“Bending the curve” may only lengthen the time we are suffering.

I don’t doubt the good intentions of our government leaders, including elected officials and public health regulators, as they tighten restrictions on our freedom of movement..  We are “bending the curve” and easing the pressure on our health care system.  But unless an effective anti-virus drug is found and administered to everyone very quickly, bending the curve will only delay the time before most of us will become infected, and will lengthen the time that we all suffer emotionally and economically.
Why is our response to this situation so dramatically different than our response to the flu or automobile accidents?  Both the flu and auto accidents kill tens of thousands of Americans each year and are preventable.  We could dramatically reduce those deaths if we used the same extreme measures that we are using against COVID-19.  But what is the point of living if we have to stay away from our family and friends?  For a few weeks, fine.  For several months or more, not acceptable.  Life has risks.  We need to balance the costs and the benefits of our efforts.  Soon, we need to once again let people decide for themselves how much risk they are willing to take.

Crony capitalism, balancing pandemic spending, pressure on politicians to spend

The tendency of capitalism to lead to crony capitalism is perpetual and pervasive. Over time, it seems that the cronies are winning. Our governments subsidize most of farming, all energy production, all mineral extraction industries, big exporters, hedge fund managers, most research, and on and on. It depresses me. I think the general answer to the problem is to reduce the size and scope of government. We DO need government for many things, as established in our Constitution, including public health and response to pandemics such as we are experiencing now. But right now, politicians appear to not be doing any balancing of costs versus benefits. We accept that tens of thousands of people die from the flu every year, we accept tens of thousands of people dying in auto accidents every year. In both cases many of the deaths are preventable, but at what cost? A cost that most of us don’t want to pay. We want to live our lives in some normal kind of way. I think it is almost impossible for politicians in the current situation to vote against anything that is proposed, including crony special interest spending. So, I say put some pressure on politicians to limit current bailout spending to really necessary spending that is directly related to the pandemic, and that is temporary.

Patents should be more restricted, not liberalized.

I disagree with Paul Michel and Matthew Dowd, (Wall Street Journal, 1/24/2020, link below), that our patent laws do not give adequate and clear protection to inventions.  Conversely, we have become too liberal in both what is allowed to be patented and the length of time that patents are granted.

They urge the reversal by Congress of the Supreme Court of rulings that prohibit the granting of patents for “abstract ideas” and “natural phenomena”.  Abstract ideas, like mathematical formulas, computer code, or simple ideas drawn on paper, and natural phenomena, like the discovery of particular DNA or naturally occurring chemical compounds, should not be patentable.

Originally, U.S. patents had a maximum life of 14 years, then 17 years, and then 20 years.  Companies that earn billions of dollars in profits every year on their patents are very willing to spend many millions of dollars to lobby congress to extend their monopolies.  Who spends money lobbying to reduce the term of patents?  Shouldn’t the term of monopoly protection granted depend in part on how much it costs to meet government regulations related to the invention?  For example, prescription drugs may deserve a long patent term because of the cost to meet government regulations.  But there is no logical reason why all patents should be granted for the same length of time.  (Design patents are granted for shorter periods, but why should they be granted at all?)

The concept of “intellectual property” is man-made.  Since time immemorial, humans have copied one another.  For millennia legally protected private property was limited to physical property which could only be possessed by one person at a time.  Ideas can be possessed by many people at the same time without infringing on the physical property of others and without the use of force.  Monopolies, including the exclusive use of inventions, were originally granted by Kings to favored subjects through the use of force.  Our government protects patents through the use of force.  Contrary to the Founder’s intent, some patents appear to slow innovation rather than encourage it.  The case can be made that no patents should be granted.  In this case, Congress should expand patent protection.

Link to Wall Street Journal opinion:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/americas-innovators-need-clear-patent-laws-11579824646

Medicare for all is the wrong solution to a difficult problem.

Medicare for all will not save money. If you think health care costs are high now, just wait until it is free! There will be massive over-utilization until rationing kicks in – then there will be long waits, denial of care, and denied services. Everyone should not be forced into a single government-run plan. The U.S. is should be proud of not following the forced socialist plans of other countries. We absolutely do have problems with our health care system – but much of that is due to bad government policies and lack of real free-market competition. Government granted monopolies, in the form of patents, have been abused.

Link to Tim DeLong’s letter to the Des Moines Register: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/readers/2020/03/02/letters-informed-writers-ordinary-citizens-provide-more-than-debates/4925438002/

Open letter to our federal legislators – please try to balance costs and benefits during this pandemic!

An open letter to our federal representatives  (I emailed this to my three federal representatives:
As you consider how much the federal government should spend in response to the current pandemic, please consider the following:
One trillion dollars equals about $3,000 per person for every man, woman, and child in the U.S., or about $12,000 per family of four!  Please be careful not to spend our tax money on anything that is not needed and not directly caused by the pandemic.  Specifically, there should be no money spent on the following:

  • Seniors and others on Medicare, disability, pensions, and other fixed incomes – they will continue to be paid.
  • People who have had no reported W-2 earnings during the past year – since they have been getting by on unearned income
  • People who have household earnings around or over $75,000 per year – they qualify for unemployment benefits.

Don’t give grants, but make low-interest rate loans available.  We can decide later whether or not to forgive any loans.  Don’t allow unrelated “riders” on any pandemic response bill.  For example, don’t’ forgive student loans, don’t add any permanent employer mandates such as child care, sick pay, paid family leave, etc.  Watch out for and deny other special-interest legislation trying to take advantage of this crisis.

Please try to balance costs versus benefits.  We have lived normally with the flu killing tens of thousands of U.S. citizens every year.  I am a senior – age 66 – and I don’t need any bailout.

Iowa needs to eliminate licensing laws and regulations that protect existing practitioners rather than their customers.

I agree with Valerie Stallbaumer in her letter to the editor in The Des Moines Register, (See link below), that the purpose of professional licensing requirements by government is to help protect the public from harm.   I disagree with her that it also is to guarantee quality. Safety issues are usually objective: we know pretty well what kind of things can hurt people.  Licensing should assure us that the licensed person knows and follows safe procedures.  But for many licensed professions, quality is subjective. If acupuncture is not effective for some people, what is the harm as long as they don’t get an infection?  The only reason I can think of why government would require a four-year program for acupuncturists is that acupuncturists and their schools lobbied for licensing to protect themselves against competition and to appear more professional.  Acupuncturists, physical therapists, tattoo artists, and ear piecers probably can learn proper safety procedures related to “needling” in just a few days.  We do need a complete review of licensing requirements and regulations in Iowa to eliminate those that prevent competition rather than protect people.

Price gouging can be a good thing.

Sometimes, price gouging can be a good thing.  If there is a sudden surge in demand for something, say face masks or hand sanitizer, is it better to keep prices low and encourage hoarding that can result in complete outages, or is it better to let prices go up as the market demand allows to discourage hoarding and encourage rapid increases in production?  Why would businesses pay for overtime, or expedited shipping, or other higher costs to quickly increase supplies if they are not allowed to increase prices?  There are certainly extreme situations where price gouging would be considered by most people to be immoral.  (For example, it would clearly be immoral to charge $1,000 for a glass of water to a person dying of thirst when you have plenty of it.)  But there are many other situations where allowing prices to go up significantly and quickly helps to make vital products available for important purposes to more people more quickly.  Private efforts to keep prices low and to prevent hoarding in an emergency are to be commended, but be careful before you call for laws or regulations to prevent price gouging.