"By the 1966 estimate, Medicare was to cost $6Bn in 1990; the actual cost was $67Bn.There are plenty of other examples, but for the time being, I think this pretty well makes the point... I guess there's not much sense in talking about health care reform anymore though, since it's basically a done-deal. Do I stick around to watch the inevitable future and say "I told you so"? I'm kind of tired of doing that.
Error = 50%/year
By the 1987 estimate, Medicare’s special hospitals subsidy was to cost $100m annually. By 1992, the actual costs were $11Bn.
Error = 220%/year
By the 1988 estimate, Medicare’s home care benefit was to cost $4Bn in 1993. The actual cost was $10Bn.
Error = 50%/year.
Do we see a pattern here?
BTW, in case anyone didn't do the sums, the average error is >100%/year. Maybe that's overstating the point; anyone got other examples?"
Monday, December 28, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Over at Reason Magazine's Hit & Run blog, there is a troll. His name is Tony. He's what Vladimir Lenin would have called a "useful idiot". Now, Tony himself is not evil per se... But he's catastrophically ignorant of history & philosophy. So he's what you'd call, a "statist" - and thus stemming from his ignorance supports massive amounts of evil all the time, frequently believing that he is doing good works.
He's also gay... By which I mean, homosexual. I mention this fact only to note that Mr. Tony is constantly shilling for the organization which expressly violates his liberty all over the world. When members of what one might view as oppressed groups work as ignorant advocates of their oppressor, I'm always shocked and a little dismayed.
I write about this now (when I most definitely should be going to sleep, or alternatively writing an article about James Cameron's Avatar) because I suspect that once I'm back home, comfortably in my own apartment, I will be far too busy to deal with this again and re-reading some of my comments, I find that it's a good repository of both libertarian/anarcho-capitalist philosophy backed by solid history - and - it's a way to condense a lot of people's common complaints/arguments into one place.
So while it's fresh on my mind, I want to share some of these comments & responses with you all now. (Disclaimer: There may be some "adult" language... Hit & Run is often kind of a brawl and Tony and I go way back with these kinds of things - so I've certainly dropped the niceties.)
...you could try not being such a moralistic libertarian absolutist and stick with your friends and family and try to influence the pretty-good system you happen to live under.Me:
First off, that is primarily what I'm doing, but it galls me to no end that I even have to. The America I was told about in history class in school not only doesn't exist now but it hasn't for over 100 years... The lessons of the Constitution I learned in my Civics class have been entirely abandoned.
I frankly, shouldn't have to work this hard to save sheep like you from destroying the very core of the system that provides you with "benefits". The US was at one time a nation that had liberty built into it's charter - that was the first time that's ever happened, and the US is unquestionably the most successful nation of all time. It's now declining because the framework that made our progress possible - i.e. well protected property rights, highly limited government that was based on actual laws rather than the whims of the rulers, and a comparatively massive amount of liberty for people to pursue their own values - is being systematically demolished. It's being demolished precisely by people like you who don't seem to be capable of understanding some very simple concepts, for instance: You cannot promise people a "right" (privilege) to have a good or a service without first denying the (actual) rights of those who create & provide it - meaning you are legitimizing theft. When you do stuff like this, the country moves from one based in evenly applied laws protecting the individual and his life, time, money & property into a kleptocracy where the currently favored group benefits at the expense of everyone else.
I shouldn't need to spend my life dealing with this shit, Tony - yet I do. I can't make any promises as to how much longer I will keep fighting though, at some point, I will give up and leave you to get exactly the economy & the society you deserve as a consequence of the government you've chosen and watch the rise of tyranny from somewhere else.
All I'm saying is that government(s) have jurisdiction over you because of the geographical place of your residence.Me:
One of the weakest arguments for enslaving people of all time. It's also strangely, and annoyingly, American-centric... I guess if you live in North Korea... Tough luck, huh? You were born there, so Kim Jong Il owns your ass. Right, Tony?
You enjoy the benefits of that system immediately, and you also have obligations immediately (don't kill people).Me:
If only the government also had the obligation not to kill people. Funny how one-sided these things are...
I get the obligation to pay about a 50% tithe or higher in perpetuity, I can have the obligation not to do anything that might piss off the ruling class, and the obligation to do what I'm told - or I can enjoy the benefit of watching as the rulers come with guns, lock me up, steal all of my things and then fine me for the pleasure.
Of course, if I had been born even 50 years ago, perhaps I would have had the actual benefit of being able to pursue some of my own ambitions in an environment that wasn't crushing and economically impossible. Perhaps the value of my currency would have still been worth something, and perhaps I wouldn't have been burdened against my consent with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to other nations - and thus there might have been capital available for starting the projects I actually want to start.
Instead, I was born more recently, and I have the distinct "benefit" of seeing government idiocy cause a 1000+% decline in the value of the dollar, politicians incurring heaping piles of debt on my behalf, economically illiterate policies push unemployment higher & higher, causing first a decline in the value of a college degree coupled with massive increases in education costs, then watching as the same thing happens in health care & housing - all the while watching everything else that the government has more or less left alone decline in price by huge percentages...
Yeah... Great benefits. Perhaps I should just have been born 30 years earlier.
And as a bonus you are free to renounce it all if you really feel that oppressed.Me:
Right, which is great, since your options are Oppressive Place A, or marginally less Oppressive Place B.
Can you explain what system would be preferable?Me:
Sure, Tony. It's simple... The system is to just get the hell out of everyone else's lives.
I'll take care of me - and my family, and my community, and everything else that I deem important to me - and you can take care of you. We respect each others' property, and agree that if either of us want something from each other, we obtain it by offering something in exchange - a trade - and we don't simply hire thugs with guns to take it. We back that up by protecting our own property with tools and hired help if need be, purely for defense, and if we have more complex dealings, we write contracts which stipulate how arbitration will be handled if one party was lying or causes damages.
If you simply must have a government for that purpose, then you limit that government exclusively to making sure people aren't initiating force against one another - they aren't stealing, killing, defrauding, or attacking each other. It's a small, but important roll which is, as it stands, pretty easy to achieve on very little money - which should only be raised by bond auctions or voluntary fund drives. No IRS, no taxes.
That at birth, every man is an island, with his own laws? How would that work out?Me:
Repeat after me Tony: "Government and Society are not the same thing"
Don't conflate the two. No one is an island, we are all connected in one way or another and that's great. That doesn't give you the right to force other people to do what you want, in fact, since we know and can easily demonstrate that people have unique values, hopes, dreams & other goals or interests, forcing people to do what you want - to give you their time or their products, to give you their money, to behave how you want them to (provided, again, such behavior isn't attacking or harming anyone else) - is is not only immoral, but a disastrous condition socially & economically.
I would like to stop moving towards the disaster, and move back away from it. Quit doubling down on failed policies, go for more freedom.
[Here, Tony repeats his oft-mentioned belief in the "Social Contract" theory of government - that is, merely by product of the geographical location of a person's birth, there is an unwritten contract that each person has with his government to obey the laws of the land or move away.]
Now we're getting into social contract theory. According to the contract you have with your fellow citizens, which you became a party to upon birth according to the rules of the system you were born into, via custodianship of your citizen parents, there are certain rules you must obey and certain rights you enjoy. You have every right to renounce your citizenship and move abroad.Me:
Really Tony, have you ever looked into how that works? You realize that it's nearly impossible to do this without already being a citizen of another country, right?
What if, for argument's sake, you actually didn't want to be the property of *any* government? What then?
There are about 200 governments to choose from. In any marketplace that would be considered a large enough pool of competition. I may want a flying Hummer but if one doesn't exist, that's just too bad. In the marketplace of goods and the marketplace of governments there is no guarantee that you'll get everything exactly as you want.Me:
It seems you're missing the point, Tony - as usual.
Let me repeat what I wrote for you so it can sink in one more time:
What if, for argument's sake, you actually didn't want to be the property of *any* government? What then?
What if I find the idea that someone else having the power to take my time & effort and the products of my labor by force is immoral and unacceptable? What if I actually want a life where I get to choose who I deal with, why I deal with them, and under what terms, without having a gun at my back compelling me to do what rulers I didn't elect & haven't asked for want me to do?
Attaching myself to one of the other 200 Governments around the world doesn't exactly help that situation, does it?
