The Intrinsic Durability of Obamacare

Source: Quora

Despite having control of the Senate, House, and Presidency, Republicans have been repeatedly unsuccessful in their attempts at repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with an alternative. The fight drags on; on Tuesday, the Senate narrowly voted to advance to floor debate, and needed Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote. An economic concept called loss aversion provides some insight into the uphill battle Republicans are facing with a healthcare replacement. It also indicates that voters are even less likely to support a “repeal-now, replace-later” plan.

Introduced by behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, loss aversion refers to the idea that people feel more pain when they lose something than pleasure when they gain something.

Kahneman explains the phenomenon in this way: Let’s say I told you that I was going to toss a coin; If it lands tails, you pay $10. How much money would you need to gain if you won, before you took the bet? “People want more than $20 before it is acceptable,” says Kahneman, “And now I’ve been doing the same thing with executives or very rich people, asking about tossing a coin and losing $10,000 if it’s tails. And they want $20,000 before they’ll take the gamble.”

Companies use this glitch to influence our behavior, too. Would you pursue a $10 rebate as doggedly as you would avoid a $10 surcharge? Gaining something is only about half as enjoyable as losing something is painful, according to empirical studies. So in the world of politics the threat of losing something, be it a part of your income or a service you’ve become accustomed to, can have a heavy impact.

This became the case with the Affordable Care Act. Initially, and for many years, the ACA was opposed by the majority of Americans. It was not until serious discussion of losing the act became part of the public discourse that the ACA gained majority approval in Gallup polls.

While it is the Republican Party’s general consensus that Obamacare should be repealed, the Congressional Budget Office’s well-publicized projections of coverage loss, Medicare loss, and insurance regulation loss have made their proposals deeply unpopular to the public. In June, the CBO forecasted that the Senate’s plan would leave 22 million more people uninsured. The gains that they tried to sell, like decreasing taxes and lowering the deficit, have not been very effective. In an unexpected move last Tuesday, Republican Senators Mike Lee and Jerry Moran joined Senators Susan Collins and Rand Paul in announcing they would vote against the Senate’s latest bill. Because Republicans have only 52 seats in the Senate, losing any more than two votes is fatal. These defections sank the bill, which was only narrowly supported.

Finding consensus between the moderate and hard-right wings of the party has proven to be extremely difficult. “This has been a very, very challenging experience for all of us,” McConnell told reporters following the bill’s collapse. “It’s pretty obvious that we don’t have 50 members who can agree on a replacement.”

Once something becomes the status quo, it becomes more difficult to do away with because of loss aversion. It is this phenomenon that makes it difficult to alter welfare and service programs once they have been put in place, and it is one reason why Social Security is a third rail in Washington.

Politically, Obamacare is inherently difficult to repeal. Obamacare sought and succeeded at creating a rapid expansion of coverage over the course of President Obama’s tenure. An expansion in the economy that, once in place, created a new status quo; not only for individuals, but for health-related businesses. Interestingly, many at the far right of the Republican party came to power during the Tea Party movement. It was a movement that began in response to the threat of a different loss from the status quo; the increase in taxes that came with Obamacare.

The Senate’s latest proposal, to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act with no required replacement until two years down the line, would increase the number of uninsured by 17 million next year and 32 million by the end of a decade. Immediately after its introduction, this idea was opposed by three Republican Senators, Shelley Capito of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Susan Collins of Maine, who announced they would vote against it.

This plan is likely to generate and even stronger sense of loss aversion. Supporting Senator McConnell’s plan to repeal now is essentially a choice between keeping the status quo, and rolling the dice with the hopes of getting a better outcome in the future. This will be an even harder sell than the one from last week.

Political rhetoric about loss is common and effective. “Loss” was something that President Trump used to great effect in the election, by saying that people will lose their guns, lose their money (through higher taxation), or lose their job to globalization. Rhetoric is not reality however. Should Congress pass a bill that takes away people’s healthcare, voters will feel the losses directly. Despite Tuesday’s vote, repealing Obamacare is still a long shot.

Neil Browning is a 2017 Master of Public Policy graduate interested in public health, development, and international affairs. He was the editor-in-chief of the Sanford Journal from 2016-17.

