Monday, May 22, 2017

YIMBY papers

Two new papers on housing restrictions are noteworthy, Housing Constraints and Spatial Misallocation by Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti, and  The Economic Implications of Housing Supply by Ed Glaeser and Joe Gyourko.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised at the idea that zoning and other restrictions drive up the cost of housing, and that this has many bad consequences on economic growth and inequality. The papers are especially noteworthy for much deeper implications.

Hsieh and Moretti:
...high productivity cities like New York and the San Francisco Bay Area have adopted stringent re- strictions to new housing supply, effectively limiting the number of workers who have access to such high productivity. Using a spatial equilibrium model and data from 220 metropolitan areas we find that these constraints lowered aggregate US growth by more than 50% from 1964 to 2009.
1) The costs of regulation. The biggest problem in economics right now (yes, I mean that) is, How do we measure the growth consequences of regulation? Looking at the Western world's sclerotically slow growth rate, and listening to many anecdotes, it seems at least plausible that productive innovation is being strangled by byzantine bureacracy, captured by rent-seeking and anti-competitive forces. (Your other choices are, we just ran out of ideas, or some sort of endless "lack of demand.")

But how do we move past anecdote? How to we come up with "regulation is costing the economy x percentage points of growth?" Our statistical measurement system, GDP, unemployment, inflation, and so on, was beautifully designed in the 1940s to measure very Keynesian demand concepts. It isn't designed to answer the question of our time, how much growth is regulation costing us? We are flying in the dark. And Europe, perpetually in an Augustinian moment -- Lord,  grant me structural reform, just not yet--is also.

Well, Hsieh and Moretti are doing it, and by doing so showing one path to answering the larger question.

Half of all US growth for a half century is an astounding amount. 1964: $3,734 trillion;   2009: $14,419 Trillion. Growth = 3.05% per year. At 6.1% per year, $3734 x (1.061)^(2009-1964)=$53.6 trillion dollars!

OK, maybe that's too huge. Well, read the paper and see how they came up with the number. If you don't like their assumptions make different ones. More important than this number is how they are coming up with answers to this, the most important question of economics.

2) Models and micro vs. macro

So how do they make the calculation? Roughly, they measure productivity in cities. They assume that people get higher wages in San Francisco because there are some very high productivity activities that have to be done here. They assume that business could expand and form here, and workers could move here and join in those high productivity activities, both earning higher wages and making more and better stuff for the rest of us. But those workers can't move, and businesses can't expand and form, because housing supply is restricted.

You can see grounds for objection.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Wild health care proposal

I found a lovely post on health care full of wild ideas at You may not agree with all the proposals -- wild even by my standards.  But it is full of interesting detail on what's wrong with the microeconomics of health care delivery, as opposed to the usual focus on health insurance, and who pays, ignoring the vast dysfunction of the underlying market. 

A few choice quotes to whet your appetite
All providers must post, in their offices and on a public web site without any requirement to sign in or otherwise identify oneself to access it, a full and complete price list which shall apply to every person....  
All customers must be billed for actual charges at the same price on a direct basis at the time the service or product is rendered to them.  This immediately and permanently decouples "insurance" from the provision of care.  The current system of an "explanation of benefits" that often features a "negotiated discount" of some 90% is nothing other than an extortion racket and is arguably felonious...

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A better r*

The Chicago Booth Review published here a much cleaned up and nicely formatted version of my earlier blog post on r*.  If you missed the original and you're curious about r* issues, or just curious what the heck r* is anyway, this version is better.


Long run money

Continuing in the Il Sole series on Italy and the Euro, Alberto Bagnai writes that the euro is a "big defeat for the economics profession'' here in English, here in Italian.  He takes particular issue with my earlier case for a common currency, here in English, in Italian, and blog post
"John Cochrane’s idea that money is irrelevant for growth (economists say that money is “neutral”) not only clashes with major scientific results, such as Dani Rodrik’s analysis of the role of excessively strong exchange rates in slowing the growth of a country, but also with what the European institutions are finally admitting through clenched teeth: the reforms are causing deflation and failing to promote employment in any decisive way (footnote 23 in the above-mentioned ECB Economic bulletin).
The best economists had also addressed this point: the negative consequences of structural reforms on the productivity of labour were illustrated by Robert Gordon in 2008. For Cochrane, money is like oil in a motor. The metaphor is (unwittingly) correct. Bad management of oil has long-period consequences like bad management of currency: in the first case the head fuses and the motor stops; in the second a continent, and the world economy stops.
If De Grauwe is incoherent with data and Cochrane with theories,..."
I have long been accused of being theoretically pure but incoherent about the "real world." (As if the real world could ever conform to no theory, rather than a better theory). This is the first time I, or the proposition of long-run monetary neutrality, have been accused of theoretical incoherence.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fintech and Shadow Banks

