Monthly Archives: July 2009

Obesity! (Women And Minorities Hardest Hit)

Chalk this one up to the sloppy language and anthropomorphism. Marc Ambinder is responding to points Megan McArdle made about obesity, and he takes a few steps too far (via Democracy in America):

If you tend to blame individuals for their choices, then your answer will be no. But the crucial fact is that obesity does not treat everyone equally. It discriminates according to status, class and geography.

Obesity does not discriminate. Obesity is not a virus, it is not a sentient bacteria targeting the poor. Obesity is a non-contagious condition. Obesity doesn’t “treat everyone” unequally.

The fact is that some groups are disproportionately obese. And there are countless reasons for this, whether genetic, educational, environmental, socioeconomic, etc. To try to discuss those reasons would be well beyond my depth. But from a rhetorical standpoint, it has to be made clear that anthropomorphizing a condition like obesity doesn’t make Marc’s point any stronger.

This may be criticized as nit-picking, and potentially justifiably so. Sloppy language, though, encourages sloppy thinking. That’s the last thing we need in this health care debate.

What’s Really Wrong With “Cash For Clunkers”

This morning, we learned that the Car Allowance Rebate System, known more popularly as the “Cash for Clunkers” program was running out of money after only a few days in operation:

The government’s “cash for clunkers” program, aimed at boosting stagnant auto sales, is almost out of money, putting its future in question, according to sources familiar with the effort.

Passed by Congress in late June to help the flagging U.S. auto industry and launched just a week ago, the $1 billion program gives vouchers worth up to $4,500 to consumers who trade in gas-guzzling cars for more fuel-efficient models. The highly publicized effort was scheduled to run until Nov. 1, or until money ran out. It was not expected to run out of cash so quickly.

The effort, formally known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, or CARS, appeared headed for a temporary shutdown at midnight Thursday. Federal transportation officials became increasingly concerned that the program’s popularity with consumers could drain its budget by week’s end, according to sources familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

It’s pretty to figure out why this happened once you take a look at how the program worked:

Under the program, consumers get a voucher for up to $4,500 — depending on the model and average fuel economy of their car or truck — if they buy a new car or truck that gets better gas mileage than the one that was scrapped. The payoff grows depending on the difference in the fuel efficiencies of the old and new cars.

Basically, if you had an older car (and it’s typically older cars that get lower gas mileage) the Federal Government was subsidizing your trade-in if you purchased a new vehicle. For someone who’s been driving, say, a late 90s care into the ground, it was a pretty good deal — instead of waiting another year or two, you could have a new car now, and the government would pay for a good party of it. Frankly, only a government bureaucrat or a politician would be surprised that it would garner a lot interest.

The fact that the government apparently completely misjudged how popular the program is should be a warning to those who would continue to put more and more power into the hands of the state. If they can’t accurately estimate how many people would respond to a program like this, and can’t even tell us whether there’s any money left in the program as of today, then how are they going to be able to run one of the largest sectors of the economy ?

Now that’s it’s running out of money, of course, people are already calling for more:

One Michigan Republican, Congresswoman Candice Miller, has alreayd come out in favor of extending the program, saying in a statement that “There can be no doubt that the Cash for Clunkers program is a complete success given the fact that the entire $1 billion allocated to the program was expended in less than a week.”

She called the program “simply the most stimulative $1 billion the federal government has spent during the entire economic downturn.”

It’s worth asking, though, whether this program is really accomplishing anything, and whether it’s doing more harm than good.

Sure, the program has stimulated car sales, but it’s pretty clear that all that it’s really done is give drivers the incentive to purchase a new car now, rather than purchasing it in the future. That’s not economic stimulation, it’s a time-shifted purchase, and, to the extent that the program has given people the incentive to purchase cars that they otherwise could not afford, it’s helping to create an auto sales/credit bubble not all that different from the real estate bubble that got us into our current mess. However long the CARS program lasts, it will, in the end, be merely a brief up-tick in an otherwise dismal auto-market.

What’s wrong with “Cash for Clunkers” isn’t that they ran out of money — although that certainly should cause people to doubt the government’s ability to make economic forecasts of any kind — but that it’s more of the same nonsense we’ve been doing for years.

Quote Of The Day

From Tim Lynch, Cato@Liberty, on Obama’s entrance to Gates-gate:

Even more disturbing is Obama’s leap into this matter. It is yet another indication of the Cult of the Presidency where the President sees a role for himself in just about any aspect of life. The news media covers the event as if it is pretty much ordinary business. What’s next? Will Mr. Obama try to help the Gosselins out by having Jon and Kate over for tea? Obama could bring in the best counselors in the world while Michelle takes the kids on a helicopter ride to Camp David for the afternoon.

