term problems. But Shelby wanted payback for Democrats blocking one of George W. Bush’s nominees in 2007. The problem was he couldn’t come out and say that. Instead, he had to say this: “I do not believe he’s ready to be a member of the Federal Reserve Board. I do not believe that the current environment of uncertainty would benefit from monetary policy decisions made by board members who are learning on the job.”
Shelby’s objection was transparently ridiculous. Previous nominees he had permitted to go through included Sarah Bloom Raskin, who was the Maryland Commissioner of Financial Regulation; Kevin Warsh, who had worked for George W. Bush; and Elizabeth Duke, who had been an executive at various banks. None of them had experience making decisions about monetary policy. Nor did any of them have a Nobel prize in economics or a world-class understanding of labor-market frictions. But Shelby was unrelenting, and the nomination was eventually withdrawn. Eventually, Jeremy Stein, a Harvard economist, and Jerome Powell, an official in George H.W. Bush’s Treasury Department, got named to the Fed, filling the board. Neither of them have a Nobel prize in economics, either.
 13. The experts agree.
Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein are probably the most respected scholars of Congress in Washington. For more than 40 years, they’ve been the staunchest advocates, and most respected interpreters, of the institution, tutoring legislators from both parties and serving on an almost endless number of commissions and projects dedicated to understanding and improving what they call “the First Branch.” Here’s what they say about the 112th Congress:
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional.
Their new book, by the way, is called “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” And yes, it’s mainly abut the 112th Congress.
14. There actually are problems they need to solve.
If this was an age of peace, prosperity and rapid growth — say, 1997 — perhaps the 112th Congress’s failures would be an amusing sideshow. But this is not 1997. When the 112th Congress was sworn in, unemployment was at 9.1 percent. Since then, it’s fallen to 8.2 percent — and that’s been in spite of Congress’s disastrous handling of the debt ceiling, and its inaction on jobs.
The 112th Congress has been an embarrassment — and its members know it. As Rep. Jim Cooper, a moderate Democrat from Tennessee who has served on and off in Congress since 1983, says, “America’s problems have rarely looked so large, and Congress has rarely looked so small.”
Wow ... just ... wow. I mean, I've certainly taken Congress to task several times on this blog for being so amazingly stupid about so many things, but to stick it all in a list like that - powerful stuff. I'm glad I'm not a Congressman - I'd be too embarrassed to show my face around DC or my district.

The worst part is, I don't feel that I can do anything about it, apart from vent here on my little blog. After all, I'm a DC resident, which means I can't even vote to change Congress. The LIBOR scandal and other various banking scandals from the past few weeks has shown that the world economy is now basically run by a bunch of crooks and liars (and that's not just me being hyperbolic - a full 24% of executives admit that "financial services professionals" need to engage in illegal or unethical behavior to succeed). Through their illegal or immoral acts, these crooks and liars amass huge fortunes, which they then use to buy large swaths of politicians, or even the entire electoral process, and perhaps even choose to try to become President themselves, like Romney did. The politicians they've purchased then pass laws to make their illegal actions legal or otherwise shield them from responsibility for their actions, including providing huge taxpayer bailouts of the banks when the banks' bets go bad.

Sigh ... sometimes I wonder, "why bother," and give serious thought to trying to scam my millions and then retire to a nice, non-extradition island country, or run for the Presidency - you know, whichever.

Anyway, that's it for today - my apologies once again for the rather dark, downbeat post - I hope I get over my existential dissatisfaction with American politics and economics soon so that regular posting may resume.