The Intelligent Economist: Top Econ blogs list

The Intelligent Investor's Prateek Agarwal compiles his list of top 100 Economics Blogs on his recent blog post.  There are several interesting blogs that I am looking forward to exploring their content. I have included my top 4 below. Please use the comments section to share your thoughts on other blogs on the list or to recommend any omissions.

  1. Marginal Revolution
  2. Cafe Hayek
  3. Grumpy Economist
  4. Conversable Economist

Lagniappe: Grumpy Economist post on California Solar Panel Mandate

Taxi Reform by Uber

To commemorate the 7 year anniversary of Uber's launch in New York City, Barry Ritholtz pens an op-ed claiming that the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission created the market opportunity for Uber to enter and thrive in NYC. By using its regulatory moat, the TLC was able to restrict the number of drivers through its medallion system. 

I wonder if Uber would have had the same success if the TLC had been more focused on meeting the needs of their riders rather than its medallion holders.

I have included an excerpt from the article that shows how the entrance of Uber impacted the price of taxi medallions. 

All of these failings would be much less likely to take place in a competitive market. We know this is an artificial monopoly because of the price behavior of medallions after market competition began: prices for medallions peaked shortly after Uber came to town, but before it had much of an impact. Bloomberg Businessweek reported that medallion prices, which peaked at $1.3 million in 2013, were already sliding, falling below $900,000 in 2013. Just two years later 2015, prices had fallen another 40 percent.

And it got worse: By 2016, the lowest reported price was $250,000. Last year, medallions sold for as little as $241,000. They are still falling. Axios noted a recent transaction that went for just 8 percent of the peak value, or about $100,000. Other cities, such as Chicago, have seen similar declines in medallion prices.

 

Tesla Facts of the Day

Dana Hull and Hannah Recht write a critical review of Tesla's cash burn rate and potential liquidity challenges in their recent Bloomberg article.  While I greatly admire Elon Musk as an inventor and innovator, I am also flummoxed by his apparent deficits as an operator as Tesla continues to miss its production targets. However, my interest in the article has nothing to do with whether or not I think Tesla is viable as a long term company. I have included my favorite facts below. Please share yours or links to other articles in the comments section.

  1. The current cash burn rate is $6500/minute. It took me $52,000 to read the article.
  2. Tesla has approximately $875 million dollars in deposits for future cars and prepayment for features that Tesla has not successfully developed yet.
  3. Telsa has received $1.3B or $3,500/car sold from selling Zero Emissions credits.
  4. The company currently has 40,000 employees and majority of its manufacturing process is currently being done by hand and not through automation.

Disclosure: I probably own shares of Tesla as part of Broad US market index funds held in both my brokerage and retirement accounts.

EconTalk on Suicide of the West

While I have been doing more writing on this blog as of late, I also want to use this blog to share other original content that I find particularly interesting.  

Russ Roberts and his guest Johan Goldberg discuss how tribalism, nationalism and populism are hurting the "American Exceptionalism" that they are supposed to protect.  Despite having different political ideologies, I found their discussion thoughtful and mostly partisan free.  If you enjoy this episode, Jonah's book is available for sale on Amazon

Please use the comment section to share your thoughts on the episode. Also, if you've read the book, let me know if it is worth a read.

REK

I came across this great Jeff Gage article about Texas Singer-Songwriter Robert Earl Keen and felt compelled to share it.  I remember listening to REK on Red Dirt Radio Hour as a teenage boy growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and continue to enjoy his music to this day.  As a fan of Red Dirt and Texas Country music, I cannot count the number of shows I've been to where the headliner, after covering one of his songs, would then tell their own Robert Earl Keen story about how they met him and what an honor it was to play on the same stages.  I have always thought of him as the musical equivalent to a Comic's Comic and think this article does a great job of expounding on this idea.

