Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Untangling the Bruce Web-A Relaunch

Like a lot of people I have been frustrated by the overlapping nature of blogging and social networking where say vitriolic comments on some political blog magically end up in your Facebook stream or your Public Google+ circle. So I am going ahead and setting up three separate web spaces to support the four Bruce Webbs: Social Security Bruce, Employee/Co-Worker/Professional Webb, Uncle/Friend Bruce, and Just Bruce Webb.

Social Security Bruce. The Bruce Web was originally a 'mostly Social Security blog'. But in 2008 most of my Social Security work moved in 2008 by invitation to econoblog Angry Bear. Supplemented in late 2011 with the introduction of DK4 Groups on Daily Kos by founding the Social Security Defenders group, which serves as an aggregator for DK Social Security diaries. Just before this I had set up a new dedicated blog Social Security Defender with the same intent. Well I have now established a dedicated Google account to back all that up including a GMail address, a Google+ site, and shared folders and Google Docs on Google Drive. All that tied to SocSec.Defender at GMail dot com. Among other things this means that some Social Security friends and colleagues will be getting invites to new Google+ circles and maybe excised from ones no longer related to Social Security.

Uncle/Friend Bruce. Well by definition this is going to be private and controlled. There is a GMail account to go with it, and all the other Google things, and friends who want to be included can just ask via any of my e-mail accounts. But since the space will contain details on family kids as well as information of interest to identity thieves, access will be limited.

Professional/Employee Bruce. Well Mr. Webb needs employment. Preferably in the East Bay (Berkeley/Oakland0 of the SF Bay Area but given incentives anywhere. And the front end of that will remain my current public e-mail bruce dot c dot webb at gmail dot com. But I am going to revive a back end consisting of my old employment blog Plan Webb. On it you will find posts and links to various versions of my resume. But you won't find any more of that explicitly at the Bruce Web.

Just Bruce Webb. Well you are at the right place. The new Bruce Web will be devoted to my non-work and non-Social Security interests. I am currently doing some genealogical work on the pioneer Arbuckles. It turns out that my distant ancestor James Arbuckle (1713-1793) oversaw a mass migration of his siblings and multiple children to America in and around the 1740s where they proceeded to marry into other pioneer/immigrant families before and after. And by the third generation there were approximately a gazillion Arbuckles descended from that James and between them represent a huge proportion of the ancestry of many to most American Arbuckles, and certainly those of Indiana. So expect some cool graphic charts soon. Also in another life I was an academic medievalist specializing in  Wales and pre-conquest Britain generally both in terms of its history, myth and literature. Additionally I did a good bit of reading in analytical and linguistic philosophy and theory, and in Ancient History. Plus I have a budding interest in leveraging iPad Apps into actual productivity and reference use and as a book reader. So expect the Bruce Web to feature posts on all of that.

But not Social Security. Or family stuff. No longer will I be risking cross-boredom by having material from one leak to the other. Anyway we will see how it goes.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Ploughlands and work weeks Ch 4: 'Virgates and Bovates'

Here we introduce some new terms, and in particular one to replace 'hide', which early on in actual English history and now perhaps even for our Anglish history diverged from a strict association with ploughlands and land sufficient to support a family and instead became mostly a taxation unit. The new term, which clearly continues its more direct connection to land units and plough teams is the 'carucate' of the English Danelaw but which we will adopt here to replace the hide across all of our Angle-Land. From Wiki Carucate:
The carucate (Medieval Latin: carrūcāta, from carrūca, "wheeled plough") or ploughland (Old English: plōgesland, "plough's land") was a unit of assessment for tax used in most Danelaw counties of England, and is found for example in Domesday Book. The carucate was based on the area a plough team of eight oxen could till in a single annual season. It was sub-divided into oxgangs, or "bovates", based on the area a single ox might till in the same period, which thus represented one eighth of a carucate; and it was analogous to the hide, a unit of tax assessment used outside the Danelaw counties.[1]
In the schematic adopted here one carcuate = 120 acres = 8 oxgangs = 15 acres each. In the sidebar of the Wiki article we find another term, the virgate of 30 acres which in later medieval England and hence our Angle-Land is basis for land holdings. That is a substantial peasant would typically be a 'virgater' while the next level down, but still largely self-sufficient would be a 'half-virgater' or a 'semi-virgater' in our sources. And richer peasants and 'farmers' (which means something different in England than it does in America) would be described as holding so many and a half virgates rather than any larger unit.

In chapter 3 we established the equation one ploughteam = one acre per day, to which we can add our carucate/ploughland = one ploughteam per year. And further we established that under the three course system one plough year = eighty half days broken into two forty day plough seasons.