I think all he needs to do is introduce Jon to Hillary. Kate’ll seem like a downright peach!

Obama, Gates, Crowley, and the Troubling Controversy that Seemingly Won’t Go Away

Up to now I have purposely avoided this whole disorderly conduct arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. for a number of reasons.

First reason being that compared to the other cases I’ve written about here and elsewhere, this is a very minor case of police misconduct. I have yet to read or hear any reports that Mr. Gates was roughed up even a little bit.

Second, Mr. Gates seems like a real ass. Gates seems to be someone who has a chip on his shoulder and apparently views the world in black and white (i.e. if the police as much as ask a question, s/he is a racist!). A woman saw 2 men trying to break into Gate’s home; unbeknownst to the woman, one of the men was the resident of the home. The woman even said as much on the 911 call:

“I don’t know what’s happening. … I don’t know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key, but I did notice they had to use their shoulders to try to barge in…”

Now some people are calling her a racist for making the call to the police to begin with!

Third, like President Obama, I “don’t have all the facts” but unlike the president, I’m not going to say definitively that the police “acted stupidly.” There are no videos that documented the encounter and I wasn’t there so I cannot make a judgment as to who acted stupidly or to what degree. My best guess, based on what I have read about the case, is that both Mr. Gates and Sgt. Crowley acted inappropriately and overreacted.

So why have I decided to weigh in now you ask? I think the reason has to do mostly with the fact that this story won’t go away and with so much commentary in the MSM, talk radio, and the blogosphere, I can’t help but offer my 2 cents because certain aspects of this saga trouble me.

I am troubled that this case has turned into a race issue. This was not a case where a white police officer pulled over a black man for DWB. The police responded to a 911 call of a possible break in. This is what the police are supposed to do!

I am troubled that the president would make a public statement without knowing more about the facts of the case. For whatever reason, President Obama thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to opine about the historically troubled relationship between racial minorities and the police. Whether or not the president has a legitimate case to make, this case is not what I would consider a good example of the police racial profiling. What he should have said was something like: “Mr. Gates is a friend of mine but I don’t know all the facts; it would be inappropriate for me to comment about this case at this time.”

I am troubled that (apparently) the police did not leave Mr. Gates home once he identified himself as the home’s rightful resident, thus proving no crime had been committed.

I am troubled with how the police can apparently arrest someone for disorderly conduct for just about any reason they wish. While I do believe that Mr. Gates acted like an ass…since when is that a crime? Sure, he yelled some nasty things at the police when he should have been thanking them for investigating what appeared to be an unlawful break in, but how is making his displeasure known to the police disorderly conduct? I believe Doug is right: arresting Gates in this case was an unconstitutional voilation of his civil rights.

I am troubled by the way certain commentators such as Glenn Beck have gone off the deep end on Obama’s handling of this case, even going as far as calling the president a racist. I didn’t like it when people called Bush a racist and I don’t like it when people call Obama a racist*. That is a hell of a nasty charge to make of anyone (and if one does make that charge, they should have some damn good proof). Like I said before, Obama mishandled this situation but to say he is racist for commenting on race relations with the police (however inappropriate in using this case as an example) is a bridge too far.

I am troubled that other commentators say that because Obama said that the police “acted stupidly” that this is a slap in the face to police officers everywhere…as if he called all police officers stupid. What complete nonsense. I think its worth pointing out that Obama called the actions of the police stupid; he did not call the police stupid. This is a very important distinction. Even the most intelligent, honest, and morally upstanding individual acts stupidly at times. Not even college professors, police officers, or world leaders are immune from this.

Yes, this is indeed a teaching moment. Its just too bad that too many people seem to be learning the wrong lessons.

» Read more

Kevin Drum Astonished That People Disproportionately Like Subsidized Stuff

Satisfaction levels of Medicare beneficiaries are pretty high. This surprises Kevin Drum:

There’s a pretty obvious political dynamic that’s responsible for this. Seniors, who actually use Medicare, know perfectly well that it’s a good program. They can see any doctor they want, they get care when they need it, and the quality of service is high. So why do younger Americans have such a negative attitude toward Medicare?

Answer: because conservative politicians have been bellowing for years about what a terrible program it is. And since younger workers don’t actually use it themselves, the bellowing works. They figure it must suck.

In reality, Medicare works fine. Not perfectly, but fine. It offers service at least as good as private insurance despite serving the highest-risk population there is, and it does at least as good a job of reining in costs — slightly better, in fact. Sure, it could be improved, but it’s already probably better than the employer insurance that you have right now. I’d switch in a second if I could.

Medicare isn’t a bad system at providing medical care. Most doctors/hospitals accept it, as they typically know that they’re not going to get into fights with the government over whether or not they’ll get paid. Seniors thus don’t have a lot to worry about — they can go to the doctor whenever they need and get the care they require.