"Fintech, Regulatory Arbitrage, and the Rise of Shadow Banks" is an interesting new paper by  Greg Buchak, Gregor Matvos, Tomasz Piskorski, and Amit Seru

1. Shadow banks and fintech have grown a lot.
the market share of shadow banks in the mortgage market has nearly tripled from 14% to 38% from 2007-2015. In the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage market, which serves less creditworthy borrowers, the market share of shadow banks increased...from 20% to 75% of the market. In the mortgage market, “fintech” lenders, have increased their market share from about 5% to 15% in conforming mortgages and to 20% in FHA mortgages during the same period

2. Where are they expanding? They seem to be doing particularly well in serving lower income borrowers -- FHA loans.  They also can charge higher rates than conventional lenders, apparently a premium for convenience of not having to sit in the bank for hours and fill out forms,

Monday, May 8, 2017

Trade Haiku

George Shultz and Martin Feldstein, in the Washington Post
If a country consumes more than it produces, it must import more than it exports. That’s not a rip-off; that’s arithmetic. 
If we manage to negotiate a reduction in the Chinese trade surplus with the United States, we will have an increased trade deficit with some other country. 
Federal deficit spending, a massive and continuing act of dissaving, is the culprit. Control that spending and you will control trade deficits.
That's not an excerpt, it's the whole thing. Someday, I will learn to be this concise.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Healthy Reform?

Holman Jenkins and Cliff Asness have worthy commentaries on the health insurance reform effort.

Jenkins has quite a few fresh thoughts. He also gets the incurable optimist award for viewing the bill as the "inklings of a salvation" for America’s health-care system. It's possible. Whether it is likely depends on your views of the political process.

Individual insurance:

Jenkins' freshest thought comes last:
We’ll say it again, now for the Senate’s benefit: Apply a few GOP-style fixes and ObamaCare, or something like it, becomes a solution to America’s health-care muddle. You could phase out every other federal program, including Medicare, Medicaid and the giant tax handout to employers, and roll their beneficiaries into ObamaCare.
This wisdom is exactly the opposite of most current commentary, and, here in grumpy-land, where it seems the political process may be heading.

Yes, if any memory of markets remains, the goal should be to get everyone on individual insurance -- functional, portable, individual, lifetime, guaranteed-renewable, competitive health insurance, married to mercilessly competitive innovative and disruptive health care supply. People who need help -- sick and poor -- get it by subsidies to buy that insurance. Period. (Newcomers, some of my many writings on this topic are here.)

I fear we are going in the opposite direction. I fear that the non-subsidized individual market is going to shrink more and more, to become more and more an insignificant, government run, dysfunctional waystation for a handful of unlucky self-employed and young people, on their way to employer care, a government program (medicare, medicaid, VA, etc.) or now to a miserly high-risk pool.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Wonderful Loaf

A charming animated free-market poem by Russ Roberts, on the invisible hand, at

The "read the poem" link includes much interesting annotation.

Mild critique: I would rather the "planner" be a well-meaning economist faced with impossible information problems than a darkly sinister white guy in a suit. It looks like all we need is better  planners. And the bakers seem really happy about all that competition and free entry, whereas real bakers quickly band together to demand regulation, occupational licensing, and other restrictions. But I'm just whining, it's a good romp through the invisible hand in a mythic war-free and Disney-clean 1940s Europe.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Douthat and Feldstein on Euro

In case you missed it, this Sunday featured a creditable effort by the NY Times to look out of the groundhog hole. You have likely followed the explosion resulting from Bret Stephens' first column. Likewise, Ross Douthat tried to explain the attraction of Marine LePen.  I'm not a LePen fan, but appreciated his honest effort to explain how the other side say things.

