SFWA and the Writers of the Future Contest

UPDATE 12/11/2018: SFWA has released a clarification on their membership requirements page:

Qualification Update: Publication Via Contests As Applicable to Rule III Sales

Short fiction and novels that are published as part of a contest, including publication in print or digital anthologies and magazines or online publication on a web site, can be used as qualifying sales under Rule III of the SFWA bylaws, provided they meet all requirements. The qualifying sales are subject to the same restrictions as sales to any other market (such as: no entry or submissions fee, no warnings by Writer Beware, no advisory by SFWA, appropriate minimum payment per word). The contract must show that the author is receiving payment for publication rights separately from any monetary contest prize that may also be received.

As far as I can tell, this means Writers of the Future Contest winners can still use publication in the contest anthology to qualify for SFWA; they just need to jump through a few more hoops to do so. I still have some concerns, but this seems like a good step.

ORIGINAL POST FOLLOWS:

Warning: Really long post ahead.

Last week, SFWA made a statement about the Writers of the Future Contest:

SFWA Statement on Complaints/Concerns Regarding the Writers of the Future Contest

The Board of Directors of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have unanimously decided to formally and publicly acknowledge the multiple complaints and expressions of concern made both publicly and privately in recent months by former Writers of the Future finalists who state that they have had negative experiences during or after the event.

As a result, SFWA has formally contacted the WotF administrators, in hopes of launching a private dialogue between our organizations, and ensuring that these concerns are meaningfully addressed. In this effort, SFWA’s goal is to protect the rights of creators, thus strengthening all of science fiction and fantasy publishing, now and in the future. SFWA advises all writers to research carefully before participating in any literary contest.
For more information on contests, please visit SFWA’s Writer Beware page located here: http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/contests/.

This statement doesn’t mention another action that was also put on the website at about the same time: the rules for qualifying for SFWA were changed to exclude contest publications. Item 3 under Paid Sales used to read:

Contest prize money does not count toward determining the payment rate unless publication rights are required to receive the prize. (That is, only payments tied to publication are considered.)

It now reads:

By unanimous vote of the Board of Directors meeting in San Jose, California, on August 16, 2018, contest publications no longer qualify toward SFWA membership*, effective August 16, 2018. Current members in good standing who qualified via contest publications are unaffected by this change.

The asterisk is for the following new footnote below the Paid Sales section:

*Contests: Hundreds of literary contests, across a vast range of sponsoring organizations, offer paid publication as a prize for selected entrants. Determining whether each of these prizes, each year, meets SFWA’s standard of professional pay rates imposes a burden on SFWA’s employees and volunteers, beginning with its Membership Committee. Moreover, this burden is in the service of publications that never were envisioned by SFWA’s founders as professional qualifications. Like scholarships, fellowships, grants and guest-of-honor laurels, literary prizes are welcome at all stages of writers’ careers, and always to be encouraged, but they do not constitute publishing success in the professional marketplace, the arena which historically has been, and must remain, SFWA’s focus.

Back in April, when I became aware that SFWA was looking into complaints and concerns about the Writers of the Future Contest, I sent the following email to SFWA President Cat Rambo and the other members of the SFWA Board of Directors:

Cat (and other members of the SFWA board),

As a SFWA member who had Writers of the Future Contest sales as two out of his three qualifying publications — and whose wife just won the grand prize in the contest earlier this month — I have a very favorable opinion of the contest as an opportunity for new writers. I would hate to see the market disqualified on the basis of its association with the Church of Scientology.  As long as the publication of the anthology meets the criteria for qualifying markets, as outlined on the membership requirements page, I think it would be unfair to authors published in the anthology to disqualify their sales for reasons unrelated to the publication itself.

Now, when it comes to allegations of improper conduct in connection with the contest and/or publication of the anthology, I agree that SFWA has a duty to investigate the allegations in order to protect the interests of authors. That’s why I was willing to send a copy of my wife’s publication contract for review by the Contracts Committee. I would hope that any such investigation would allow the contest to respond to the allegations. Because I take the confidentiality of the SFWA forum seriously, I have not told anyone who works for the contest about the allegations that have appeared on the forum or the fact that SFWA is investigating, but it would be highly unfair for SFWA to take any final action against the contest without giving them an opportunity to defend themselves.

Thank you,
Eric James Stone

Last week, after the Board published the statement and updated the rules to eliminate contest publications, I sent the following email:

President Rambo (and other members of the SFWA board),

I have to say I am very disappointed with the statement about the Writers of the Future Contest published on the SFWA website.

I don’t really have a problem with what is in the statement itself, other than the gratuitous link to the Writers Beware page about contests, which looks like a deliberate attempt to tar the Writers of the Future Contest with the same brush as the scam contests listed there.

I do have a problem with what was left out: any acknowledgement of the positive experiences of some Writers of the Future finalists. You could easily have mentioned that the contest has been a positive experience for many, while still emphasizing the concerns SFWA has about the negative experiences. The fact that you did not leads me to believe that the board has decided to completely ignore those SFWA members who have spoken out about the good the contest has done.

Furthermore, it is clear from the separately published new rule against contests as SFWA qualifying markets that, despite what is claimed in the statement, the board has no real interest in working with the administrators of the contest to address the concerns that have been raised. I have served as the Short Story Griefer on the Grievance Committee for ten and a half years. In that time, I have dealt with many grievances, all but one or two of which were resolved with a favorable outcome for the author who filed the grievance. I understand the use of SFWA’s leverage to get markets to resolve issues. And, with this rule change that was obviously targeted at the Writers of the Future Contest, the SFWA board has elected to give up the best leverage we had for getting the contest to respond to concerns. What incentive is there for them to work with SFWA, since even if they correct the problems, they would still not be a SFWA-qualifying market?

And please don’t insult my intelligence by claiming that the rule change was based on the reasons given in the footnote about contests on the Membership Requirements page, rather than as a way to de-list the Writers of the Future Contest anthology as a qualifying market. What is the critical difference that makes an anthology that pays pro rates and has an open call for submissions a valid qualifier, and a contest with an open call for submissions that pays pro rates and publishes an anthology of the winners an invalid qualifier? All else being equal between two venues, why should one of them being a contest be disqualifying? If Neil Clarke renamed Clarkesworld Magazine to Clarkesworld: The Best Speculative Fiction of the Month Contest, with absolutely no other changes, then Clarkesworld would no longer be a qualifying market under the new rule. That outcome is ridiculous on its face.