Now the illustration in the Wiki piece shows a two-oxen team and represents the stock of a typical ox-gang (or semi-virgate) of fifteen acres, which indeed implies two oxen in a single yoke. But as the definition asserts an actual plow team would include eight oxen which together would give enough traction power to plough a furrough-long in a single pull. What this implies, and is borne out by even some casual browsing in the English Domesday Book of 1086, is that in most cases supplying a plough team is a cooperative endeavor, with virgaters and semi-virgaters supplying oxen in proportion to their own holdings. Which in turn means that each virgater would supply two oxen EVERY day which with those of another three virgaters or perhaps six semi-virgaters would make up a full ploughteam sufficient to plough all four to seven of their holdings during ploughing season. But since it only took one ploughman to handle the plow (plus an ox-boy to goad the oxen) that same virgater only has to supply heavy labor in his own person or via some other able bodied member of his household EVERY FOURTH day. And the semi-virgater only one day in eight.

Which begins to turn our view of the relation of labor time in a peasant economy right around. The notion often found in popular historical depictions of peasants being exploited by their landlords and simply not having time to tend to their own plots starts getting turned around. Indeed the more 'capital' wealthy you are in terms of land holdings and live stock the more you have to supply labor in your own person or by hiring it, while a peasant living closer to subsistence, (and families did support themselves on a semi-virgate (although perhaps not solely on its actual physical harvest)) the more spare time you had.

Ploughlands and work weeks Ch 3: 'Plough seasons and teams'

We now have a schematic shaping up:
One hide = 120 acres= forty acres per field in a three course system
One acre = one furlong x 4 roods = amount of land ploughable by one eight ox team in one plough morning
Twenty days = amount of plough days needed to cultivate each of the two fields under cultivation in any given year or Forty plough days per year per hide.

Now ploughing is not at all the only task needed to cultivate grain, but it is certainly the most intensive in terms of pure human and animal effort. And given the numbers so far it would appear that a single ploughman could do this particular task for an entire hide in eighty days a year. Which works out to one day out of five, though typically grouped in two stretches comprising forty plough days each which with Church mandated Sunday and Holy Days would require around two months, weather permitting (and light rains on balance assist rather than detract from this kind of plowing).

But the important point here is that needed labor input is inherently limited not by the amount of labor hours in the day, but instead by the land available to plough and the plough teams needed to plough it. Just as important there is no particular bonus in intensification of the human labor, the furrough is plowed correctly or not and there are no practical do-overs, and the time required is dependent on the speed of the ox-team. And while you can get a team going by use of the ox-goad, you can't speed them up beyond their natural speed, under normal soil and weather conditions it will take that half a day to plough that acre.

So if we return to our original picture of the Engle-Exxon warrior peasant cultivating his own hide using man power drawn from his own household and oxen pastured on his own fallow field plus shared pasture we find ourselves far indeed from the standard picture of medieval serfs laboring behind a plow from dawn to dusk but instead the need for each household to come up with one half day of labor each workday for around four calender months a year, which in turn leaves substantial time for other agricultural or other tasks. For example the task that puts 'warrior' into 'warrior-peasant'.

Now as we will see it will not be the case in our fictional Angle-Land anymore than the historical England that this picture of equal free peasants on uniform hides of 120 acres each, whether or not an accurate depiction of immediate post Engle-Exxon conquest conditions, had transformed almost beyond recognition by a year some six centuries later, as seen in the Anglish year 1250, equivalent to A.D. 1250 on the parallel English caldender. But still leaving behind the fundamental structural reality: one eight-ox plough team could cultivate 120 acres per year with total human labor input for THIS SINGULAR TASK of one ploughman and one ox-boy for each of eighty half days. That is one plough = eight oxen = one ploughman = one acre = one work day. That simple equation will continue to operate no matter how you distribute the acres per cultivator/tenant/owner. And will have immense implications for our view of what Marx called the 'feudal mode of exploitation', at least in respect to labor time.

Ploughlands and work weeks: Ch 2 'Furroughs and Roods'

To recap. We have a fictional Angle-Land inhabited by a race of Engle-Exxon warrior farmers led by the 'hus-bund' who with his 'wif' oversees a 'family/household' drawing their subsistence and other income from the products of their 'hide' consisting of 120 acres of arable spread among an open three-field system plus rights over common woods, pastures and meadows.

An Anglish acre is amazingly enough exactly equal to a modern American statutory acre (English acres varying by region), which American acre measures 43560 sf. But your Anglish farmer did not measure by the square foot, instead each of his acres, topography allowing, was one furlong by four roods or perches wide. A 'furlong' was considered to be the length of a 'furrow', or grain planting strip, that could be plowed by a standard eight-ox plough team in a single pull, being 220 yards or 660 feet long. A 'rood' or 'rod' or 'perch' was the length of the ox-goad typically carried by the ox-boy who with the ploughman made up the human component of a plough-team, with that goad or 'rood' being 16 1/2' long. Now if our Anglish ploughman had a four function calculator he could have multiplied a 660' ft furrough-long x 4 x 16.5' rood and come up with a calculated 43560 sf (660 x 66). That is our American land measure system only seeming to be arbitrary.