[Tony fails to grasp this concept again... He proceeds to equate choosing which government to be subject to with a marketplace - so, double fail there. Continuing on with Tony's "Social Contract"...]
Oh yeah, also, I think we've covered this in the past, but last I checked, "Social Contract" theory is bullshit.
I've neither signed, nor agreed to, nor ever read, nor authorized any such contract and legitimate contracts can only exist between parties who are freely able to choose to enter into them. And supposing that I did accept the horrendously flawed premise that simply because I was *born* in a particular geographical location, I am a subject of such a government that exists there... Then the only sensible conclusion would be that the terms of the "contract" would be the written Constitution. In the case of hte United States, the Constitution as written has been clearly violated a thousand times over. So it's the *government*, and not me or anyone else who's displeased with the way things are going, who has broken the terms of the deal. I still pay my taxes, I pay for parking tickets and register my car... I live up to my end of the non-existent contract every day of my life. But the government does not. So how does that get addressed?
Unfortunately, they're the ones with the big guns.
No provision of the social contract says that because Sean W. Malone declares something unlawful, it is so. The contract, which yes includes the constitution, provides for the means to arbitrate these questions.
Again, you raving f***tard, the Constitution is in EASY TO UNDERSTAND language! The fact that you can't understand it is sad, but it doesn't change the fact that the vast majority of [y]our government's actions over the past 100 years have been completely against the Constitution.
Let me give you a simple one: To go to war according to the US Constitution, the Congress must ratify a declaration of war. Name me the last time that's happened with respect to US military action internationally?
Think back, Tony... Think back real hard there...
I don't feel the need to provide you with the 10s of thousands of other examples, both large & small, that fit this category of unconstitutional problem.
Another fundamental issue for you - is that you clearly don't understand the flaw in the judicial & legislative system that allows easier access to unconstitutional laws. That flaw is simple: Laws aren't reviewed for constitutionality as they are written, and are only struck down after the fact by the Supreme Court. So it takes years, sometimes 10-15 for that process to play itself out... In the meantime, legislators write *other* laws around the first one (i.e. Dept. of Homeland Security and associated offshoots like the TSA) and it becomes harder and harder to reverse the problem. This doesn't make the initial legislation any more Constitutional than it was when it was written, but it does make it increasingly difficult to strike down.
Unfortunately, your lack of understanding of this problem seems to have lead you to this bizarre and very naive position that actually does beg the question and puts you in the position of essentially asserting that all laws are constitutional, and we know that because there can't be any laws that aren't which the Supreme Court hasn't eliminated.
It's naive, it's stupid, it's perfectly predictable from you...
But it doesn't have a damn thing to do with "my" declarations. It has everything to do with decent reading comprehension and a cursory understanding of history & 18th Century political philosophy... Sadly, you lack all of the above.
Also, of course, you see how your answer precludes the possibility of ever being wrong, right?
Your arguments work like this:
1. There is a social contract you are born into which obligates you to do everything the government says.
2. If you disagree with what the government is telling you to do, too bad, you're contractually obligated to obey anyway.
3. Fuck you.
If the government does something against the contract - in your world - it's legitimate 100% of the time, because by mere product of being the government, anything they do is lawful and thus acceptable.
If you don't like it... Move somewhere else. Awesome.
The universe you live in makes my brain hurt.
Obviously governments can overstep their bounds. Our system is set up to at least attempt to prevent that, with checks and balances and its system of jurisprudence.
But you try violating a law and trying to escape punishment because you declare the law illegitimate and see how far that gets you. You are only obligated to follow the rules of the system insofar as you care about the consequences of not doing so. That's why it's a contract.
AGAIN, Tony. Try to understand this.
The GOVERNMENT is the one that violated the "contract", insofar as that contract is on display as the US Constitution. They have done so repeatedly. The language used to explain their powers in the Constitution is quite clear overall... You like to pick "gray" areas like the Social Welfare clause while ignoring virtually everything else that is so clearly spelled out you cannot possibly "interpret" it.
So when the Government's "checks and balances" have all but been eliminated (which is largely true in the US), and they do things blatantly in violation of the contract - exactly what is the recourse for the average person (who isn't in control of a 3 million+ member army with tanks & aircraft) who is getting screwed by that abrogation of contracted duty?
You're right Tony, if I try to violate illegitimate laws, I get a boot up my ass. If government violates the law, then - according to your circular reasoning - the violation is the new law.
This is precisely how we wind up torturing and wiretapping people, not to mention converting a somewhat competitive market into pure socialist fascism, and the government gets to hide behind the facade of everything being "legal", as if A. it is remotely legal to begin with, and B. that the supposed legality isn't created by those individuals seeking the power, and C. that legality somehow translates into moral acceptability.
I believe torture was illegal. I hope that the system is strong enough to punish any and all responsible for the illegal act. But it's not my job to declare it illegal, it's for our system of jurisprudence. I'm not prepared to be as cynical and nihilistic as you. Our government isn't perfect but it could be a lot worse. There could be no consent of the governed at all, just a king and his arbitrary will.
Well Tony, I think it's time that you wake the f*** up and realize that that's nearly what we have now.Massive, society altering legislation happens every year that has no public support what so ever. The bailouts of 2008-2009 being an obvious example, the Iraq War being a wonderful example, the current health care bill being a pretty huge example... It doesn't matter. Neither does your vote. Welcome to the real worldTony:
The state can justify its own existence without social contract theory. "I get my authority to enslave you from God" is a common one. Social contract theory provides a framework for people to enact a legitimate government that exists via their consent.Me:
False. I didn't give my consent - neither did anyone else I've ever met.
Your consent comes from when your parents, acting as your custodian, chose your place of citizenship upon your birth. No further action is required to continue the agreement, and you can renounce your citizenship at any time and thereby dissolve your agreement. Or you may have explicitly entered into the contract yourself by becoming a naturalized citizen.
There are many contracts that take this form; that is, the agreement remains until explicitly revoked.
And yet again, here we have you arguing that a contract can exist which I never gave consent to, nor signed, nor have any way out of without abandoning my family, friends and life - purely because you assert that a government has the power to control me on the basis that that's where I was born.
You know what else Tony? The Bible is true & provides all moral and legal authority, because God wrote the Bible, and we know God is true because the Bible says so...
[And now for the final - and worst - part of what I wanted to share here... The part where Tony's ridiculous confusion comes to a full boil and he fails to understand the U.S. Constitution itself and is utterly baffled by the concept of rights...]
The other question is what does our government have the power to do given its own rules. My answer is that the rules themselves have provisions for deciding this very question. I don't have to arbitrarily decide whether an action is in the service of the general welfare or is necessary and proper because that's what the courts are for. The constitutional language is simply too vague to provide an unarguable definition of government's proper role.Me:
Tony, I hope you realize that Jefferson, Wilson, Paine, and Madison in particular deliberately went out of their way to write the Constitution in plain language so that the common person would be able to understand it.
They did this because they were of the opinion that any government who's fundamental principles could not be easily understood by the average citizen was going to be intrinsically tyrannical.
Funny how you are now arguing that it's totally ok if the meaning is willfully obscured, failing entirely to realize that the more it becomes obscured the more the document legitimizes precisely the kind of tyranny (and in fact on a much grander scale) than anything the Founding Father's had to deal with.
Here is a group of people who started a revolution over *the principle* of a 2% excise tax and you seem to think the document that came out of that revolution legitimizes the theft of 90+% of some people's earnings?
What PLANET are you on, Tony?
Earth, what about you? Here, the complaint was a lack of representation, not the very idea of taxation. On the planet earth any idiot knows that taxes are necessary to the maintenance of human civilization. Except libertarian crazies who want a free lunch out of everything while condemning everyone else for being parasites.
That's absurd Tony, how can you be so retarded? You're the one sitting here advocating that people can have a "right" to other people's hard earned money, time & products - and you're accusing *US* of wanting a free lunch?
We're the bunch who invented TINSTAAFL [There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch - for the uninitiated] for f***s sake!
I don't want a free lunch Tony, I want you to quit taking my stuff, quit pretending I owe you and whoever else you deem worthy a living off the back of my labor. Without governments or with extremely minimal ones, people have gotten along exceedingly well many times throughout history, and with technology as it is today largely as a result of particularly America's previously pro-liberty, pro-competition marketplace, it's easier now than ever before.
