On Certification Instead of Regulation

Thursday, January 7, AD 2010

What started as a “Ha, do you libertarians endorse this?” dare by Mike of Rortybomb has turned into a somewhat interesting discussion between him and Megan McArdle about to what extent it’s possible to protect people who are not good at understanding complex financial products (the elderly, or people who just aren’t good at understanding complicated service agreements) from being victimized by banks without in the process hurting the people you’re trying to help. This as the new credit card legislation is going into effect, trying to crack down on banks which raise interest rates quickly if you’re late paying, have hidden fees, or move due dates around (theoretically in an attempt to keep people from paying on time.)

Mike suggests that banks should be required to offer a “plain vanilla option” of products such as credit cards or checking accounts.

And that solution would be mandating financial services to provide Vanilla Option financial products. Boring, low-reward trap-fee products you’d probably have to pay a yearly fee for.

So much of our financial services are predicated on tricks and traps but also have a lot of benefits. You get free checking, but if you overdraft you lose more than you gained. Now with a vanilla option, you could pay more upfront to not take the risk of losing later. This is banking how it used to be, boring. And this is exactly the kind of product that people with weak cognition would want to have available. Someone approaching older age, but before getting there, could opt for the “extra boring” financial services package. People buy renter’s insurance; some might view a yearly-fee on their checking account or credit card as a “trap insurance.”

Megan doesn’t think the idea would be very successful:

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One Response to On Certification Instead of Regulation

  • The Thaler and Sunstein book Nudge made some similar recommendations regarding what you might call “plain vanilla” options for things like credit cards, mortgages, etc. In general they think that you could get around the problems noted by Ms. McArdle by making the plain vanilla the “default option” rather than just one option among many. The idea is that most people tend to stick with a default option whatever it is, and the few who don’t tend to be the ones who are more knowledgeable and capable of comparing the pros and cons of other options. I’m not sure how that would translate into things like health care, but it’s an interesting idea.

Debate on Armed Protesters at Townhall Meetings

Wednesday, September 2, AD 2009

[Updates at the bottom of this article]

Though long (my solution was to download the MP3 and listen to it in the background throughout the day) this BloggingHeads discussion between Megan McArdle of the The Atlantic (libertarian) and author Michelle Goldberg (left-ish) about protesters carrying guns at townhall meetings was very interesting. Michelle takes the position (which I imagine we’ve all heard somewhere) that these open carry protesters are trying to exert political intimidation through threat of violence and are indeed likely to commit violence. Megan explains why she thinks it much more likely that they’re simply gun nuts trying to make a point about 2nd Amendment rights. (In a way, incidentally, which neither McArdle nor I support, but still almost certainly not in fact a violent threat to the nation with whose brush the entire right side of the political spectrum can be tarred by association.)

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7 Responses to Debate on Armed Protesters at Townhall Meetings

  • Leave the guns at home folks! People who bring guns to these meetings, and they have been very few judging from media accounts, are playing right in to the hands of their adversaries.

  • I thought the fact Michelle said she would take the bet at 10 to 1 odds, then backed off when Megan said she’d give her those odds was interesting.

  • Agreed, Don. I hope I haven’t given the impression that it’s anything other than idiotic to bring a gun to a political protest, no matter how calmly you behave after you get there.

    I just think the claim that the right wing of the country is on the verge of breaking out into some sort of political violence is not only idiotic and irresponsible, but also probably by people who don’t really believe it.


    Yeah, that was pretty impressive.

  • Agreed Darwin. I have been impressed at how orderly most of the townhalls have been, in spite of high passions.

  • I am a believer in the 2nd amendment, but it is idiotic and counterproductive for people to bring guns to townhall meetings.

    The townhalls are not about gun control, they’re about healthcare. Stay on topic, folks, or you look like confused scatterbrains! It reminds me of leftists who would turn up at anti-war protests with pro-abort signs, pro-gay marriage signs, pro-PETA signs, whatever their favorite pet cause was. The message I got was “Yeah, the war’s bad, but what I really, really want you to know is that I’m against fur coats!”

  • As an avid gun owner and shooter who is adamant about the 2nd amendment…. it is absolutely ridiculous to openly carry at a political event, or frankly, anywhere else that you are likely to cause alarm, and embarrassment to gun owners… This hurts our cause.