I was interested in Douthat's views on the euro:
But on the other hand, our era’s “enlightened” governance has produced an out-of-touch eurozone elite lashed to a destructive common currency,..
There is no American equivalent to the epic disaster of the euro, a form of German imperialism with the struggling parts of Europe as its subjects... 
And while many of her economic prescriptions are half-baked, her overarching critique of the euro is correct: Her country and her continent would be better off without it.
Douthat does not pretend to be an economist, and I have no beef with his expressing such views. Because such views are commonplace conventional wisdom from our policy elite. And if the euro falls apart, they will bear a lot of blame for its passing. Be careful what you write, people might be listening.  No, when Germany sends Porsches to Greece in return for worthless pieces of paper, it is not Germany who got the better of the deal. And while you're at it, get rid of that silly common meter, and restore proper nationalism of weights and measures too. (Of course perhaps my admiration for the euro is wrong. Then they will deserve credit for the wave of prosperity that flows over Europe once it unleashes the shackles of the common currency dragging it down. )

As a concrete example, consider  Martin Feldstein writing in the Il Sole series on the Euro, (I don't mean to pick on Feldstein. He has been a consistent anti-euro voice, arguing the great benefits for Italy and Greece of periodic inflation and devaluation. But he is just a good sober example of the common view in Cambridge-centered economic policy circles.)


Arnold Kling's Askblog quotes Robert J. Mann
Wal-Mart’s application to form a bank ignited controversy among disparate groups, ranging from union backers to realtor’s groups to charitable organizations. The dominant voice, though, was that of independent bankers complaining that the big-box retailer would drive them out of business. Wal-Mart denied any interest in competing with local banks by opening branches, claiming that it was interested only in payments processing. Distrusting Wal-Mart, the independent bankers urged the FDIC to deny Wal-Mart’s request and lobbied state and federal lawmakers to block Wal-Mart’s plans through legislation. Ultimately, WalMart withdrew its application, concluding that it stood little chance of overcoming the opposition.
Mann also writes
... I argue that permitting Wal-Mart to have a bank would have a salutary effect on the relatively uncompetitive market for payment networks. The dominant position of Visa and MasterCard, in which payments are priced above cost to subsidize credit, inevitably will give way to a world in which payment services are priced at cost, or even below cost as a loss-leader to attract customers to other goods and services.  
As the first quote shows, Walmart was only trying to process payments more efficiently -- because it already saw the chance to offer banking services, lend, and other banking functions would be blocked.

Arnold also points to this by Lawrence J. White.

Arnold sums up,
We are always told that we need regulation to protect consumers and make the financial system safer. That is the theory. The practice is that regulation very often gets used to limit competition. 
Many people in the US still do not have regular bank accounts, and perhaps wisely so as banks notoriously suck money from poor people with pesky fees. Yet cashing a social security check remains a problem. Imagine small town America in which Walmart also offers banking services.

If it's not obvious, Walmart banks would be much safer than traditional banks. A bank tied to a huge retailer would not be financed by astronomical leverage, and if the bank lost money the equity holders of Walmart would pick up the losses.

Walmart has also faced a lot of resistance and restrictions in opening clinics. Imagine small town America in which simple, cheap Walmart clinics can offer a much wider range of services.

It's worth remembering how much opposition Walmart already overcame. It was the Uber of its day. A&P, its predecessor, was widely opposed, as was Walmart. Walmart still faces union opposition -- as I left it was still blocked from operating in the city of Chicago. Imagine the south side of Chicago populated with Walmarts, Walclinics and Walbanks! Thank its legislators and regulators for protecting its citizens from that nightmare.


An excellent blog post by Larry White on Walmart's troubles in starting a bank. A primary obstacle is the rule that bank holding companies can't be engaged in "commerce." Larry also points out just how much the other banks use this to keep out competition.

the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 placed a three-year moratorium on the granting of deposit insurance to any new (or newly acquired) ILC. Although the moratorium expired in 2013, bank regulators appear to have “gotten the message” that the commerce-finance barrier should remain intact.