But all that we built America on, you and your ideological flock are busy destroying. Good luck with the results.
Where do rights come from? And how do they persist without an institution in place to defend them?
You can't get beyond the mystical explanation that rights somehow come from God or the universe. That may be a useful bit of rhetoric employed in the declaration of independence, but it's just not adequate.
Tony, I'm an atheist too - as most people know - have been forever. I don't accept that "god" or a "creator" in any specific sense granted me any rights, I'm flat out saying that because I am an autonomous self-owner (meaning, I am the final arbiter of all my actions), at the very most basic level of discussion - I OWN ME.
Thus, I (not you) get to decide what I spend my time doing, who I spend that time with, what I do with the things that I create or have a hand in creating and by extension, what things I trade my labor for.
It's fundamentally that simple. You don't own me. You don't get to place a lien on my life or demand that I pay you for any reason. What you get to do is offer me the possibility of voluntary exchange. If you've made something I want, and i have something you want, we may agree to trade - if not, you don't get to cry to Big Brother and have him point a gun in my face and take whatever you want from me anyway. That's the deal.
You "own" you. I "own" me. I don't steal from you, control your actions or enslave you, you don't steal from me, control my actions and enslave me. We get along as a society partially due to our biological proclivity to be social, and partly because we rely on each other physically for the means of survival. When what you want collides with what I want, the solution is recognizing ownership - which in about 99/100 cases is pretty cut and dry.
God is unnecessary in that picture.
I don't have an agreement with you to loot my house. I do have an agreement with government to pay taxes as required by law and receive in return services only it can provide. Pretty simple arrangement. And if I don't like it I'm free to bitch all day long or leave. Is there some other way to go about things?
There's a LOT of other ways to go about things, starting with the idea that there are any services "only [government] can provide".
I reject that notion out of hand. Everything that the government does can be handled better, cheaper, more efficiently and non-coercively by private actors.
And if that were the case then instead of "bitching all day long", or "leaving" you would have option #3: Hire an alternate service provider, or option #4: Start your own business offering a service.
I can currently hire private security, private legal arbitrators to deal with contract disputes, I can buy bottled water or have a pump built on my property, I can hire a firm to build a sewer or septic system for my house, I can generate electricity to power my needs quite easily without any government run power plant (though I'd be much happier to pay for power services from a competitive market of power providers), I can and have driven on private roads and I could (and probably will) send whatever children I eventually have to private schools.
It doesn't matter what you name, a private option would be better - first because economically; market competition and a free price system produces far superior results simply because rational calculation is possible... and secondly, because morally; no one is forced to contribute to anything they don't wish to pay for.
The moral side has some secondary upsides as well in my opinion - people learning to be more self-sufficient and autonomous is good for society overall because they must rely on critical thinking & problem solving skills to succeed, rather than relying on being able to force others to support them and make decisions for them...
Tony, unfortunately, desperately wants someone to make all his decisions for him. Weak.
Since most of the history of humanity has consisted of mass enslavement rather than societies of free rugged individualists, the idea that you own yourself isn't totally self-evident. It's a moral principle based on an article of faith.
Do you really expect to be able to enjoy the freedoms and luxuries of the civilization you happened to be born in and not contribute anything back? As I said, you're free to give up your citizenship, but as long as you're here you are compelled to live by the same rules as everyone else. What exactly do you want? You can't be this autonomous being here, there are too many taxpayer funded services you encounter daily. You are free to try other countries, but good luck finding much more freedom. Might try Europe, at least they are free from worrying about healthcare bankruptcy.
Who owns you, Tony? You, or the government? Or do we ALL own a piece of Tony?
Ew. Forget I suggested the last bit.
I'm nobody's property. My body, my choice. Sound familiar?
You own your personhood, unless you forfeit it by breaking laws. Then not only does government own your ass, your big hairy cell mate does too. Anyway, being an autonomous individual doesn't = having the right to possess every cent you manage to get your hands on.Me:
Why do you make this about "cents" when you clearly don't understand what money is?
To break this down for you Tony, money is nothing more or less than a voucher you get for your labor or the products thereof, which you can trade for someone else's labor or products.
So the chain of logic is quite simple:
Premise 1: I own me & every action I take as an individual - productive or otherwise.
Conclusion 1: I control my time, my associations, and have ownership of all property I've used my time to either create myself or through voluntary arrangements with others, traded for.
Premise 2: Money is representational of human labor & productive effort
Conclusion 2: I do get to keep "every cent" I acquire through this process because I own 100% of my time and labor.
See how this works, Tony? It's quite simple.
You own exactly 0% of me.
I own exactly 100% of me.
Since money is merely an abstract, widely-accepted and easy to transport reflection of my time & labor, assuming my money has been acquired without coercion, then in fact I do get to keep all of it... And then, I can use all those cents to pay for things *I* deem necessary.
Don't worry Tony, I pay my own insurance, I would gladly pay for some sort of personal physical protection (there's alarms in my apartment and lo-jack on my car already so that shouldn't be a huge issue)... I wouldn't, in that case, have to pay for military bases in 120 countries, or for you to have the brain replacement surgery you so desperately need.
So once more, with feeling: I'll handle me. You handle you. Quit advocating the theft of my time & stuff. I don't appreciate it.
Tony's position is fundamentally that government - which he mistakenly conflates with "society" - owns it's citizens. Additionally, relying on profoundly circular reasoning, Tony is saying that whatever laws exist are - by product of existing and having not been struck down by the Supreme Court - "Constitutional" and therefore legal. As a consequence, you'll note that Tony finds himself accepting torture as just another law he's required to obey. Unless, of course, it gets struck down by the court system.
It seems to me that Tony is representative of the kinds of sheep that wound up making the infamous Milgram experiment possible.
But look at the above exchange! Tony's arguments are largely easily-refuted nonsense, filled with question begging and completely circular rasoning. But he winds up painting himself into a corner where he has to defend torture and suggest that (purely because of one's geographical birthplace) everyone must obey all laws no matter what, even when they are clearly unconstitutional or even worse, entirely immoral. So Tony - someone who's right are violated across the United States and much more severely around the world, insofar as his freedom to contract and associate has been abridged with anti-marriage laws, and in many states even activities he might wish to engage with in the privacy of his own home are illegal as well - winds up defending the government which is his oppressor.
Isn't that sad? I really think so...
I was reading through another comments thread and found this great exchange too..
Tony:"Elective procedures would obviously be more subject to market forces than necessary ones."Marc:"Obviously. That's why, for example, food continues to be so expensive--it's necessary, therefore relatively insensitive to market forces."Tony:"Totally apples and oranges. Food is cheap, necessary medical procedures rarely are. And people don't act like rational consumers when their health or life is on the line."Hazel Meade:"Ugh, Tony. Do you even bother to think through the things you say?"JoshinHB:"Tony-"Food is cheap, necessary medical procedures rarely are. And people don't act like rational consumers when their health or life is on the line."
Gee Tony, could the socialist delivery system of the last 70 years have anything to do with that.
Are you Prog Party Hack, or are you really this big of a dumbsh*t?"
Ohh... He is most definitely both. Ugh!
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I've definitely been busy... To recap my own efforts:
In 2009, I have...
- Written dozens of articles, a few of which have been published online & in print.
- I created an extremely popular graphic representation of the decline in the value of the U.S. Dollar over the past two centuries.
- I've produced a video that was popular enough on YouTube for them to suggest I add advertisements to.
- I've written the music for 3 important video campaigns supporting specific legal cases which would increase freedom in parts of the United States.
- I've consulted on media for a few organizations.
- I've designed & implemented (or helped implement) three websites
- I have done a ton of graphic design for a number of people (which was probably the most unexpected aspect of my year) and learned much more about Photoshop, which is excellent.
- I've played a dozen or so gigs around Los Angeles, mostly on vibraphone...
- And of course, I contributed my music editing & management skills to SmartSound software, where I produced over 20 albums worth of music to be used with their software, Sonic Fire Pro.
All in all, I think that personally I've had a pretty productive year.
On the other hand................. The economy is predictably devastated and has seen absolutely no improvement since 2008. This has come as no surprise to me, since every "action" taken by those in power have served only to make things worse. Last week the government forged ahead with other economy destroying measures in their new regulatory bill; the so-called "Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act" - which fabulously sets us up for prolonged unemployment, new bureaucracies "controlling" things they don't understand (by which I mean being instantly captured by the more savvy traders), and higher costs to goods across the board... Not to mention further exacerbating the problems of big businesses succeeding through political favoritism at the expense of their poorly connected competitors.
