My MouseHunt

MouseHuntI know that I’ve mentioned my recent mouse experiences here, but not necessarily in a blog post. This whole thing happened perhaps a month ago. I walked into the bathroom in the middle of the night and I saw something skitter across the floor. I figured it was a mouse, but it could also have been a really big beetle — probably Prionus californicus. Well, about a week later, I walked into the kitchen, and I saw a little mouse walking along the wall and jumping behind the oven. Now, I am a friend of the rodent family, but having a mouse inside my house is not a great thing.

I decided that I should do something about it. James seemed to think that I could not kill this interloper. But that is not as easy an assumption as one might think. I used to rent this trailer on seven very steep acres in southern Washington. I finally had to move out because it was under constant assault from wildlife — most especially mice, who came by the dozens each night defecating and otherwise destroying the place. I put out death traps each night. It was war!

But the situation here is rather different. It is not a war — just a single mouse who clearly got trapped inside the house. I even think I know how it happened. We allowed the backyard to get thoroughly overgrown. And during one of our many hot spells, I had a door, which leads directly into the backyard, open for a while. She must have come in at that time. So I feel responsible. But also, she isn’t doing any damage. I haven’t noticed even the smallest evidence of scat. So live and let live. Or almost, because I’ve made a point of leaving out food scraps and water — at least until I can figure out what to do with her.

Thus far, the only thing I have done is to rent MouseHunt. I remembered really liking the film when I first saw it. And it is a charming film. The slapstick is a bit much for me. But it is a funny film. What I think I most liked about it — and still do — is the denouement. It’s just perfect, even though it doesn’t actually make sense — it just ties a few strings (I kill myself!) together.

I remember reading a review of the film by Roger Ebert and being very disappointed. Ebert claimed that its critical flaw is that the viewer doesn’t know who they are supposed to root for. Apart from being an arbitrary criterion, it’s very clear who you are supposed to root for. After eating an enormous round of Gouda cheese — Roughly 100 times its size — the mouse goes to bed in a little sardine can with a blanket. If that isn’t enough of a clue that you are supposed to root for the mouse, I don’t know what is.

While watching it this time, I kept thinking, “That mouse is just like Jack Sparrow — but better looking!” And when I looked up the film on Wikipedia, I noticed that it was directed by Gore Verbinski, who also directed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films. Although it works in a different way. Both characters were written to be members of the Bugs Bunny archetype. That was explicitly stated by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, who wrote all the Pirates films. And I’m sure that Adam Rifkin, who wrote MouseHunt would say the same thing.

As for my mouse, I fear she may be dead. She has certainly been quiet of late. Of course, she’s always been very polite, so it’s hard to say. She looked quite healthy when I saw her. Living in the house off our scraps ought to be a pretty good living. But lonely, I fear. That may push me to action beyond movie renting.

Conclusion?

Well, a couple of days have passed since I wrote that. And I started to see scat. I realized that I had to act. So I went to the store and got two traps. I got a larger one that I was very hopeful about, the Multi-Catch Live Mouse Trap. And I picked up a Tomcat Live Catch Mouse Trap, but I didn’t think much of it. So when I got up this morning, I checked the big trap: nothing. But the Tomcat was closed. So I picked it up and it felt empty. Still, I took it outside and opened the backdoor of the trap…

And there she was! I tipped her out onto the ground and she raced away — fast. The instructions on the box indicated that I should release the mouse two miles away. I didn’t do that. I released her in the front yard. I am still under the impression that we don’t have an infestation, but just a lone mouse who got trapped inside. But I still plan to set the traps out for a few more nights and to be on the lookout for scat. But the adventure appears to be complete.

High Deductibles Don’t Create Efficiency

Sarah KliffLast week at Vox, Sarah Kliff wrote, This Study Is Forcing Economists to Rethink High-Deductible Health Insurance. High deductibles were supposed to be a way to keep healthcare costs down by incentivizing patients to get cheaper care. This is what “health economists” thought. It goes along with something that should have been clear for a long time: most economists are so far removed from reality as to be useless.

Think about deductibles. They don’t cause people to shop around. For one thing, it is hard to shop around (I’ll come back to this in a moment). But more to the point, this isn’t how people look at their deductibles. If people have a $1,000 deductibles (roughly half of Americas have deductibles this high or higher), then they see it as something getting in the way of their insurance. It is just a barrier that stops the insurance company from actually providing care.

