Epidemiological Politics


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.

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93 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Blind trusts and full disclosure laws, I guess. Make it easy for newspapers to run reports like this one.

    Maybe have a mandatory waiver of privacy with regards to tax returns for everybody in Congress and/or the Senate and/or the White House.

    I wish we had a better disinfectant than Sunlight but…Report

    • Plinko in reply to Jaybird says:

      I could definitely get behind making Congress report all stock and financial instrument transactions the way we make corporate insiders do.

      Either you’re in a blind trust or all your holdings and transactions must be public.Report

  2. North says:

    Seems simple enough. People elected to Congress, the Senate or the Presidency should surrender their financial assets into some kind of trust fund system (perhaps with limited and carefully public access to a certain limited number of financial transactions) for the duration of their stint in office.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

      Well, you can still walk away with the benefit, you just can’t realize it until you leave office.

      This pushes the problem domain around a bit.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        I think the idea is that all the stocks, bonds, etc that are currently owned by Congresspeople would instead be owned by a trust that disbursed gains or losses equally to all Congresspeople (based on the amount they chipped in).  So individual congresspeople couldn’t take all the gains from short selling.  This seems like an OK idea to me, although it would leave open the possibility of property speculation (e.g. the stuff that got Darrell Issa into trouble).  I can think of other, more important reforms, though.Report

        • North in reply to Dan Miller says:

          Actually I wasn’t thinking of anything so dramatic.

          When you go into congress your financial assets go into a box. You can’t do very much with them in the box and what little you can do is put up on a website after being vetter by some bored accountant. No more insider trading. This is somewhat constraining I suppose but it’s not much to ask of people who want to lay their hands on the reins of power of the country.Report

      • North in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        Not at all. If your assets are in a trust with limited access/control and full transparency for you then you will have a very limited ability to insider trade. Insider trading is generally an issue only in a very limited time window; the markets process their information very quickly. If Jim or Jane Congresscritter can’t access their assets but for, say, a trade or two a year and those trades must be fully publicized then they can’t insider trade without quickly losing their jobs (because Bob or Barbara Congresscandidate will be watching those couple trades closely for dirt to campaign on).Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

          It helps the short-term problem.  It doesn’t necessarily solve the longer-term problem.

          I don’t know that short-selling or turnaround is as big of a problem as persistent support for an industry.  I need to read the studies.Report

          • North in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            Well at some point it stops being insider trading and becomes ideology. If Dakota Dan is a huge personal supporter of frak drilling and invests in Frak drilling and pushes frak drilling while in congress that’s not insider trading. The dude presumably got elected despite being a frak oil driller. (The same’d go for Nancy the Nevada Nuclear bug or Ted the Tort guy from Tucson).Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to North says:

      We don’t even need to look at Congress to see how that won’t matter.  Darleen Druyun got jobs at Boeing for herself and two of her kids, but she didn’t actually start working for Boeing until she’d left the Air Force.Report

    • Plinko in reply to North says:

      There’s a big problem with that, mainly people who actually own their own companies. I’m very much against the notion of venerating captains of industry as economic and political geniuses, but they do often get elected and deserve consideration. Should they be forced to sell their ownership stakes before taking office?Report

  3. DensityDuck says:

    This is the input side of regulatory capture. And we all know what to do about regulatory capture.

    (No, wise guy, “more regulations” is not what we do about it.)Report

  4. Joecitizen says:

    I still go with guillotine, rinse and repeat.Report

  5. Tom Van Dyke says:

    6-12% better than market average isn’t really budging my outrage meter.  If somebody got fat on something w/info unknowable to the general public, I can gin up some ire.

    I’d heard something about Boehner quite awhile ago.  Is he being dragged in as a bipartisan beard for Pelosi, sort of Tod Kelly’s current problem?

    Do we need to find a GOP analogue for the Solyndra mess before we talk about it? Enquiring minds want to know.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      The g/f and I were talking about this a few hours back.   There’s a flip side to this problem:  what if a Congresscritter or someone in his coterie of buddies already had a market position and he could prevent something from happening which might harm those positions?

      That would be awfully hard to catch.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      Do we need to find a GOP analogue for the Solyndra mess before we talk about it?

      Most (many?) liberals would just throw up Halliburton and call that a trump card, Tom.

      I’m going to dig through the good doctor Ziobrowski’s papers; I’ll see if there’s any skew by party reported for the inquiring minds.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        Heh.   Tell y’all about HAL.   So I was in St Louis, watching Katrina offshore.   Hmmm, says the Auld Liberal, I just know Halliburton and Bechtel will get billions of dollars of construction contracts out of this mess, not because Cheney’s around, but because they’re the only outfits big enough to handle projects that size.