Less competition, more political influence, more expensive. Great.
Oh, and speaking of all that... The Senate just passed the Health Care "reform" bill. A 2000+ page monstrosity that not only fails to meaningfully "reform" a single aspect of our current system, it basically takes all of the worst elements of what we're doing now, quadruples down on those things and scrupulously avoided any legitimate way to increase supplies or reduce costs. It's yet another massive give-away to insurance companies (people are now being forced to buy insurance under penalty of law) and to drug companies (any provisions which might have allowed us to buy cheaper drugs from international suppliers have been eliminated, thus the insurance mandate now forces us all to pay big pharmaceuticals in the U.S.) and yet politicians - especially the president - in their infinite doublespeak are pretending it's a bill to help consumers.
I've written an awful lot about health care this year - I've tried to explain why the government plans are doomed to fail, but in people's willful obstinacy, few people seem to have grasped the problems.
For the record, here are my currently collected works on Health Care:
- Health Care - Part 1: The Four Strawmen of the Apocalypse
- Health Care - Part 2: More Rebuttals & Actual Solutions
- Leeching the System: The false heroics of guaranteed insurance.
- Why We Must NOT Ration Health Care: A rebuttal to Peter Singer
- Peter Singer, Round 2
- A Tale of Two Burgers
- The Profit Motive, ObamaCare & Corporatism
- Barack Obama Speechifies on Health Care
- I Promise. I will never... Die.
- Stossel: "ObamaCare's Inevitable Logic"
- Medicare Denies MORE Claims than Private Insurers!
- Economics Lesson of the Day: Public vs. Private Efficiency
Sadly though, all of it has been more or less in vain, since today the Senate pushed through their massive health care overhaul bill anyway. A bill which, according to today's Wall Street Journal "Question of the Day" (online, so no, it's not scientific by any stretch) only about 10% of the American public actually support.
Granted, an online poll isn't representative of the total public, so let's say in reality this works out to around 20% Yes & 80% No - or even 25%-75%... It's still massively undemocratic - which should just go to show that the "people" aren't remotely in control of the government in this country. It should be obvious to most people by now that votes in Congress are obtained, not by listening to constituents, but by bribing your fellow Senators & Representatives with promises of immense amounts of pork directed at key individuals. My former Governor and Senator, Ben Nelson is a fine example of this, as was Mary Landrieu (famed for presiding over one of the most all-encompassing failures of government from top to bottom of all time in New Orleans a few years ago) - but rest assured, similar backroom deals were made for everyone else involved.
And yesssssssssssssss.... Of course there are worse places to live - I've been to some of them (many in Europe, point of fact). I keep hearing that from people as if it is somehow a valid response to complaints about America. I hear, "Why don't you just move somewhere better?" and things of a similar nature...
But why should I have to move? I'm always the one merely asking the government to live up to the promises it's constitution makes. That shouldn't be too much to ask. Yet it appears that it is... So who knows what's going to happen in the long run. What I do know, is that we're looking at long term stagnation, possibly a second "dip" into recession/depression, coming next year... We're looking at seeing the further inflation of prices across the board due to the Federal Reserve's rampant money-printing policies, and we're definitely looking at targeted price increases in at least health care & energy.
As a result, innovation - the one thing America has consistently led the world on in medicine - will soon be a thing of the past for this country. But that's hardly the end of it - employers are going to struggle to comply with the diverse number and scope of new laws, and consequently will be hiring more lawyers & lobbyists, and fewer productive employees. We've seen this repeatedly over the last 50 years in the U.S. and yet somehow people seem to think that it's not going to happen this time. But as always, people (especially savvy businesspeople) respond to incentives.
I regularly ask myself: Why would a business come here? Why would they set up headquarters here, why would they employ people here, why would they invest here? Each time I ask the question I come up with fewer & fewer reasons. What are the incentives to come to America? What are the incentives to stay?
And ya know what? My brother is moving to Qatar for a much higher paying & better job in a matter of days, while I go back to California and compete with everyone else in the entertainment industry looking for work. I'm great at what I do... I think I've sufficiently proven that over the years. But building a successful service business takes time and a network of contacts built up over much more time than I've had to contribute diligently to that process. Unfortunately I've only been in Los Angeles for two years - and one of those years I spent traveling all over the world and meeting no one locally. In the meantime, I've got about one serious year of introducing myself to potential clients in the libertarian world - and that has been going well, but I'm going to have to do more if I'm to meet any kind of projected/needed earnings.
I think I can do this... But everything that's happened over the last year has made it harder & harder to see how it's going to happen. As Ira Newborn always tells me... I'll just keep punching.
So yeah, 2009 has been quite the roller coaster for me. I have survived it though, and 2010 offers some promising opportunities already - from potentially working with Reason.TV, to producing more of my own liberty-oriented video projects, to setting up a recording studio and associated music & audio company with a good friend, to delving into the world of license libraries & freelance commercial music, to getting the funds together for a documentary. All of these things are possible, some on the immediate horizon.
Hopefully, I can parlay my current opportunities into a consistent lifestyle. But in truth, who knows what will happen. 2008 was largely a surprise in terms of the direction my life took, 2009 was too. I expect that 2010 will be as well. My dreams of being a media-mogul aren't gone, but I definitely need to up the ante on my various game plans.
In the meantime, happy holidays to all - and good luck for next year.
(And P.S. I'm still booking projects for January - so if you're reading this and need one of my myriad professional services... Just give me a shout!)
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Oh... Wait. No, that's actually not good, is it? Oops.
So why stagnation, you ask? Here's what happened:
Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure (HR 4173, "Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act of 2009") which provides "sweeping" new powers to the Federal Government - and the Federal Reserve - to control the American economy. An article written in the BBC breaks down a number of these new powers, which I shall discuss & comment upon here.
1. The bill aims to create a new agency to monitor consumer banking transactions and give the government powers to break up companies that threaten the economy.
First off, we have dozens of agencies and literally tens of thousands of pages of regulation that currently effect the United States economy, the major players include:
- Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC)
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB)
- Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)
- Financial Deposit Insurance Commission (FDIC)
- Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)
- Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)
- National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)
- Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS)
- U.S. Treasury - Which controls fiscal policy... And most significantly, perhaps...
- The Federal Reserve System - Which controls the money supply & interest rates.
The second point here, is that no single firm should ever be able to "threaten the economy"! The only reason that some firms did do that last year is twofold:
- Previous government interventions into the market are *precisely* why the firms were as big, and as risky as they were: Consider - All of the biggest losers in investment banking (Lehman Bros., Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns & Merrill Lynch) had special exceptions from the SEC to leverage their assets up as much as 40:1 :: The housing explosion was fueled by a perfect storm of the Federal Reserve's "record low" interest rates starting essentially in 2002 and the constant push towards "affordable housing" including a great number of tax & rebate incentives to home builders & buyers, creating a bubble which, contrary to popular opinion, was recognized early on by a few good economists :: And... Most big companies - for example, those in the auto manufacturing or airline industries - have spent literally decades losing money and being bailed out by the American taxpayer (thus allowing them to continue losing money at our expense).
- Bailouts: Instead of allowing the poorly positioned companies (GM, AIG, Goldman Sachs, etc.) to go out of business, the government has instead decided to intertwine these companies with the economy through bailouts, and various "insurance" policies such as the FDIC or FNMA/FDMC. By doing this, the risks of over-leveraging and other bad business decisions are the taxpayer's problem, and thus DO jeopardize the entire economy.
It's great for these favored firms because not only do they get the taxpayers to subsidize their existing business as well as getting other special deals and artificially limited competition, they also get the taxpayers to cover their losses when they screw up... All the while operating with absolutely 0 incentives to produce products that accurately meet true consumer demand.
What people consistently forget though is that within a free enterprise situation (in this instance, corporate) greed is balanced by fears of loss - yet when the government steps in and eliminates need for that fear, greed is no longer balanced by anything.
The system of profits & losses can keep businesses in check both in size and in aggressiveness because the risk of leveraging your assets at 30:1 for instance are very real, and the losses would be catastrophic. It's simply too great a loss to take to justify the risk. Unless, of course, the loss won't actually be taken by you, but by the taxpayer, which is exactly what's happened with respect to Goldman Sachs, AIG, GM, Chrysler, and so many others.