The sham nature of this explanation becomes quite clear when one realizes the exact same justification could be applied just as easily to de-list all magazines as qualifying markets:

*Magazines: Hundreds of literary magazines, across a vast range of sponsoring organizations, offer paid publication for selected submitters. Determining whether each of these payments, each year, meets SFWA’s standard of professional pay rates imposes a burden on SFWA’s employees and volunteers, beginning with its Membership Committee.

You should be ashamed of yourselves for trying to pass off this rule change as merely a way to lessen the burden on the Membership Committee.

As for the historical argument that membership qualification based on contest publication doesn’t fit with what the founders of SFWA envisioned, the Writers of the Future Contest has been accepted as a qualifying market for almost two thirds of SFWA’s history, and it’s only in 2018 that the board realized it was against the founders’ vision? It’s been around as a qualifying market longer than electronic magazines. It’s been around as a qualifying market since before any current member of the board was published in a qualifying market. The second president of SFWA, Robert Silverberg, is a Writers of the Future judge and, to my knowledge, has never opposed the contest’s anthology as a SFWA-qualifying sale. And can you honestly claim to be basing your decision on what the founders of SFWA envisioned when you have recently changed the rules to allow self-published fiction and writing for games as qualifying work? (Note: I agree with allowing self-publishing and game credits to qualify. I am merely pointing out the board’s hypocrisy in using the historical argument.)

In any case, since the board statement emphasizes “the multiple complaints and expressions of concern made both publicly and privately in recent months by former Writers of the Future finalists who state that they have had negative experiences during or after the event,” not a single one of which was ever sent to me in my role as the Short Story Griefer, I can only conclude that there is no longer any need for my service on Griefcom.

I therefore resign my position as a member of the Grievance Committee, effective immediately.

Sincerely,
Eric James Stone

P.S. I plan to publish this letter on my blog later this week. If any members of the board would care to defend the integrity of the decisions and statements made in this matter, I am willing to publish their defenses along with my letter.

As of now, three members of the board have responded to my email. The first response was from Erin Hartshorn, SFWA Vice President:

Dear Eric,

I am very disheartened to see your resignation.

You mention that the complaints never reached you as Short Story Griefer.  A few of the public complaints you might have seen include someone being misled about a signing venue; people who have been shamed about their body, attire, or choice of guest for the awards ceremony; and writers asked to sign release forms where the blanks had not been filled in beforehand. I do not see how Griefcom could intervene in such cases, but if I am mistaken, I would be delighted to learn it.

[Edited to remove reference to case that was not public.]

The vast majority of complaints we have seen, however, are ones where the writers simply want to know that what happened to them won’t happen to someone else. They’re not looking for restitution; they want the same thing that made you choose to join Griefcom — fair and honest treatment of authors.

I hope that you will reconsider your resignation, but I understand if you do not.

Thank you for your service.

Warmly,
Erin Hartshorn

The second was from Cat Rambo, SFWA President:

Erin’s summed up a lot of this, but I will add that this discussion has been going on for months at the board level, that it was based on feedback from many participants, and that it was not a step taken lightly or hastily, but one we felt necessary based on the multiple data points being brought to us.

Considering how scathing my email to the Board was, I think it’s to their credit Erin and Cat responded as graciously as they did.

Here’s my reply to them:

Erin and Cat,

I did see public complaints, as well as private ones shared on different private forums. And that is why, when I wrote to the Board in April about the WOTF Contest, I said:

Now, when it comes to allegations of improper conduct in connection with the contest and/or publication of the anthology, I agree that SFWA has a duty to investigate the allegations in order to protect the interests of authors. That’s why I was willing to send a copy of my wife’s publication contract for review by the Contracts Committee.

As for the question of whether Griefcom could have handled any of the complaints, the OPPM states:

Types of grievances that can be undertaken include: …mediation of non-monetary, noncontractual disputes with publishers, editors, agents, or other writing-related business associations; and other situations which the Committee Chair may deem appropriate use of committee resources.

At least as to complaints brought by SFWA members, it would seem to me it would be within the scope of Griefcom to contact the contest administrators and say, “SFWA members have raised these concerns about the contest, and we’d like to work with you to make sure problems like these don’t happen in the future.”

In the statement, the Board says:

SFWA has formally contacted the WotF administrators, in hopes of launching a private dialogue between our organizations, and ensuring that these concerns are meaningfully addressed.

That’s exactly the sort of dialog I presumed was quietly happening behind the scenes during the months in which the Board did not make any public statement about WOTF. At one point I did think about volunteering to carry on such a conversation on behalf of SFWA, since I have a good relationship with the WOTF Contest administrators and could approach them in a non-confrontational way. Now I really wish I had, but I thought the Board would be wise enough to handle things quietly until the issues were resolved, reserving public criticism of the contest and the possibility of de-listing from the Qualified Markets List as leverage to get the administrators to address the issues.

Erin’s summed up a lot of this, but I will add that this discussion has been going on for months at the board level, that it was based on feedback from many participants, and that it was not a step taken lightly or hastily, but one we felt necessary based on the multiple data points being brought to us.

And during those months of discussion at the board level, with feedback from many participants, and multiple data points, did any member of the board ever suggest that it might be a good idea to privately contact the administrators of the contest to get their feedback and point of view before taking any public action? If so, why did the board decide against it?

In my email in April, I said:

I would hope that any such investigation would allow the contest to respond to the allegations. Because I take the confidentiality of the SFWA forum seriously, I have not told anyone who works for the contest about the allegations that have appeared on the forum or the fact that SFWA is investigating, but it would be highly unfair for SFWA to take any final action against the contest without giving them an opportunity to defend themselves.

Instead, it looks like the Board voted in August to de-list WOTF (by de-listing all contests) without even having tried to resolve any issues, and then after several more months of silence issued a public statement critical of the contest right at the beginning of supposedly trying to open a dialog with the contest administrators.

If the Board’s goal was to convince the contest administrators to make changes, the chosen strategy was so incompetent that I have found it hard to believe the Board was acting in good faith.