        I moved some money around, went long HAL and waited.   Bechtel is private, so I couldn’t take a position. Sure as tomorrow’s sunrise, Katrina came ashore, HAL popped up like a kiddie letting go of his little helium balloon and I was in the money, boy howdy.

        Then I thought to myself, “Self, it seems inevitable Congress will start complaining about these contracts.   Plan on it.”    I exited all my long HAL, shorted HAL a good ways out and waited.   Down went HAL, I was in the money again.

        Exited the short.   Wrote a big check to Salvation Army.   Thank God for HAL.Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Hee hee.

          Yeah, that’s pretty much the way I saw it.  I don’t have a pile of didge to throw in the market at the moment, but I would have done precisely what you did, and when.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

            I’ll never forget my old man in the living room when American Airlines 191 went down.   He leaped up and roared over to the phone, called his broker and yelled “Buy American at market!”   I could hear the broker yelling back, through in the earpiece  “Are you an idiot?   The stock’s sinking like a stone!”

            He came back over, flopped down in his armchair like Archie Bunker, looked at me and said “It’ll pop back up in a few days, watch and see.  In every disaster is a dandy profit opportunity.”



      • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        I’ll take that as a yes, Pat.Report

    • Joecitizen in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

      If that 6-12% is in Raytheon stock?Report

  6. b-psycho says:

    Members of congress, using their involvement with the economy for personal profit when they’re supposed to be “representative” (read: operating for the benefit of their district/state, not for themselves).  There’s really only two routes from that:

    1) remove their involvement with the economy, since they can’t be trusted with such power.
    2) remove their ability to profit off of it.

    For sake of argument, I’ll pretend option 2 is possible to implement and say how I would do so: if politics and the market can’t be severed, then I’d sever the politicians themselves from it by a total ban on the holding of any stock while in any federal office. No deferred/blind trusts either, any holding that you could conceivably profit off of due to your position as a government official, you need to dump it immediately upon taking office.  Attempting to hide anything along these lines would be grounds for removal and criminal charges.

    Harsh?  Yes.  But if the fable of government-as-public-service is insisted on being maintained, the possibility of getting private gain from public office would have to be a door not only closed, but welded shut and covered in razor wire.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to b-psycho says:

      Sell everything except your primary residence and invest in Treasury bonds until you’re out of office?Report

      • Ideally, I would overall make the public service vs private benefit choice as stark as possible, with the public service road lined with enough inconvenience as to effectively ask “do you REALLY want to do this?”.

        If in the end you can’t bring yourself to sacrifice your self-interest for that of the people you want to represent…go do something else.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to b-psycho says:

          The downside to this is that only rich people will run for office.

          Lawyers who have made their bundle. Corporatists who have made their bundle… or people who have sold their souls to the various party machines. No one else will ever be able to take the hit.Report

          • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

            I dunno.

            Pay for a U.S. Congresscritter is not insubstantial.

            Rank-and-File Members:
            The current salary (2011) for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year.

            Senate Leadership
            Majority Party Leader – $193,400
            Minority Party Leader – $193,400

            House Leadership
            Speaker of the House – $223,500
            Majority Leader – $193,400
            Minority Leader – $193,400

            Any of the above wouldn’t be a pay cut for me.Report

            • Here’s something for which I am sure there are no numbers:

              I wonder what percentage of the rank-and-file saw their congressional pay as a raise. If it’s more than 5%, I’ll be surprised.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                Me either.

                I would also say that this tells us something important.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                Note: this would leave us with a Congress made up of people who had made their bundle, or people for whom $174,000 a year doesn’t represent a major pay cut.

                I think this would generally lead to a congressional makeup that has a few more “just folks” in it, but I’m not sure.Report

            • Murali in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

              The rank and file politicians (MPs) get paid slightly less in singapore US$166k. But my prime minister gets US$ 2.3 million. and cabinet ministers get about US$ 1.5 million. If you dont just wnat rich people applying to be congrespersons, then you have to  pay them more. Also, you can peg the salary to the mean income of the bottom 20% (including unemployed) Then people who wanted to get rich in congress would work at policies aimed at increasing the real income of the worst off.Report

          • wardsmith in reply to Jaybird says:

            Only the rich /already/ run for office. And of course they get richer, much richer. My favorite thing about this link is how the “party of the rich” the Republican Party is so under-represented. Only 30%? Puts what Density and TVD say up above in a whole new context, no?Report

  7. DensityDuck says:

    I have to say that it’ll be very interesting to see where Ines Tenenbaum goes once she’s done being in charge of the CPSC.