And that's only possible when government has a major hand in the economy - so the kind of legislation the House just passed is going to prove disastrous... But let's explore more of what this is going to mean - So, back to the BBC's list:
2. The legislation would give regulators the power to dismantle the companies in a way which ensures shareholders and unsecured creditors, not taxpayers, bear the losses.
After all that I just said, this sounds great right?
Except that it's the market and bankruptcy proceedings which should be determining the break-up of companies and it needs to be private contracts that determine which shareholders & creditors get what proceeds from liquidation. The taxpayer should never be involved!!!
The "taxpayer" has no stake in a private company... And they shouldn't! It's completely and utterly against every bit of sane reasoning for anyone to be forced to invest in a private company. Only individual investors who *voluntarily* risk their own money should have stake in private companies and thus reap the rewards & costs of each and every decision made by the company... Taxpayers have no choice but to pay taxes, so to force people to funnel money into businesses they have no voluntary interest in supporting is not only an economic disaster, but is one of the most ridiculously immoral concepts imaginable. As Thomas Jefferson once put it:
"To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."
As I recently noted, the average taxpayer is now on the hook for $12,200 for each vehicle sold by General Motors, and $7,600 for each vehicle sold by Chrysler - because each company has lost so much money over the years and government power in this sector has allowed exactly what the "new" laws say won't happen in the future. In this case, even if the taxpayer is never on the hook ever again for a single company in the U.S. (which will not remotely be the case), giving government agencies the power to control liquidation proceedings does exactly what we saw this year with the GM bankruptcy...
Instead of the money going to shareholders based on their contracted positions as preferred or common stock-holders, the majority shares went directly to President Obama's political supporters in the United Auto-worker's Union.
Assuming this legislation gets made into law, which we have little reason to assume that it won't, politicians will now have the power to simply modify the structure of legally binding contracts post hoc in favor of their constituents. At this point, private contracts are entirely meaningless and the only thing that matters is who you know in government and how good friends you have in politics. Notably, this is likely going to break the U.S. Constitution's protection against Ex Post Facto legislation as well - as it already has.
So what else does the bill do?
3. It also hopes to strengthen the powers of the Securities and Exchange Commission to detect irregularities that could provide an early warning of fraudulent investment schemes.
The SEC - which failed repeatedly to catch such a massive scam as Bernie Madoff's $50 Billion ponzi scheme - needs more power? Guess what... Sarcasm aside, the SEC has more than enough power to regulate their part of the financial industry, the fact that they repeatedly fail to do an adequate job should give us reason to question their function... Only in the bizarro world of government does a failing organization warrant even more authority.
4. Plans to regulate the vast $600 trillion market in products called derivatives are also included.
Because some random government officials - likely mediocre graduates of business schools in finance who couldn't find work at actual investment banks - are going to be able to understand and regulate such an incredibly complex realm of investment as derivatives markets. Right.
5. The Federal Reserve would be given powers to oversee large firms at risk of collapse.This does nothing but politicize the process of bankruptcy and rewards friends of those working at the Federal Reserve. The board of directors of the Federal Reserve and the chairman Ben Bernanke himself are either investment bankers or are tied closely to all the major investment banks and other large firms. So yet again, we have a situation where the economy simply becomes more politicized and favored firms will get good deals, and non-favored firms will be eliminated.
If only this mattered at all... The Federal Reserve is notoriously secretive and even Ron Paul's "Audit the Fed" bill has virtually already been de-fanged before it's even gotten off the ground, and in spite of public outcry, the Fed controls some of the most crucial aspects of any economy: Money Supply & Interest Rates.
6. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of the US Congress, would also be given more power over the Federal Reserve.
What's more, the Fed is "technically" not even a part of the US Government (isn't it great that a secret cabal of private bankers have control over the nation's money supply?), so I'm guessing that the "Government Accountability Office" will be as ignored by the Federal Reserve as it is by the US Congress.
At any rate... Prices, Profits & Losses, and Property Rights are the cornerstone for any economy to function properly. Each of these things play a crucial role and are completely linked with each other. And yet each of these things are being systematically destroyed and inhibited by the government in the not-so-capitalist United States.
Profits & Losses help producers determine whether or not their businesses are succeeding or failing based on customer demand... Yet the government has mitigated that by bailing out favorite firms. This legislation pays lip-service to protecting the taxpayer from such things, but the entire bill will wind up politicizing the economy to such an immense degree that just about the only incentive for big companies will now be to influence politicians & regulators.
Once upon a time, companies had to compete for customers' business - but with the government taking an ever increasing role in picking winners & losers and allocating market outcomes, they now have to compete for the ears and legislative pens of law-makers. I think it's particularly hard to understate how bad this is.
Prices (including interest rates and wages), provide signals about supply & demand which the government and its various regulatory agencies simply cannot fabricate out of thin air. When they do so, as the Federal Reserve does every day, artificially created shortages & surpluses result and we get bubbles because assets are improperly priced thus leading investors & producers towards industries & products that they wouldn't otherwise get into. Housing is the recent example, obviously. "Green energy" is my best bet for the next one... This causes misallocation of resources and ultimately a highly unstable economy which will come crashing down. Likewise, prices are greatly effected by the supply of money itself - so giving the Federal Reserve more power is insane... They not only need to have less, they need to simply not exist.
Of course, without a Federal Reserve there to print money, where would our government find the dollars to fund every rent-seeking, vote-buying program and special project politicians want to support (not to mention approaching 8+ year long wars with foreign nations)?
Property Rights have an important corollary and that is contract enforcement... But these new powers completely destroy property rights by allowing government bureaucrats the ability to simply ignore contracts and the voluntary arrangements people make with their own property, and instead control the destruction of various companies in whatever way is politically expedient. When this happens, the incentives to be an investor - especially a major investor - in United States based companies drops to nothing... Unless the company is one of the chosen few.
And ALL of this results in one highly destructive problem: Big, well-connected firms, will grow ever larger, and their competition will be squashed out of existence.
...You'll note that this is completely the opposite of the expressed and, I will generously assume, intended result of this legislation.
I'm frankly quite sick of watching the government usurp more and more power, not only because it's immoral and a complete bastardization of liberty, and not only because it's radically unconstitutional and shouldn't exist in America - but mostly for one really practical reason... This kind of regulation does nothing but destroy wealth & prosperity. And the more they do that, the longer states like California will have over 12.3% U3 unemployment rates... And the fewer capital there will be for development...
But hey, maybe there will be more government asshats running around. That's good news - especially when, the average Federal government employee is earning $71,206, compared with just $40,331 in the private sector. Oh right, no it isn't good news, since that $71,206 each year is coming directly off the backs of members of the private sector working in productive positions, actually adding value to the economy.
The fact of the matter is, this is the very same path FDR headed down in the early 1930s, and the result was predictably disastrous to the American economy, which remained stagnant until 1946.
What depresses and angers me personally is that I am capable of understanding the consequences of this kind of thing, and all it will do is continue to kill off hundreds of thousands of national opportunities during my prime development years. I'm 26 years old. Conservatively speaking, unless there are some massive shifts in public policy and the direction we're headed as a nation with regard to the economy, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see another 10 years at least of serious mediocrity and with the national debts and trade deficits as they are in America currently, perhaps that prediction becomes "indefinite". I want - and feel that I deserve - to simply have an opportunity to use these years to develop a meaningful career and to earn the kind of living that is capable of supporting a family, paying the debts I've incurred in school and establishing a wealthier future.
Yet with this legislation, and the many other aspects of the post 2008 financial crisis America, I doubt very much I will have that chance.
- Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act of 2009, H.R. 4173, 111th Cong., <http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h4173/text> (2009). Online.
- "BBC News - US House of Representatives backs financial reform bill." BBC NEWS | News Front Page. 11 Dec. 2009. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8409180.stm>.
- Satow, Julie. "Ex-SEC Official Blames Agency for Blow-Up of Broker-Dealers." The New York Sun. 18 Sept. 2008. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://www.nysun.com/business/ex-sec-official-blames-agency-for-blow-up/86130/>.
