Who Will Be Right — Murdoch or Schmidt?

Rupert Murdoch is continuing his plans to erect a pay-wall around his news websites but Google CEO Eric Schmidt is right, I think, when he says: “In general these models have not worked for general public consumption because there are enough free sources that the marginal value of paying is not justified based on the incremental value of quantity. So my guess is for niche and specialist markets … it will be possible to do it but I think it is unlikely that you will be able to do it for all news.”

As I have written elsewhere on this blog, a pay-wall will only work if the vast majority of major news websites charge for content and that is unlikely. If traffic decreases, then advertising revenue will fall-off. Only the purveyors of premium news in business and sports coverage and other niche areas will be able to charge — although even in sports, sites that have been charging for content are finding great resistance.

The Right to Die: Sense and Sensibility

Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, has revealed himself today to be a humane and sensible man and, despite his cautious wording and assurances that the law in England and Wales against assisted suicide has not changed,  he has in effect advanced civil liberties when it comes to the right to die. He has issued new guidelines detailing when the authorities will prosecute a spouse, relative or friend who assists a terminally ill or incurably sick person to travel overseas to undergo assisted suicide. Prosecution is unlikely as long as people do not maliciously encourage the act of suicide and assist only a “clear, settled and informed wish” to end life, the DPP says.

Today’s guidelines were issued after the Law Lords backed in July the call by Debbie Purdy, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, for a policy statement on whether people who help someone commit suicide should be prosecuted. Purdy wanted a clear policy statement on whether her husband would be prosecuted for helping her to travel to Switzerland to go through assisted suicide at a Dignitas clinic there.

More than 100 Britons, including my mother, Barbara Dettmer, have ended their lives at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, but, until now, friends or relatives who have accompanied them have not known if they will face prosecution — although no prosecutions have as yet been mounted.

Barbara Dettmer

A Few Years Before

My mother went through assisted suicide three years ago after struggling for three decades very bravely with crucifying pain. Her multiple, progressive and incurable diseases were not helped by palliative care or drug therapies and her quality of life had been reduced to a shambling and appalling existence. My mother was not terminal – but she chose to be, and she made it clear that she believed she had the right to die when she chose to exercise it. My family and I supported her right to die because she asked us to and, although we all arrived at our support through different intellectual routes, none of us had any doubts about backing her when she requested that backing. Her courage was astonishing.

The DPP’s has certainly clarified what factors will be taken into account when the authorities consider whether to prosecute or not. The emphasis and focus of the guidelines are spot-on: the DPP wants to protect the vulnerable from manipulation and coercion and trickery.

Factors against prosecution include: there was a clear, settled and informed wish to commit suicide and that the person who went through the suicide indicated unequivocally that they wished to commit suicide. The person who went through the suicide personally asked for help and they were terminally ill or suffered from a severe and incurable disability and degenerative condition.

While welcoming the DPP’s guidelines I remain troubled that the law itself  hasn’t been changed. What is bizarre is that there are now guidelines that in spirit and humanity pull in one direction while the the law against assisted suicide pulls in another. That is a recipe for trouble down the road and there remains a lack of certainty. The guidelines could be changed later or an appeal could be mounted against the guidelines in the courts to have them struck down because they don’t enforce the law in place. It is a good holding position but Parliament has got to have the courage and humanity the DPP has shown and alter the law. The DPP has had to almost usurp Parliament because the parliamentarians have not done their jobs and they have failed to respond to public opinion and common sense.

Taxes and Devaluation Prolonged the Great Depression

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic should take a long hard look at an op-ed by Arthur Laffer in today’s Wall Street Journal. Laffer plots the consequences of federal and state tax hikes and protectionist increases in trade duties in the early 1930s and he takes issue with the current Federal Reserve chairman that the monetary supply was tight. “The strong correlation between soaring unemployment and falling consumer prices in the early 1930s leads Mr. Bernanke to conclude that tight money caused both.” Laffer shows this wasn’t the case: “The 1933-34 devaluation of the dollar caused the money supply to grow by over 60% from April 1933 to March 1937, and over that same period the monetary base grew by over 35% and adjusted reserves grew by about 100%. Monetary policy was about as easy as it could get,” Laffer notes.

Laffer doesn’t blame fed policy on taxes and the money supply for causing the Great Depression — he points the finger at the protectionist Smoot-Hawley tariff of June 1930 as the catalyst that got the whole process going. But he does see tax hikes and loose money supply as worsening the situation and causing the double-dip in the economy in 1937. “Huge federal and state tax increases in 1932 followed the initial decline in the economy thus doubling down on the impact of Smoot-Hawley. There were additional large tax increases in 1936 and 1937 that were the proximate cause of the economy’s relapse in 1937.” In fact, the tax hikes were eye-opening.