The first time I saw Robert Earl Keen in concert was at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma back in August 2005. It was the Monday before I was heading off to college and decided to go with my remaining friends as a last hurrah before we departed. Because it was a midweek show, the crowd was small and they had set tables up on the historic dance floor in front of the stage.  While I was initially disappointed about the tables and the small turnout, I would not have had the fortunate experience of buying him a beer and chatting between sets without it being a more intimate show. I still enjoying sharing that story every chance I get.  

I soon became one of those Texas fraternity boys mentioned in the article. Whether we were cooking hamburgers at the house, out at somebody's ranch for the weekend, hanging out at an apartment complex pool, or enjoying a hot summer day on the Green Belt or Hamilton Pool, Corpus Christi Bay and Gringo Honeymoon always found their way onto our playlists.  We even made the pilgrimage to Texas Country Mecca to see Robert Earl Keen play at Gruene Hall. 

Most recently, my wife and I got to see him in concert with Lyle Lovett in Albuquerque, New Mexico in February 2018.  We were not sure what to expect seeing him at a performing arts center rather than a beer joint/dance hall. The banter between the two of them and the stories of their musical careers between songs was every bit as entertaining as the music they played.  They told stories about touring with artists they admired like Guy Clark and the late Townes Van Zandt. It was very similar to the way Randy Rogers, Cory Marrow and Pat Green talked about Robert Earl Keen when I used to see them in concert.

My top 5 Robert Earl Keen songs (in no particular order). Please use the comments section to share REK stories, as well as, your favorite songs that didn't make my top 5.

  1. Gringo Honeymoon
  2. Corpus Christi Bay
  3. Feeling Good Again
  4. Think It Over One Time
  5. I'll Go On Downtown

My Perspective on the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica Story

Since the New York Times/London Observer story regarding the Trump campaign's use of Cambridge Analytica tools to target potential voters broke on March 17th, we have been inundated with news reports, articles, and blog posts about how a Facebook "Data Breach" helped Trump with the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. This story seems to piggyback the recent stories about Russia using Facebook to help Trump win the 2016 election.  My first thoughts were if Facebook can be so easily manipulated to sway elections, why couldn't the Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton campaigns, with their more technologically engaged base,  take advantage of the platform. With the amount of media coverage, and no actual data breach, I figured there must be more to the story.

As I read further into the story, it appears that the Trump campaign engaged Cambridge Analytica to help target potential voters with ads on Facebook. Aggregating user data and selling it to advertisers is a regular business practice for Facebook.  In fact, using my google browser and typing the search terms "does Facebook sell your data" I can find many articles dating as far back as 2014 that acknowledge the practice. Also, Facebook is not the only company that sells user data.  Major news networks like CBSNewsweek and ProPublica have been publishing articles about harvesting user data since 2012.  My internal cynic thinks that most of the media coverage and outrage either has to do with the fact that political campaigns are using big data to get votes or that unpopular President Trump benefited from this round.  Contrary to the recent sentiment, consumers often benefit from sharing data with advertisers. We seem to appreciate our data being analyzed when Amazon recommends a book based on previous purchases and when Netflix suggests what TV shows we may enjoy.  

While Cambridge Analytica did not hack into Facebook to obtain user data, their actions were deceptive. Cambridge Analytica was able to obtain data from an individual who went through the appropriate Facebook channels to access the data. While Facebook did not directly give Cambridge Analytica access, it does not seem that Facebook made much of an effort to prevent Cambridge Analytica from using it. Furthermore, Facebook's request to have Cambridge Analytica cease using data and delete it in 2015 shows that Facebook had been aware of how the data was being used and did not take action until the NYT article was about to be released.

My Takeaways

  1. Cambridge Analytica used deceptive tactics to obtain Facebook user data and lied  about their intended use of the data. 
  2. Facebook probably failed to live up to its obligation to protect user data . (I confess that I have not read though Facebook user agreement)
  3. I need to be more consciousness about what apps I allow to view my data.