"This alternative approach, which all five broker-dealers that qualified — Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley — voluntarily joined, altered the way the SEC measured their capital. Using computerized models, the SEC, under its new Consolidated Supervised Entities program, allowed the broker dealers to increase their debt-to-net-capital ratios, sometimes, as in the case of Merrill Lynch, to as high as 40-to-1. It also removed the method for applying haircuts, relying instead on another math-based model for calculating risk that led to a much smaller discount."
- Fogarty, Thomas A. "USATODAY.com - Mortgage rates at another record low." News, Travel, Weather, Entertainment, Sports, Technology, U.S. & World - USATODAY.com. 14 Nov. 2002. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/housing/2002-11-14-mortgage-rates_x.htm>.
"Mortgage investor Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average interest rate for the benchmark 30-year mortgage is 5.94%, down from 6.11% last week and the lowest in more than three decades of tracking. The average 15-year rate is 5.32%, also a record low."
- Thornton, Mark. "Housing: Too Good to be True." Ludwig von Mises Institute - Homepage. 4 June 2004. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://mises.org/story/1533>.
- "Study: Every GM Vehicle Sold Costs Taxpayers $12,200." National Taxpayers Union & National Taxpayers Union Foundation. 18 Nov. 2009. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://www.ntu.org/main/press.php?PressID=1133&org_name=NTU>.
- Kellogg, Alex P., and Kris Maher. "UAW to Get 55% Stake in Chrysler for Concessions - WSJ.com." Business News & Financial News - The Wall Street Journal - WSJ.com. 28 Apr. 2009. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124087751929461535.html>.
- Cauchon, Dennis. "USA TODAY: For feds, more get 6-figure salaries." News, Travel, Weather, Entertainment, Sports, Technology, U.S. & World - USATODAY.com. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20091211/1afedpay11_st.art.htm?loc=interstitialskip>.
- Spitznagel, Mark. "The Man Who Predicted the Depression - WSJ.com." Business News & Financial News - The Wall Street Journal - WSJ.com. 6 Nov. 2009. Web. 15 Dec. 2009. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704471504574443600711779692.html>.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I began developing this idea following a short blog I wrote in September (2009) following the various town-hall protests around the country - The blog was called Fearing citizen violence? You shouldn't - Found here: Fearing Citizen Violence? You Shouldn't.
Too often, our news media & politicians engage in hysterical hyperbole about the threat of violence by normal citizens protesting the continuing loss of freedom in the United States. But is that really something we should be worried about, or is it just another way for politicians to divide & distract the public?
This short video attempts to put things into perspective, and pull back the curtain on who has the real power, and what they've been doing with it.
Citizen A is (currently) two dedicated supporters of freedom & entertainment industry veterans living in Hollywood.
-Sean W. Malone-
-Mark T. Petro-
..........Hire us, and we can introduce professional caliber production to your next multimedia project!
Robert P. Murphy at Free Advice:
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Damon Root writes:
"And check out this great video on the case from IJ:"(I agree... Check it out!)
The video has helped the Institute for Justice get more media coverage on this issue. For instance, in yesterday's Richmond Times-Dispatch, reporter A. Barton Hinkle writes:
I certainly don't.
"Pity the poor state officials stuck with the task of justifying the regulations. In a letter to Del. David Bulova in late October, Daniel LaVista, head of the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), graciously agreed to postpone the implementation of the new certification requirements until after the end of the next General Assembly session. Nevertheless, he wrote, "there is an emerging national consensus that inadequately trained yoga instructors are a source of serious potential harm to students."
Sure there is. You can hardly cross the street these days without bumping into someone whose life is a shambles because some yoga teacher said Parsva Bakasana when she meant Purvottanasana.
In fact, The Washington Post reports, "yoga teacher training first hit the state's radar late last year after a state employee conducting school audits happened upon an advertisement, [according to] Linda Woodley, [SCHEV's] director of private and out-of-state postsecondary education . . . .Woodley says it's about ensuring that students who plunk down cash for training programs that can run a few thousand dollars are getting their money's worth."
Really? How will the state decide that? Will it delve into judgments about the comparative merits of Kundalini versus Sivaneda yoga? Will it weigh in on whether yoga disciplines are discreet enough to merit copyright protection, as Bikram Choudhury has claimed? In September, Forbes reported that although a court case over that question was settled, "no clear decision emerged as to whether Choudhury's copyright was worth the paper it was printed on." That may be because, as a UCLA law professor told the LA Times four years ago, the question "depends on an issue that isn't covered in the law: What is the nature of yoga?" Do we really want state regulators deciding that question?"
Mp3 version of just the music I wrote available on my website: www.sean-malone.com - check it out there too... And you know... Hire me for your projects ;)
Monday, November 30, 2009
As such, I now intend to address the real problems with health care in the United States and then attempt to offer real, economically viable solutions.
So first off, let me stipulate that most everyone agrees that the fundamental problem with health care in the United States is not the "care" itself, which remains among the best in the world by many measurable standards that actually count (hint: general life expectancy & infant mortality don't), such as medical innovation, treatment of serious illnesses like Cancer and our high rates of delivery for premature infants.
According to the NY Times:
“In the last 10 years, for instance, 12 Nobel Prizes in medicine have gone to American-born scientists working in the United States, 3 have gone to foreign-born scientists working in the United States, and just 7 have gone to researchers outside the country.”And as you can see below, the US has the highest cancer survival rates of any other nation, and taken as an average US vs. Europe, the difference is truly striking. But rarely do we hear this kind of information from people who want to involve more government force in our health care choices.
So clearly, the main problem here isn't the quality, but the substantially higher cost compared with other industrialized nations, and thus limited access for certain less financially stable & poor members of our population.
There are a number of reasons for this that are far less shocking or diabolical than many would seem to believe, and I will cover many of those as I progress through this essay. Essentially, this will be formed as a series of responses to a debate I had with a (European) man named Mal who supports European-style socialized health care for the United States. As one might expect, his arguments were representative of the better, more knowledgeable and rational defenses of the system, but his point, in my estimation is still mostly incorrect... This was his main question:
"Why not use a socialized system in America just like they do in Europe? They provide health care to everyone and they are proven to be cheaper than the US system."No doubt many people ask this question regularly, and are unable to come up with a satisfactory reason why not. I am not one of those.
There are many reasons why the USA and European nations shouldn’t be categorized the same way. But before I explain why in greater detail, I must first reject the two fundamental premises Mal presented.
- Socialized health care systems provide care to all: They most certainly do not. There are frequently shortages and rationing of goods & services as a necessary consequence of the system. What they are doing is providing payment for health-care assuming you are lucky enough to get it.
- European & Canadian systems are financially solvent: These systems are crumbling financially throughout the world. The British & Canadian systems are effectively bankrupt already and the French government keeps trying desperately to cut costs by excluding treatments or increasing eligibility requirements while being thwarted by riotous citizens.
Insurance ≠ Health Care.
As a matter of fact, the tangible health care resources available in other nations are substantially less than those available in the United States. For instance, in a 2004 study on medical imaging in Canada, it was found that Canada had 4.6 MRI scanners per million population while the U.S. had 19.5 per million and Canadians have access to only 10.3 CT scanners per million vs. 29.5 per million in the United States. Because resources aren't priced, the only alternative is politically determined rationing, which is an enormous problem for individual consumers of health care, as it prevents crucial feedback information (related to supply & demand, profits & losses) from being transmitted throughout the market.
This calculation problem causes shortages, misallocation of resources, provides incentives for system abuse & other severe problems that are being entirely ignored by folks like Mal. So I reject both of his claims from the very start…
But apart from that, there are some truly major reasons why Europe & Canada have been able to do offer "universal" insurance schemes to begin with, and they have nothing to do with the intrinsic solvency of the ideas. While it's not talked about very often, Europe & Canada (and Japan, for that matter) have benefited immensely from American policy over the last 6 or 7 decades. In no particular order, here's why:
- American military protection allows other nations security without having to pay for it:
Frankly – if you are European, you really don’t want the US to cut military spending precisely because it allows your governments to pay for other services…
That said, honestly – It is always been my opinion that America shouldn’t be in the “world police” business. For one thing, I am sick of paying for the protection of dozens of other nations, especially since we have been borrowing & inflating our currency to pay for it. The United States has over 700 military bases in roughly 130 nations around the globe.
We were a nation which rejected the principles of empire-building, once upon a time... Do we really need one now?
I say no.