Harvesting the Agricultural Potential of Drones

Source: MIT Technology Review, 2016

The world’s food system sits at a precarious intersection. Rising temperatures and erratic rainfall, political instability and conflict throughout the developing world, and rapid movement of people to urban hotspots are just some of the global trends threatening global agricultural production today. Experts predict the global population will increase to 9.7 billion people by 2050, greatly increasing the demand for food and pressure on an already constrained global food supply.

At the same time, biological advancement has enabled the production of genetically engineered crops resistant to pests and droughts, promising future resilience from climate change. And governments around the world have committed to increasing agricultural production through legislation and agricultural investment plans.

Today, scientists, agricultural experts, government officials, and farmers are preoccupied with tackling one of the biggest questions: how can we maximize global agricultural production to feed a growing world?

Solutions to this problem were presented at the ICT4Ag conference in Washington, DC where technology geeks and agricultural experts had some truly innovative answers: mobile phone apps, Uber for tractors, and drones. Yep, you read that right: the same technology used in military strikes and modern warfare is being applied to Rwanda’s maize fields and Benin’s cashew farms.

At first it might be difficult to make the connection between drones and agriculture. Established 12,000 years ago, agriculture is literally one of the oldest practices of humankind. Drones, on the other hand, emerged only in the last century, with commercial drones gaining popularity over the past ten years. Growing food requires basics inputs – good soil, water, and the sun. Drone technology draws from new advancements like remote sensing, high-optic cameras, and gyro-stabilization (the technology behind how drones are able to smoothly fly through the air).

However, agriculture and drones are not as distinct as one might think. Rather, the two concepts are important complements to each other. With strained natural resources and a growing global population, we can no longer afford for agriculture to be a practice of the past. Could drones be a missing piece in the global yield gap puzzle by maximizing effective agricultural practices and empowering farmers?

The Perks of Drones in the Sky

Drones have the potential to transform the ways smallholder and low-resourced farmers in developing countries make key decisions with better data.

Drones can pinpoint areas where crops are damaged faster and more efficiently than a farmer or extension agent could do through field monitoring or random sampling. Farmers are able to identify areas of concern earlier and more accurately, which in turn increases the likelihood of success from efforts like additional fertilizer or pesticides. Identifying problem areas in a field early is critical in ensuring a good crop yield.

Drones can help farmers save significant costs by targeting an intervention on areas that need it most. Instead of applying pesticides or fertilizer to an entire field, farmers can reduce costs (and health risks) by focusing on one problematic part. Farmers also save money by knowing exactly where they should plant certain crops in their field. Differences in slope or soil quality even within a field can produce different yields, so farmers can maximize their investment by planting more effectively. Some estimates find drones can reduce planting costs by 85 percent.

What’s even more effective is that when layered with weather and climatic information, drones can help low resourced farmers anticipate rainy or dry periods and make better decisions regarding pesticides, watering, and fertilizer use. Not only is that great for the pocketbook but also for the environment.

Drones can also help farmers secure land rights over their fields, by providing clear images of field boundaries. This benefit is especially important for female farmers who face a higher risk of land grabbing by male family members or the community.

Drones help empower smallholder farmers with more information about their fields. When farmers can see the images and maps captured from drones, they gain a new perspective of their livelihoods. Farmers gain power when they have more information and can make more informed decisions.

Current Challenges

Using drones to increase agricultural productivity for low resourced farmers is not without its challenges.

One challenge is, unsurprisingly, cost. Although the price has decreased substantially over the past few years, drone services still prove prohibitively expensive for most smallholder farmers in developing countries to afford. In some emerging economies, medium to large scale farmers are currently helping facilitate demand for drone services. Elsewhere, groups of smallholder firms are banding together to create aggregate demand for these services.

Government drone regulations can also restrict the use of drones for agricultural purposes. Approximately 77% of African countries lack drone regulations. This can make it very difficult for organizations promoting drone use in agriculture.

Progress Towards a Drone-Friendly Future in Agriculture

So what does a world with drones look like? Turns out, we already have a pretty good idea. The agricultural drone market is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2024 as governmental policies become more favorable and services expand.