Interesting Articles on the topic

  1. Cass Sunstein's op-ed implores us not overreact to this news story.
  2. Tyler Cowen's article  discusses how this story fits the larger narrative that "tech fears" are driven by the fear of loss of control.
  3. Leonid Bershidsky's op-ed argues that Facebook's business practices, and not Cambridge Analytica, are the bigger issue.
  4. The Daily Podcast episode walks through psychographic messaging and the mechanics  Cambridge Analytica used to acquire Facebook user data. (for sensationalized, partisan fueled hot takes, take a look at the "Background Reading" below the podcast episode)
  5. Josh Constine's article highlights the impact of Facebook Ad spending during the 2016 Presidential election

As per Metcalfe's Law, the value of networks grow as the size of the networks increases.  The impact of social media will continue to grow as more people become connected. The combination of larger networks and more powerful analytical tools, will enable advertisers to better target their potential users.  When used for good, it will facilitate cooperation to solve problems that stumped previous generations. However, it also enables bad actors to target susceptible victims.  It will be interesting to see how users protect themselves without completely disengaging from social networks.

Please use comments to share other thoughtful analysis of the story or ideas of how we can protect ourselves from being manipulated from similar events in the future.

Friday Lunch At Galatoire's

4 Hours, 3 Cocktails, 2 Desserts, 1 of a Kind Experience

Photo:  Central City Millworks   (they did all off the millwork for remodel in 2012)

Photo: Central City Millworks  (they did all off the millwork for remodel in 2012)

Having lived in New Orleans for several years in my mid-20s, I indulged in many of the unique experiences that the city has to offer. When I knew that I would be relocating for work, I made a bucket list of all the restaurants that I wanted to visit before my impending move.  One meal that I was unable to cross off my list was Friday Lunch at Galatoire’s. Upon learning that my wife would be traveling to New Orleans for a conference, I decided to tag along and try to get a seat at the table.

Getting a Seat at the table

While most popular restaurants in New Orleans require a reservation, Friday lunch at Galatoire’s is the exception. Tables in the first-floor dining room are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. A staff member will appear outside the restaurant door around 8am and will begin taking names for the 11:30 seating.  With only 41 tables and 132 seats, the list fills up between 8:30-10am on most Fridays (notable exceptions: the Fridays before Mardi Gras and Halloween when tables are auctioned off for charity.) There are also professional line sitters that will show up early and put your name on a list for a fee. For those who are unable to get a seat during the 11:30 seating, there is a second seating following this (whenever tables open up) and reservations may be made for the upstairs dining room. However, my local friends stressed the importance of eating downstairs with the first seating to really get the full experience.

Unfortunately, I underestimated the impact of the line sitters and did not get to the restaurant until 8:45am.  By the time I reached the front of the line, the list for the first seating downstairs was full, and the host was taking names for the upstairs dining room. So after the crowd dispersed, I went into the restaurant to see if I could grease some palms to get my name on the list. The host declined my gratuity but offered to put my name on the list for the second seating. He instructed me to return around 1:30 and hopefully we’d get seated around 2pm. Seeing that this was my next best option, I put my name on the list and left the restaurant.

 I cursed myself for staying out too late the night before and texted my wife the disappointing news.  She walked over from the conference early anyway to kill time while we waited for our table. After we had made it only a few blocks, I received a text from the restaurant that our table was ready just a few minutes after noon. We raced back to restaurant and the host informed us a table no-showed and that we were the next duo on the list. As the second to last table seated, and having defied the odds of getting a seat without paying a line sitter, we walked into a packed dining room and eagerly awaited our turn at the Friday Lunch experience.

Packed Dining Room taken during our lunch

Packed Dining Room taken during our lunch

The Ambiance

The best words to describe the temperment of the room are jovial and energized. With patrons dressed in their Sunday best, multiple tables with large birthday balloons floating above, and a large table of rowdy groomsmen helping send off an expectant groom, everyone in the dining room appeared to be celebrating something.  Throughout the meal, servers would clang glasses to get the restaurant’s attention so that everyone could participate in celebratory birthday toasts and singing "Happy Birthday." The entire dining room participated with the same enthusiasm for each toast as if it were for one of their tablemates.  People were up and about tablehopping, drink in tow, saying hello and catching up with friends who serendipitously happened to be at Galatoire’s as well as visiting with strangers.

