Big news day 2

Our own Health Care Debate yesterday was not really big news, though the turns of the worm did amuse me.

US Health Care

6a00d8341c562c53ef01310fc064fe970c-800wi Fearing what may be called junk comments, I added to Big news day this comment.

… but I’ll leave that to Americans to decide — preferably somewhere else, if you don’t mind. We in Oz have been there and done that thanks.

The US has managed health care, however. We don’t. This is a very important difference. I refer interested people to Kanani Fong for some strong critique, not based on the “socialism” meme, of the current US reform package.

Since health care is not really one of the two main topics in my post I will be deleting any future comments on US health care — whether for or against — from this post.

I would still rather that Americans conduct the debate on their own turf, but Kanani (who regards the US Health Care reform as something of an abortion – pun not completely intended) quite rightly noted on Facebook that the Oz health insurance system and the US system are not comparable.

So does this letter writer in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

US still cannot aspire to Australian-style healthcare

The US is the only rich nation without universal healthcare cover, and it’s going to stay that way (”Triumph for President who dared to dream”, March 22). At 17 per cent of gross domestic product, its health costs are twice those of Australia, and the highest in the world, yet with woeful results such as adult mortality rates double ours and relatively high child mortality rates.

With employers providing most health insurance, people stay put rather than go somewhere more useful to themselves and the economy. And, of course, when you lose your job you lose your insurance, too, so in times of high unemployment even fewer people have health care. It is thus a second-rate system in every sense.

The proposed changes are unlikely to make much difference. The core of the reform is to subsidise low- and middle-income earners to take up private health insurance, yet that is at the core of the problem.

US healthcare is so expensive because of the excessive profits and administrative inefficiencies of private health insurers. The changes will subsidise insurers to continue making huge profits from wasteful enterprises, in an industry with only a few big players. It is hard to see how that will reduce costs. What’s more, the changes do nothing to address lifestyle and demographic problems such as diet and the huge health disparities by race and socio-economic status.

A better – but politically impossible – solution would be to adopt Australia’s system of a government-run core covering basic healthcare costs for all, yet allowing optional top-up insurance. Economically it would be better to get rid of the insurers altogether and put the estimated $350 billion in savings on their administration costs and profits into prevention programs.

Greg Graham Artarmon

Similar themes emerge in a few US sites I have noted this morning.

Note, on the Sydney front, Adrian Phoon’s Is healthcare really socialist? Reform in the land of Emerson.

On net nannies and firewalls – Chinese and Australian

Jim Belshaw has an excellent short post on this today.

On writing for economists (and others)

See Economical writing on the Environmental Economics site.

I read Economic Writing in graduate school and enjoy the executive summary (PDF) every other year or so. Both are highly recommended. Here is the short version, based on the executive summary, and my own interpretation:

  1. "Choose a reader and stick with her." In other words, if you are writing for a non-economist don’t use jargon or technical stuff. If you are writing for an economist, don’t explain the most basic stuff.
  2. "Avoid boilerplate." In other words, don’t cut and paste your own paragraphs.
  3. "Impenetrable theoretical utterances have prestige in economics, but shouldn’t." In other words, write in English and try to avoid showing how smart you are.
  4. "The table-of-contents paragraph is an abomination to the Lord thy God." Oddly, McCloskey uses more than one religious reference (in another item he damns some writers to hell, with a capital H). But I say, is the TOC paragraph really THAT bad? Does god care if you waste journal space with a few sentences laying out the rest of the paper? 
  5. "Tables are writing." This is a big one for me. One of my committee members told me that your data and regression tables should be standalone. Don’t include your mnemonic in the list of variables; i.e., use "Smoke less" instead of "SMKLSS."
  6. There is no #6 in the executive summary!
  7. "Don’t overload your sentences. … An English sentence has … three parts: subject, verb, object."
  8. "Paragraphs should have a structure like (AB)(BC)(CD)." The Bs and Cs are repetitions of the same thought/word.
  9. "Avoid elegant variation." If your key word is "wetlands" don’t try to spice things up by referring to bogs, swamp and marsh.
  10. "The semicolon (;) means roughly ‘futhermore’; the colon (:) means roughly ‘to be specific.’"
  11. "Weak writers these days use too many commas …." Bloggers are weak writers.
  12. Rearrange the order or words and phrases of every sentence you write. Huh?**
  13. The end of the sentence is the place of emphasis. Huh?
  14. "This-ism is becoming a plague. These bad writers think this reader needs repeated reminders that it is this idea, not that one, which is being discussed." Avoid "this."
  15. "Watch out for bad words." For example: via, intra, and/or, respectively, thus, overall, basic, factor, etc. We had a nice discussion of "respectively."

I violate all of these rules in my own writing, I’m sure. A few additional rules of my own:

  1. No exclamation points. (This rule is not a rule for bloggers, by the way.)
  2. No question marks. No multiple question marks. (This rule is not a rule for bloggers, by the way.)
  3. Scientific writing is not creative writing (creative writing is what your blog is for).

And, by the way, my students told me that the business writing and communication courses taught in the English department failed to cover writing a research paper. The course seems to focus on writing memos and resumes. Crap!…