  • As a retired LEO, firearms instructor, and shooter for half a century now–I am a strong 2nd Amendment supporter for good reasons. But “open carry”, and particularly “in your face” open carry is just dumb. It’s about on the same level as shouting obscenities just because you can.

    Sometimes I think half the population suffered arrested development at about the third grade level. Probably some residual impressions left over from my old job.

Freak Show

Tuesday, August 18, AD 2009

Megan McArdle links to a Financial Times piece by Clive Cook which includes the following quote:

The gap between the right of the Republican party, which is providing the angriest critics of the reforms, and the left of the Democratic party, which thinks the proposals too timid, is unbridgeable. These groups do not merely disagree. They despise each other. Their differences are only secondarily about policy. They hold each other’s values in contempt.

These snarling extremes are nonetheless somewhat alike. They have an equal and opposite penchant for conspiracy theories. Almost a third of Republicans, according to a recent poll, believe the unsupported story that Mr Obama was not born in the US (in which case he would be disqualified from serving as president). But remember that more than a third of Democrats subscribe to the even more outlandish theory that the Bush administration knew about the attacks of September 2001 in advance.

One of the annoying qualities of national debate over the last several months (which seems to increase as Democrats become more desperate about their flagship legislation) is the attempt to find the very looniest possible elements of the right and portray them as being mainstream.

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5 Responses to Freak Show

  • Attempts to compare 9/11 “Truthers” to “Birthers” overlook an important point. The question “Is Barack Obama a natural born U.S. citizen?” can only be interpreted one way, and has only two possible answers — yes or no. Either he was or he wasn’t; there’s no in between.

    However, the question “Did Bush know about the 9/11 attacks in advance?” admits of several possible interpretations, listed in order from most to least plausible:

    1. Bush had access to intelligence information indicating the POSSIBILITY of a major terrorist attack being planned, but did not believe the threat serious enough to warrant immediate action.

    2. Bush was given credible but inconclusive information indicating that a terrorist attack was likely to occur in the late summer-early fall of 2001, but again, did not believe the information warranted any significant action.

    3. Bush had good, solid information indicating that Al Qaeda was planning a terrorist attack on the U.S. on or about 9/11/01, and deliberately chose not to take action, since he wanted to use the attack as a pretext for increased security measures and for waging war against countries he didn’t like.

    4. The Bush administration planned and staged the attacks from the outset and merely made them appear to have come from an outside enemy.

    Now, quite a few people (Republicans as well as Democrats) subscribe to theories #1 and #2, whereas only hardcore “Truthers” subscribe to #3 or #4.
    The first two theories mean that Bush simply made an honest mistake in not taking indications of a terrorist attack more seriously, or at worst, that he may have shown poor judgement. However, to embrace #3 or #4 is the real “conspiracy theory” equivalent in irrationality to “Birther” conspiracy theories.

  • The question “Is B. Obama a natural born citizen” can very easily be interpreted in several ways– and most of them are perfectly sane; here’s some ways that the answer could be “no”:
    1) His father, as an official rep of a national party in his home land, counts as a diplomat– thus, the child would be a citizen of Obama Sr’s homeland, as Obama’s mother didn’t fulfill the requirements for her children to automatically be nat-born cits.
    2) Obama renounced his citizenship by taking, as an adult, an Indonesian passport.
    3) Obama was adopted by his mother’s second husband and became a citizen of that country. (2 and 3 is why folks want his college records, BTW)
    4) Obama was born outside the US.

    This is off the top of my head, with a topic I’m not even really interested in.

    “Truther,” on the other hand, is applied to those who think that “9/11 was an inside job.” This would include some of the folks who think Bush “knew about it ahead of time,” but not all of them would be Truthers.

    Now, all that done… the quote is horribly inaccurate or misleading; there was a survey that said one-third of folks surveyed in Utah did not believe or weren’t sure if Obama was born in the US.

    Anne Coulter, of all folks, had a pretty decent point on this whole stupid “Oooh, there’s boogie men! You’re idiots!” argument.

  • Good point, Foxfier.

    Recall that before the election someone had fun going around asking rank-and-file Obama voters if they supported his pro-life stance and his selection of Palin as VP — and many said yes.

    In this case, it wouldn’t surprise me if many of the polled “birthers” don’t even know that you aren’t allowed to be president if you weren’t born in the US (which is, these days, a rather odd rule) and their responses don’t amount to much more than “Yeah, he’s got an odd name and I think I saw on TV he has relatives in Kenya — maybe he was born over there.”

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