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Bill of health

Mié, 16/04/2014 - 16:35

IF DEMOCRATS and Republicans can agree on one thing, it is that Obamacare is hugely important. Democrats say it is a boon, Republicans that it amounts to the apocalypse. But knowing precisely what Obamacare does is rather difficult. The law’s knock-on effects—on the broader economy, on health-care businesses and on health, such as its effect on heart disease or cancer—may never be precisely quantified. It is even difficult to measure Obamacare’s progress towards its main goal, expanding insurance. Gallup, a pollster, is the latest group to make the attempt, presenting new data on April 16th.

The figure, if it could be precisely measured, would show how many people Obamacare has benefited. It would also help Democrats argue that Obamacare is a success or add fuel to Republicans’ fiery proclamations that it is a disaster. Changes in how the Census measures insurance will make it harder to quantify exactly how many people have gained coverage. Not surprisingly, however, both the health department and independent researchers continue to produce their own estimates. Importantly, the survey from Gallup is larger than those of many competitors—the company interviews about 15,000 Americans about their health each month.

Obamacare has been...Continue reading

Cross-Atlantic extremism

Sáb, 12/04/2014 - 18:36

I HAVE long had a sneaking suspicion that Tea Party voters and eurosceptics are more or less the same sorts of people, born on different sides of the Atlantic. Both are traditionalist movements driven by economic anxiety and mistrust of centralised government power. Both have received a huge political boost due to the financial crisis (or, as it played out in Europe, the euro crisis), with eurosceptic parties expected to reap large gains in this May's European Parliament elections. This week, I got a new opportunity to test my thesis. The Dutch-based research group Motivaction International has just come out with a new study of eurosceptic voters across five countries, showing that they share certain traits and values. So I asked Martijn Lampert, Motivaction's research director, whether they could extend this comparison to America's Tea Party voters. It turned out the eurosceptics data was drawn from a 20-country survey that also included 2,185 Americans, and the comparison is pretty interesting. It suggests that I'm partly right, but mostly wrong. Eurosceptics and Tea Party supporters...Continue reading

Now what?

Vie, 11/04/2014 - 18:49

IT WAS not a matter of if, but when. Kathleen Sebelius, Barack Obama’s health secretary, is one of the longest serving members of his cabinet. To compare her tenure to a rollercoaster ride would be generous, unless that rollercoaster jumped the tracks and careened into quicksand. So the announcement that she would resign is big news, but not surprising.

Obamacare’s deadline for having insurance, or paying a penalty, was April 1st. Mrs Sebelius had spent the past six months desperately trying to fix Obamacare’s insurance website and convince Americans that the law could help them, contrary to everything Republicans said. With the April deadline past, now is as good a time as any for her to resign. The main questions are whether it will have much practical or political impact.

The appointment of Sylvia Matthews Burwell, head of Mr...Continue reading

Ezra Klein's strangled Vox

Vie, 11/04/2014 - 14:33

LAST weekend saw the launch of Vox, a new own online news site founded by the one-time wunderkind political blogger, Ezra Klein. For the happy occasion, Mr Klein, Vox's editor-in-chief, has produced an interesting think-piece, "How politics makes us stupid", in which he provides a diverting overview of recent experimental work on the hardy human propensity to shield tribal political faith from rational scrutiny. That Mr Klein's essay ultimately runs aground, tangled in its own question, may shed some light on the promise of Vox and its aspiration to help readers really understand the news.

Mr Klein's essay is chiefly dedicated to explaining the work of Dan Kahan, a professor at Yale Law School. Mr Kahan and his colleagues have conducted a spate of experiments that show how our ability to reason soundly, particularly about political subjects, is undermined by the need to protect our core beliefs. Mr Klein writes:

Kahan calls this theory...Continue reading

Shots fired

Jue, 10/04/2014 - 23:07

A POSTSCRIPT to this week's print piece on police violence in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This morning, after The Economist went to press, the Department of Justice published the results of its 16-month probe into the conduct of the city's police department, and they weren't pretty. The review, published in the form of a 46-page letter to Richard Berry, the mayor, said that most of the 20 deadly police shootings between 2009 and 2012 it investigated were unconstitutional; officers, the report said, "used deadly force against people who posed a minimal threat". In some situations these officers acted in a manner that "heightened the danger" and made the use of force more likely. They were also found to have used non-lethal force, such as Tasers, unlawfully.

This excessive use of force, the...Continue reading

By the numbers

Mié, 09/04/2014 - 22:28

APRIL has been a cheerful month for the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. More than 7m Americans have signed up for private coverage through the law’s exchanges and, by the end of February, more than 3m people had enrolled in Medicaid, the health programme for the poor. According to the latest Gallup poll, America’s share of uninsured has fallen to its lowest level since 2008. These figures are good news for anyone keen to expand health coverage. They may not be so helpful for the Democrats’ election prospects.

To understand why, consider another set of figures. The Rand Corporation, a think-tank, estimates that 9.3m adults acquired insurance through mid-March. But more than 40m older Americans are enrolled in Medicare, the public-health programme for those aged 65 and older, with more than 15m of them in private Medicare plans. These are reliable voters in mid-term elections. And Republicans are telling them, again and again, that Democrats are raiding their benefits to pay for Obamacare.

Democratic politicians are desperate to convince them otherwise. On April 7th health officials provided some help: after proposing in...Continue reading

Imposter anxiety

Mié, 09/04/2014 - 18:26

DEFENDERS of North Carolina's new voter-ID law have been crowing this week. "Hundreds of cases of potential voter fraud uncovered in North Carolina," declared a recent Fox News headline. "Study finds 765 cases of NC voter fraud in 2012 election" echoed the Daily Tar Heel. North Carolina's State Board of Elections recently announced they had discovered 35,750 records of voters whose names and date of birth matched people who had voted in other states. More damningly, 765 North Carolina voters in 2012 had the same last four Social Security digits as people who voted in other states, and dozens more had apparently voted after they had died. Local conservatives have hailed these numbers as evidence that the state's strict new voter rules are essential safeguards against dodgy voter behaviour. “These findings should put to rest ill-informed claims that problems don’t exist...Continue reading

Noise and clamour

Mar, 08/04/2014 - 23:54

WHEN same-sex marriage activists force an ideological opponent to quit his job, are they violating liberal principles? Andrew Sullivan, a steadfast advocate for gay rights, thinks so. I do too, and John Locke, the great 17th-century theorist of liberalism, would probably agree.

In 2008 Brendan Eich gave $1,000 to support Proposition 8, a ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage in California. When this detail emerged last month, some web developers boycotted Mozilla to protest its promotion of Mr Eich, one of the company’s co-founders and the developer of JavaScript, to CEO. OKCupid, a dating website, joined the anti-Eich campaign a few days later. "Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples,” read the site's default screen for Firefox users. “We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OKCupid." On April 3rd Mr Eich resigned,...Continue reading

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