    Like, if she goes directly into working for Mattel as the VP for Product Safety Review.Report

  8. Koz says:

    Dial down Leviathan. Vote Republican.Report

    • b-psycho in reply to Koz says:

      You’re kidding, right?Report

      • Koz in reply to b-psycho says:

        No. You can ban the first-order abuses, but it’s hard to stop the leakage.
        What you can do is dial down the scope government activities and intents, therefore leaving less money at stake and less private sector volatility in the wake of government actions. Ergo, vote Republican.Report

        • b-psycho in reply to Koz says:

          When it comes to Leviathan, the only difference between Republicans and Democrats is the accent they want the line of crap defending it to be delivered with.Report

          • Koz in reply to b-psycho says:

            No no no b-p. The Republicans are in a big big fight to lower government expenditures and the scope of government actions. The people who favor limited government in America are with us. The people who claim to but aren’t with are just talking a big game.Report

            • b-psycho in reply to Koz says:

              Numbers wise, they’ve put up bills cutting the rate of increase, which is not an actual cut.

              Beyond that, there’s the whole matter of them exempting a huge chunk of what government actually does — that is, war & its related liberty diminishing side-effects — from even the slightest peripheral trimming.  Merely breathing the words “defense budget cuts” in their presence turns most self-proclaimed rock-ribbed limited-government conservatives into Paul Fishing Krugman.Report

              • Koz in reply to b-psycho says:

                Actually, no. There were defense cuts as part of the debt ceiling compromise, with the threat of substantially more defense cuts to come.

                And, there’s also the fact that in a economic downturn, revenues fall and expenditures rise as a matter of course, the libs are actually right on that one.

                Nonetheless, it’s clearly the Republicans in Congress and their allies in the Tea Party who’ve taken the lead in dialing down today’s Leviathan. The liberaltarians and such are just talking a good game, if that.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Koz says:

                Until those cuts actually occur, nobody gets credit for them.

                Bet you a beer they don’t occur.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                It’s a nice little Catch-22.  If the Republicans actually get the “cuts” they want (spending increase doesn’t meet Current Services Baseline) then they can simultaneously be criticised for cutting services and for failing to stop government growth.Report

              • Koz in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                “Until those cuts actually occur, nobody gets credit for them.”

                That was actually the Tea Party’s argument during the summer standoff, as I’m sure you recall, and they were right. The upshot may be different than you were supposing (or maybe not). Ie, we have to narrow our understanding of what can be done. What we do now is constrained by what’s happened in the past, and will be modified in the future.Report

              • b-psycho in reply to Koz says:

                Then how come I keep hearing that they’re trying to figure out ways of squirming out of the defense cuts?Report

              • Koz in reply to b-psycho says:

                I haven’t heard that at all, at least as it applies to the cuts specified in the summer deal. You’re probably talking about the implied threat of the sequester. I don’t blame anybody for being afraid of the sequester.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Koz says:

                No, Koz, he’s talking about this.

                Two top Senate GOP defense hawks laid out for The Cable how they plan to save the defense budget — if the congressional “supercommittee” fails to reach an agreement, triggering $600 billion in defense cuts over ten years.

                Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are part of a larger effort to protect the defense budget from the “sequestration” mechanism, which would automatically be activated if the supercommittee fails to agree by Thanksgiving on $1.2 trillion of discretionary spending cuts over 10 years. They sent a letter last week to the Pentagon asking for a detailed analysis of the consequences for the military if the trigger is pulled.

                “The secretary of defense and all the service chiefs say that it would do irreparable damage to our national security, so obviously we need to do something about it,” McCain told The Cable on Tuesday. “My intent is that sequestration on national defense will not take place.”

                McCain said he would introduce and support a law to undo the Budget Control Act of 2011, which codified the deal to raise the debt ceiling.

                “We’ll do everything we can to prevent [the trigger] being implemented,” McCain said. “You can’t bind future Congresses.”


              • Koz in reply to Koz says:

                Actually Pat, I think I’m right on this one. There were two stages to the budget cuts in the debt ceiling deal, ~1$T specified immediately, and the other ~$1.2T to be resolved by Congress before Thanksgiving. If the Supercommittee fails, there is a threat of sequester or across the board budget cuts, IIRC half of which falls on defense. That’s what McCain et al are trying to prevent.

                But there were already ~$300-400B in specified defense cuts, relative to the President’s Feb budget request, in the first half of the debt ceiling deal. And there is no effort from what I can see to re-fund that money to the Pentagon. The sequester, if it occurs, will be in addition to that.

                From what I can see, you and psycho (and Erik) are wrong to think think that the GOP won’t countenance defense cuts.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Koz says:

                Pat, $600B over 10 years = $60B a year?  We wipe our ass with $60B. We gave Pres Obama almost a trillion to “spread around” and now he wants another half-a-trillion.

                We’re like in WTF territory  here, right?  You’re a rocket scientist or something.  Let’s keep track of our zeroes.Report

            • Kim in reply to Koz says:

              You counting McCain and Zandi on that one? I sure as hell hope not — his whole campaign was pro-stimulus.Report

  9. John Howard Griffin says:

    Three points:

    1.  How do you stop the Legislative Branch from…uh…legislating?  Aren’t they part of making these laws and regulations?  If you make a law, the Legislative Branch can unmake it if they want.

