The U.S. Spends More on Health Care Than Any Other Country. Here’s What We’re Buying.

Washington Post: “American health-care spending, measured in trillions of dollars, boggles the mind. Last year, we spent $3.2 trillion on health care — a number so large that it can be difficult to grasp its scale.”

“A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals what patients and their insurers are spending that money on, breaking it down by 155 diseases, patient age and category — such as pharmaceuticals or hospitalizations.”

“The analysis provides some insight into what’s driving one particularly large statistic: Within a decade, close to a fifth of the American economy will consist of health care.”

Will Donald Trump’s Corporate ‘Tax Holiday’ Create Jobs? Not Necessarily

Leslie Picker: “President-elect Donald J. Trump has said he would like to create a “tax holiday” so that American companies can bring back profit that was generated overseas at a lower rate. In his view, this influx of cash will create jobs.”

“But corporate boards and executives may have different ideas.”

“They are likely to use much of the estimated $2 trillion held overseas to acquire businesses in the United States, to buy back their own stock or to pay down debt, say advisers of America’s top corporate executives.”

What’s New and What’s Not in the U.N. Resolution on Israeli Settlements

“None of this—the determination of ‘occupation,’ the inclusion of East Jerusalem, the U.S. abstention—was actually new. But two things were: the involvement of Donald Trump, not yet in office, in the process of tabling the resolution; and the sense that this was not merely a condemnation of Israeli settlements, nor an attempt to promote a two-state solution, but an attempt to prevent the worst of the no-solution reality,” Natan Sachs writes for the Brookings Institution.

“If there was any doubt—and there wasn’t—the Security Council again made clear its view on the legality of Israel’s settlements.”

“The U.S. abstention—the focus of a great deal of personal rage against Obama by Netanyahu and others—was not new either… until this latest resolution, Obama had been the only president not to let a resolution critical of Israeli policy pass in the Security Council.”

“Two things changed, quite dramatically, however. First, a new player entered the fray: the U.S. president-elect… Second: there is a new belief among the world powers, and many on the ground, that time is fast running out on the viability of a two-state solution.”

The Most Effective Weapon on the Modern Battlefield is Concrete

“Ask any Iraq War veteran about Jersey, Alaska, Texas, and Colorado and you will be surprised to get stories not about states, but about concrete barriers. Many soldiers deployed to Iraq became experts in concrete during their combat tours. Concrete is as symbolic to their deployments as the weapons they carried. No other weapon or technology has done more to contribute to achieving strategic goals of providing security, protecting populations, establishing stability, and eliminating terrorist threats,” Major John Spencer writes for the Modern War Institute.

House Republicans Are Proposing a Big Corporate Tax Cut That Walmart Hates

Dylan Matthews: “Congressional Republicans, overseen by Speaker Paul Ryan and led by House Ways and Means Committee chair Kevin Brady, are planning a major overhaul of corporate taxes, as unveiled in their ‘A Better Way’ plan from June.”

“But perhaps most dramatically of all, they want to allow companies to totally exclude revenue from exports when calculating their tax burden, and to ban them from deducting the cost of imports they purchase.”

“The plan is a very clever way to address the political goals of both House Republicans and Donald Trump. The president-elect has made it clear he wants a populist trade policy that’s tough on imports and backs exporters. And while its actual effects on trade are milder than you might expect, the House GOP border adjustment plan offers Trump something that sounds like a populist trade policy without resorting to actual tariffs. Meanwhile, House Republicans have wanted a major corporate tax cut for years, and border adjustment, by increasing taxes on imports, raises lots of revenue and makes it easier to afford a huge rate cut.”

“But that doesn’t mean the policy is a sure thing. It’s already made some major corporate players — including retailers, who depend heavily on imports, as well as Koch Industries — into skeptics of Republican tax reform efforts, earning the GOP some powerful enemies as it begins its first major effort to remake the tax code in fourteen years.”

What Makes Christmastime So Deadly? 

Washington Post: “Every winter, deaths from heart-related conditions rise in the United States. Plotted on a graph, the rise in deaths looks like a hill — with two spikes at the top when deaths sharply increase.”

“Now, a group of researchers has further ruled out any notion that the bump in holiday deaths could be accounted for by the overall wintertime effect. In a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers examined data from New Zealand, where the holidays fall in the middle of summer. They found that the number of cardiac-related deaths outside of hospitals rose 4 percent over the Christmas holiday — resulting in about four additional deaths per year in the small country.”