And here is where things get interesting. The following is a description of an 'acre' from an English web page Hemyock Castle: Glossary of Ancient Weights and Measures
Acre (area):
(Anglo-Saxon field.) The land area that can be ploughed by one ox team in a day - actually in a morning because the Oxen would need resting in the afternoon: They would trudge 11 miles while ploughing an acre. Traditionally in the strip field farming system, an area 40 rods long by 4 rods wide (ie. 220 yards by 22 yards). Sometimes used as a measure of width: One acre = 4 Rods wide. One tenth of a square furlong. Similar to the French Journal, and German Morgan or Tagwerk. The modern acre is 4840 square yards.
At this point the average work day and work week of the Anglish ploughman starts coming into view. One the actual portion of the day spent plowing was just half the day with the oxen being turned out onto pasture or the fallow field to browse, rest, and btw to naturally produce the very valuable manure needed to maintain fertility for the planting the next season or year. And the task of leading the oxen to pasture, to watch over them as necessary, and to lead them home could be left to the ox-boy, or as we will see boys, the ploughman himself freed up to perform other tasks. That is already we are pretty far from the Piers Plowman view of the poor villein plowing from dawn to dusk, not because he couldn't be driven to do so if need be, but because any given ox-team can only be driven so far, and oxen at least are valuable production items not to be wantonly wasted (even or especially in times when human labor and life are cheap). The implications of all this for the work week and year will be developed in the next chapter.

Ploughlands and work weeks Ch. 1: 'Once upon a time'

Physicists have thought experiments, economists have models. In each case they present an initially simplified model to make a tentative argument which may then be elaborated as variables are added back in. Me I am a medievalist. And a mythologist. And we pose our thought experiments and models in a slightly different form: the fairy tale. So here goes:

Once upon a time there was a land called Merrie Olde Angle-Land. It looked a great deal like medieval England, just simplified and viewed through a golden glow.  But just because Angle-Land is fictional doesn't mean that a story about it doesn't illustrate some truths about the parallel historical kingdom of England. On the other hand readers shouldn't interrupt the story with notes that "Well gee, field systems and social organizations were different in medieval Kent, what do you say about that!?" Just this: well that is England, this story is about Angle-Land and an Anglish historical and economic and social environment that is derived from but not identical to its English counterpart. So let's recommence:

Once upon a time there was a land called Merrie Olde Angle-Land. At the time of our story it was some seven centuries remove from an invasion of the Engle-Exxons who had slaughtered or driven out the previous Keltic-Romish inhabitants (after asking them for names of certain rivers and cities). The Engle-Exxons were a race of free Germanic peasant-warriors who while having a native aristocracy and ruled by kings organized their daily and yearly routines via a rude democracy consisting of male householders who held local courts and a yearly Witangemoet to settle such things as taxation. (on the other side of the Anglish Channel, the Frankels called it a 'parlement').

After the conquest of the portion of Keltic-Romish Brittia they would call Angle-Land, the Anglish divided the fertile regions into 'hides', each consisting of enough arable (i.e. plougable) land and associated woods, pastures and meadows to support a free peasant 'family'. As a side note the Anglish 'family' was not typically either the modern nuclear family or a Mediterranean style multi-generational family led by the oldest surviving male but instead a 'household' headed by a 'hus-bund' and 'wif' (our modern 'husband and wife') and including minor children and often one or more dependent/retired parents of the hus-bund or wif plus a handful or less of house and farm servants often enough the young adult children of neighbors who had yet to marry and establish their own 'family' in their own household. But on this perhaps more in later chapters.

The 'hides' as originally established in Angle-Land consisted uniformly (unlike England where the variety was bewildering) of 120 acres of arable distributed thoughout a large 'open' field itself divided into three parts to facilitate what was known as 'three course' farming. In this style of farming each field would be in a different stage of the growing cycle, one ploughed/seeded/sprouting, a second in full growth/being readied for harvest, and a third lying 'fallow' or unploughed at any time in that year. And here we have our first implication for labor exploitation: in any given year only 80 out of every 120 acres even gets ploughed, and only 40 acres in any given ploughing season (meaning there are two). As we will see in the next chapter or so this has large implications for the typical work week.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mandate NO! MLR SI! (from Angry Bear)

(Crossposted from Angry Bear)

No not the striking down of the mandate part, heck probably a thousand fingers were poised over an equal number of 'Send' keys when the ruling came down. Me? I took a shower and started thinking about the practical implications of ACA as it will operate under current law as modified today.