I also don't appreciate that our empire has enabled dozens of countries to free ride on our military protection and demand our services in times of need & crisis all the while insulting the very institutions which have made that possible. Nations of the world should be better prepared to sort out their own affairs, and the United States needs to stop meddling.
- The US subsidizes much of the cost of health care for Europe, Canada & other nations:
Of course, when the prices the EU sets are below the market clearing level – that is, below what the company could get in a free enterprise system – or even more problematically, when the prices set by the EU are lower than what the producers actually need to break even, these companies necessarily have to increase their prices on those of us who aren’t as tightly controlling their prices. Namely: The average U.S. consumer!
Europe's price controls push what would be their higher costs back onto (primarily) the American people. So why not impose price controls of our own here in the States?
Because soon enough, as has already happened with vaccine manufacturers – they ultimately put producers out of business by forcing them to operate at a loss. This isn’t sustainable and the real-world implications are massive shortages of everything we need to survive and be healthy.
Also, I should note that since we are the world leader in medical innovation & production of resources… Shortages here will mean massive shortages for everyone in Europe too!
- Scaling Bureaucracy:
Assuming even that the pyramid-scheme economics of social programs like we’re discussing was functional and sustainable, which it most certainly is not, then a big factor in implementation and the ability of people to game the system has to do with the bureaucracy itself.
Bureaucracies don’t scale up well. Even if we took the European model as a functional one – which I fundamentally don’t – there’s plenty of reason to question its efficacy in the United States. And that's all without actually factoring in significant differences in cultures.
Additionally, Mal asks:
"Why not just raise taxes to cover the costs? Europe has much higher tax rates than the US and does ok economically."Right now, America’s economy is on the ropes. We have massive amounts of debt (which many high tax European countries don't have). We have spent the last 100 years or so operating on deficit spending & inflationary policy - which has taken us from being the world's greatest creditor to the world's largest debtor. The only thing that is saving us right now is the productivity of our population and the (outside of recent events) comparatively high employment rates.
Raising taxes will increase unemployment, which will decrease America’s overall productivity and which will negatively effect all of us here and harm the world economy as well.
Spending cuts are already entirely necessary - without factoring in a massive new health-care regime. So, what do I suggest for spending cuts?
- Military (see above) - Time for everyone else to take care of their own national defense.
- Axe redundant or harmful Federal departments – I might suggest abolishing Dept. of Homeland Security & the Transportation Security Administration, consolidate FBI & CIA, and certainly the Dept. of Education (which has been a major cause of the decline in quality of American public schools for the last 50 years). Reduction to Constitutional levels of Federal bureaucracy would be preferred, but any significant reduction could help immensely.
- Reduce public employee salaries, pensions & benefits across the board – This may sound harsh, but on the whole they not only do much better than the average American, even within the tough economy, their benefits & wages are *increasing*. (Also, I think politicians salaries should be reduced for other reasons). We’re forced to pay for these people after all, we need to be getting our money’s worth and we’re not.
- Across the board Tax Cuts - Eliminate corporate taxes (which are simply reflected in higher prices to consumers and do very little to effect the corporations themselves) and decrease the regulatory burden on international investment - thus encouraging more people to move here, set up international headquarters here and invest in real production in the US again. More jobs, more revenue without raising tax rates, more production and thus increased standard of living. Reduce individual income taxes, allow citizens to keep more of their money.
There are plenty of things that could make America a solvent nation again, I tend to recommend the policy ideas of Peter Schiff, Ron Paul, David Walker and others, but regardless of how it's done, it needs to be done immediately or we are heading for much more severe catastrophe than we've seen the past year or two. The idea of tacking on a massive new entitlement program onto our existing house-of-cards financial position is, as far as I'm concerned, insanity.
But Mal has more to say:
Thank you for your elaborate response. There are some points where I don’t agree with you though.Unfortunately, saying "I see no evidence", is precisely the kind of anecdote that doesn't suffice as real information. In reality, the data is pretty clear on this point, and waiting times in the US are significantly lower across the board than any of the nations with so-called "universal" health care.
Providing healthcare. Plenty of European countries do provide all the necessary care quickly and of high quality. You are right that there are waiting lists for some procedures, and like in every system, screwups happen. If you have non-essential surgery, you might need to wait a bit, but for surgery which needs to be done quickly, I see no evidence that generally that is a problem. Of course there is anecdotal evidence where things go wrong, but overall, European healthcare systems are rated substantially higher than the US system...
A Commonwealth Fund study recently found that 42% of Canadians waited 2 hours or more in the emergency room, vs. 29% in the U.S.; 57% waited 4 weeks or more to see a specialist, vs. 23% in the U.S. - I cannot possibly go through each individual procedure, but this isn't uncommon. These aren't merely "anecdotes", but statistically significant and easily predictable consequences of these types of systems.
Note below Canada's wait times for different procedures and the discrepancy between wait times in Boston (Massachusetts being one of the only US States which has adopted "universal" health insurance paid for by the government) and other states.
|Wait Times in Canada|
|Massachusetts vs. Other US Cities|
Ironically, I recently found a Huffington Post article from 2007 by Deborah Burger, who is the President of the California Nurses Union, which is largely devoid of real evidence pointing out that the US waiting times are "three weeks" to see specialists. But... First off, that's significantly less than Canada - which literally makes her article 100% nonsense. But as you can see from the chart above, Massachusetts - whose "single-payer" system is failing miserably - is a massive outlier, and Boston brings the city average up 2 days. Excluding Boston, the average wait time is only 18.44 days for the listed procedures, and as cities experience the highest overall demand per available resources, that is likely to be the highest wait you'll experience under the current American system.
This obviously means the difference between life & death for a great number of people. Additionally, the American system is not actually as different as people would like to believe - both the United States & other developed nations' governments are heavily involved in health care. The United States is only a few degrees difference from these other systems, and those few remaining areas of liberty keep us in the lead as medical innovator. If we abandon those few remaining things that keep our system functional, I would fully expect some pretty grievous results - not only for Americans, but for everyone.
As for the various "Ratings" which show the US lagging behind other countries, they are highly misleading in several ways. Certainly, the cost measurement is an important factor, but the most common measurements cited are in life expectancy and infant mortality - neither of which are legitimate descriptions reflecting the quality of a nation's health care system.
For example, while its true many nations have a higher life-expectancy than the US, there is only a minimal and certainly not causal link to the health care system being employed. This factor is much more greatly effected by lifestyle, diet, exercise habits and race/ethnicity.
Certainly, no one is suggesting that Bosnia has a better health care system than the US, yet it exceeds us in average life expectancy according to international statistics. They score an average 78.5 years to the United State's 78.11.
Cubans' life expectancy is claimed to be higher than the United States as well... And as thrilled as Michael Moore might be about that, what didn't really make it into the movie "Sicko" were real images from Cuban hospitals.
Like this one:
|Cuban Health Care at its Finest!|
Another rating metric that’s commonly used is infant mortality rates, but this is even more misleading!
Different countries measure infant mortality by different standards. Many nations don’t count a baby as ever having been alive at all if it dies within the first few weeks. Some within the first 24 hours. The US counts all babies who were not stillborn – which is reason one our stats wind up inflated by comparison.
That said, that isn’t a complete explanation – the other half of this a sort of ironic statistical artifact of the US’ tendency to work harder than other nations to save premature babies. We have a much higher percentage of premature births than most other nations… Some look at this as a bad thing (including the NY Times), however, I have a number of friends who were born prematurely and who would have died at birth in many other nations.
In either case, it is what it is.
Premature babies are obviously at a much higher risk for dying within the first year than full-term babies. So put all together: We have a nation that is able to save babies’ lives that would have either been stillborn or died in the hospital in other nations, and unlike many other countries we count all of them. Some of those babies die within their first year, making our statistics look horrible.
It's easy enough to throw out statistics that make it sound like the US is in horrible shape, but the truth is much more complex.
Also, here's an even more comprehensive article: The Truth About Health Care & Infant Mortality
Additionally, the WTO rankings often fail to take into consideration other significant details very well. As I noted earlier, the US has the highest survival rate for cancer and other major diseases of anywhere in the world.
The reality is, we do a lot of the hard stuff vastly better than Europe. The only real problem, with the U.S. system is the extremely high cost of Medical Care – which also limits access for some people.
However... The high cost is a consequence of government intervention.