It was impressive to watch the staff navigate through the chaos. They had an unbelievable knack of appearing when needed then disappearing to let you enjoy your meal. Plates were cleared as soon as the last bites were finished, and new drink orders were taken as soon as glass bottoms were raised for the last sip. 

With tables placed closely together, you cannot help but interact with the neighboring tables.  We quickly learned that the table next to us consisted of a middle-aged couple treating their college age daughter and her boyfriend to lunch to commemorate the boyfriend’s first trip to the Crescent City. They were regulars at Galatoire’s and wanted their daughter’s boyfriend to have a quintessential New Orleans experience.  When they asked what we were celebrating, I told them about my bucket list and not getting to cross it off during my time living here. They welcomed me back to the city and informed us that we were in for a treat. My wife mentioned that she was here for a conference and that, if we had to celebrate something, she had celebrated a birthday last week.  After discovering we were from out of town, they proceeded to inquire about all the places we had eaten and the sights we'd taken in during the week. We also traded suggestions of books to read, places to eat around town and made friendly conversation.  The only breaks in the conversation were the birthday toasts and eating as the food arrived. However, the conversation would pick back up between courses.  At one point during the meal, the wife snuck off to tell our waitress about my wife's recent birthday so that she could also get her own birthday toast. They were our de facto tour guides for the duration of the meal and definitely enhanced our dining experience.  We ended the meal by exchanging emails and well wishes.

The Food

While my wife and I enjoy a good meal, neither of us are very familiar with traditional French Creole cuisine. However, we are generally adventurous eaters and enjoy sharing so we get to try everything on the table. Luckily, the table next to us told us close our menus and let our waitress guide us through the meal. Our server, Martine, quickly appeared and took our first drink order.  When she returned, she recommended we start off with the soufflé potatoes and the Galatoire Goute (pronounced goo-tay), which consisted of shrimp remoulade, Crabmeat Maison and a crawfish salad. She instructed us to either dip the potatoes in hollandaise sauce or to stuff the potatoes with the Goute.

Next, we ordered our second round of cocktails and proceeded with the duck and andouille (pronounced an-doo-ee) gumbo and the iceberg wedge salad with apple smoked bacon that was sweet enough to have been candied.   

After letting our food digest and enjoying our cocktails, our server returned to take our order for the main entrees. After telling Martine that we wanted both a fish and a meat entrée, she suggested that we order the redfish with the crabmeat Yvonne garnish and the petite filet cooked medium rare with béarnaise garnish. For sides, she recommended the cream spinach and asparagus hollandaise.  We ordered our third cocktail and eagerly awaited out meal.  When our entrees arrived, Martine had noticed that we had been trading plates mid-course and had the entrees split in half before arriving at the table.

Redfish with Crab Yvonne and Medium Rare Petite Filet with béarnaise garnish

Redfish with Crab Yvonne and Medium Rare Petite Filet with béarnaise garnish

As a self-proclaimed bread pudding aficionado, I was looking forward to trying the house bread pudding with their banana praline sauce. My wife was also eyeing the black bottom pecan pie with an oreo crust and whiskey caramel sauce. After consulting Martine, we ordered both.  Our new friends at the table next to us also recommended that we try the café brûlot (pronounced bru-low) which he described as a brandy spiced coffee drink that is set on fire.  With an endorsement like that, we were unable to say no. Both desserts were delicious, but we both agreed the pecan pie was the superior dish.

Left: Black Bottom Pecan Pie  Right: Bread Pudding with Banana Praline sauce

Left: Black Bottom Pecan Pie  Right: Bread Pudding with Banana Praline sauce

The Drinks

While neither my wife nor I routinely order cocktails with lunch, we decided that Friday Lunch at Galatoire's would be an exception.  I started off with the Kentucky Reserve which consisted of Woodford bourbon, tuaca liqueur, Angostura bitters and a brandied cherry served up in classic coupe glass. The drink was well balanced with a boozy base and a sweet finish.  My wife’s first round was the Old Fashion, which was made in the classic style, with bourbon, Peychaud’s bitters, house made simple syrup, orange and a maraschino cherry in a rocks glass. 