Meanwhile, I have acted in good faith all along. I did not talk to anyone at WOTF about there being a SFWA investigation of the contest until today, after the public announcement from SFWA. And I did not mention anything about the specific concerns or complaints that I’ve only heard of through the SFWA forum or other confidential venues.

You said you hoped I would reconsider my resignation from Griefcom. I would be happy to withdraw my letter of resignation (and not publish it on my blog) if I were convinced that the Board wanted to resolve the issues with the Writers of the Future Contest in good faith going forward.

What would it take to convince me of that?

I guess it boils down to whether the Board now realizes they could have handled the situation better, and is willing to take action on that basis. Some steps I would suggest to show good faith:

1. The Board appoints someone who is not hostile to the Writers of the Future Contest to discuss the concerns and complaints with the contest administrators and make a good-faith effort to resolve them. I would be willing to serve in that capacity, but I’m sure there are plenty of other SFWA members who could do so as well.

2. A revision or addendum to the statement on the website, recognizing the fact that many SFWA members have had positive experiences with the Writers of the Future Contest.

3. A reconsideration of the rule against contests as qualifying markets. The goal of reducing the burden on the Membership Committee could be met by changing the rules to not count contest prize money at all. Contest anthologies could be qualified markets if they pay pro rates for publication, without counting prize money. The number of contests meeting that threshold would be very small. If you eliminate the prize money aspect, there’s no real difference between a contest anthology that pays pro rates and any other kind of anthology that pays pro rates. This would mean the reinstatement of WOTF as a qualifying market for now. Of course, if the attempts to resolve issues with the contest administrators fail to produce a satisfactory outcome, WOTF could be de-listed for that reason at that time. Alternatively, the Board could privately commit to revising the rule in order to reinstate WOTF if the issues are resolved in a satisfactory manner, allowing reinstatement to be used as an incentive.

These are not demands on my part; they are simply my suggestions as to what the Board could do if they are interested in working in good faith to try to resolve the concerns about the contest. Maybe you can think of alternative steps that would demonstrate that same level of good faith.

Sincerely,
Eric

Despite my doubts about the good faith of the actions taken by the Board, I really hoped that maybe, having been called out on it, they might be willing to move forward in good faith. Unfortunately, to date I have received only one more email from a member of the Board. This was from Andy Duncan, Director-at-Large:

Eric, thank you for your service to Griefcom. It is much appreciated.

I have only two further points to make.

One,  you suggest that these complaints against WotF should have come to the Grievance Committee. I refer you to the Griefcom rules published on SFWA’s website, specifically the section titled “Cases Griefcom Will Not Handle” (https://www.sfwa.org/member-links/committees/griefcom/cases-griefcom-will-not-handle/). There, you find:

“Third, Griefcom will not handle any grievances of non-members, affiliates, or institutional members.”

By definition, the vast majority of WotF contestants are not yet eligible for SFWA membership. They are too new. Whatever their skill levels and life experiences, they are, professionally speaking, newcomers, novices, amateurs in the best sense, writing only for love. Should these newcomers have cause for complaint, the Griefcom option is closed to them, because they are not SFWA members.

Having been involved in many organizations over many years, I well understand and sympathize with the tendency for veteran committee members to see all problems and issues through the relatively narrow aperture of their own committee. The SFWA Board, by definition, must take a wider view.

Two, you write, “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

I cannot speak for the other individuals on the Board, but I candidly and freely admit that I am made of the same crooked timber as the rest of humanity, and therefore feel shame for countless things I have done and not done during my 50-plus years.

To take only one example, I am ashamed that for so may years, I viewed the field of science fiction and fantasy through such a privilege bubble that I could not even perceive the troubles faced by women writers, queer writers, writers of color, trans writers — indeed, marginalized writers in general. When complaints did reach my ears, I simply ignored them, believing that my track record of excellent experiences meant that others’ negative experiences were exaggerated, isolated, anecdotal, indeed non-existent. Many friends, colleagues, students and loved ones tried to tell me I was wrong; I did not hear them, either. For this, I am indeed ashamed, and will spend the rest of my career doing whatever I can to atone.

On the matter of our Board actions regarding WotF, however, I sleep well at night.

Yours, Andy

And my response:

Andy,

By definition, the vast majority of WotF contestants are not yet eligible for SFWA membership.

True. Also, pretty much irrelevant. Let’s look at the complaints Erin mentioned in her email:

A few of the public complaints you might have seen include someone being misled about a signing venue; people who have been shamed about their body, attire, or choice of guest for the awards ceremony; and writers asked to sign release forms where the blanks had not been filled in beforehand.

Every single one of those complaints was from a winner in the contest, not merely a contestant. And every single one of those winners was, by virtue of their sale to the contest anthology, eligible to join SFWA as an associate member. If you go back and re-read the Griefcom rule you quoted, you’ll see that grievances by associate members are not excluded.

Of course, since you voted to exclude contest publications as membership qualifiers, you have made it so that future winners will not be eligible for SFWA associate membership as a result of their wins, thus closing off their access to Griefcom.

On the matter of our Board actions regarding WotF, however, I sleep well at night.

I can’t help but notice that, so far, no member of the board has bothered to deny that the rule change was intended to remove WOTF as a qualifying market, and that the publicly posted reasons for the rule change were merely pretexts. Is deceiving the members of SFWA about the board’s actions something you feel comfortable with? If so, I think that’s something the membership should be made aware of.

–Eric

P.S. As the first and so far only (as far as I know) Hispanic winner of a Nebula Award, I appreciate your efforts to support diversity in the SF field. I have made it a point to encourage women writers, queer writers, writers of color, and trans writers whenever I can. During my time as an assistant editor at IGMS, I championed stories by writers from all of those categories. The issue of IGMS for which I was guest head editor had an equal number of stories by men and women. The charity anthology I edited had 17 stories by women, 12 stories by men, and 2 stories by writers I don’t know the gender of. The gender balance on the anthology you edited was very heavily skewed toward male authors, but maybe that’s one of those things you’re ashamed of now.

