Monday, August 31, 2009

Selected Thoughts on The Atlantic September 2009

Selected thoughts on the September 2009 issue of The Atlantic:

Save Yourself
(by Amanda Ripley)
In this dispatch, Ripley offers a short profile of Craig Fugate, the new director of FEMA. He seems like a no-nonsense fellow and a capable leader. Remember the 90s when they made movies about heroic FEMA managers and effective government management of complicated situations?

The 12:39 to Matanzas (by Michael Scott Moore)
Another travelogue that I found interesting. Here, Moore recounts a train ride he recently took in Cuba. It's not quite North Korea, but in many ways Cuba seems like the land time forgot. Why is the embargo still in place?

What Would Warren Do? (by Megan McArdle)
McCardle takes a trip to Omaha and reflects on Warren Buffet and the nature of his 'value investing' philosophy. It seems to boil down to patience, thrift, and personal discipline. The article would have been more engaging if it also wrestled with the conclusions explored by Jeffrey Golberg's article about investing from this past May. Trying to beet the system seems like a large part of the problem.

How American Health Care Killed My Father (by David Goldhill)
Goldhill, a business executive, offers a clear-eyed dissection of the individual incentives that operate in the US health care system and the odd results they inexorably lead to. Along with Atul Gawande's article about health care in the New Yorker, this article offers perspective and depth on this issue that is woefully lacking in other media outlets. Goldhill's claims are, at heart, depressing. He argues, convincingly I think, that a fundamental overhaul of the way health care if funded and managed is required. Nothing less will be effective. I'm not sure Goldhill's proposals are the best, but it doesn't matter--I more sure that nothing so radical has any chance of passing congress. Still, Goldhill has an interesting perspective and this article is well worth reading. Here is a taste of his seductively empowering analysis:
I’m a Democrat, and have long been concerned about America’s lack of a health safety net. But based on my own work experience, I also believe that unless we fix the problems at the foundation of our health system—largely problems of incentives—our reforms won’t do much good, and may do harm. To achieve maximum coverage at acceptable cost with acceptable quality, health care will need to become subject to the same forces that have boosted efficiency and value throughout the economy. We will need to reduce, rather than expand, the role of insurance; focus the government’s role exclusively on things that only government can do (protect the poor, cover us against true catastrophe, enforce safety standards, and ensure provider competition); overcome our addiction to Ponzi-scheme financing, hidden subsidies, manipulated prices, and undisclosed results; and rely more on ourselves, the consumers, as the ultimate guarantors of good service, reasonable prices, and sensible trade-offs between health-care spending and spending on all the other good things money can buy.
An Offer He Couldn't Refuse (by William D. Cohan)
In a griping recount of the events of last fall, Cohan recounts the last days of Merrill Lynch and the government arm twisting that occurred to persuade Bank of America to take it over. This article raises interesting questions about the true role for government in the financial system. Questions that haven't really gotten the attention they deserve.

Sons and Lovers (by Christopher Hitchens)
The story of Elizabeth and John Edwards, the tragedy of their son's death, their relationship, his carreer, the revelation of his affair, and Elizabeth's public persona is oddly compelling. Hitchens's review of Elizabeth Edwards's recently published memoir starts to make some sense of this all.

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