 

My wife with her Old Fashion and my Kentucty Reserve in the coupe glass

My wife with her Old Fashion and my Kentucty Reserve in the coupe glass

My wife’s next round was the Galatoire’s Milk Punch, which consisted of bourbon, milk, vanilla, simple syrup, and nutmeg.  It honestly tasted like a boozy milkshake. I went for the Galatoire’s Specialty Cocktail which was essentially a Sazerac with bourbon instead of rye whiskey.

For round three, I ordered a Sazerac which was made up of rye whiskey, Herbsaint, Peychaud’s bitters, simple syrup and a lemon twist.  My wife, who was warming up her palate for dessert, went with the house’s take on the Classic Daiquiri. They used Louisiana’s own Rougaroux Sugarshine Rum, lime juice, simple syrup, lime, shaken and served it neat. The 101-proof rum with the lime juice gave the drink a kick and acidic bite that made the drink much more palatable than the sweeter versions of the drink I have previously encountered. 

Farewell

After eating an incredible meal, imbibing in delicious cocktails and saying farewell to our new friends that we made over the past four hours, we settled up with our server (after taking a selfie together) and made our way out of the restaurant. While I had high expectations for our Friday Lunch at Galatoire’s, the experience exceeded them all.  People often say that outside of New Orleans, Mardi Gras is just another Tuesday, I think the same sentiment can be applied to Friday lunches not at Galatoire's.

IMG_0640.JPG

Lagniappe: While waiting in line, I chatted up some of the hired line sitters and got a phone number that I can use the next time I want to eat at Galatoire’s. Contact me and I will share the contact information.

Protectionism in the News

One of the advantages of having an unpopular president is that his bad ideas get the criticism that they deserve.  Listening to the mainstream media call tariffs a tax on the American consumer was music to my ears.  Not sure where these critics were when Trump imposed tariffs on solar panels and washing machines in January. With multinational corportations that source materials and manufacture goods all over the globe, it is impossible to impose restrictions in trade without creating some unintended consequenses. 

Below I have included some articles that I particularly enjoyed reading that are critical of recent tariffs and protectionism in general. Please use the comments to share any other articles that you have come across and feel are worth sharing.

  1. Trade Wars are Easy to Win 
  2. Some Questions for Protectionists 
  3. Trump's Tariff Folly

Irrational Medicine

While I was reading the current issue of New England Journal of Medicine this week, I came across an interesting perspective article. Usually I skip these articles and focus on clinical studies, images in medicine and review articles that usually have higher yield information that I can apply to help care for my patients. However, Dr. Jerry Avorn's article, The Psychology of Clinical Decision Making- Implications for Medication Usecaught my attention. Essentially, he discusses how a lot of clinical decision making in medical education is based on the assumption that both clinicians and patients "behave rationally" meaning that with appropriate information they will make decisions that maximize health benefits and minimize risk of harm.  However, my clinical experience has shown me, often on a daily basis, that both patients and clinicians act irrationally.  

A relevant example would be the treatment of influenza.  A lot of patients are hesitant to get the flu shot but will call my office for oseltamivir (tamilfu) after the first cough, sneeze, or runny nose despite what most clinicians consider to be overwhelming evidence that the vaccine is significantly more effective that tamiflu. 

A 2014 British Medical Journal sytematic review looked at the 83 articles which reviewed the potential benefits of Tamiflu. From this review, Tamiflu has good evidence supporting reduced time from onset of illness to first alleviation of symptoms from 7 days to 6.3 days (16.8 hours).  When used as a post exposure prophylaxis agent in patients exposed to the flu, it has been shown to reduce risk of symptomatic flu by 55% . There is not evidence to show that it reduces rates of hospitalizations, death, diagnosis of post flu pneumonia (lung infection) , bronchitis, otitis media (ear infection) nor sinusitis (sinus infection) any better than placebo.  Now lets compare tamiflu to influenza vaccine.

