Archive | February, 2017

The cost disease, e.g. education and health care cost more, but teachers, doctors, and nurses don’t earn more

11 Feb

Scott Alexander, in a long post:

So, to summarize: in the past fifty years, education costs have doubled, college costs have dectupled [10 times], health insurance costs have dectupled, subway costs have at least dectupled, and housing costs have increased by about fifty percent. US health care costs about four times as much as equivalent health care in other First World countries; US subways cost about eight times as much as equivalent subways in other First World countries.

I worry that people don’t appreciate how weird this is. I didn’t appreciate it for a long time. I guess I just figured that Grandpa used to talk about how back in his day movie tickets only cost a nickel; that was just the way of the world. But all of the numbers above are inflation-adjusted. These things have dectupled in cost even after you adjust for movies costing a nickel in Grandpa’s day. They have really, genuinely dectupled in cost, no economic trickery involved.

And this is especially strange because we expect that improving technology and globalization ought to cut costs. In 1983, the first mobile phone cost $4,000 – about $10,000 in today’s dollars. It was also a gigantic piece of crap. Today you can get a much better phone for $100. This is the right and proper way of the universe. It’s why we fund scientists, and pay businesspeople the big bucks.

But things like college and health care have still had their prices dectuple. Patients can now schedule their appointments online; doctors can send prescriptions through the fax, pharmacies can keep track of medication histories on centralized computer systems that interface with the cloud, nurses get automatic reminders when they’re giving two drugs with a potential interaction, insurance companies accept payment through credit cards – and all of this costs ten times as much as it did in the days of punch cards and secretaries who did calculations by hand.

But:

I don’t have a similar graph for subway workers, but come on. The overall pictures is that health care and education costs have managed to increase by ten times without a single cent of the gains going to teachers, doctors, or nurses. Indeed these professions seem to have lost ground salary-wise relative to others.

I also want to add some anecdote to these hard facts. My father is a doctor and my mother is a teacher, so I got to hear a lot about how these professions have changed over the past generation. It seems at least a little like the adjunct story, although without the clearly defined “professor vs. adjunct” dichotomy that makes it so easy to talk about. Doctors are really, really, really unhappy. […] Read these articles and they all say the same thing that all the doctors I know say – medicine used to be a well-respected, enjoyable profession where you could give patients good care and feel self-actualized. Now it kind of sucks.

Meanwhile, I also see articles like this piece from NPR saying teachers are experiencing historic stress levels and up to 50% say their job “isn’t worth it”. Teacher job satisfaction is at historic lows. And the veteran teachers I know say the same thing as the veteran doctors I know – their jobs used to be enjoyable and make them feel like they were making a difference; now they feel overworked, unappreciated, and trapped in mountains of paperwork.

And we don’t know why this is happening.

H/t Tyler Cowen.

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Harry Bellefonte, I had no idea…. An American Icon

3 Feb

The New York Times has an article about Harry Bellefonte, who will turn 90 this coming March 1. I first knew of him as the singer behind “Banana boat Song (Day O)“. I likely saw him on television and chances are his was the first version of “Hava Nageela” I heard. But I had little sense of the man behind the entertainer. Who did?

Thus it would be a long time before I knew that he bankrolled the early Civil Rights movement:

His good looks and light complexion made him palatable to white audiences, even as his background and politics were alien to them. When Dr. King asked to meet him, he said: “I threw my lot in with him completely, put a fortune behind the movement. Whatever money I had saved went for bonds and bail and rent, money for guys to get in their car and go wherever. I was Daddy Warbucks.” He helped organize the third march from Selma to Montgomery, recruiting entertainers like Joan Baez, Tony Bennett and Mahalia Jackson for a concert in Montgomery.

“Dr. King gave me the space to pursue my rebellion against the system,” he said. “They came after Dr. King with great vigor, and they didn’t get him. They came after me with great vigor; they didn’t get me. If they’d gotten me, I’m not quite sure what they’d have done with me.”

About America today:

“When I took up with Martin,” he said, “I really thought, two, at best three years, this should be over. Fifty years later, he’s dead and gone, and the Supreme Court just reversed the voting rights, and the police are shooting us down dead in the streets. And I look at this horizon of destruction, and I watch the black community by our state of being mute — we have no movement. I don’t know where to go to find the next Robeson. Maybe I don’t deserve a next one. Takes a lot of courage and a lot of power to step into the space and lead a holy war.”

As for Trump:

On this fall afternoon before the election, he said that the rise of Donald J. Trump alarmed him, but not as much as the passion and numbers of Mr. Trump’s supporters. “I’ve never known this country to be so” — he paused before saying the word — “racist as it is at this moment,” he said. “It’s amazing, after all that we have been through.”

Though he was encouraged by the energy in the Black Lives Matter and Occupy movements, he felt that both lacked an ideology to make real change. But he was hardest on people of his generation, who he said did not follow through on what they started.

“The rewards for what we achieved in the civil rights movement have more than corrupted the movement,” he said. “What happened in the black community, when they finally won the right to vote, they picked the ones who they knew, which is not to be unexpected. But the ones they knew were all the leaders. They knew Jesse.

“They knew Andy Young. They knew John Lewis. They pushed them right into the electoral political sea. Go run the state. Go run the government. Become a senator. I even encouraged them to do that as the next step to the civil rights movement. When you get the opportunity for that presence in government, let’s fill it with our best. Well, our best were guys in the movement. Once they went off into electoral politics, they abandoned the community. They abandoned that work. They abandoned that developmental process.”

As for the left:

“I think it’s an opportunity for the left to take this wake-up call. We need to be much more radical in what we do and how we do it than we have been up to now. The liberal community has compromised itself out of existence. The black community has been so passive in its response to this onslaught. Labor is strangely silent. All those reverends that were part of the progressive front are no longer heard from in any appreciative way. And out of that vacuum comes Trump.”