But most economists are above such real world considerations, so they had to study the question. And a great opportunity came back in 2013, when a company decided to shift “tens of thousands of workers into high-deductible insurance plans.” But to offset the cost, they provided “new shopping tools” that allowed the employees to compare prices. So at least the study did look at the question of whether or not people would shop around if they had an easy way to do so — the way they do when buying groceries. And the result was clear: no.

The new paper shows that when faced with a higher deductible, patients did not price shop for a better deal. Instead, both healthy and sick patients simply used way less health care.

And it is worse than even this. What the company did was provide health savings accounts for the employees. So they really had an incentive to shop around! Generally, you get to keep whatever you don’t spend (although you would have to pay taxes on it). This is, of course, the Great Conservative Idea™. High deductibles and health savings accounts would solve all our problems — or so the story goes. But that story comes to us from reality deficient economists.

The new policy did work in that it reduced spending. And let’s face it: that’s all that conservatives care about. But it didn’t reduce spending because it made the market more efficient. And remember: that’s the key issue. We pay roughly twice as much for healthcare as people do for equivalent care in other advanced economies. So the fact that we can bring healthcare costs down by forcing people to consume less of it misses the whole point. By that logic, we should eliminate all healthcare availability — that would really bring down costs!

The study also found that the sickest people were the ones who reduced their spending the most. Again: this wasn’t because they were getting a cheaper MRI, but rather because they were getting no MRI at all. So the reduction in healthcare spending resulted in a reduction in health. This is not a solution to our healthcare problems — unless your point is to appear to be addressing the problem but to actually do nothing.

After sick patients reached their deductibles, however, they spent normally. Kliff wonders why this is, and presents a few possible reasons. But is it really that complicated? Isn’t it just that humans aren’t that rational? They don’t live in a world of perfect competition and information. And they have other things to do besides try and hunt down a great deal on their next procedure. Not surprisingly, one of the economists who did the study thinks it might just be a matter of time before people get used to the system and it starts cutting down on costs the way it was intended. Because we should never forget: people serve markets, not the other way around.

Morning Music: Tiny Tim

God Bless Tiny TimLast week, I realized that I had to do a week of Herbert Khaury. You know him better as Tiny Tim. But if you are like most people, you really don’t know him at all. He was an amazing talent — not just the novelty act that he was reduced to on so many television shows. To begin with, he was something of a musicologist. He had a great knowledge of popular song history and was reputed to have a working repertoire of over a thousand songs.

What’s more, he actually had quite a nice and deep voice. This will be well on display this week. But I want to start at the beginning with God Bless Tiny Tim. It really is an amazing album. It is filled with great tunes and something that was fairly rare on most of his albums: great production. I encourage you to check out his version of Irving Berlin’s antiwar song, “Stay Down Here Where You Belong.” But I want to highlight the duet (he sings both parts), “On The Old Front Porch,” which is just unbelievably great:

Anniversary Post: Edict of Paris

XXXOn this day in 614, the Edict of Paris was formally proclaimed. Or maybe it was 615. It’s always amazing to me that we can know the day and month of something but not the year. Regardless, it is considered the French Magna Carta — although almost exactly 600 years earlier. When I was first introduced to the Magna Carta, it made no sense to me. The idea that the king was above the law was so foreign to me. But that is the way things were traditionally. People get upset about the Nazis, but they are actually pretty typical of the history of humanity.

Just as the Magna Carta only applied to the barons, the Edict of Paris applies to the nobility. It also, as is always the case for these things, determines who is included. For example, Jews were not allowed to hold royal office. But they were allowed to take Christians to court — for all the good it would do them. The thing about rights is that who is included is always critically important. Look at just how limited the group was that included “all men” that were created equal.

It’s also interesting that the Edict of Paris was all about creating a stable society. Yet the libertarians will tell us that all we need is commerce and the magic of the free market. The Edict was all about shoring up support for the weak monarch. Why was that necessary? After all, libertarianism is “natural”! It is supposedly the way people lived before modern political systems corrupted them. It’s a wonder that any of this was necessary, except maybe the human tendency to build armies and just take what you want. But all that doesn’t matter because in the libertarian utopia, humans will be perfect!