According to the CDC, the influenza immunzation (flu shot), has been shown in studies to reduce flu-related hospitalizations for the general population. This impact is even greater in high risk patient groups such as diabetics (79%) and patients with chronic lung diseases (52%). A 2017 study, published in Pediatrics, shows that from 2010-2014, children who received flu shots had a decreased risk of dying from the flu by 51% in healthy children and 65% in children with underlying medical conditions.  There is also an incredibly large amount of information documenting safety of  the influenza vaccine in both children and adults.

From reading the above information, it seems like the rational choice would be to get an annual flu shot. However, a large number of patients are still not immunized. According to the National Immunization Survey-Flu (NIS-Flu) and Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), vaccination rates for adults have been approximately 40% for adults and 55% for children from 2009-2016. This means over 50% of adults and almost 50% of children fail to get immunized despite the above information being known and readily accessible. 

While there is a large amount of research in fields such as behavioral finance, I have not seen anything like this being studied in medicine.   I think this issue is only going to become more important as quality metrics (diabetes bundles, BP goals, Heart Failure bundles,  adherence to guidelines) continue to become more important for physician evaluation and institutional accreditations.  While there is so much we have yet to learn in the field of medicine, I think there is some low hanging fruit in discovering why we fail to provide care to the best our knowledge.  I'd even be willing to wager that some of the tools used in behavioral finance could be used to nudge patients and clinicians into making better healthcare decisions. 

 

Crowdsourcing for Uncle Sam

Ezekiel J. Emanuel and Bob Kocher's recent WSJ editorial, What Medicare Could Learn from Netflix, discusses a proposed solution to help CMS improve its risk adjusted payment model to better allocate healthcare dollars for its patients. 

While most of us aren't healthcare policy buffs, looking for cost effective strategies to draw on social capital to improve the delivery of governmental services seems like a win for us all. The XPRIZE foundation has created a successful model that could easily be applied to government specific challenges.

Please use the comment section to suggest other govermental challenges that you'd like the our collective knowledge to address. 

The article is behind a paywall, so you need to be a subscriber to read the full story, but I have included a condensed excerpt that I found particularly interesting and hopefully will encourage you to read the entire article.

Tne way for Medicare to do better would be to emulate Netflix... Netflix ran a world-wide contest to improve... its proprietary algorithm for predicting how users would rate films they’d never seen... Within a year, over 2,000 separate teams... had submitted more than 13,000 algorithms. Eventually, the winning team... improved the algorithm by more than 10%. For a tiny cost, Netflix got a huge amount of computer-science research that even its highly skilled employees could not perform.

Medicare should do the same: create a contest open to anyone in the world who can beat its current risk-adjustment model...The winner should be able to use objective patient data to account for at least 45% of the spending variation caused by disease...

 

Lagniappe: Looks like WSJ is testing a new paywall strategy. Seems kind of cool

More than A Bubble?

The recent declines in the US publicly equity markets in response to good US economic data support the argument that quantitative easing and near zero interest rate policy has created a bubble in the US stock prices. There seems to be a consensus that prices will continue to  decline as interest rates normalize.   While I concede that cheap money has been a major driver in the rise in US asset prices, I think there must be other factors at play. Japanese markets have not had the same run up in asset prices, despite similarly low interest rates and quantitative easing.

Tyler Cowen offers a contrarian hypothesis for high US asset prices in his recent Bloomberg article.  He suggests that at least a portion of the rise in US asset prices is due to a lack of alternative financial institutions to store wealth.  According to the Credit Suisse Research Institute's Global Wealth Report 2017, global wealth is up 27% from 2007-2017.  This approximately $60 trillion in new wealth has to be stored somewhere and the US public equity markets have received a large share of invested capital.  I have included an excerpt from Tyler's Article below.

