Monday, May 30, 2016

Giving the priority to the worse off


Finally I've found a book that explains the concept of egalitarianism and its implications with a clear message.
Distributive justice is an area not only of philosophy, but also of several other academic disciplines. For example, the formal analysis of economics is extremely important and valuable for understanding the structure of egalitarian theories of distributive justice. However, it intimidates some people. I believe that the most fruitful way to present theories of distributive justice is to integrate the results of economics and political theory into philosophical analysis.
The concept:
Egalitarianism: a class of distributive principles, which claim that individuals should have equal quantities of well-being or morally relevant factors that affect their life.
What it is not egalitarianism, but maybe you are not aware of:
There are at least four well-known distributive principles that are not egalitarian in the sense I defined above, yet some people think that these are egalitarian in some sense.

The first example is utilitarianism. Utilitarianism can be defined in various ways. Take classical utilitarianism. Classical utilitarianism contends that an act is right if and only if it maximizes the total sum of people’s well-being in a given society. When we calculate the total sum, we assign equal weight to each person’s well-being and simply add up different people’s well-being. Classical utilitarianism endorses assigning equal weight
to every person’s well-being, and it might be claimed that it is egalitarian. However, it is not concerned with how people’s well-being is distributed. Thus, I do not consider it as a form of egalitarianism.

The second example is libertarianism.

The third is the Marxist principle of justice or communism

The fourth is the proportionality principle.
The book reviews several perspectives on egalitarianism with concrete descriptions and comments:
1 Rawlsian egalitarianism
2 Luck egalitarianism
3 Telic egalitarianism
4 Prioritarianism
5 Sufficientarianism
And two specific chapters:
6 Equality and time
7 Equality in health and health care

The chapter on health is specially welcome and is a required reading for health economists, and for supporters of QALYs:
It is obvious that the principle of QALY maximization is utilitarian in spirit. It adds up different people’s good, and claims that we should choose the allocation that maximizes the total good. In the context of health care resource allocation, the good is QALY, which measures health benefit. QALY is added up across individuals to estimate the goodness of different outcomes. Then, the alternative that maximizes the goodness of outcome is chosen. It is not surprising that, according to QALY maximization, it does not matter how QALYs are distributed across individuals. Needless to say, all sorts of objections leveled against utilitarianism are raised against QALY maximization.
Usually, QALY maximization is understood as the unweighted sum of QALYs. However, it does not need to be so.We can make it a weighted sum and give priority to the worse off. If we give priority to the worse off, then it is possible to bring egalitarian concerns to bear on the allocation of health care resources.
One chapter is not enough to disentangle the complexities of QALYs, but it is worth reading.

At the end the author explains his position:
My preferred distributive principle is the aggregate view of telic egalitarianism. I am not
willing to support Rawls’s difference principle, because I agree with Harsanyi(1975) that the difference principle in practice ignores the benefits to the non worst off groups and therefore fails to secure the stability of the basic structure of society. This stands in opposition to Rawls’s claim that the difference principle, together with other principles of justice, guarantees a satisfactory minimum, and therefore secures the stability of the basic structure.
My view is coincidental with the author.

PS The concept of telic (telelological) egalitarianism:

There are two main ways in which we can believe in equality. We may believe that inequality is bad. On such a view, when we should aim for equality, that is because we shall thereby make the outcome better. We can then be called Teleological – or, for short, Telic – Egalitarians. Our view may instead be Deontological or, for short, Deontic. We may believe we should aim for equality, not to make the outcome better, but for some other moral reason. We may believe, for example, that people have rights to equal shares. (Parfit 2000: 84)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Taxing the rich to feed the leviathan

Taxing the Rich: A History of Fiscal Fairness in the United States and Europe

In deep endebted states, the endless debate about direct taxes finally relies on one thing, where is the money to raise more resources?. Nowadays, you'll notice a different formulation, focused on redistribution: we want to raise more money to redistribute to those with unfulfilled needs.
A new book is specially welcome to clarify all the concepts in a politicaly troubled moment:
We argue that societies do not tax the rich just because they are democracies where the poor outnumber the rich or because inequality is high. Nor are beliefs about how taxes influence economic performance ultimately decisive. Societies tax the rich when people believe that the state has privileged the wealthy, and so fair compensation demands that the rich be taxed more heavily than the rest.
When it comes to thinking of what tax policy is best, few would disagree with the notion that governments should be-in part guided by fairness. It is a term used frequently by those on both the political left and right.1 How can this be? History suggests that the concept of fairness is up for grabs. Standards of fairness in taxation vary greatly across countries, over time, and from individual to individual.
If we believe that
 Political support for taxing the rich is strongest when doing so ensures that the state treats citizens as equals. Treating citizens as equals means treating them with "equal concern and respect".
Then, we'll agree that the current debate on taxing the rich in our country is absolutely biased and intentionally partisan. With this approach we can't build a new country.
What a country decides about taxes on the rich has profound consequences for its future economic growth and the distribution of economic resources and opportunities
Therefore, this is the book to read for those that have to prepare the next public budget, and for any citizen, a must read.