Monday, May 1, 2017

93 words, most of them wrong

In the WSJ, The 93 Words That Could Unlock $200 Billion in Bank Capital. This could be a great MBA final exam. Spot the errors: 
"Tucked inside a nearly 600-page legislative proposal to overhaul U.S. financial regulations are 93 words that could provide a windfall for bank investors seeking heftier dividends and share buybacks."
"Bank analysts at Barclays BCS -6.08% PLC estimate $236 billion in capital is tied up in operational risk at the four biggest U.S. banks alone"
"Bankers ... want to free up capital that could be returned to shareholders or used for more lending."
"Mr. Dimon added that U.S. banks now hold about $200 billion in capital against operational risk."
(I made it easier with italics, all mine.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A progressive VAT

A VAT (value added tax) with no other tax — no income, corporate, estate, etc. etc. etc. — is pretty much the economists’ ideal. But how do you make it progressive? A bright — or perhaps lunatic— idea occurred to me.

A progressive VAT

Everyone pays the maximum VAT rate — 40% say, equal to the maximum marginal federal income tax rate. Then, as you spend money over the year, you turn in your receipts — figuratively, we’re going to do al this electronically in a second. So, for the first (say) $10,000 of purchases in each year, you get a refund of all VAT taxes paid. For the next $20,000 of purchases, you get $30 out of every $40 tax payments back, so you pay a 10% rate. And so on. Finally, after (say) $400,000 you don’t get anything back, so you pay the 40% maximum rate.

As you see, I give people an incentive to declare all their consumption.  That incentive completes one of the main advantages of a VAT over an income or sales tax. In a VAT, each business in the production chain pays the VAT on its inputs, and charges the VAT on its sales. It then deducts the VAT payments on its inputs against the VAT it has to pay on its sales. That gives the business a strong incentive to collect the VAT on sales, and for its business customers to demand proof the VAT was paid so they in turn can deduct VAT payments against their VAT collections. Now people will also demand “receipts,” proof of tax payment.

Clearly this works only if everything is electronic. I would not inflict expense reimbursement drudgery on the American taxpayer. But that largely is the case. We have a sales tax reporting mechanism, so adding or substituting VAT tax reporting is not that hard.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Long Run Lira?

Luigi Zingales inaugurated a series of essays in Il Sole 24 Ore, an Italian newspaper, on whether Italy should stay in or get out of the Euro, and graciously asked me to contribute. My view, here in English, here in Italian.

To be clear, I kept to Luigi's terms of the debate. This piece is only about whether Italy is better off in the long run, with a common currency. Whether it gets anything out of an exit, a devaluation, a default now is for another day. And this is just about currency, not about leaving the EU, not about debt or austerity, not about whether europe needs a fiscal union, or the rest of it. (Some subsequent correspondence verifies the wisdom, but also the difficulty, of talking about one thing at a time.)

Return to the Lira? A long-run view (Not very good English title)
The euro isn't perfect, but it isn't bad. (Much better Italian title)

Should Italy have her own currency, and run her own monetary policy? For today, let's focus on the long-run question, leaving out for now the transition and any immediate benefits and costs. When contemplating a divorce, it is wise to focus on what life will be like when everything is settled, not just who will have to wash today's stack of dirty dishes.

Remember first that monetary policy cannot substantially improve long-run growth. Long-run growth comes from people and productivity, how much each person can produce per hour of work. In turn, productivity comes from innovation, new companies, new ways doing business, and new products. Like Uber, consumers benefit and existing producers are disrupted. Improvements in long-run growth come only from structural reform, not monetary machination. Money is like oil in a car. Bad monetary policy, like too little oil, can drag an economy down. But after a point more oil will not help you to go faster — you need a bigger engine.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Inflating our troubles away?

These are comments I gave on "Inflating away the public debt? An empirical assessment" by Jens Hilscher, Alon Aviv, and Ricardo Reis at the Becker-Friedman Institute Government Debt: Constraints and Choices conference, April 22 2017, along with generic comments on the conference in general. This post contains mathjax equations.

Long Term Debt

Consider the government debt valuation equation, which states that the real value of nominal government debt equals the present value of primary surpluses.

My first equation expresses this idea with one-period debt, discounted either by marginal utility or by the ex-post return on government debt.
$$\frac{B_{t-1}}{P_t} = E_t \sum_{j=0}^\infty \beta^j \frac{u'(c_{t+j})}{u'(c_t)} s_{t+j} = E_t \sum_{j=0}^\infty \frac{1}{R_{t,t+j}} s_{t+j}$$
(\( P \) is the price level, \( B \) is the face value of nominal debt coming due at \( t \) , \( s \) are real primary surpluses, \( R \) is the real ex-post return on government debt.)