To sum this all up in a single nerdy finance sentence, in a world where wealth creation has outraced the evolution of good institutions, the risk premium may be more important than you think

The Grumpy Economist on Recent "Stock Gyrations"

While I've been inundated with interviews, blog posts, emails and tweets from various sources wanting to share their thoughts on recent public stock market volatility, there has been a dearth of quality insight. One of the main reasons for starting this blog is to highlight good articles that I want to share with my friends.

John Cochrane's recent blog post provides a thorough analysis of the multiple factor that go into asset pricing and his hypotheses for recent changes in the public stock market.  Warning, this is a long post with lots of charts and equations. 

Please use the comment section to share your thoughts or to highlight other articles that are related to this article.

From the Peanut Gallery

Below is a rather thoughtful comment in response to my previous post, License To Pump.  Tip of the cap to SP for taking the time to share his thoughts. 

I think the burden regarding a need for license should be based on the degree of which negligence can lead to harm. I do not think a gas station attendee, hairstylist or manicurist can cause significant harm without committing an act that would be criminal under existing state and federal laws.

I think high risk occupations with specialized privileges should be licensed. However, I think the purpose of licensing should be to validate credentials, demonstrate continuing education in their area of expertise, and to monitor for egregious behaviors (technical, or criminal) that would limit the ability to competently perform key job functions of the licensed profession.

My frustration with medical licensing in general is the amount of redundancy required at each step. In my personal example, this is the third full physician license that I have applied for in my short career. Furthermore, I currently have an active license to practice medicine in another state. In order to get my current license, I had to provide proof that I graduated from medical school, successfully completed a one-year internship, completed a residency training program in good standing, passed STEP I, II and III of US Medical License Examinations. I had to provide proof that I had a residency permit and medical license in the state where I completed my residency and obtained my previous medical license. I also had to prove that I did not have any complaints filed on either of those licenses. In addition to proving my credentials, I had to provide information regarding facilities where I worked, including a part time moonlighting gig at an urgent care center, to verify that I had not been professionally disciplined by my employer. I also had to submit fingerprints for an FBI background check. I also had to verify my DEA license and State Board of Pharmacy license history. All of this information must be sent directly from the third party (for a fee) to the Medical Board where I applied for my license.

Fortunately, my credentials were verified and I passed the criminal background check and obtained a medical license to practice in my current state. Once I had a license, I was able to apply for jobs. To get credentialed to practice medicine (which I was granted a license by the state medical board where my employer is located) at my current employer, I had to verify all of my credentials again. Rather than contacting the state medical board to verify my credentials, I had to contact all the agencies that verified my credentials for my medical license again and have them send my information to my current employer.

Since moving to my current state, I have been continuously employed by one employer, obtained a new DEA and new state controlled substance license, and became board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. In order to sit for board exam, you must verify that you graduated from medical school, completed internship and residency in your given specialty, passed USMLE Steps I, II and III. Again these credentials must be verified directly from the agency issuing certifications.

One would think that in order to get a Texas Medical license, I would have to verify my current medical license is in good standing, prove that I have not been professionally disciplined by my current employer, submit to a new FBI background check with fingerprints, verify my board certification, and verify my DEA and state controlled substance license history. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. I had to repeat every single step that was required to obtain my current license. This including verifying that I had completed medical school, internship, residency, passed USMLE Step I,II, III (all of the things my current state medical board and the American Board of Internal Medicine had both already independently verified). I also had to contact the state medical board where I completed my residency and granted me my previous, and no longer active, medical license again. I also had to contact the institution where I did my residency, and the urgent care center that I worked on the weekends during residency to make extra money. All of these agencies and institution were required to directly send requested information to the Texas Medical Board.

Texas also requires a jurisprudence exam to make sure physicians understands rules that are unique to practicing medicine in the state of Texas. The purpose of this exam is to make sure you know how the Texas Medical Board works and has nothing to with the applicant's ability as a clinician. However, I think it is a fair requirement for physicians who want to practice medicine in Texas.

I would argue that re-verifying information that has already been verified by multiple independent agencies, does very little, if anything, to improve patient safety if I am granted a Texas Medical License.