Starting with the MLR. Which you did hear about here first in this AB post from July 2009 HR3200 Sec 116: Golden Bullet or Smoking Gun . MLR stands for Medical Loss Ratio which in the final version of ACA was set at 85% for the Group market and 80% for the Individual market for health insurance policies issued by private insurers. Now 'Medical Loss' is itself an interesting term of art, it represents the actual amount of insurance premiums collected 'lost' via being expended on actual care paid for under your policy. That is for insurance companies the actual end service being delivered from purchase of their product is from their perspective a dead loss to be reduced. Hence a business model built around denying claims.

MLR minimums start to flip that model on its head. Under the rule if the ratio of premium collected to provider payments issued exceeds 15% or 20% respectively in Group or Individual market the difference has to be rebated to the policy holder. And indeed such rebate checks actually went out this year, this provision having already kicked in. Well after this morning's ruling that rule will continue to operate until specifically repealed. And it is important, though maybe not as much as I was able to convince Donny Shaw of when he put this post up on Open Congress on Nov 14, 2009 The Most Important Health Care Reform Provision You've Never Heard Of. For example Richard Escow of HuffPo and elsewhere is of the opinion (expressed semi-privately to me and some others), that while important MLR can be gamed. And in fact I discuss that somewhat in my original 2009 post, feel free to rip on this in comments. Me? I still think MLR is transformational.

So what things are NOT included as 'medical losses'? In short: administration, management, and direct profits from operations. (For example gains from retained and reinvested profits would not I think count against the company). Currently a lot of health insurance administration is focused on making sure that people likely to submit claims don't get signed up and/or denying claims to those who for whatever reason obtain coverage. Well various separate 'must cover' 'no pre-existing condition exclusion' rules take care of much of the first part, under ACA the companies have little room to just turn customers away. And MLR installs limits on the second part. While companies have an incentive to trim their medical 'losses' as close to the minimum as possible, every dollar spent doing so puts a squeeze on the same 15% or 20% of premiums they need to pay management salaries and return profits to shareholders. While every dollar squeezed out of the claims process by increasing efficiency and throughput of claims (i.e. actually paying providers on a timely basis with a minimum of paperwork requirements) leaves that much left over for management and shareholders. Gosh all of a sudden we have a business model based on efficient DELIVERY of services rather than DENIAL of them.

Paging Rusty Rustbelt! And Mike Halasy! Because I would love to see how this argument plays to people from the provider community. Particularly folk who have been on both sides of the overall issue. And of course I welcome comment from everyone else. I have been largely absent from the Health Care Debate since actually passage of ACA, the ball went into the lawyers' court and I am if anything less a lawyer than I am an economist. But after this morning we are right back in the policy analysis game. To which I say "Put me in coach!"

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tax Freedom for Billionaires (the Real Ryan Plan)

With the Ryan Budget back in the news and Paul Ryan being touted as a possible VP pick I thought this a fine time to review the real Ryan agenda. As revealed in this 2010 piece from Angry Bear

Real Ryan Roadmap: Tax Freedom for Billionaires

Posted by Bruce Webb | 8/03/2010 11:06:00 
The Ryan Budget Roadmap was introduced in January, and then sank like a stone. But with Ryan's appointment to the Catfood Commission it and its author have drawn some new attention which borders on fawning. Or at least part of the plan has drawn attention, that part which would privatize Social Security and voucherize Medicare. What is getting less attention is his radical tax plan which if fully implemented would mean inheritors of great wealth would never pay federal taxes. EVER.

To set the background we have this article from the WaPo Monday Rep. Ryan pushes budget reform, and his party winces And it turn frames it as follows:
Instead, Ryan is running a campaign of a different sort, one his party has so far refused to adopt: He is determined to persuade colleagues to get serious about eliminating the national debt, even if it means openly broaching overhauls of Medicare and Social Security.

He speaks in apocalyptic terms, saying the debt is "completely unsustainable" and warning that "it will crash our economy." He urges fellow politicians, and voters, to stop pretending that this problem will go away on its own.

He administers his sermons with evangelical zeal. He will go anywhere and talk to anyone who will listen. When he is not writing op-eds and appearing on television, he can often be found speaking to liberal and conservative audiences alike about his "Roadmap for America's Future," a plan he says would fix the problem.
So what is step one and two in cutting "completely unsustainable" debt? Well slashing Social Security and Medicare. And step three? ELIMINATE ALL TAXATION FOR BILLIONAIRES AND THEIR HEIRS. Details directly from Ryan's website under the fold.