More on graphic design and typography in the campaigns


Eames stamps

I'm a big fan the the designers Charles and Ray Eames, and the grateful owner of one of their Aluminum Series Lounge Chairs, so I was very happy to see on the H&FJ blog that the USPS will be issuing an Eames stamp come the summer.

Vote for better typography! Vote Obama!

He makes the best use of design and typography of all the candidates. His campaign materials and website look sharp; and to top it off, his typeface of choice is Gotham by my favorite type designers, Hoefler & Frere-Jones. You can read about the history of Gotham here.

I had been noticing Obama's typography for a while now and suspected Gotham; when I finally got around to Googling for the answer I found it on the Helvetica Blog: A Font We Can Believe In, which includes video of an interview with Hoefler & Frere-Jones.

For those who aren't familiar Helvetica is a documentary about the world's most famous typeface. If you have any interest in typography, it is fascinating and definitely worth watching. (You can stream it online from Netflix.)

Hoefler & Frere-Jones also discuss the candidates' typography on their blog: Fontogenic and ...and Non-Fontogenic...

More Hoefler & Frere-Jones fonts at work for Obama, in this case Knockout No. 48 (along with Gotham):

From CR Blog » Obey Obama and Ask H&FJ | Politics Without Gotham



From Economists for Obama:
Would a Health Care Mandate Mean Universal Coverage?

Jonathan Gruber of MIT has a new NBER working paper on health insurance coverage, based largely on a simulation model. Krugman cites the paper as evidence that making coverage mandatory makes a big difference for the number actually covered.

However, if you read the whole paper (unfortunately only available to subscribers), you find that Gruber sidesteps the crucial question of how a mandate will be enforced and just assumes a mandate will work. He writes:
The second option is ... by adding an individual mandate, a requirement that all individuals obtain insurance coverage, to the universal access option. This is similar to what is required for auto insurance in many states, and was a centerpiece of the recent Massachusetts reform plan. We have no experience to date with such a mandate, so it is hard to predict the success of enforcement. But, if penalties are strong (as they are in Massachusetts, where individuals are liable for half of insurance premiums even if uninsured), the mandate is likely to be close to universal. For simplicity here I assume that the mandate provides close to universal coverage, although in practice some individuals are likely to "slip through the cracks".

With all the attention being paid to mandates as the big policy difference between Obama and Clinton, I can't emphasize enough how important this is. (I've commented on their plans previously: Posted Elsewhere 2.) There is little point in arguing that full coverage cannot be acheived without a mandate, if one cannot argue that full coverage will be achieved with a mandate. Of course a sufficiently draconian mandate will likely assure nearly full coverage, but this is irrelevant if that mandate is to harsh to be politically viable, i.e. shooting free riders on sight, or if the costs of enforcing that mandate exceed the costs of paying for free riders directly. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence that government mandates do no secure full compliance, e.g. health care in MA or auto insurance. All of this is well argued in the Economists for Obama post.

Obama & Substance: links

Posted Elsewhere 2

Comments on this Facebook posted item:

As a supporter of Obama, I've thought about this issue some myself. Having read the article, I think Krugman is being somewhat disingenuous in the way he presents the issues, and has cited economics research selectively.

First, he neglects to address the critical difference in the way affordability is achieved between the plans. Obama's plan aims at reducing up front costs: the premiums paid by plan subscribers. Clinton, in contrast, provides after the fact refundable tax credits, meaning that the poor will have to bear the full cost of insurance up front regardless of whether they can actually afford to lay out that amount. Moreover, since there is a mandate, someone unable to afford the up front cost will get penalized later. I think Obama is entirely right to oppose a mandate in this circumstance, i.e. as it functions in Clinton's plan.

Second, Krugman is right that many people fail to enroll in existing programs, but he neglects to mention that research in behavioral economics has consistently shown that the up front costs of a product or service unduly sway purchasing decisions. Consequently, so long as the up front costs remain high, as they might under Clinton's plan, many people may be dissuaded from purchasing insurance. Of course, Clinton has a mandate to force them to buy insurance, but it is enforced through the tax code and so is not an up front cost, and its true effect on initial decision making will have to be discounted accordingly. Again, I think Obama is right to focus on up front affordability.