 

 

Financial Samurai on Portfolio Composition and Risk

Came across this interesting blog post on Financial Samurai.  The author discusses investment risk and portfolio allocation.  While I'm not a member of the FIRE (Financial Independence and Retire Early) movement, the article was still worth a read.  I found the charts comparing the average annual returns for various hypothetical portfolios particularly interesting.  I was surprised to see that the average annual return for an 80% stock 20% bond portfolio underperformed an all stock portfolio by less than 1% per year over the past 100 years.

Financial Samurai is a personal finance blog created by Sam Dogen. 

 

why can't this be fake news

Economist John Cochran shares his thoughts on recent tariffs on washing machines, solar panels and the regulatory hurdles of building infrastructure in the US in his recent blog post

While my sentiments closely align with those in the article, I am willing to concede that the impact of tariffs are more nuanced than purely good vs evil.  However, I think creating "optimal tariffs" that precisely balances costs and benefits is impossible and susceptible to cronyism.  I think as a whole, we are better off trying to eliminate tariffs than trying to design optimal tariffs. 

Redistribution of wealth Through Time Travel

John Cochrane's recent blog post summarizes the Joint Committee on Taxation distributional analysis of the new tax law. As you can see from the JCT table below, and reading John's blog post, income categories are paying the same relative share of the overall tax bill as before the recent changes in the tax code.  While it is too early to tell how accurate the the JCT estimates will be, it is fair to say that the JCT is expecting less change than the mainstream media coverage would suggest. 

My biggest issue with the JCT report is the $260 billion decrease in total tax revenue collected estimate.  Since the federal government does not plan to reduce spending to offset the decrease in tax revenue, the tax bill will increase the federal deficit and debt. While countless politicians and talking heads argue whether benefits of tax code changes are being distributed fairly between income categories, there seems to be a dearth of discussion about the primary function of the tax code. This failure to fund the federal government's annual spending redistributes $260 billion from future taxpayers to current taxpayers.  This makes the changes between income categories seem trivial.

JCT table.png
Source: https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-ongAVZfWX5w/WkW...

RealCrowd on Allocation Mix

Paul Kaseburg, Chief Investment Officer at MG Properties Group, shares how he thinks about allocation within the real estate asset class on a recent RealCrowd podcast. He spends a majority of the episode discussing strategies to increase diversification within a real estate investment portfolio.  I found his discussion of vintage diversification as a strategy to mitigate market timing risk particularly interesting.  Individual investors can leverage crowdfunding platforms to implement many of these strategies in their own real estate investments.

RealCrowd is a real estate crowdfunding platform for accredited investors. However, they do have a lot of free learning resources available to the public.

Make Whirlpool Great Again

George Will shows the tentacles of crony capitalism extending into our laundry rooms in one of his recent Washington Post articles. This is just another example where our government has chosen to prop up a special interest at the expense of the American consumer.

I have no doubt we will be seeing many articles celebrating the number of US manufacturing jobs that will be saved by this tariff. However, the article I'd most like to see is one that shows how much we are spending to save each job. While it will be easy to compare the average price of a washing machine before and after the tariff takes effect, it will be impossible to calculate the potential impact of those additional dollars if they had been spent on higher and better uses.  I'd like to think we would all be better off if we spent the same amount of energy and resources creating new jobs and industries as we did protecting the old ones.

If Whirlpool wants US consumers to choose their products, they should make better or cheaper washing machines.

I have included George's description of tariff and the impact of the whirlpool tariff below.

This is a tax, paid by American consumers, on imports that exceed a certain quantity that, in the government’s opinion (formed with the assistance of domestic manufacturers), is excessive...The tariff/tax, which is designed to limit the choices of, and increase the prices paid by, American consumers would be 50 percent on all imported machines, after the first 1.2 million. U.S. customers caused the importation of about 3 million Samsung and LG washers in 2016.

Lagniappe:  A previous Blog post  about crony capitalism in the airline manufacturing sector.