    2.  Of all the suggestions, what prevents a politician from giving all his/her money to his/her wife/husband and kids, so it isn’t really his/hers?  Do you impound the money from everyone in his/her family?  Seems to me there are a lot of ways around this.

    3.  See point 1.Report

    • (1) Well, there’s this constitutional convention idea that was bandied about… less radically, the President could stick a stake in the ground and cut a deal.  (S)he does have the veto (I do not believe this would ever be a priority for the current administration).

      (2) Yes, there are always ways around everything.  Maybe the ways are so easy that it’s not worth doing the thing.  On the other hand, maybe it’s not really a significant problem.  On the gripping hand, if you make it reasonably difficult usually the easy ways out are difficult enough that it’s simple to catch.  Not that you can prevent it, but you can always report it.Report

  10. BlaiseP says:

    The Father of the Nation, George Washington (all genuflect here) used his government connections to become one of America’s most-landed gentry.

    At first, the formal conclusion in 1763 of the worldwide war between Britain and France, of which the French and Indian War had been a part, aroused hope that the land would be quickly granted. These expectations were overshadowed by the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which (among other provisions) forbade colonial governors from issuing land grants west of the Allegheny Mountains. Yet Washington chose to forge ahead, as evinced by a September 1767 letter to William Crawford, a Pennsylvania surveyor:

    . . . I can never look upon the Proclamation in any other light (but this I say between ourselves) than as a temporary expedient to quiet the minds of the Indians. It must fall, of course, in a few years, especially when those Indians consent to our occupying those lands. Any person who neglects hunting out good lands, and in some measure marking and distinguishing them for his own, in order to keep others from settling them will never regain it. If you will be at the trouble of seeking out the lands, I will take upon me the part of securing them, as soon as there is a possibility of doing it and will, moreover, be at all the cost and charges surveying and patenting the same . . . . By this time it be easy for you to discover that my plan is to secure a good deal of land. You will consequently come in for a handsome quantity.

    Washington was clearly willing to take considerable risks in seeking out choice land for himself. In the same letter, however, he warned Crawford “to keep the whole matter a secret, rather than give the alarm to others or allow himself to be censured for the opinion I have given in respect to the King’s Proclamation.” He concluded by offering Crawford an alibi should his behavior be called into question. “All of this can be carried on by silent management and can be carried out by you under the guise of hunting game, which you may, I presume, effectually do, at the same time you are in pursuit of land. When this is fully discovered advise me of it, and if there appears a possibility of succeeding, I will have the land surveyed to keep others off and leave the rest to time and my own assiduity.” In fact, the letter marked the beginning of a very profitable fifteen-year partnership. Less than two weeks after he had received it, Crawford informed Washington about several tracts in the vicinity of Fort Pitt, and the two men continued to collaborate until Crawford’s death in 1782.

    Washington persisted in his attempts to secure the military bounty lands. In 1769, Governor Botetourt of Virginia at last gave him permission to seek out a qualified surveyor and to notify all claimants that surveying would proceed. Once the surveying was completed the land could be divided among the remaining Virginia Regiment veterans or their heirs. Washington arranged to have Crawford appointed the “Surveyor of the Soldiers Land.” In the fall of 1770 Washington, Crawford, and a fellow veteran named Dr. James Craik set out from Fort Pitt by canoe to explore possible sites for the bounty lands, making notes and observations as they journeyed to the junction of the Ohio and Great Kanawha Rivers and several miles up the Great Kanawha.

    The next year, Crawford began to survey the tracts he and Washington had identified on the Great Kanawha expedition. Eight of these tracts are shown on a composite map now in the collections of the Geography and Map Division that Washington drew in1774 from Crawford’s surveys. Out of a total of 64,071 acres apportioned on the map, 19,383, or approximately 30 percent, were patented in Washington’s name.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

      There was also the various canal plans, conceived by Washington and his peers, to connect to the Ohio valley and make the fall line of the Potomac the location of both a world class city and the important one in North America (vice New York or Philly).Report

    • wardsmith in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Washington did even better when he married Martha. SHE was the rich one.

      I don’t have it in front of me now, but recall reading a study that showed Washington was the wealthiest American ever (adjusted for inflation of course).Report

    • b-psycho in reply to BlaiseP says:

      In our zealous patriotic pride, citizens of the U.S. seem to have a peculiar ability to forget that the founders of “our” government — like those of any government — were basically thieves.  Even “yes, they were thieves, but they were our thieves” gets you branded a nutjob, despite it being fact.Report

  11. Joecitizen says:

    I would trade the current mamsy-pamsy 1%  for another Wasington.Report