I’m probably beating a dead horse by now, but I have a few more points I’d like to make:

  1. Under thy SFWA Bylaws, the Board is given the power to determine eligibility requirements for membership, so I’m not denying they have the power to de-list all contests as qualifying markets. I am questioning the way they went about it.
  2. Even if you agree with WOTF being de-listed, I think you should be concerned about the process implemented by the Board. Imagine that one of your favorite publications was being targeted for de-listing, and the SFWA Board acted to de-list before even communicating with the editors about any concerns or complaints. Would you consider that a fair process? If it wouldn’t have been a fair process for Clarkesworld or Asimov’s or Strange Horizons, then it was not a fair process for Writers of the Future.
  3. I think that any reasonable person who actually wanted to “…ensur[e] that these concerns [about WOTF] are meaningfully addressed…” would have contacted the WOTF Contest administrators to discuss the concerns before taking the action of de-listing the contest as a qualifying market. The only reasonable excuse for not doing so would be some sort of urgent need to act immediately in order to prevent harm, but since the Board voted in August and failed to make it known until December, that excuse doesn’t seem to apply here. Since it is a stated goal of the Board to see that the concerns are meaningfully addressed, the fact that they do not appear to have exercised reasonable care in attempting to carry out that goal could mean they have violated their fiduciary duty as Board members.
  4. None of the members of the Board has answered the charge that the website gave pretexts for the Board’s action in removing contest publications as qualifying markets, while the real goal was to de-list Writers of the Future specifically. The Board’s actions don’t make sense if the objective was to get the contest to address concerns, but they make perfect sense if the objective was to de-list WOTF. Why would they have that specific goal? When I wrote to the Board originally, I was worried that some people might be targeting the contest because of its association with the Church of Scientology. If that was, in fact, the case, and the members of the Board were either in agreement with such an objective or willing to cater to such people, it would explain why the Board would de-list the contest before even going through the motions of resolving concerns about it, and it would also explain why they disguised the motives for their action in the explanation offered on the website.
  5. I regret that, due to my strong feelings about what I feel were unfair and/or unethical actions by the Board, I have ended up accusing some people who I have considered and would like to go on considering as friends. (Yes, I do have friends who do things I consider unfair or unethical. I can like them as a friend without condoning their actions.) But I can understand why they might hold being accused of being unfair or unethical against me.
  6. Finally, I’d like to call attention to something Cat Rambo wrote in her blog post “Promises for the 2018 SFWA Presidency” (some of which is satirical in typical Cat Rambo fashion, but I hope this part was not): “And finally, as always, when I screw up, I’ll admit it and say what I’m doing in the future in order to do better.” Cat, you screwed up. Please admit it and try to clean up the mess. I’ll be happy to help.

6 comments

Privatized Gun Registration

I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment. I believe people have the right to arm themselves for their own protection and as a check against a tyrannical government.

Therefore, I agree with those who say it would be a bad idea to allow the government to have a database of guns and their owners, because that would make gun confiscation significantly easier. And, let’s face it, there are plenty of liberals who would happily ban all guns if the political climate ever shifted enough that they felt they could get away with it.

On the other hand, the lack of searchable databases of gun owners hampers investigations after a gun has been used in a crime. See this story in GQ for an examination of the problem. (Hat tip to Stacy Whitman for the link.)

So, is there a way to bridge that gap? I think there might be: privatized gun registration.

How would that work?

A federal law would allow private organizations to become gun registrars. (The NRA could become one if they wanted.) A gun registrar would maintain a searchable database of guns and gun owners, that would allow the registrar to retrieve the identity of the owner of a particular gun based on its serial number, or to retrieve a list of all the guns registered in their database for a particular gun owner. This could be used in two ways:

  1. Police could ask the gun registrars to search for the owner of a particular gun that is in the police’s possession, and the registrar would be legally obligated to respond within a certain amount of time. This would allow police to find the registered owner of a lost or stolen gun (in which case the owner will presumably be happy to get it back), or the owner of a gun used in a crime (and therefore help the investigation of a particular crime). I don’t think this provision opens the door for gun confiscation, since the police would have the gun in their possession already.
  2. After showing probable cause that a person committed a crime involving a gun, police could get a warrant to ask the registrars for a list of all guns owned by that person (and maybe other people in the same household). I think the warrant requirement is a sufficient barrier to mass confiscation of guns by asking the registrar.

But what if the government comes in and seizes the registrar’s database?

Good question.

  1. The registrars will be required by law to have a system in place to destroy the database and any backups at a particular location if government agents try to seize the database at that location. (To protect against accidental destruction, the registrar must have the database in multiple locations. But if the government tries to seize all of a registrar’s locations, the database should be completely destroyed, with no way to recover it.)
  2. Even if a registrar fails to destroy their database, and the government seizes it, that registrar’s database only has the guns and gun owners registered through that registrar. People who own multiple guns and were concerned about limiting the knowledge of what guns they had would simply register different guns with different registrars.
  3. The registrars would be required by law to destroy all their databases immediately if a bill to confiscate weapons passes in either chamber of Congress, or if the President of the United States issues an executive order to confiscate guns. Thus, even if the politics of guns shifted to the point where gun confiscation became politically possible, the registrars’ databases could not be used.

Since a privatized gun registration system like this would avoid the danger of gun confiscation posed by a centralized, government-run gun registration system, I think it would therefore be reasonable to require gun owners to register their weapons.

However, since such required registration would subject law-abiding gun owners to an inconvenience (and would presumably cost them money for registration), it seems fair that they should get something in return for agreeing to such a system. Something like concealed carry permit reciprocity (a concealed carry permit from any state would be honored in any state, just like a driver’s license) might work.

 

 

 

1 comment

The Responsible Market-based Universal Health Care Plan

Months ago, someone asked me what I would do about health care in the United States. My preferred health care policies stand no chance whatsoever of being made into law, but I’m going to explain how I would structure the system if I were in charge.
Warning: Not only is this a long post, but if you want to criticize or argue with anything I’ve said, then you must read not only my whole post, but also every source I link to. If you can’t be bothered to do the reading, I can’t see why I should be bothered with your comment.

The main principles behind my policies are:

  1. Using free-market competition to lower costs where possible
  2. Using self-interest to lower costs where possible
  3. Encouraging personal responsibility
  4. Respecting people’s liberty
  5. Providing universal coverage

This plan would also completely replace Medicare and Medicaid, and would do away with the tax exemption for employer-provided health benefits.


