Friday, April 25, 2014

Should college athletes be paid?

This is the way the question is usually posed, but it is a particularly unhelpful way to pose the question. College athletes are already paid; the question is, should they be paid more?

The idea that a college can feed an athlete on scholarship a bagel, and that is OK because the NCAA considers it a "snack", but when you put cream cheese on the bagel, then it is not OK because that is considered a "meal", is  ludicrous on the face of it. Many, many more examples can be given of the ridiculousness of NCAA regulations, but this makes the point quite nicely.

NCAA head Mark Emmert has gone on TV recently defending the ridiculous NCAA rules, and he is surely the most inept person I have ever seen in such a high leadership position. The NCAA and its member institutions have promulgated numerous frivolous arguments to dissuade its athletes and the authorities from determining that the athletes are, in fact, "employees", which they clearly are. One of the most outrageous allegations/threats is that if these employees choose to unionize, their scholarships will henceforth be treated as income, and they will be taxed on it. Whether the scholarship money is income or not will  be determined by IRS law and regulations, and has absolutely nothing to do with whether these employees decide to unionize.

Coaches have talked about how their players have to purchase their own disability insurance, so that if they suffer a career-ending injury, they will be compensated. Coaches have talked about how their star players cannot take their girlfriends out for a movie or a pizza at night. Coaches have talked about how the parents of their players cannot afford to come watch their sons play; or, in the event of a family emergency, the players cannot afford to fly home.

All of these are problems that would be addressed if the players were allowed to unionize and have a say in their future. I support this effort, and I hope it succeeds. The NCAA has a ten billion dollar contract to televise March Madness, and a ten billion dollar contract to televise the football playoffs. To deny this is big business is to perpetrate a fraud on all fans and players.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Do women still get paid "far less than their male counterparts"?

This was a claim made by Mika Brzezinski recently on "Morning Joe", MSNBC's morning program of news commentary. The basis for the claim is that women, on average, are paid 77% as much as men are, on the average. Assuming this is true, it in no way support's Mika's ridiculous claim.

First of all, equal pay for equal work has been the law for a long time now, and seems to be widely accepted. Any employer who does what Mika alleges would be in severe hot water legally.

Mika is a competent journalist, but she has her head way up her you-know-what on this issue. Studies have shown that, even among couples who are committed to sharing housework equally, once the first child is born, the equality is out the window, as the female takes vastly more responsibility for the child than the male. Obviously, this means the female spends less of her time and energy on her career, compared to men.

Another stat which is pertinent is one I heard many years ago, and never refuted, which is that never-married men and never-married women get paid about equally. This supports the notion that the problem is not any workplace discrimination, but rather, different choices that men and women make as to their priorities vis a vis family vs. career.

Choices of careers between men and women have a large role here also. Women tend to pick lower-paying jobs for their careers. Relative to men, there are very few women computer engineers, for example. How many women brain surgeons and rocket scientists are there?

By using the word "counterparts", Mika implies that women are paid less for the same work as men. Nothing could be further removed from the truth.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why I don't believe in insurance

Like people who play the lottery, people who buy insurance are basically innumerate (i.e., mathematically illiterate). In both cases, what you are doing is paying a middle man who skims a portion of the proceeds off the top, and then distributes the remainder to the participants. In the case of the lottery, the amount skimmed off is 50% or more; with insurance companies it is somewhat less but the principle is the same.

A further problem with insurance is that you are placing a bet that something bad is going to happen to you. In the case of life insurance, you are betting that you're going to die; if you live, you've lost the best. With disability insurance, you are betting you are going to become disabled; if you don't, you lose the bet. With health insurance, you are betting you are going to get sick or injured; if you don't, you lose.

What this amounts to is that you are subsidizing those folks who engage in risky behavior, whether it be smoking, not wearing your seatbelts, or whatever. If you have the good sense to make a reasonable effort to take care of yourself, you are making a really losing bet, over and beyond what the normal person makes when he/she buys insurance.

The obsession with insurance which has developed since World War 2 represents the decline in community during this era. People who are part of a community do not need insurance, because they know that the community will step in to take up the slack. The essence of community is a group of people who are committed to the idea of bearing each other's burdens; hence, no need for insurance.

A recent book about the experience of the Hutterites in World War One, called "Pacifists in Chains: The Persecution of Hutterites in the Great War", describes an odd consequence of the sense of community existing among the Hutterites. The book describes the experiences of four Hutterite men who were conscripted into the military during WW1. As husbands and fathers, they could have easily avoided conscription by simply checking the box that they were the "sole support" of their families. But, with scrupulous honesty, they failed to check this box, because they knew that the community would take care of their families in their absence.

A particularly outrageous example of how insurance companies spend the money they skim off the top from our premiums is seen in the exorbitant amounts that car insurance companies are paying for advertising in recent years. The TV airwaves are saturated with this advertising, which is especially inexplicable in light of the fact that the requirements for a basic car insurance policy are mandated by state law in every state. Every day we see these ads: Progressive (Flo and her "name your price tool"), Geico ("fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance"), State Farm ("like a good neighbor, State Farm is there"), Allstate (you're in good hands with Allstate),  Farmer's ("we are Farmer's"), Safeco ("some people want more out of life"), The General ("Go to The General and save some time"), (esurance (poking fun at Geico's "fifteen minutes" jingle by saying it only takes seven and a half minutes with esurance), and, most bizarrely, USAA ("Once it's earned, USAA auto insurance is often handed down from generation to generation").

The purpose of this post is not political, but I can't help observing that Obamacare is a pathetic attempt at reform, relying as it does on the private insurance system. True reform will not come in the U.S. until Congress decides to join the rest of the developed world in providing health care to all.

 The absurd situations which arise when the private insurance system and private employers are involved is represented by the Hobby Lobby case, which was recently argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Hobby Lobby argued that its religious liberties were being violated by being forced to cover contraception in the health insurance plans provided to its employees. This position is laughable on a number of grounds.

But consider the larger question, presented by the thrust of this post. Why should health insurance plans cover contraception? Insurance, if it has any legitimate role at all, should be used to protect us against catastrophic events. Just as we don't expect our car insurance to pay for routine oil changes, neither should we expect our health insurance to pay for routine body maintenance. When I learned that the contraceptive coverage in question was available for as low as $9 a month, this made the Obama Administration's position seem awfully weak on the coverage issue.