“The damage caused by high taxation during the Great Depression is the real lesson we should learn. A government simply cannot tax a country into prosperity. If there were one warning I’d give to all who will listen, it is that U.S. federal and state tax policies are on an economic crash trajectory today just as they were in the 1930s.”

The only way out of the mess in the U.S. and U.K. is for spending cuts but they should targeted away from front-lines services such as schools and hospitals. And in the U.S. government intervention is needed on the health care front to provide affordable health insurance for all and a choice of public and private options. Not only is that a moral necessity but an economic one before the U.S. health system contributes to the bankrupting of America.

Bailing Out the Newspaper Industry

A blog on the Web site of The Hill newspaper is running a post that suggests that President Obama is prepared to look at a bailout for the newspaper industry. The post has drawn quite rightly screams of outrage from readers, who wonder where all the bailouts are going to end. Actually, it isn’t clear, if you read closely the President’s remarks, that Obamawould endorse any direct government subsidies to ailing newspapers: all he seems to be saying is that there would be tax breaks for newspapers which converted themselves into non-profits — they would get those tax-breaks anyway, if they became non-profits.

The idea that papers should get direct government subsidies is an awful idea. There should be a separation between government and the press – or do we want the US press to end up as a Soviet press, or an Italian one for that matter. Like any commercial industry,  the newspaper industry should stand on its own economic feet. Okay, I supported the bailout of the banks, but that was only because the whole house of capitalist cards would fall without government intervention.

Newspaper owners and management have a lot to blame themselves for — they failed on the whole to anticipate the consequences of the internet and still are failing to take advantage of what the internet can offer their businesses and they still seem not understand that they have to match up content with audiences. The Washington Post is only now planning to integrate its newspaper and Online divisions, something it should have done years ago as several British newspapers did, most notably the Telegraph Group. And newspaper managements still aren’t thinking straight about pay-walls for their Online content: many newspaper editors say all content should be paid for which would only see falling traffic and declining ad revenue.

Death Panels? They Are Called HMOs

Someone wrote an op-ed for Sarah Palin that is running in today’s Wall Street Journal. It couldn’t have been written by her because it consists of grammatical sentences. Being hard-core, Palin comes out with the old death panels argument against the public option and an increased government role in health care. She says: “But the fact remains that the Democrats’ proposals would still empower unelected bureaucrats to make decisions affecting life or death health-care matters. Such government overreaching is what we’ve come to expect from this administration.”

So are our HMOs and PPOs full of elected bureaucrats? Because the situation we are in now is that our profitable insurance companies decide now what treatment we can have. Is it better when private organizations ration treatment or jerk around their customers?

It is also immensely amusing to read about how over-arching government is under President Obama. This after 8 years of George W. Bush and a consistent erosion of basic civil liberties and government spending at levels that would have made Bill Clinton blush.

A mixed system of public and private is what most OECD countries enjoy and on most international standards of assessment Belgium, Holland, Germany and Sweden came out way ahead in the end-product, i.e. life-expectancy, cure rates, etc. If you don’t believe that check with the OECD and their assessments. For almost any illness I would prefer to be treated in Belgium, Holland or Germany than the U.S.

The right-wing in the U.S. has got to get over its hatred of government. The public sector can perform well and sometimes better than the private sector. Of course, government should be kept small and avoid taking on too much. Of course, we don’t want a slave society, but mature countries are trying to work out how best to mix public and private in several endeavors. At bottom government should protect people and that includes protecting their health. Defense, law-and-order, health, social security should be the key roles for government.

All So Obvious — UK Brain Drain and Taxes

Back in April I blogged on what the consequences of Britain’s tax hikes would be: businesses packing up and leaving. Today a survey published in the Daily Telegraph suggests that hundreds of businesses are thinking about exiting and setting up overseas, and one-in-five entrepreneurs say they would not consider starting up in the UK again.

When will politicians learn that we live in a wired world and that tax competition strengthens the link between diminishing returns and high taxes. Meanwhile, Britain pours out money for military adventurism abroad — Iraq and Afghanistan — and is planning to spend billions on an updated nuclear weapon — all to prove Britain still rules the waves. And we lecture Putin that national greatness should not nowadays be equated with military greatness.