This paper's question is, to what extent can inflation on the left reduce the value of the debt, and hence needed fiscal surpluses on the right. The answer is, not much.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Capital Cause and Effect

Òscar Jordà, Björn Richter, Moritz Schularick, and Alan Taylor wrote a provocative What has bank capital ever done for us? at VoxEu, advertising the underlying paper Bank Capital Redux  (NBER, CEPR link here, google if you can't access either of those)

It starts with a blast:
"Higher capital ratios are unlikely to prevent a financial crisis."
Wow! How do they reach this dramatic conclusion? The post and underlying paper are empirical, collecting a very useful dataset on bank structure across countries and a long period of time. They show, for example, that
bank leverage rose dramatically between 1870 and the second half of the 20th century. In our sample, the average country’s capital ratio decreased from around 30% capital-to-assets to less than 10% in the post-WW2 period (as shown in Figure 1 below) before fluctuating in a range between 5% and 10% in the past decades. 
Here is the very nice Figure 1. (It shows not just how capital has declined, but how reliance on more run-prone wholesale funding has increased.  The fact that capital used to be 30% is one that we need to reiterate over and over again to the crowd that says 30% capital would bring the world to an end.)
With the facts and regressions,
We find that the capital ratio provides virtually no information about the probability of a systemic financial crisis.
Whether used singly or along with credit, higher capital ratios are associated, if anything, with a higher probability of a crisis.
There used to be a lot more capital, and there used to be a lot more financial crises.

Wow. Now, (this is a good quiz question for a class), before you click the "more" button: Do the facts justify the conclusion? And if not why not?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Commentators seem to have noticed a lot of the economics  of the United fiasco: Yes, don't stop auctions at $800. (WSJ review and outlook.) Yes, if you need employees at Louisville so badly, call up American and buy a first class ticket. Book a private jet. Or, heck, you're an airline. Bring up another plane. Don't drag people off planes to save a measly $500.

The one economic point that I haven't seen:  the whole issue also comes down to airlines' use of personalized tickets to price discriminate. (And most of the TSA's job is to enforce that price discrimination by making sure you are the name on the ticket.) If you could resell tickets, the problem would go away. Then the airline must sell only as many tickets as there are seats on the plane, as concerts do. If people aren't going to show, they put their tickets on ebay -- or another quick peer to peer ticket trade platform -- and someone else buys them. Including the airline, if it wants to send employees around. Standby disappears -- want to get on the plane? Bid for a ticket. We still get efficiently full planes -- fuller, even -- nobody ever gets bumped, and the auction for the last seat is going on constantly.

Yes, one of the hardest lessons in economics is that price discrimination can be efficient. Business class cross subsidizes leisure and pays for fixed costs. But the airlines could speculate in their own tickets as well, so its' not clear in a data mining race that scalpers would reap the price discrimination profits better than the airlines themselves.

Holman Jenkins adds, in a brilliant column,
While we’re at it, what’s wrong with Chicago airport security? Did not a single officer say, “I’m having no part of this. If United can’t deal with its overbooking mistakes in a civilized, non-cheapskate way, how is it my job to manhandle innocent customers?” This also smacks of our national malaise—police who need an armored personnel carrier before they’ll roll up and serve a warrant, who wait outside Columbine High until they’re sure the shooting has stopped.
And do not the other passengers rebel at seeing such treatment? Well, maybe not the first time, but I suspect the next time they try to drag a customer off an overbooked plane, there will be a riot.

Update: More at the always excellent Marginal Revolution.  One negative reaction, already on display at United -- the crush to get on the plane first will increase.

Getting on United vs. Southwest is a study in bad incentives. Southwest: you get a number. People peacefully line up when called, and quickly get on the plane. Southwest also gives free (bundled in the ticket price) bags, so people aren't hauling trunkolads of junk for the overheads. United: Board by groups, and now everyone with a credit card is in group 1. They charge for bags. Midway through the scramble for overhead space, the bins fill up, then people have to start swimming upstream with their huge bags to gate check. If ever there was a way to make an airplane board slower, having people swimming against traffic with huge bags is it. The result, you line up like it's the New Delhi airport (or Southwest, circa 1995) and 100 million dollars of United plane plus crew sits on the ground.  I do it too (I'm a rational consumer!) Quite a few times I have had someone show up with a boarding pass with my seat number in it, and being there first makes a big difference.   Another fully rational response -- you really want to be a high mileage customer. The love/hate relationship with United will get deeper.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The second original sin of healthcare regulation

Whenever I advance one or another view of how a relatively free health care and insurance market could work a lot better than the mess we have now, the obvious question comes up: Well, what about the homeless person with a heart attack? You won't let him die in the gutter will you?