“No one knows exactly why this uptick happens, but Philip Clarke, an economist at the University of Melbourne who oversaw the new study, said that it’s possible that people are traveling over Christmas and may not be as familiar with medical facilities. They may forego care. It’s also possible that a change in diet or stress levels plays a role. Medical facilities may be less well-staffed.”

When Leaders Are True to Their Lies

Ricardo Hausmann: “What does the Venezuelan domestic payments crisis have in common with the death of the North American Free Trade Agreement, announced by Wilbur Ross, US President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to be the next US Secretary of Commerce? These two seemingly disparate events are linked by the odd relationship with the truth that both Trump and the Chavista regime seem to share.”

“All governments lie. A few believe their own lies. But things get dangerous when they act in order to be true to their lies. That is the trap into which Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government has fallen, and it seems to be the logic behind the decision articulated by Ross to withdraw from NAFTA.”

A WHO-Backed Ebola Vaccine Is Showing a 100% Success Rate

Quartz: “The next time Ebola strikes, Africa, and everywhere else, will be better prepared.”

“Findings from tests of rVSV-ZEBOV, a trial vaccine, show a 100% protection rate with thousands of people tested in Guinea all confirmed as virus-free within 10 days. The World Health Organization, which led the trial, says the vaccine could be available for mass use by 2018.”

“The possibility of an Ebola vaccine is a major leap for Africans at risk of the disease following a devastating outbreak mainly in three West African countries which started in 2014. Though now controlled, World Bank estimates put the cost of the outbreak’s economic impact at more than $3 billion in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia—the worst affected countries.”

The U.S. Government Is Collecting Student Loans It Promised to Forgive

Bloomberg: “The Obama administration has repeatedly promised that borrowers eligible to have their student loans cancelled would be reimbursed for ‘every penny.’ But for months, the Education Department has been actively working to collect on federal student debt owed by tens of thousands of former students at Corinthian Colleges Inc., which filed for bankruptcy in 2015 under a cloud of fraud investigations. It is clear that government officials, working under their own guidelines, have reason to believe at least some of these same debts should be forgiven. When companies have similarly hounded borrowers to repay debt without disclosing that borrowers do not owe it, they have been charged by federal and state regulators with violating the law.”

“The Obama administration’s moves underscore a basic fact about the officials who run the federal student loan program: Their job is to maximize collections, not assist borrowers. In fact, the same person—James W. Runcie, chief operating officer of the department’s student aid unit—directly oversees both collection and forgiveness.”

Under Obamacare, Fewer People Skipped Doctors’ Visits Because of Cost

Washington Post: “After the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, people in a majority of states were less likely to skip doctors’ visits because of concerns about the cost of care, according to a new report that attempts to paint a snapshot of the effects of the law as its days are numbered.”

The report “found that in 38 states and the District of Columbia, the percentage of adults who said they avoided medical care because of its cost declined by at least two points over the three-year period.”

“That trend was most pronounced in Kentucky, Oregon and Arkansas, where the rate of adults avoiding care dropped at least 5 percentage points. Those states also had some of the biggest changes in the uninsured rate, according to the analysis.”

Investing in a Closed-Border World

Christopher Smart: “As a tumultuous year comes to a close, giddy global markets continue to set new records. But investors should not become distracted. In 2017, they will need to reappraise how the global economy works, and recalibrate accordingly their assessment of every stock or bond on sale, because even if some market fundamentals remain the same, many others have clearly changed.”

“Taken together, these political outcomes – and the anti-establishment forces on the march ahead of next year’s French and German elections – will halt further global economic and political integration, at least in the near term. For now, countries will avoid grand trade deals and make only half-hearted efforts to align their regulations. Companies operating internationally will soon face higher costs, as it becomes harder to move goods across state borders and employ foreign workers; their investors, meanwhile, can expect lower returns.”

“Savvy investors will look for companies that can withstand the current populist revolt against globalization and take advantage of incipient economic and technological trends. Theirs will be a more complicated analysis for more complicated times. Like a good astronomer or anthropologist, however, successful investors will find reliable patterns in a sea of crosscutting evidence.”

How States Can Reduce Income Inequality

Elizabeth McNichol: “…state policymakers, over the years, have tended to choose tax policies that favor the wealthy over the poor and favor corporations over workers. For example, most states rely heavily on sales taxes, which hit low-income families especially hard because they generally spend (rather than save or invest) most or all of their income.”

“States can help push back against this trend by using tax policy to reduce inequality instead of worsening it. They can raise taxes on high-income households by boosting their top income tax rate and capping tax breaks for high-income taxpayers. They can also create or expand Earned Income Tax Credits for low- and middle-income workers, raise taxes on inherited wealth, and eliminate costly and ineffective tax breaks for corporations.”