Notes From the Fieldby Martin Weil

Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

August 20, 2015

$800 Billion. 150,000 deaths. What do these statistics have in common?

According to Fareed Zakaria, sadly nothing whatsoever.

$800 billion is the total amount that taxpayers have spent on Homeland Security since 9/11. During that time, 74 people have lost their lives on American soil due to actions deemed to be terrorist events. While there is no way to know how many other lives the $800 billion has saved, I suspect it is not a very large number.

On the other had, in those same 14 years, 150,000 people have lost their lives in the US due to gun homicides, a constant 11-12,000 deaths per year since 9/11. To combat this deadly threat to life and limb, taxpayers have spent … well, nothing, according to Zakaria. Had terrorists been responsible for these deaths, one can only imagine the all-out response.

There is something very wrong with this picture.

As Zakaria points out, this is not a mental illness problem, as many on one side of this issue are quick to claim. We have 50 times the gun homicide rate of Germany for example, but hardly anything close 50 times the incidence of mental illness. We do however have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more weapons in public hands.

Another popular gun rights retort to the recurring loss of innocent lives in mass shootings is just to “give everyone a gun.” It is hard to imagine a more apocalyptic vision than one of pitched gunfights in public shopping malls, movie theaters, schools and churches across America. If armed, well-trained, professionals on American military bases cannot defend themselves against this sort of threat, it is difficult to see how giving guns to grammar school teachers would lead to more public safety.

Of the many things that make me furious about today’s political landscape in America, the hijacking of the American public’s basic safety concerns by a well-funded commercial interest group is near the top of my list.

It is not an act of fate that has caused 150,000 Americans to die over the last 15 years. It is a product of laws, court decisions, lobbying and pandering politicians. And we can change it.

Zakaria is certainly more optimistic on this, and many other issues, than am I. But I will give kudos to this E.J. Dionne Op Ed in the WaPo as a rational look at what has to be done to make America safer from the lethal menace to each and every one of us from guns in America.

July 5, 2015

1953 London Debt Accords

Der deutsche Vertreter bei den Verhandlungen όber die Regelung


Wherein major creditor nations – that included Greece – forgave 50% of German debt. It makes an interesting contrast to the situation today where debtor and creditor nation have switched places.

(pointer @VisualEcon)


June 27, 2015

Beware of Greeks Not Bearing Gifts?

If this were a marriage, the lawyers would be circling.

The Economist, My Big Fat Greek Divorce (pointer, John Mauldin)


June 26, 2015

Nicely Done









Photo credit NY Times

May 18, 2015

Healthcare Costs Are Coming Under Control


Annual percentage change in US healthcare costs.

Whether you love or hate Obamacare, it does seem to be a factor in the decline in national healthcare, costs which have been long recognized as the major threat to US solvency.

With slowly growing prices, even rising demand for healthcare has led to less-than-projected spending, in just about every category. (To be clear: This doesn’t mean healthcare is getting cheaper; it means healthcare is getting more expensive slower than we anticipated.) The government is casually saving hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare thanks to both direct cuts and other reforms. Insurance companies, despite a rough year due to the arrival of some expensive new drugs, have been spending less than the actuaries projected in 2010. Even with growth in high-deductible plans, out-of-pocket spending is actually coming in below projections from five years ago.

Forecasts of medical spending have undergone round after round of major surgery. Six years ago, the Urban Institute projected that the country would spend $23 trillion between 2014 and 2019. After Obamacare became law, it raised its forecast by half-a-trillion dollars. But the latest projections, published this month, are lighter by $2 trillion and $2.5 trillion, respectively.

From The Atlantic

April 3, 2015

Mullahs and the GOP Find Common Ground

The Guardian headline, 4-3-15

December 9, 2014

Thirteen Years Later…





August 1, 2014

House of Debt

Probably the last thing anyone wants to read is yet another book that attempts to explain why the financial crisis happened. Most of the territory, from the plausible to the incomprehensible, has been covered and recovered ad nauseam. That said, there is a strong case that Atif Mian and  Amir Sufi have actually contributed a new and worthwhile line of thinking in their House of Debt.

The most interesting thing I took away from my reading of their book was that the mortgage crisis hit lower wealth households the hardest, by a substantial margin. In most cases, the wealth of lower income groups is mostly tied up in their homes and their equity was completely wiped out as home prices fell. As these lower income groups have a “higher propensity to spend” income, this severe negative wealth effect had – and continues to have – a dramatic dampening effect on economic growth. As a byproduct, this consequence of the financial crisis also exacerbated the already growing wealth disparities in the country.

If Mian and Sufi are correct, then many of the public policies to shore up the financial system in response to the crisis – decried by both conservatives and liberals – were off target. Most notably in their view, the greatest error of both the Bush and Obama Administrations was failing to enact true mortgage relief for underwater homeowners. Failing to do this created a self-reinforcing cycle of default, falling home prices, lower consumer spending, slower growth and job loss that continues to depress the economy to this day.


July 8, 2014

Really Unexpected Magazine Cover

Bigtime companies are moving their “headquarters” overseas to dodge billions in taxes … that means the rest of us pay their share.

This is is not Mother Jones, the Nation or Rolling Stone, but Fortune magazine decrying Corporate America on their cover as “Un-American.”  The optics of these practices aside, overhauling our tax code is way overdue.

June 19, 2014

Gamechanger from Tesla?


Patents are completely out of control in the US. According to many commentators, the proliferation of patents in the US is no longer a sign of economic development but a blight on progress. Several years ago The American Life did an excellent podcast on patent trolls, companies expressly set up to buy patents for the sole purpose of suing other companies for perceived infringement. Where once patents were intended to protect the rights of investors of actual inventions, today anything can be patented, even the idea of something yet to be invented can be subject to patent. Companies like Google and others have been known to pay billions of dollars to buy up patents simply as a preventative measure against being sued in the future.

Into this mess, where Congress has only recently once again failed to legislate serious patent reform, enters Elon Musk of Tesla who with one executive decision may have changed the landscape.

Tyler Cowen comments “I believe that this announcement will be discussed in business schools for years to come much like Henry Ford’s announcement of the $5 a day wage.”

Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.  …

Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.

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