No. Of course not. We are a compassionate society. We will provide for poor people, very sick people, those with diminished mental capacity, the unfortunate, the incompetent, or the merely improvident. People don't die in the gutter.  Any half-reasonable health care reform proposal, including mine, provides some system of charity care; whether via medicaid, government run hospitals (VA for everyone, county hospitals), premium subsidies or vouchers, support for charity hospitals, and so forth; and in our society the government will have a big part in this; I do not appeal to private charity alone.  Such systems will also always be a thorn in our public side; as the tension between cost, effectiveness, quality, moral hazard will not magically disappear no matter how nice the promises of their architects, and the fraud, inefficiency, and bureaucracy of anything run by governments will not disappear as well.

But the great puzzle of health care policy: Just why is it, to accommodate this worthy goal, must your and my health care and insurance be so deeply regulated and so thoroughly dysfunctional? As one small example, why does a 20 minute skin check with the resident of my dermatologist generate a phoney baloney bill for over $1000, meaning a cash and carry market for such a simple, elastically demanded, and perfectly predictable service is impossible?

Why, in order to provide for the unfortunate, do we not simply levy taxes, and pay for charity care, and leave the rest of us alone?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Jon Hartley, writing in Forbes, offers a great graph of the overnight Federal Funds rate,

This graph  mirrors nicely the graph I posted last week, from "Deviations from Covered Interest Rate Parity" by Wenxin Du, Alexander Tepper, and Adrien Verdelhan:

What's going on with these quarter-end spikes?

Floating rates?

I was interested to read in the Financial Times, "Iceland weighs plan to peg krona to another currency":
Iceland’s finance minister has admitted it is untenable for the country to maintain its own freely floating currency....Benedikt Johannesson told the Financial Times that the Nordic island of just 330,000 people would look at options to link Iceland’s krona to another currency, most likely the euro or pound.
“Is the status quo untenable? Yes. Everybody agrees on that. We’d like to have a policy that would stabilise the currency. It’s really not good when a currency fluctuates by 10 per cent in the two months since we took over,” said Mr Johannesson, who became finance minister in January. 
The main thing is if you want to peg against a currency, do it against a currency where you do business. Once you decide on a currency, that will also change the future. You will do more business with that area,” he added, pointing to Denmark’s experience of doing more business with Germany after pegging its currency first to the Deutschmark and then the euro.
This is interesting in the context of Conventional Wisdom, which says the euro is a bad idea, and every tiny country needs its own currency, to devalue any time there is a "shock." In this view, Iceland is a great success because it did devalue after its banking crisis. I am a skeptic, largely favoring a common standard of value. Greece did not become a growth tiger from its previous umpteen devaluations. I'm interested that even the supposed success story for devaluation does not see it that way.

Update (via marginal revolution) here at Bloomberg. The idea is controversial.

Everyone wants a float after the fact, to devalue their way out of trouble. But everyone should also want a peg before the fact; the firm commitment that you will not devalue your way out of trouble makes international investment and trade flow much better. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Consumption vs. GDP

Random Critical Analysis has a really interesting blog post from a while ago, on the difference between consumption and income as measures of well being.  The level of data analysis and detail on that blog is really impressive.

The narrow question is whether the US spends "too much" on healthcare. A counterargument has always been, what else should we spend money on? As a society gets wealthier, it's natural to spend more on health care, just as we spend more on art, travel, and so forth.

(The counterargument to that is, whether we spend more or less is beside the point. The point is a dysfunctional regulated oligopoly is charging way too much for what we get. It's not so bad to spend this much, it's bad to get such a bad deal.)

So, the question is not whether the US spends more on health care, the question is whether we spend more on health care relative to a measure of our standard of wealth.  Using GDP as a rough proxy, we spend a lot more on health care relative to GDP than other countries.

But, the larger point of the blog post, on which I'll focus -- consumption is not GDP (income). Americans are far better off relative to other countries than we think we are. See the graph: