Latest Blog Posts & Articles

Healthcare Versus Other Social Spending

Here is another great picture from the people at Vox. It shows the United States in the middle of OECD countries, when it comes to spending on social services, like healthcare, unemployment, and the like. Despite being in the middle, however, the US is better understood as an outlier, on two extremes of this spectrum. We very much outspend everybody on social spending for health care, while spending far less than other countries on other social services.

Healthcare vs Other Social SpendingI would like to see us focus less of our social spending on healthcare services, for which we do not receive an adequate return on investment compared to other countries. But that’s just one man’s opinion.

Posted in Health Policy | Tagged , ,

Clever Graphic to Stop Public Urination – Yes, Urination

Let’s face it – us men are disgusting. So public policy experts are left to figure out how to keep us from behaving in our normally disgusting manner. Here’s one approach (thanks to Geoff Riley for bringing it to my attention):

public urination

Think it will work?

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Are Some Life Saving Treatments Overkill?

Hypothermia 1Thanks to the popularity of medical television shows, most people have witnessed hundreds of fictional cardiac arrests in their lifetime. In most of these scenes, the patient loses consciousness, and the medical team rushes to the bedside:

“He’s in V-fib.”

“Get me the paddles.”

The team performs urgent chest compressions for a few seconds.  Then they place the metal paddles on the victim’s chest:

“Clear!”  Kathump.

The patient’s heart is back to normal again, tragedy avoided.

On television, the outcomes of in-hospital resuscitations are commonly miraculous.  According to a New England Journal study from 1996, over 75% of “patients” who received CPR on popular television shows were brought back to life by the treatment with good outcomes — brains intact; ready to go.  In real hospitals around that same time, only 15% of patients experienced such good outcomes. The vast majority of patients who experienced cardiac arrests in the hospital back then didn’t survive resuscitation efforts, and many of the ones who did survive, whose hearts were successfully restarted, still ended up either dying before leaving the hospital, or sustaining major brain damage.

That was then, though, and now hospital code teams have a new weapon in their resuscitory arsenal.  That weapon is known as therapeutic hypothermia. (Read more and view comments at Forbes.)

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Health Insurance Prices Declining under Obamacare

One year does not a trend make, but it does look like prices for health insurance under Obamacare next year will decline, on average. Ezra Klein, over at, produced a nice picture of these prices:

Benchmark plan percentage change 2014-2015
Who knows: in the long run, maybe the name of this law – The Affordable Care Act – will be deserved.

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Power of Analogy

dog pulls leashFrom time to time in this blog, I take a moment to celebrate fine writing. Here is an example I came across in an article in Smithsonian magazine from May 2014.

The author, Corey Powell , was trying to explain how astronomers use gravitational “tug” to indirectly reveal the existence of planets. In other words, they can’t see the planets, but they know that they are there. But how do they know it? Here is his analogy:

Picture a black dog at nighttime, yanking on its owner’s leash. The only way you can tell the dog is there is by the owners herky-jerky movements.

What a brilliant way to illustrate this important scientific concept.

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Red Robin, Red Robin, Please Clog My Arteries!

A while back, one of my favorite journalists – Sarah Kliff, from Vox – published a picture showing which chain restaurants win the award for offering the highest calorie entrées. I figured it was time to recirculate this gallery of infamy. Here is the Vox picture of these award winners:

Red Robin

These are truly staggering sums. Most of these meals, on their own, exceed the appropriate daily calorie intake for an adult. That Red Robin Monster Meal – packs enough calories to tide healthy adults over for the better portion of the work week. I hope the people who created these entrées are ashamed of their “accomplishments.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics and Public Policy | Tagged ,

Moderate Politicans: No Reason to Run for Office

A while back, my friend and colleague Brendan Nyhan  sent out a disturbing picture showing that moderate politicians, from both the Democratic and Republican parties, are less likely to run for seats in the House of Representatives than more extreme politicians:

Predicted Probability Running for Congress

Very disturbing trend! It is hard to see the policies of our country improving if we don’t elect a more reasonable group of politicians.

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Something I Have in Common with Beethoven

beethoven4Friends and family are painfully aware of how obsessed I have become with Beethoven lately. My plan is to have 10 of his piano sonatas in my brain and fingertips at any one time, ready to play by memory on demand. I’ve been listening to his music, studying his scores, and even reading biographies.

And that’s where I discovered one thing I have in common with Beethoven – to maximize our creativity, both of us rely upon changing locations. Here’s a passage from a short and engaging Beethoven biography by Edmund Morris:

“There was quite enough variety for him, in the twenty-three years he had left: different spas, different hill towns, and so many changes of city address that he once found himself paying four different rents simultaneously. But the very force of all this mobility (even from the country, he was forever catching coaches back into Vienna) spins into a biographical blur .”

Beethoven found that changing location helped change his mindset, and increased his composing productivity. I find the same thing in my work. Sometimes picking up and going to a coffee shop for two hours helps me get more done than four hours in my office could accomplish.

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Is [Your Favorite Politician Here] Narcissistic Enough to Be a Good President?

Clinton-EsquireI expect we all agree that the presidency is not a job for a shrinking violet.  We acknowledge that a president without self-confidence would be a disaster in the making.  But just how confident do we want our president to be?  Is the kind of extroversion that helps people succeed in modern political campaigns also helpful in making our presidents better leaders once elected?

An interesting study published in Psychological Science suggests the benefits of narcissism outweigh the harms.  The study rated all U.S. presidents (through George W. Bush) on a narcissism scale, and then tested whether their level of narcissism was correlated with objective measures of their success as presidents.  Researchers broke narcissism into two subdomains: (1) grandiose narcissism—characterized by flamboyance and interpersonal dominance and (2) vulnerable narcissism—characterized by emotional fragility and social withdrawal…

(See how the presidents stack up and comment at Forbes)

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Influencing Young Minds

is never goodI really like teaching Duke undergraduates. They are an ambitious and intelligent group. But sometimes their ambition and intelligence get in the way of creative thinking, especially in regards to careers. They all want to remain high achievers, so they know they must either become doctors, lawyers, investment bankers or business consultants. Not infrequently I find myself talking to undergraduates about careers, urging them to do something different for a couple years and learn more about the world, before settling on one of these well honed paths.

I was reminded of these conversations recently when I read “How About Never–Is Never Good for You?,” by Bob Mankov, cartoon editor at the New Yorker. He relayed his experience visiting high schools in grade schools, and talking about his career as a cartoonist:

“Some years ago, at my daughter’s high school, I gave a Career Day talk about my thirty-five-year “career” in cartooning. I do these talks in the hope that I can prevent one young person, especially if they are Jewish, from becoming a doctor, lawyer, dentist, or accountant.”

I highly recommend his book, if you’re up for a good laugh. It is loaded with cartoons too!

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