Development organizations like We Robotics and RTI International currently provide drone services to low resourced farmers around the world. Investors are already taking notice of drone entrepreneurs like Ranveer Chandra, a former Microsoft researcher, who is developing a system using drones and soil sensors to improve soil quality of smallholder farmers. And attention is also focusing on startups like Kenya’s SunCulture, an agro-solar organization that sells drip irrigation systems and uses drones to determine the placement of their systems.

A future of drones and shrinking yield gaps in agricultural fields around the world is on the horizon. Now we just need to ensure that these services are accessible and affordable for the smallholder farmer to use.

Emily is a second year Masters of Public Policy candidate studying agriculture policy and international development.

Opinion: The Trump Presidency as a Catalyst for Millennial Activism

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Sanford Journal of Public Policy.

Source: National Gallery of Australia

No election in modern history has so publicly exposed the political divide between the young and the old as the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Millennials voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, who garnered 55% of the 18-29 vote, while Donald Trump only picked up 37%. On the flip side, 53% of those aged 65+ voted for Trump and 45% voted for Clinton. This glaring divide in American politics between the young (18-29) and the old (65+) has widened dramatically since George W. Bush’s first election when there was only a two percentage point difference between the young and the old that voted Democrat. The historic Millennial unfavorability for Trump, his cabinet, and his policies may well serve as a catalyst that spurs an increasingly generation-divided electorate to activism.

Clinton’s electoral defeat came as a complete surprise to the majority of the country, especially Millennials. The loss was particularly surprising because Clinton’s odds of winning had been projected at 95% by Reuters/Ipsos three weeks before the election and 71.4% by Millennial statistical soothsayer Nate Silver, up until the day of the election itself.

The fact that Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes, mostly from the Democratic and economic stronghold state of California, but lost the Electoral College is one manifestation of the specific characteristics that set Millennials apart from older generations. At 28.7%, Millennials make up the largest share of the US population, and are notorious for their lack of political participation.

Despite this, Millennials are ripe for activism not only because of Trump, but more broadly because of their youth, diversity, education, and discontent with their social and economic situation. Even though Millennials are the most well-educated generation, they are also underemployed and earn 20% less than their parents did at the same stage of life. Among Millennials themselves, there is a growing income gap between those with college degrees and those without, fueling a cultural gap as many college graduates head to liberal and economically powerful states on the coasts or to larger cities with relatively more job opportunities than the more rural or blue-collar communities from which they migrated out. For these non-urbanite Millennials, many of whom supported Trump, a common hope was that he would change the way Washington politics were “stacked against them.” However, by May of this year, only 40% of people said Trump had made such progress in changing the way Washington worked, while a majority 54% said he hadn’t. No wonder trust in the President to do the right thing has reached a nadir of just 24% among Millennials.

Only 32% of Millennials approve of Trump’s performance thus far, according to a poll released by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. A new Pew study has identified a massive 23% shift of young Republicans (under 30) to the Democratic Party since December 2015, further emphasizing the fact that Millennials are dropping the GOP like hotcakes.

Here’s where my opinion comes in. In my view, my generation is one that is increasingly feeling isolated from society, disaffiliating from organized religion, and suffering from mental illness, bleak economic prospects, and manufactured crises, such as the opioid epidemic. Despite the unprecedented challenges we face from global warming and other man-made disasters, older generations have dismantled the very social institutions, specifically education and housing, that made them the most prosperous group of people in American history, to the detriment of my own. They brought about the election of Donald Trump who many Millennials believe won the election illegitimately. In fact, a majority of Millennials oppose a great many of Trump’s policies, including climate change, tax reform, legalized marijuana, the Muslim ban, and healthcare.

The latest decision of Trump to back out of the Paris Agreement is indicative of the entire presidency not only in its short-sightedness, but also in terms of its backlash. Every generation that faces immense global challenges, such as the Greatest Generation, must have a catalyst that spurs them to action, a crucible that forges their will and inspires them to organize. The Millennial backlash can be seen in the Women’s March in DC, which shattered the previous US record for largest one-day protest, and in the insurgent grassroots rise of special election Democrats, such as the razor thin losses in Georgia and South Carolina.

Despite the worrying trajectory that Trump’s presidency has taken thus far, perhaps the silver lining is that this presidency has and will continue to galvanize this country’s young into political participation and give them the tools to face the immense challenges of the next half century head on.