PS. A good comment on the book.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Trade-offs between publicity and secrecy in drug regulation

Secret-Public Voting in FDA Advisory Committees
Secrecy and Publicity in Votes and Debates

Most of us can remember the withdrawal of antiinflamatory drug Vioxx in 2004. And some of us still wonder about the FDA responsibility and its experts committees on that sad affair.
Criticism reached a peak in February 2005 following the work of a committee set up to determine whether or not two of Pfizer’s anti-inflammation medicines, CelebrexR and BextraR , should remain on the market and whether Merck’s anti-inflammation drug VioxxR could be approved again for marketing. The vote – a close one, slightly in favor of the highly controversial BextraR and VioxxR – surprised the informed public and raised suspicions, leading The New York Times to commission a study on committee members’ financial ties. It turned out that ten members (out of thirty-two) had financial ties with one or more drug companies, most with Pfizer (Harris and Berenson 2005; CSPI 2005). As the critics saw it, this was a sign that advisory committees themselves, like FDA’s top management before them, had come under the influence of the drug industry.
After that, the FDA changed its rules for voting to simultaneous and visual methods rather than oral. This option avoids the anchoring effect of first voters. But secret voting was never contemplated.
This is exactly the issue that is addressed in a chapter of the book Secrecy and Publicity in Votes and Debates and now that everybody backs transparency, it's a good moment to stop and read this chapter at least.
So although public voting may be preferred because it allows external actors to monitor expert behavior, secret voting may appear desirable as a means of preventing conformism among experts. Thus, the value of the voting method may depend on of the audience considered: other voters or external actors. There is, however, one procedure that reconciles the benefits of publicity and secrecy, and that is to vote secretly but reveal who voted how after the vote count has been recorded. This method, used in Dominican monasteries in the thirteenth century in a process called the scrutinium (Gaudemet 1979, p. 326) and recommended by Bentham (1999, p. 106), may be termed, following Jon Elster (2013), “secret-public voting.”
 The FDA 2007 reform replaced public voting with secret-public voting, but it also  replaced oral voting, which left ample opportunity for individual members to express
themselves, with “manual” followed by digital voting, which precludes all such expression.
These statements prompt many questions about how our close advisory committees are taking decisions. I don' know any detail about it. And details are important, specially if there are lives at stake.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Clap your hands

This is exactly what we have to do after reaching 150.000 visits to this blog!. Thank you so much for your interest!

Today just listen to Parov Stelar: Clap your hands

Clap your hands!
And you swing out wide.
Stomp your feet!
You swing out wide.
Do a bump!
And you swing out wide.
Truck a little bit.
Beat it out and
make it!
Everybody's happy when they're doing the jive.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Platforms, a business model (2)

A long long time ago Michael Porter wrote Competitive Strategy a book that has been used as the bible of strategy.
Porter’s model identifies five forces that affect the strategic position of a particular business: the threat of new entrants to the market, the threat of substitute products or services, the bargaining power of customers, the bargaining power of suppliers, and the intensity of competitive rivalry in the industry. The goal of strategy is to control these five forces in such a way as to build a moat around the business and thereby render it unassailable.
Thus, when a firm can erect barriers to entry, it can keep competitors out, and entrants with substitute products cannot storm the castle. When a firm can subjugate suppliers, competition among them weakens their bargaining power so the firm can keep its costs low. When a firm can subjugate buyers by keeping them relatively small, disunited, and powerless, the firm can keep its prices high.
In this model, the firm maximizes profits by avoiding ruinous competition for itself but encouraging it for everyone else in the value chain. Advantage is found in industry structures that create a protective moat—one that enables the firm to segment markets, differentiate products, control resources, avoid price wars, and defend its profit margins.
For decades, companies have studied the five forces model and used it to guide their decisions about which markets to enter and exit, what mergers or acquisitions to consider, what sorts of product innovation to pursue, and what supply chain strategies to employ.
Now platforms add a new perspective,
Enter platforms. Many of the insights embodied in the five forces, resource-based, and hypercompetition models remain valid, but two new realities are now shaking up the world of strategy.
First, firms that understand how platforms work can now intentionally manipulate network effects to remake markets, not just respond to them. The implicit assumption in traditional business strategy that competition is a zero-sum game is far less applicable in the world of platforms. Rather than re-dividing a pie of more-or-less static size, platform businesses often grow the pie (as, for example, Amazon has done by innovating new models, such as self-publishing and publishing on demand, within the traditional book industry) or create an alternative pie that taps new markets and sources of supply (as Airbnb and Uber have done alongside the traditional hotel and taxi industries). Actively managing network effects changes the shape of markets rather than taking them as fixed.
Second, platforms turn businesses inside out, moving managerial influence from inside to outside the firm’s boundaries. Thus, a firm no longer needs to seize every new opportunity on its own; instead, it can pursue only the best opportunities while helping ecosystem partners seize the others, with all partners sharing the value they jointly create.13
These two new realities add a dramatic layer of complexity to business competition. Platform strategy resembles traditional strategy much the way three-dimensional chess resembles the traditional game.14 Within the ecosystem, the lead firm negotiates dynamic tradeoffs involving competition at three levels: platform against platform, platform against partner, and partner against partner.
These are excerpts from the book "Platform revolution" a must read if you want to understand what's going on in value creation in a connected world. In chapter 12 you'll find some comments on health sector, very succint and general.

Friday, May 6, 2016

A prescription for pharmaceutical expenditure, is there any one?

Pharmaceutical Expenditure And Policies

If you want to know what's going on in OECD countries on pharmaceuticals, just read this paper. The challenges are huge, and policy answers are delayed. My impression is that beyond the standard approach (the one in the paper), somebody should start talking about priorities for research and innovation according to health needs and potential benefit from recent advances in basic science. There is a need for a dialogue between firms and governments about it. Just a signaling game, saying how much are willing to pay for new innovations if they fit with health needs and potential benefit.

PS.Drug prices: Tweaking the formula excellent article in FT