Category Archives: Medicine

A Basic Income Guarantee Can Work if it Replaces State Education and Medicine

Classical liberals like Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek have supported the idea of a basic income guarantee as an improvement on the current patchwork of welfare programs. The welfare systems in most countries are the product of a century of piecemeal reforms, where politicians have created many overlapping programs targeting different problems and interest groups. This makes perfect sense from the politicians’ perspective; creating a new program allows one to attach one’s name to a high-profile bill, thus winning favorable media attention and votes. It’s the same reason governments often create shiny new highways rather than filling in the potholes on old ones. Where’s the glory in marginally improving something with someone else’s name on it?

As a result of this political process, welfare systems have dramatically higher administrative costs than they need to have. Rather than having separate (and often multiple!) bureaucracies to administer welfare programs for the homeless, the temporarily unemployed, seniors, disabled workers, single mothers, etc., why not fold them all into one? In fact, Milton Friedman’s negative income tax would fold them all into the agency responsible for administering taxes. Replacing a hundred parallel agencies with one agency tasked with administering a simpler system would clearly reduce overhead costs.

The other consequence of the patchwork welfare system is that it creates more severe unintended consequences than it needs to. All redistribution schemes affect incentives, but a basic income guarantee paired with a reasonable tax scheme (maybe a flat tax or a progressive consumption tax) would avoid the worst of the perverse incentives. Current welfare systems feature “welfare cliffs,” where many programs abruptly cut off at the same income level, leading to absurdly high implicit marginal tax rates. The examples I’ve seen have situations where earning $1,000 more income can make one ineligible for $10,000 in benefits from various programs. That’s an implicit marginal tax rate of 1000%, far higher than the tax rate paid by the highest of high earners! Continue reading A Basic Income Guarantee Can Work if it Replaces State Education and Medicine

New Study Finds Strong Evidence of Male-Female Brain Differences

Perhaps you’ve heard about a precocious study making the rounds about the differences between male and female brains. Perhaps you’ve noticed it reported under headlines like, “Stereotypically ‘male and female brains’ aren’t real, say scientists” or “Brains aren’t actually ‘male’ or ‘female,’ new study suggests” or “Scans prove there’s no such thing as a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain” or “Male brain vs. female brain? Research says they’re unisex” or “There Is No Difference Between Male and Female Brains, Study Finds” or “There’s no such thing as a ‘male brain’ or ‘female brain,’ and scientists have the scans to prove it” or “Men are from Mars….and so are women! Scans reveal there is NO overall difference between the brains of the sexes” or “A welcome blow to the myth of distinct male and female brains.”

I could go on, but I won’t. Given all these headlines, it might surprise you that the study all these journalists are reporting on actually finds strong evidence of differences between male and female brains. The study is “Sex beyond the genitalia: The human brain mosaic” by Daphna Joel et al. (and that’s a big et al!). It’s sadly behind a paywall, but here’s its abstract in full:

Whereas a categorical difference in the genitals has always been acknowledged, the question of how far these categories extend into human biology is still not resolved. Documented sex/gender differences in the brain are often taken as support of a sexually dimorphic view of human brains (“female brain” or “male brain”). However, such a distinction would be possible only if sex/gender differences in brain features were highly dimorphic (i.e., little overlap between the forms of these features in males and females) and internally consistent (i.e., a brain has only “male” or only “female” features). Here, analysis of MRIs of more than 1,400 human brains from four datasets reveals extensive overlap between the distributions of females and males for all gray matter, white matter, and connections assessed. Moreover, analyses of internal consistency reveal that brains with features that are consistently at one end of the “maleness-femaleness” continuum are rare. Rather, most brains are comprised of unique “mosaics” of features, some more common in females compared with males, some more common in males compared with females, and some common in both females and males. Our findings are robust across sample, age, type of MRI, and method of analysis. These findings are corroborated by a similar analysis of personality traits, attitudes, interests, and behaviors of more than 5,500 individuals, which reveals that internal consistency is extremely rare. Our study demonstrates that, although there are sex/gender differences in the brain, human brains do not belong to one of two distinct categories: male brain/female brain.

Continue reading New Study Finds Strong Evidence of Male-Female Brain Differences

Artificial Kidneys Would Not Have Been Created in a Free Market

Wearable, artificial kidneys have been in the news recently as a new technological alternative to traditional dialysis. Great news! Or is it?

Don’t get me wrong, this technological advance will make people’s lives better. But the incentives to create artificial kidneys should never have existed.

Before I tell you why, I need to lay out some terminology. In undergraduate microeconomics classes, we distinguish between the short run and the long run. The short run represents time periods during which some factors of production (usually capital) are considered fixed, while others may vary. In the long run, all factors can vary. But both the short run and the long run presume a fixed, exogenous production technology. How do we study situations where the technology itself can change? Continue reading Artificial Kidneys Would Not Have Been Created in a Free Market