Third, Krugman has it backwards when he says "it’s hard to see how the hole in the Obama plan can be repaired". While it might be politically challenging for Obama introduce a mandate, his plan is perfectly compatible with adding one. Clinton's plan, however, cannot be repaired to address the complaints above--they go to the very heart of her proposal. For anyone who takes these complaints seriously, as I do, Clinton's plan is a non-starter.

Fourth, the last thing the tax code needs is any more complication, which itself imposes costs (time, tax preparers, etc.) on citizens. The tax code is generally an indirect and inefficient tool for implementing social policy. Furthermore, the complexity of the tax system already means that many people do not take advantage of the credits, etc. for which they are eligible, so the same might well be the case with Clinton's credits. American politicians in general are addicted to manipulating the tax code, but the Clinton's have been particularly bad about it. One of reasons I like Obama is that he appears to want to avoid this approach when possible.

Having said all that, I would likely support Obama's plan additions to promote universal coverage. Changing health insurance from an opt-in to an opt-out system would likely help, but (as with the opt-out retirement savings plans promoted by both Clinton and Obama) it is not clear how this would work for the unemployed. Similarly, it isn't clear how a mandate might be enforced if not through the tax code. Nonetheless, if it should turn out that Obama's plan isn't successful without one, I would be willing to swallow that pill.

I might as well add that Obama's plan may be seen as less threatening by swing voters. His success in more conservative midwestern states on Super Tuesday might be some indication of this.

Another thought: Krugman suggests that the possibility of free riders is a serious problem for Obama's plan. As someone who has had to choose whether to purchase crappy but expensive, high-deductible student insurance, I have had to consider whether it is worth it and it isn't obvious that it is. High-deductible plans provide very little tangible benefit to someone who doesn't get rather sick: they don't make it affordable to go see a doctor for minor illness or preventative care since that falls under the deductible. So you're basically buying insurance against the relatively unlikely possibility (for a young healthy person) of serious illness, for which you could get emergency care anyway. So there is some rationality is not getting that sort of policy. But being a free rider wouldn't be nearly so rational if the policy in question did provide tangible benefits as both Clinton's and Obama's public policies would do.

Posted Elsewhere 1

While there are a lot of reasons to oppose superblocks, livable streets advocates should be wary of unthinkingly reinforcing Manhattan's grid system. That system is in many ways a contributor to today's congestion problems. See here for a discussion:

Coming from Chicago, I am acutely aware of the difference in grid systems makes to their respective cities. In Chicago street density rises with development density: blocks in the CBD are somewhat less than 400' x 400' as more space is devoted to streets, resulting in enhanced walkability; in residential areas of the city blocks are generally a bit under 660' X 330' as more space is devoted to non-transport uses. Just as importantly, almost all of Chicago is serviced by alleys, moving congestion causing deliveries off the thoroughfares. [To keep the city easily navigable, all streets and addresses are numbered on a uniform grid of 800 units/mile; technically a Chicago "block" is 100 units regardless of how many streets it contains.]

In New York, by contrast, the dense spacing of EW streets means that a great deal of space is devoted to inefficient use. Many EW steets in midtown are glorified alleys: narrow and dark, primarily used for deliveries and trash collection, and unpleasant for pedestrians. All the while, since they are streets not alleys, they draw traffic and require full signalization at intersections. The avenues, on the other hand, are widely spaced to the detriment of both walkability and the overall transport capacity of the grid.

[It's worth noting how much dirtier NY is because of the grid: much trash is put out in bags on the EW streets because there is limited curbside access for bins/dumpsters. Bags are often not sealed or get ripped open allowing trash to escape. No wonder alternate side parking has been instituted to keep the streets clean! In Chicago, alleys allow for the mandatory use of bins/dumpsters and the streets require cleaning much less often.]

Obviously, NYC is largely stuck with its grid. But where large-scale developments are being planned, there exists an opportunity to improve upon it: add additional NS thoroughfares for enhanced walkability; shrink some EW streets and dedicate them to deliveries, while expanding other EW streets to give more space to enhanced street life.