I have covered this numerous times throughout this blog, and as always, detailed history can be found here & also here.
But back to Mal:
Also, in my opinion, some rationing is good. Healthcare demand can essentially be infinite. Because of the insurance, few people bear the cost of healthcare themselves. And as with all systems where those who get something out of it without paying the costs, demand tends to be higher than needed. A bit of rationing brings some rationality back in the system IMO (probably not the most popular view I admit).Or... People could actually pay for it themselves! Rationing fails miserably as a way to bring "rationality" into the system because it lacks all of the information-gathering abilities of prices, profits & losses
Mal also revises his suggestion of raising taxes to pay for the system, responding to my earlier point:
Raising taxes, it all depends on how you do it. You have a lot of loopholes that could be fixed. You could stop protecting people from the inheritence/estate tax/ Of course, simply raising tax rates, especially on lower paid workers will increase unemployment.I can't really get bogged down by this, but I have to make a couple points about taxation as Mal suggests. First, any additional taxation is a further burden on the citizens, regardless of whether or not it happens today, in the form of income or sales taxes, or in 30 years in the form of wiping out a person's savings. Secondly, the estate taxes are ALWAYS avoidable. Instead of leaving one's children money, a person may spend more during his life time or find ways to gift his children large items like houses, cars, vacations, jewelry, etc. just prior to death. In either case, the tax wouldn't be paid, and the idea that you would tax someone's estate upon their death is morbid and morally repugnant to me anyway.
But an estate tax, if done properly and without being able to avoid it, would hardly influence unemployment, if at all. Or are you saying that you would work less now if you can’t give 80% to your children in 30 years time, but only 60%?
A person's death should not be one last opportunity for the government to take from them.
Finally, Mal questions whether or not the other "universal" health care schemes are "broken and crumbling" as I had claimed. It's quite true, I'm afraid.
The UK Times Online writes:
“A recent report from the King’s Fund and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) showed how the NHS cannot provide a comprehensive service on current assumptions after 2011. To freeze the budget again would require an extra £10.6 billion over the next spending review period. Some of the shortfall could, in principle, come from increased productivity, up to 7.7 per cent per annum, according to the IFS. This is an heroic assumption in a service in which, as the Office for National Statistics recently showed, productivity fell 4.3 per cent over the decade from 1997.”The Wall Street Journal notes that in France:
“The problem is that Assurance Maladie has been in the red since 1989. This year the annual shortfall is expected to reach €9.4 billion ($13.5 billion), and €15 billion in 2010, or roughly 10% of its budget.”And in Canada, the Vancouver Sun reports:
“Dix said a Vancouver Coastal Health Authority document shows it is considering chopping more than 6,000 surgeries in an effort to make up for a dramatic budgetary shortfall that could reach $200 million.”I can go on about this (obviously) just about all day, but I hope I’ve generally made my point that the US still has some of the highest quality care in the world, and that increasing government involvement in the system is a criminally bad idea which will reduce that high quality, and exponentially exacerbate costs.
So what will reduce costs and encourage better service and quality? Glad you asked! A lot of things.
- Make ALL Health Care Tax Free: Regardless of whether or not it's your employer who's buying or you, yourself, the playing field needs to be even. The government's special exemption for businesses is what caused health insurance to be tied to employment - Doing away with all taxes on medical care would lower everyone's costs and remove the incentives against individual insurance policies. When people are once again in control of their own insurance, they will once again be the actual consumer.
- Repeal ALL Insurance Mandates: Insurance companies are currently extremely limited on the types of plans & different price-levels they are able to offer their consumers, because the government mandates base levels of coverage. They effectively eliminate legitimate competition and restrict individuals' freedom to balance price with coverage. These mandates also shift the entire insurance system from true "insurance" which protects against financially catastrophic risk to insurance-as-3rd-party payer, thus skewing economic incentives towards over consumption, raising costs by billions of dollars.
- Allow Insurance Companies to Compete Across State Lines: The full-faith & credit clause aside, there is no legal or moral reason that we should not be free to purchase health care insurance from anyone who is willing to provide it for us. This makes insurance "portable", and steps up competition in an as yet unprecedented way, which will reduce costs, provide more flexibility and help individuals find plans that are right for them.
- End the Cartels: Insurance Companies, the AMA, Pharmaceutical Companies, and virtually all aspects of the health care establishment enjoy special legal protections of their position. These need to be eliminated. The American Medical Association currently retains control over medical licenses, and the number of doctors available in the United States - this causes regular shortages in doctors. That, in turn, limits access and increases the cost to the consumer. Insurance companies, Blue Cross & Blue Shield enjoy special legal status which prevents any real competition in insurance markets, and allows them to dominate insurance markets in virtually every state - Aetna & other big insurers enjoy similar (though not as ensconced) protections through tax-breaks and limited licenses. These things need to be eliminated in order for the market for health care to function properly. Both companies who manufacture health care goods, and doctors, nurses & other professionals who produce medical services - must be allowed to succeed or fail based on how they meet consumer demand, not based on how politically well-connected they are.
- Tort Reform: "Ambulance Chasers" and other disreputable legal services have set up a cottage industry around medical malpractice lawsuits - This is why it costs many doctors between $50-100,000 a year simply to hold medical malpractice insurance. Tort reform can help eliminate the frivolous lawsuits, thus reducing the need for such high priced insurance lowering the total cost to consumers.
- Health Savings Accounts: True insurance is a risk pool designed to help people manage unforeseeable expenses, not a way to pass off predictable costs onto other people. Tax-free health savings accounts can help people manage regular maintenance costs such as doctors visits, flu-shots, and minor medical procedures while leaving insurance to cover legitimate catastrophic care only. This would drastically reduce abuse of insurance and lower costs across the board as individuals - rather than government officials or insurance companies - made more direct decisions about their medical care.
- Transparency in Costs: This is significantly more culture than policy, but people need to be in the habit of asking for cost break-downs of their doctor & hospital visits. HSA's, an actually competitive insurance industry, and paying for more care directly would go a long way to encourage this. Knowing price enables people to weigh cost vs. benefits, and reflects the relative scarcity of different goods & services. When a 3rd party pays, whether that's an insurer or a government, those issues are never considered - thus raising costs, causing shortages and rampant over-consumption.
- Begin Reducing Government as Health Care Payer: Medicare & Medicaid, and most other social welfare institutions in the United States function as pyramid schemes. These pay-as-you-go financing methods are entirely unsustainable, and contribute greatly to increased costs. Reducing the government's involvement not only keeps the US financially solvent, but also will reduce costs to consumers over time.
- Tax Reform for Charity: Provide greater incentives for people to contribute to medical charities and to help support treatment for poor & low-income individuals. With fewer taxes overall, more money to spend out of pocket and cheaper health care overall, this shouldn't be difficult. America is already far and away the most charitable nation on the planet...
- Freedom!: People should be free to determine who provides their health care, what type of care they want, who will be paying (insurance, HSA, generous benefactors, charities, credit cards, etc.), and what kinds of arrangements suit them the best. They should also be free to decide what arrangements to make regarding their bodies - if hospitals and other foundations wish to offer compensation for organs or bone marrow to increase the availability of transplants, they should be free to do so. This will free up financial arrangements so that instead of just one or two options, people can pick and choose from hundreds to find the one (or many) which suits them best. It also means that questions of medical ethics and religion are no longer an issue. If you smoke, or are overweight, if you want an abortion or if you want to try an experimental medication - a free system allows you to do these things if your insurer won't cover you, you have dozens of other options. But when the government pays, you lose these choices. When other people are forced to pay for your health, suddenly other people get some say in what you can and cannot do. Are abortions to be publicly financed? Stem cell research? Organ transplants? Drug rehabilitation? Sure... If you can get the votes. And if you can't... Tough luck.
Pharmaceutical companies, insurance giants & unions don't deserve special protections or tax benefits - they don't deserve to have government protecting them from competitors. Let those successful companies win by providing individuals with what they want, and let profits and losses guide producers as to what that means.
If we do each of these things, as has happened in all industries with a modicum of freedom, costs will come down, choices will multiply and both producers & consumers will win. And that's the goal isn't it?
Indeed it is.
So there it is... Parts 1 & 2 of my health care points.
Strawmen have been debunked, intelligent arguments soundly refuted and solutions offered. And... I think that's all I have to say about that.