All that, for a Medicare Part B premium of a mere $96.40 per month. That’s roughly 1/10th of the premium my [large multinational] employer pays for my healthcare, and smaller than the additional portion I pay out-of-pocket for coverage of my wife and kids.

Does anyone think that the $96.40 premium covers the cost of insuring the average senior? I don’t think so. If it did, we wouldn’t be calling it an “entitlement” or worrying about the unfunded liabilities of Medicare going out over the next few decades. We wouldn’t be getting hit as workers with 2.9% of our incomes taken in taxes to pay for the Medicare system.

So are seniors pleased with the system they have? They get cheap premiums and adequate care, all on the backs of the taxpayers. Who wouldn’t be pleased?

The Arrest Of Henry Louis Gates Was Unconstitutional

So says Fox News Channel Legal Analyst, and former Judge, Andrew Napolitano:

Civil liberties attorney Harvey Silvergate agrees:

Under well-established First Amendment jurisprudence, what Gates said to Crowley–even assuming the worst–is fully constitutionally protected. After all, even “offensive” speech is covered by the First Amendment’s very broad umbrella

(…)

Today, the law recognizes only four exceptions to the First Amendment’s protection for free speech: (1) speech posing the “clear and present danger” of imminent violence or lawless action posited by Holmes, (2) disclosures threatening “national security,” (3) “obscenity” and (4) so-called “fighting words” that would provoke a reasonable person to an imminent, violent response.

As Silvergate goes on to discuss in an article well-worth reading, none of these four exceptions can reasonably be said to have applied to the confrontation between Crowley and Gates. Additionally, as Jacob Sullum notes, neither would Massachusetts state law on disorderly conduct justify the arrest in this case:

In Massachusetts, as in many states, the definition of disorderly conduct is drawn from the American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code. A person is considered disorderly if he “engages in fighting or threatening, violent or tumultuous behavior…with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm” or “recklessly creates a risk thereof.”

Crowley claims Gates recklessly created public alarm by haranguing him from the porch of his house, attracting a small crowd that included “at least seven unidentified passers-by” as well as several police officers. Yet it was Crowley who suggested that Gates follow him outside, thereby setting him up for the disorderly conduct charge.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Crowley was angered and embarrassed by Gates’ “outburst” and therefore sought to create a pretext for arresting him. “When he has the uniform on,” Crowley’s wife later told The New York Times, “Jim has an expectation of deference.”

As the Massachusetts Appeals Court has noted, “the theory behind criminalizing disorderly conduct rests on the tendency of the actor’s conduct to provoke violence in others.” Yet police officers often seem to think the purpose of such laws is to punish people for talking back to cops.

And yet, that’s not what the law says, as Massachusetts’ highest Court has recognized:

The officers’ presence, alone, did not suffice to prove the public element, regardless of any concern they may have felt as they witnessed the defendant’s confrontation with Sergeant Boss. As recognized in the commentaries to the Model Penal Code, behavior that has an impact only upon members of the police force is significantly different from that affecting other citizens in at least two respects: it is an unfortunate but inherent part of a police officer’s job to be in the presence of distraught individuals; and, to the extent that the theory behind criminalizing disorderly conduct rests on the tendency of the actor’s conduct to provoke violence in others, “one must suppose that [police officers], employed and trained to maintain order, would be least likely to be provoked to disorderly responses.” Model Penal Code § 250.2 comment 7, at 350. Accordingly, police presence in and of itself does not turn an otherwise purely private outburst into disorderly conduct.(9)

In other words, the mere act of talking back to a cop does not constitute a crime and should not justify arrest.

Gates was a hothead, but Crowley stepped outside the bounds of his Constitutionally-limited authority.

Where’s The Authority ?

Walter Williams asks a question that, unfortunately, nobody in power bothers to ask anymore:

A president has no power to raise or lower taxes. He can propose tax measures or veto them, but since Congress can ignore presidential proposals and override a presidential veto, it has the ultimate taxing power.

The same principle applies to spending. A president cannot spend a dime that Congress does not first appropriate. As such, presidents cannot be held responsible for budget deficits or surpluses. That means that credit for a budget surplus or blame for budget deficits rests on the congressional majority at the time.

Thinking about today’s massive deficits, we might ask: Where in the U.S. Constitution is Congress given the authority to do anything about the economy?

Or, more specifically, where is the Federal Government given the authority to bailout private lending institutions, bailout failing auto companies, and take over the health care industries ?

I’ve searched high and low in Article I, Section 8 and I sure as heck can’t find it.

Of course, I’m probably not using the modern translation.

The Horse Race

Curunir over at The Distributed Republic has a point, related to many politicos obsession prior to the election with 538.com, that resonates with me:

Am I the only one who finds the popularity of horse-race style election coverage negative and bad for society, certainly not something to be subsidized?

