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  • When is a break not a break? Peter Suderman answers: When a Tax Break Is Actually a Tax Penalty. Specifically, the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance. We all know how that works, right? Suderman looks at a recent paper from Michael Cannon at Cato.

    [Cannon] argues that, in practical terms, this tax break actually acts as a stealth penalty on workers who want to make their own health insurance choices. Typically even a generous employer only offers a handful of health plans, and those plans are unlikely to take the exact form an employee would otherwise choose on his or her own. If an employee wants to purchase any other plan, however, he or she would have to do it with money first received—and taxed—as cash compensation. Thanks to taxation, it would be worth a lot less. Thus the tax exclusion acts as a tax penalty on any employee who wants to choose their own health insurance.

    The existence of a penalty implies a kind of coercion. Recall that when the Supreme Court blessed Obamacare's individual mandate to purchase health insurance as constitutional, it was by construing the mandate as a tax penalty for not purchasing health insurance rather than a direct economic command. That ruling highlighted the thin line between tax penalties and coercive mandates; Cannon's argument draws out the logical linkage even further: So while the tax exclusion for employer-provided insurance might look, on paper, like a tax break, viewed from an economic perspective it is functionally similar to a mandate.

    The exclusion was set up as a gimmick during World War II, and it's a major driver of our bloated and expensive "system" of health care.

  • Sorry, nerds: not a Star Wars reference. Astral Codex Ten argues Against "There Are Two X-Wing Parties".

    One of my least favorite political tropes is the claim that "America has two left-wing parties" or "America has two right-wing parties" or "both major parties are socialist" or however else you want frame this. The argument goes that even the Democrats aren't truly left (or even the Republicans aren't truly right), and so one side of the political spectrum completely controls discourse.

    Taken as an absolute claim, it's meaningless. Both US parties are on the same side of center? What center? By the standards of the Soviet Union, both US political parties are extremely far right; by the standards of Pharaonic Egypt, they're incomprehensibly far left. Whose standards for center are you using? The objective standard? Are you sure that exists? Are you sure you're not just taking your own personal beliefs about what seems reasonable, declaring the middle of that the objectively correct center, and then getting angry when the real Overton Window isn't centered around that point? People act as if you should just be able to take the leftmost thing imaginable, the rightmost thing imaginable, draw a line between them, find the middle, and then get angry if both US parties are on the same side of that line. But maybe they have poor imaginations. The leftmost thing I can imagine is an insectoid hive-mind; the rightmost thing I can imagine is a rapidly expanding cloud of profit-maximizing nanobots. Are we sure that a line drawn exactly midway between those two things lands on Joe Biden? What if it lands on anarcho-capitalism? Does that mean every existing human is left-wing?

    ACX does his best to untangle the sloppy thinking of others. There's also an interesting international comparison of how the attitudes of US Republicans and Democrats on moral issues compare to citizens of other nations.

  • Like most people, I understand socks better than photons. Dan Garisto provides an excellent answer to the question What Is Quantum Entanglement?

    In a few words, entanglement is when multiple objects—such as a pair of electrons or photons—share a single quantum state. Like threads in a tangle of yarn, entangled objects cannot be described as independent entities.

    That explanation might be poetic, but it shouldn’t be satisfying. Things are not so simple or concrete. But with a little bit of high-school-level math (near the end of this story), our intuitions—based on a lifetime of classical physics—can be retrained and redirected just a bit.

    However, we should also make the following disclaimer: No brief explanation can be expected to convey a comprehensive understanding of quantum mechanics. Our goal is simply to illustrate the basic concepts behind entanglement, so the reader can gain a more thorough understanding of what’s actually going on in this foundational phenomenon behind quantum computing.

    Let’s begin with a slightly modified example from the celebrated Northern Irish physicist John Stewart Bell:

    Alice and Bob know that Prof. Bertlmann always wears mismatched socks. If his left sock is pink, his right sock is certain to not be pink. […]

    And he proceeds from there. Amazingly, he derives Bell's Inequality, that (as I understand it) finally put Einstein's (et al) misgivings about quantum theory to rest.

  • LFOD Watch I. The LFOD Google News Alert rang for a theater review from David Cote in the Observer Sarah Silverman’s ‘The Bedwetter’ Deserves a Spot on Broadway.

    There’s a rich and illustrious tradition of American musicals set entirely in New Hampshire, the Granite State, New England’s flyover zone, where “Live Free or Die” means “choose Door #2.” You have The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World, about history’s crappiest girl band; also Atlantic Theater Company’s The Bedwetter, based on comedian Sarah Silverman’s 2010 memoir. And then there’s…I guess that’s it. Only two. Hey: It’s one more than friggin’ Oklahoma.

    No, I have no idea what Cote is talking about with that "choose Door #2" reference. Let's Make a Deal is the only thing that comes to mind. Further down, he refers to NH (where he grew up) as "the land of maple syrup and soul death" from which he "escaped".

  • LFOD Watch II. But there's another article in the Google Alert mail, this from the US Air Force Academy, telling the story of Col. Harold Hoang, retiring as the Academy's "top communications and information officer." Specifically, as a seven-year-old escaping with his family in 1975 in a "ramshackle tugboat" from Vietnam.

    “My father didn’t know where we were going. We were fleeing into international waters with the hopes of being rescued by the U.S. Navy,” Hoang said. “My parents knew there would be no life for us if we stayed. We were going to live free or die. Getting on that boat and escaping Vietnam was the biggest, bravest decision my parents ever made.”

    Interesting comparison between the attitudes of Cote and Hoang.

Last Modified 2024-01-17 9:51 AM EDT