Part I: Pricing Reform

One of the biggest problems with our health care system is that pricing is generally opaque to the consumer. While I don’t agree with all of the proposed policies, I think this blog post on Market-Ticker.org has a lot of really good ideas about how health care pricing could be reformed on a free-market basis (i.e., without the government setting prices, which generally ends badly.) For example:

  • “All providers must post, in their offices and on a public web site…, a full and complete price list which shall apply to every person.”
  • “For a bill to be valid and collectible it must be affirmatively consented to in writing, with a disclosure of the actual price to be charged from the above schedule for each item to be provided whether good or service, prior to the service being performed or the good furnished, subject only to the emergency exception below.”
  • “No event caused by or a consequence of treatment can be billed to the customer.”
  • “Auxiliary services (e.g. medical or dental Xrays, lab testing, etc) may not be required to be purchased at the point of use.”
  • “Any test or diagnostic that carries no exposure to drugs or radiation, nor is invasive beyond a blood draw, may be purchased without doctor order or prescription.”
  • “Wholesale drug pricing in the United States must be on a ‘most-favored nation’ basis.” (Basically, this means drug companies must sell drugs to wholesalers in the U.S. at the lowest price they offer to wholesalers in any country. My brother Jonathan worries that this will result in significantly higher drug prices in poorer countries, so maybe rather than using absolute prices, we could use pricing relative to median per capita income in each country.)

(For more details about those bullet points, see the original blog post.)

I would also add some very specific patent reform and/or tax reform: shortening the patent term and/or increasing taxes on the profits for maintenance medications/treatments, and lengthening the term/decreasing taxes for cures. Right now, the incentives for medical research are to find treatments that people will have to take for the rest of their lives, rather than on finding treatments that permanently fix a medical condition. For example, I have asthma.  I have an inhaler I use twice a day that works well enough that I hardly ever have any asthma symptoms — unless I forget to use the inhaler for a couple of days.  That medication (Symbicort, in case you’re wondering) is a long-term revenue stream for the drug company that makes it.  And I’m grateful the medication exists. But I would be better off if there were a treatment that I could take to cure my asthma so I didn’t have to keep using an inhaler twice a day.  So we should change incentives to shift medical research toward cures for conditions, rather than control or maintenance.

Part II: Government-funded Catastrophic Health Insurance Policies

There would be catastrophic health insurance for all adults, with a high annual deductible adjusted annually for inflation. A plan like this one would work, although I would suggest some variations as follows: Twenty percent co-pay on everything above the deductible (but a percentage of your copayment would be eligible for a tax credit. More on that later.) The federal government would set minimum standards for what must be offered in these catastrophic health insurance policies (CHIPs) — basically, that they must cover all reasonable and necessary medical expenses, subject to the deductible and co-pay. Insurance companies could offer more than the minimum in order to attract customers. The market for CHIPs would be nationwide and subject only to federal regulation, not state regulation.

Once a year, each insurance company would be free to set their own prices for these CHIPs, but the price of any particular policy would have to be the same for anyone who wanted to buy it. The prices would be submitted privately to the federal government by a certain deadline, after which they would be announced publicly.  Rather than set one flat fee that the federal government will pay, the government will pay for the lowest cost policy that is available to you, plus five percent. If the policy you choose is less than what the government will pay, you get to keep the difference. If it’s more, you have to pay the difference. Since many people will want to receive that cash-back bonus, and since the insurers won’t know what prices other insurers will be offering, insurers will have an incentive to offer policies that meet the minimum standards at the lowest price they can.

Nobody would be forced to purchase a CHIP, but since it would essentially be free for everyone, only an idiot wouldn’t do so. To protect idiots, we could have the government automatically purchase a plan for someone if they don’t do it themselves, unless they specifically object to having insurance.

The vast majority (over 75%) of our national health care spending is on people with chronic conditions, many of which can be prevented or alleviated through lifestyle changes.  Therefore, insurers would be allowed to offer incentives for healthy living. For example, they could offer a cash rebate to customers who don’t smoke or quit smoking during the year, or for overweight customers who lose weight, etc.

Part III: Government-funded Pediatric Care

Absent mental impairment, adults should be responsible for their own financial and health care decisions. Children, however, have neither the judgment nor the funds to make proper health care decisions, and they shouldn’t suffer because their parents’ financial situation. Therefore, using a similar system as for CHIPs above, insurance companies would offer zero-deductible, zero-copay insurance policies for children, with government standards set for what must be included. The government would pay for the lowest-cost policy available that provided care within a reasonable distance. Parents could pay extra for things like the ability to choose particular doctors, etc. The important thing is that every child would have access to care under this system even if the parents have no money.

Part IV: Emergency Care

A free market for health care can’t really work in many emergency situations. Again, drawing on the Market-Ticker.org blog post:

“All true emergency patients, defined as those who are unable by medical circumstance to choose where their treatment is to take place and require immediate medical intervention to either stabilize their condition, prevent severe permanent impairment or death … must receive the same price for the same service as a person who consents to said service.”

Part V: Health Care Tax Credits

There would be a tax credit for a percentage of your health care expenses below the deductible on your CHIP, and another tax credit for a percentage of whatever your copay expenses have been on your CHIP.  The percentages would be variable on a sliding scale based on two factors: First, the percentage eligible for a tax credit goes down the higher your income. This means richer people get less of a credit than poor people with the same health care expenses. Second, the percentage eligible for a tax credit goes up the higher your copay expenses are as a percentage of your income. This means people whose copay expenses are higher relative to their income get more of a credit than someone with the same income but lower copay expenses.  These credits are meant to maintain the personal incentive for keeping costs down, while also preventing costs from exceeding a certain percentage of your income.

Part VI: Health Care Financing

Obviously, there will be some people who won’t be able to pay their bills up front and/or can’t afford to wait until they can get their money refunded via tax credits. This can be handled by allowing anyone to get a special credit card, usable only for medical expenses, with a nominal interest rate that is the same for everyone — and the interest will be considered a medical expense when it comes to calculating tax credits.  The government will pay tax credits directly to the credit card issuer first, then any remaining tax credit would go to the taxpayer. If, after tax credits, there is still a balance on the card, the taxpayer would be responsible for paying it off. If the taxpayer did not do so in a timely manner, the credit card company could get reimbursed by the government, and the government would add that amount, plus interest and penalties, to the taxpayer’s tax bill.

Part VII: Revenue

Since this plan involves the federal government spending money and/or losing revenue (mostly through tax credits), additional revenue would be needed, and the most likely source is higher income taxes.  Since employers that currently offer health insurance to employees would no longer need to do so, some of that taxation would be offset by higher earnings. Lower health care costs would also offset some of the impact. But yes, this plan would involve a tax increase.


Okay, so that’s the basics of my plan.

Now, some of my liberal/progressive/socialist friends will say it would be simpler just to have a government-run single-payer system, getting rid of insurance and just making all health care free. And they are right, it would be simpler. But it would also mean that the government would be setting prices for medical care, resulting in distortion and perverse incentives. (That’s not to say that the current system doesn’t also distort prices and create perverse incentives, but those are things I’m trying to reduce with my plan.) My plan uses market forces to lower costs, a process that is less likely to result in shortages than government bureaucrats setting prices. My plan achieves your goal of universal coverage in a way that could be supported by many Republicans, and based on past experience you might agree that a plan with support from both parties would be best.

On the other hand, some of my conservative/libertarian friends will object to the higher taxes and increased government regulations required to implement my plan. And, from a philosophical standpoint, they are right to do so. There should always be resistance to increasing government power. However, I would argue that, as a practical matter, this plan better implements conservative and libertarian ideals than Obamacare, the current GOP legislation, or the single-payer system liberals will attempt if Republicans fail to improve the health care system in this country. I would also point out that our current health care mess is the result of FDR’s WWII-era wage controls, and that Ronald Reagan favored universal coverage, so leaving people to fend for themselves on health care is not necessarily a conservative value.

So there you have it. I remind you of the ground rules for criticizing or arguing with this post: you must have read my whole post and all of the linked articles. If your comment shows you have not done so, I reserve the right to delete it.

Obamacare and Mortality Rates

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how many lives have been saved by Obamacare, and how many lives will be lost if it is repealed. So I decided to look at the mortality statistics for the United States before and after passage of the Affordable Care Act. The data for 2009-2014 is taken from the Age-Adjusted Death Rate table on page 22 of this PDF and the data for 2015 comes from the Key Findings on page 1 of this PDF. (I originally started writing this post before the 2015 data came in, and had to update the data before publishing.)

The ACA was passed in 2009 and took effect in 2010 (although parts were not phased in until 2014).

My chart starts in 1980 because that’s when the table starts doing year-by-year data rather than decade by decade data. It ends with the 2015 data because those are the latest available.

I included a couple of trend lines after 2009, to show what the age-adjusted death rate would be if it had continued to change at the average rate from 1980-2009 (30 years) or the average rate from 2000-2009 (10 years).

If the ACA were saving a significant number of lives, one would expect the death rate to decline faster than those trend lines.

Instead, as you can see from the graph, the decline in the death rate slowed after the ACA passed. If the death rate had continued to decline at the same rate as the previous decade, then about 175,000 fewer people would have died in 2015 (based on a U.S. population of 319 million in 2015).

Now, of course, I am not asserting that Obamacare is the cause of the slowing decline in mortality rate.  Correlation does not imply causation. There are a lot of things that can affect the death rate, and it’s quite possible that other factors — factors that by pure coincidence became more significant after Obamacare passed — have overwhelmed the impact of Obamacare. But if Obamacare is, on average, saving lives, that’s not showing up in the basic mortality statistics.

A Smattering of Post-election Thoughts

On November 4, 2008, I made the following blog post:

Congratulations to President-Elect Obama

While I didn’t vote for him, I wish him well in doing what is best for our country.

It was succinct, but heartfelt. No matter who is President, I want them to do what is best for our country.

With that in mind, I post the following:

Congratulations to President-Elect Trump

While I didn’t vote for him, I wish him well in doing what is best for our country.

Note that I’m not saying I will support him in doing what he thinks is best for our country. When I think he’s wrong, I will oppose him. When I think he’s right, I’ll support him.


Part of me is relieved that there’s at least a chance of getting a constitutional conservative appointed to the Supreme Court to replace Scalia.  Frankly, I wish we could go back to having both parties confirm qualified nominees even in the face of ideological differences. But the Democrats’ refusal to confirm Robert Bork set us down this path, and I don’t see a way back — short of significant numbers of liberals/progressives coming to realize that having a powerful central government unconstrained by the Constitution is a really bad idea and working together with limited-government conservatives to make the Supreme Court (and the rest of the federal government) far less important in our lives. So, for the foreseeable future, Supreme Court appointments are going to be highly partisan affairs. With that in mind, any bets as to how long it takes the New York Times editorial board to flip back in favor of filibusters for nominations?

I’m guessing it’ll happen in 2017.


Then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room.  You can’t always blame a candidate for who supports them. But Trump hired Steve Bannon as his campaign manager (and now wants him to be a senior advisor in the White House), and Bannon has deliberately courted the support of from “alt-right” groups. I don’t know if Bannon is personally an anti-semitic white nationalist — I find the evidence somewhat weak — but there is no doubt that after taking over Breitbart News, he made the alt-right his target market. To me, this is very troubling.  It’s one thing to be the main party one side of the political spectrum and end up receiving the support of some unsavory people because they consider you at least marginally better than the other main party. It’s quite another to deliberately court their support.

Going back to at least Reagan, Republican campaigns have tended to focus on freedom — that we can solve our nation’s problems by enhancing people’s freedom. Trump barely mentions freedom, and his proposed solution to most problems seems to be “Make me President and I’ll fix it” — which seems more like a cult of personality than a principled approach. Coupled with that, Trump’s seeming admiration for dictators who are “strong leaders” becomes even more troubling. His proposals at various times in his campaign for things such as forcing Muslims to register or even banning them from entering the country seem to me to be treading into very dangerous waters.

Of course, I was wrong about Donald Trump’s electability. So I may be completely wrong about how he’ll govern.


Shortly after I moved back to the U.S. in 1983, my family watched the TV miniseries The Winds of War, based on the novel by Herman Wouk. I remember thinking it was very good, but after 33 years I don’t really remember anything about the plot.

Except for one scene: As I recall it, some Jewish characters are trying to get out of Nazi-controlled territory, and they are with a group of non-Jewish Americans. The Nazi border guards say that the Americans are free to cross the border, but that, naturally, any Jews must identify themselves and be detained. One of the Americans then declares that he is a Jew, everyone in his company is a Jew, and they must either all be allowed to cross the border or they must all be detained. Unsure how to handle this, the border guards finally allow everyone to cross. (I probably have some of the details wrong, but I’m pretty sure that was the gist of it.)

The simple heroism in that scene has stuck with me even after the rest of the miniseries has faded from my mind.

That’s why, even before I saw others suggesting this course of action on social media, I decided that if Trump actually implemented registration of Muslims (or any other minority group, for that matter), I would would register as an act of solidarity. (I am under no illusions that such action would require the same level of heroism shown by people who protected Jews during World War II, but I feel it would be the right thing to do.)


I sincerely hope that in four years time, people will look back at the aftermath of this election and realize the fears about a Trump presidency were tremendously overblown, and that his election wasn’t a step down the road to fascism.

I sincerely hope that, as one Trump supporter told me, Trump’s extreme positions were merely for negotiation, and that he would moderate his positions and lead his extreme supporters to be more moderate.

But I will remain watchful.

Unlikely but Possible Outcomes for the Presidential Race

Obviously, our next President will almost certainly be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Most likely, that will happen because one or the other won enough states with enough electoral college votes to have at least 270.

And I’ve already discussed the unlikely event that McMullin wins Utah’s six electoral college votes and neither Trump nor Clinton has 270, so the election would be thrown to the House of Representatives, which would choose between Trump, Clinton, and McMullin. (There’s a similar scenario if Gary Johnson wins a state and McMullin does not.)

But I want to talk about some even unlikelier scenarios that are still possible:

  1. On Election Day, Clinton wins 270 votes to Trump’s 268 (or another very slim margin). However, one of Washington’s Democratic electors has already announced he will not vote for Clinton. It’s possible there could be more. If enough electors refuse to vote for her, that would take Clinton below 270 EC votes. The election would be thrown to the House of Representatives, to choose between Clinton, Trump, and whoever the defecting elector(s) choose to vote for. (Most likely: Bernie Sanders. Absent a huge post-election scandal for Trump, it’s hard to see how Sanders could win in the House, but it’s technically possible.)
  2. On Election Day, Trump narrowly wins in the electoral college, but one or more Republican electors announce they will not vote for him, reducing him below 270. The election would be thrown to the House of Representatives, to choose between Clinton, Trump, and whoever the defecting elector(s) choose to vote for. (Most likely: I’m going to say Mitt Romney, because he’s a known quantity and because he’s old enough that, if elected, he would not run for re-election, so he wouldn’t interfere with other candidates planning to run in 2020. Second most likely: Paul Ryan.)
  3. On Election Day, Clinton and Trump tie at 269. (Or announced defectors from one or both parties, or a McMullin win in Utah and/or a Gary Johnson win somewhere, will reduce both candidates below 270). Knowing that she cannot win in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Clinton decides to do what she can to block Trump and start a civil war within the Republican Party: she instructs enough of her electors to vote for Mitt Romney (or Paul Ryan) that he is in third place in EC votes (beating out Bernie Sanders, who would have almost no chance in the House.)  There are some possible sub-scenarios here:
    1. The Republicans in the House reject the attempt to manipulate them and choose Trump.
    2. Romney or Ryan (RoR) initially has enough support from Republicans to prevent Trump from winning 26 states in the House, but not enough to win 26 states himself.
      1. The Senate has flipped to Democratic control.  Since the Vice President is chosen by the Senate from between the top two EC vote recipients, Tim Kaine is elected Vice President. (Or, because electors didn’t defect from Kaine, he was elected in the normal way regardless of who controls the Senate.) Democrats have no incentive to get involved in the fight between Trump and RoR, because if the deadlock continues, Kaine will become acting President. As the deadline to Inauguration Day nears, the Republicans who support RoR have no incentive to give up, because they’re committed to blocking Trump. Faced with a choice between sticking by Trump and letting Kaine become acting President, or voting for RoR, Republicans in the House elect RoR as President. Trump voters are livid.
      2. The Senate stays in Republican control. Since the Vice President is chosen by the Senate from between the top two EC vote recipients, Mike Pence is elected Vice President. (Or, because electors didn’t defect from Pence, he was elected in the normal way regardless of who controls the Senate.) Trump’s supporters in the House are now willing to hold out as long as necessary, because they don’t object to Pence as acting President. However, Democrats figure out they have some leverage: they can offer their support for RoR in exchange for some concessions, while also foreclosing the possibility that Trump eventually wins enough support in the House. So RoR is elected President by a coalition of anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats. Trump supporters are even more livid, branding RoR and his Republican supporters as traitors.

 

Electoral College Maps

This is what I hope will happen:

ggjp0
Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

This is my prediction for what I think will happen:

 ggjqk
Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com
Of course, in 2008 I underestimated the Democrat’s victory margin in the Electoral College. I did so again in 2012, although by less. Maybe I’m overcompensating this time.

Why Evan McMullin winning Utah does not help Hillary Clinton become President

I’ve seen a lot of people claiming that Evan McMullin winning Utah just helps Hillary Clinton get elected.

That is false, and I’m going to explain why.

First, McMullin winning Utah makes a difference in who is elected President in only one circumstance: if neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump manages to get to 270 electoral college votes. It’s highly unlikely that will happen, but it is possible. Fivethirtyeight.com’s model currently puts the chances of a deadlock at 0.5%, and the probability of Utah being a tipping-point state at 0.1%.

But let’s assume that it happens: McMullin wins Utah’s 6 electoral college votes and is in third place in the electoral college. That means the U.S. House of Representatives gets to choose the president from among the top three electoral-vote recipients: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Evan McMullin.

However, under the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, in the House each state gets one vote, and 26 votes are needed to choose the new President. That means Wyoming has just as much weight as California in the voting.

Currently, the Democrats control 14 House delegations. Three are split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. And Republicans control 33 delegations. Those number may change a little after the election, but unless there’s a wave of support for Democrats (which would mean a Clinton victory in the electoral college anyway, so it would never have gotten to the House) the Republicans will control a significant majority of the House delegations, and the Democrats will be several states short of the 26 needed.

Now, here’s the point where people who know enough to get this far tend to make their big mistake: “But the Democrats will be united behind Clinton, while the Republicans will be split between Trump and McMullin. That will allow Clinton to pick up the extra states she needs.”

Here’s the reason that won’t happen: the Republicans will get to write the rules about what determines whether a state is voting for a particular candidate. Because they are not completely stupid, and because they hate Clinton, they will write the rules so that it requires a majority of a state delegation to vote for one candidate, or else the state’s vote isn’t counted. So, if the Republicans in a state they control are divided between Trump and McMullin, Clinton doesn’t get that state’s vote.

Therefore, it is politically impossible for Clinton to be elected by the House.

So, even in the extremely unlikely event that McMullin wins Utah and blocks the other candidates from getting an electoral college majority, it does not help Clinton get elected.

Why I’m switching from Johnson to McMullin for President

Forty days ago, I explained why I would be voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for President. Now, I’m going to explain why I’ve changed my mind.

On the issues, ISideWith.com shows I agree with McMullin (97%) about the same percentage as I do with Johnson (96%). I still think Johnson’s experience counts in his favor, but at this point it’s become clear that he’s not going to be competitive in Utah. He’s actually fallen in the polls over the past month. Meanwhile, McMullin is doing far better than I expected, with the latest poll putting him in second place, just 1% behind Trump (and 1% ahead of Clinton).

Now, it’s possible to envision an elaborate scenario in which McMullin wins Utah, neither Trump nor Clinton get 270 electoral college votes, and McMullin is chosen as president by the House of Representatives. The political science major in me would love to see that happen.

Realistically, though, there’s currently about an 85% chance Hillary Clinton will win the election. Nothing that happens in Utah, including a McMullin victory, is likely to make a difference to the outcome of this election.

But a McMullin victory would send a clear message to the Republican Party that Donald Trump was an unacceptable candidate, and hopefully the party will get the message and implement changes to their nomination process in order to avoid a repeat of this year’s fiasco.

Why I’m voting Gary Johnson for President

UPDATE 10/17/2016: I have since switched to supporting Evan McMullin, as outlined in this blog post.

Over the past month and a half since resigning as precinct secretary/treasurer for my local Republican Party because I oppose Trump, I’ve done some serious thinking about who I will vote for.

After going to the Gary Johnson rally a few weeks ago, I was ready to commit to him as my candidate, but then Evan McMullin announced his candidacy the Monday after, and I felt I should give him a chance. But I’ve decided that McMullin really isn’t experienced enough, he started too late, and he doesn’t have the resources necessary to make a real impact in this campaign. (He managed to hit 9% in a Utah poll, compared to Johnson’s 12%, but isn’t even getting 1% nationwide even when the poll lists him as a candidate. And the anti-Trump super-PAC that was supposedly going to help him get on the ballot is shutting down.)

Yes, there are some important issues on which I have some differences with Johnson. In some cases, I’m actually more libertarian than he is. But I side with him on a lot of issues and he’s proven his competence to govern. (On ISideWith.com, Johnson sides with me 80%, which is the best of any of the remaining candidates.)

So I’ve decided to support Johnson. If he can get in the debates, I think he might be able to win some electoral college votes, and there’s a slim chance he could deny both other candidates an Electoral College majority. (Fivethirtyeight.com’s projections currently say about a 0.5% chance.) The recently published Washington Post/SurveyMonkey poll of every state found Johnson at 23% in Utah, to Clinton’s 27% and Trump’s 34%, so there may be an opportunity for Johnson in my state (although the poll didn’t include McMullin, so his impact is uncertain).

Now, to deal with some objections:

    1. But a vote for Johnson is a vote for Clinton! (Or: But a vote for Johnson is a vote for Trump!)
      No, it’s not. Let’s imagine Clinton and Trump are tied, and I get to choose who I vote for. If a vote for Johnson were equivalent to a vote for Clinton, then my voting would break the tie in Clinton’s favor. But it doesn’t break the tie. It has exactly the same effect on a tie that not voting at all would have. Which means that, from the perspective of those who claim that a vote for Johnson is a vote for Clinton, everyone who doesn’t vote is equivalent to a vote for Clinton. And since about 40% of Utah’s voting-age population doesn’t vote, all of them should count as votes for Clinton. Added to the about 25% who will actually vote for her, that gives Clinton about 65% of the vote. Trump might as well give up now. (Substitute Trump for Clinton in the above and adjust the numbers, and the same argument applies.)
    2. OK, but if you don’t vote for Trump, Clinton might win! (Or: If you don’t vote for Clinton, Trump might win!)
      Well, if you don’t vote for Johnson, Trump or Clinton might win!
    3. But Trump says he’ll implement [policy that I like]!
      I feel sorry for you because you think Trump can be trusted.
    4. But Johnson can’t win!
      It is highly unlikely. But it is possible. However, voting is not always about winning. If it were, then there would be no point in voting for candidates who are way down in the polls. Right now, I think the Republican Party (and the Democratic Party, for that matter) need to be sent the message that when it comes to candidates, they chose . . . poorly. I think voting for Gary Johnson is the best way to send that message.
    5. But Johnson isn’t a conservative!
      No, he’s not. But he’s generally in favor of limited government and fiscal responsibility, and against crony capitalism, all of which are relatively conservative positions — especially compared to Trump and Clinton.
    6. But what about the Supreme Court?
      This. And this.
    7. But Johnson is pro-abortion!
      Johnson believes Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, and that the issue of abortion should be left to the states. I believe he’s correct as to how the Constitution should be interpreted.
    8. But Johnson smokes marijuana!
      He’s stopped for the campaign, and he’s promised not to smoke it if elected President. Besides, it’s been a while now since I decided the War on Drugs has been a failure, with costs and unintended consequences that far exceed any benefits. I favor decriminalizing drugs and dealing with drug addiction as a public health problem, not a criminal matter.

I’m sure some people will have other objections, but I think that covers most of them.

If you are enthusiastic about voting for Trump or Clinton, then I doubt I can say anything to persuade you to vote for Johnson. But if you’re looking at the choice of Trump or Clinton with distaste, then I suggest you give serious consideration to Johnson.