Losing $9 Billion In A Day

Monday was a crappy day in the stock market all around the world — but it was crappier for some than for others.

rsz_istock_000017344562_fullBloomberg Business reports that yesterday, the world’s five richest men lost a total of $8.7 billion — and when you’re talking that kind of coin, you might as well ignore that paltry $300 million and round that figure up to $9 billion.  Jeff Bezos’ holdings alone fell $3.7 billion in value, Amancio Ortega lost $2.5 billion, and Warren Buffett, Carlos Slim, and Bill Gates saw their net worth drop between $730 million and $870 million.  Yikes!  You could buy a professional sports franchise with that kind of cash.

Imagine, losing billions of dollars in a single day.  And we think we’ve got problems when the market tumbles, as it did on Monday, and our 401(k) portfolios drop, and we wonder whether the bottom is going to fall out of the market again, as it did in 2008 and early 2009.  At least we’re not measuring the money that has disappeared in billions, with a “b.”

We shouldn’t feel too sorry for Jeff Bezos, though.  Even after losing $3.7 billion, his net worth is still a hefty $56 billion, and he had a pretty good year last year — his net worth increased by $31 billion in 2015.  Ortega is even more in clover, because his net worth after his $2.5 billion loss is still a staggering $70.4 billion.

It’s hard to imagine one person having so much money.  It makes you wonder:  for these guys, when the market plummets, does it hurt to lose a billion dollars in a day?  Or is it really more like Monopoly money is to us?

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Guns, Doctors, Patients, And Medical Privacy

Yesterday the Obama Administration announced some new gun control measures.  Because President Obama issued executive orders, rather than proposing legislation to be debated and approved by Congress, most of the attention was on whether the President overstepped his authority and violated the intended constitutional balance of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

I’d like to focus on a different, substantive element of the changes announced yesterday:  namely, changes to a federal law protecting the privacy of certain health information to allow reporting of individuals who would fall within the mental health prohibitions of the federal gun background check law.  Politico reports that the new rule “enables health care providers to report the names of mentally ill patients to an FBI firearms background check system.”  Diagnostic information about the nature of the mental health condition being treated, however, would still be subject to privacy restrictions.

handgun_collectionThe announcement of the new rule by the Department of Health and Human Services uses the kind of dense, acronym-filled administrative jargon that makes ordinary people scratch their heads and throw up their hands, and it is not entirely clear the extent to which it applies to doctors — although the HHS announcement acknowledges that a number of comments it received about the rule expressed concerns about how the reporting issue would affect the “patient-provider treatment relationship and individuals’ willingness to seek needed mental health care.”

This is a difficult issue, because we’ve seen, over and over again, the carnage that can ensue when a mentally disturbed person builds an arsenal and then acts out their disturbed fantasies.  We want to keep those people from buying guns.  At the same time, however, notions of doctor-patient confidentiality are important — most states have laws or rules of evidence that protect such confidentiality — and exist precisely to encourage people to see a doctor and, in this example, seek treatment for their mental health issues.  New rules, even permissive ones, that could interfere with that confidentiality raise a legitimate concern, because if people who might otherwise seek treatment understand that by doing so they risk being disclosed to a federal database as mentally unfit, they may decline to seek treatment in the first place.  And if physician reporting of information that would disqualify a patient under the gun purchase laws is permissive, and a physician chooses not to report a patient who fits such criteria and the patient then acts on their fantasies, can the physician be sued for failing to report?  And, if the answer to that question is yes, won’t reporting become routine — and therefore the prospect of discouraging people from receiving treatment in the first place become even more likely?

No one wants to see mentally unbalanced people get their hands on guns, and we’ll have to see how these new rules play out, but this is a very sensitive area.  If the new regulations have the effect of discouraging people from seeking needed mental health treatment, they may unintentionally compound the problem.