Phil Hah is a 2017 Master of Public Policy graduate interested in politics, renewable energy, innovation ecosystems, and international affairs.

Opinion: We’ve Got a ‘Oui’ Problem

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Sanford Journal of Public Policy.

The decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement befuddled many experts, precisely because we know the factors that did not inspire the decision. Trump did not pledge to leave the deal because Trump-voting states no longer want to participate. The majority of residents in every state support the Paris deal. Some of Trump’s high-profile advisors and cabinet members came out against the decision, including Gary D. Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council, and Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State. Even Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, opposed the decision to withdraw.

Despite pulling the country out of the Paris Agreement, Trump does not believe America is better off without a seat at “la table” (the French word for table). Trump made it clear he intends to negotiate a new climate agreement that allows America to get more and pay less: The Art of the Deal before our very eyes. Trump has made his (unsubstantiated) billions using this methodology. Buy low, sell high; buy one, get one free. Trump is always looking for a bigger, “better” deal.

Source: Peace Palace Library (2016)

Here’s how Trump’s deal making works: Let’s say I was a billionaire business tycoon (an unrealistic fantasy) with untamed hair (my daily reality). I have something you want, and you have something I want. But you need me more than I need you, so I feign disinterest until finally, in desperation, you come to me with a better offer. Transactional relationships are quite frequently fueled by an uneven power dynamic, and often result in the dominant player coming out ahead. Shoot, I hope I didn’t spoil the ending of Marx’s Capital for you.

But a globalized economic system is a lot more complicated than a two-person transaction. Trump’s constituents are already undermining his refusal to participate in the Paris deal. Individuals, corporations, and municipal and state leaders, including North Carolina’s Governor, Roy Cooper, are pledging their commitment to the Paris Accord. Michael Bloomberg pledged $15 million to the UN’s fight against climate change. $15 million barely scratches the surface of America’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, but indicates, in Bloomberg’s words, that Americans are “forging ahead.”Consumers want to buy green, and companies and governments are responding. Companies are more profitable if they promote and engage in sustainable initiatives. The public has spoken! They want those silly little light bulbs with the curly glass tubes.

Trump’s decision was nothing more than political stubbornness. I have faith in corporate America’s pursuit of profit (is anything more reliable?), and I believe economic incentives will continue to inspire a shift toward renewable energy and sustainability. But if exiting the Paris Agreement leads to a decline in cooperation between America and the rest of the world, then Trump’s “American Exceptionalism” will become “American Isolationism.” If relations with other countries sour, as nearly happened with Mexico, American consumers, particularly low-income Americans, will feel the burden of this artless negotiation.

Annie Krabbenschmidt is a second-year Master of Public Policy candidate interested in social psychology and organizational behavior.

Trump’s “compassionate” budget to endanger millions threatened by famines

In response to widespread criticism of President Trump’s recent budget, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney defended massive cuts to government programs, saying “it’s probably one of the most compassionate things we can do.” Mulvaney was directly defending the choice to eliminate funding for domestic programs like Meals on Wheels and afterschool programs for low-income children. But his ridiculous comment reveals the Trump administration’s general lack of sympathy and support for low-income populations.

The President’s blatant apathy towards the plight of the poor demands our attention both as people in an increasingly globalized world. The reality is that the proposed cuts in the budget, if endorsed by Congress, are likely to have devastating and potentially deadly consequences for vulnerable groups both in this country and around the world.

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Demystifying President Trumps Proposed Budget

Source: Washington Post

Quoted in the Washington Post, former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy has referred to President Trump’s budget as “a scorched earth budget that represents an all out assault on clean air, water, and land.” She continued to state that “You can’t put ‘America First’ when you put the health of its people and its country last.”

Earlier this month, President Trump released his Proposed Budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. As it was speculated, the budget contains drastic cuts to several departments, and eliminates funding for nineteen agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suffers the largest percentage cut at 31%, followed closely by the State Department at 29%.  The State Department cut translates to decreased funding of $10.9 Billion. Cuts to climate change efforts, foreign aid, and cultural exchange programs demonstrate a shift from an international focus to an “America First” perspective.

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