To be sure, I don’t care if some people find political races thrilling, in the same way I find the ACC standings interesting. But I wish people wouldn’t confuse caring about issues with caring about elections.

Politics is a sport. There is a certain level of fandom associated with it, and I’m not going to disparage those who follow it for its sporting aspects (I think a few co-contributors here [coughDougcough] fit that profile) as if it’s somehow more irrelevant than my following of Purdue football or MotoGP. But when it comes to tracking polls and day-to-day changes in public opinion, I’m not going to elevate it above the sports I follow either.

Often, people I know are surprised when I tell them how much I hate politics. After all, I run The Liberty Papers. I follow politics. I can speak at greater length on many political issues than most people who follow politics, and to the “eyes-glaze-over” level for non-politicos. But I hate politics. If these assholes in Washington didn’t have the (improper) legal authority to tell me what to do and lock me in a cage if I don’t comply, I’d pay about as much attention to them as I do to soccer.

I blog mainly because I’m not about horse racing (except, of course, when I go to the actual horse track), but because I’m about ideas. There are principles here, and the politics involved (to the extent they move beyond Team A vs Team B) are an outgrowth of those principles. I want to change peoples minds and let them realize how that might change their votes.

Elections matter — you know, the whole lock me in a cage thing. But at the start and end of the day, I’m far more interested in drawing people towards individualism and freedom. I know that my co-contributors — even those who enjoy the sporting aspects — are here to do the same. The motto over at Reason is “Free Minds and Free Markets”. I think if you take care of the former, you’ll get the latter. I’m here to free minds. The occupants of the White House or Congress are not critical to that task.

Chavez’ Plan: Domination Through Caffeine Withdrawal!

We’ve already reported on Venezuelan food shortages, which are going to make the population too weak to fight Chavez. Now it appears they’ll be too tired as well:

Venezuela, a traditional coffee exporter that boasts one of the best cups of java in South America, may have to import coffee for the first time ever this year or face shortages, industry experts said.

Producers say rising costs and prices fixed by the government have caused production to fall and illegal exports to rise. The government says poor climate and speculation by growers and roasters is to blame.

“There is a serious shortage,” Pedro Vicente Perez, coffee director with the national agricultural federation, Fedeagro, told Reuters.

“This is the first time ever Venezuela will have to import large quantities of coffee,” Perez said.

If Alaska goes communist, they’ll have a shortage of snow.

Hat Tip: Carpe Diem via TJIC

Why Do We Need Expensive College Degrees to Get A Simple Job?

Enrollment in U.S. higher education, by institution type: 1967–97

Enrollment in U.S. higher education, by institution type: 1967–97

Until 1960 or so, the percentage of people getting college degrees was relatively low. There was plenty of work for people who had ‘merely’ graduated from high school, and a high school graduate could support a family.

Then came the Vietnam War, where the United States government would happily enslave high-school graduates, but not students in college. The number of students entering college zoomed upward, and the number of colleges proliferated.

But the war ended in the early 1970’s, and the U.S. government stopped enslaving young men, although it does reserve the capability to start doing so at any time.

Yet, despite this pressure, the number of people entering college continued to increase. Why? Quite simply because it started to become difficult for a high school graduate to find a job. An increasing number of companies started demanding a college degree for jobs that clearly don’t require anything more than the education that could be acquired at a half-way decent high school.

Why would employers do this? What could prompt such a strange change? As usual, dig down into the matter, and the answer becomes clear.  In a paper posted at the John William Pope Canter for Higher Education, Bryan O’Keefe and Richard Vedder argue that the reduced employment opportunities for high-school graduates and the resulting rise of the higher education bubble is an unintended consequence of the 1964 Civil Right Act, namely this part of Section VII:

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer –

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

At the time this law was passed employers routinely classified prospective employees via pre-employment testing.  This testing was used to determine things like knowledge, technical aptitude, personality compatibility and, yes, the race of applicants.  At the time the law was being debated, its opponents raised the objection that this law could outlaw non-racist testing alongside racist testing.  To which the proponents of the bill replied:

There is no requirement in Title VII that employers abandon bona fide qualification tests where, because of differences in background and educations, members of some groups are able to perform better on these tests than members of other groups.  An employer may set his qualification as high as he likes, he may test to determine which applicants have these qualifications, and he may hire, assign, and promote on the basis of test performance.

Of course, like Madison’s claims that the Federal Government would obviously be limited to the powers described in Section 8 of Article I of the U.S. Constitution, these legislators claims did not survive actual contact with the courts.  In the case Griggs v. Duke Power, the U.S. Supreme Court described what criteria can be used for pre-employment testing:

  • A test where members of one race performed more poorly than members of another race – demonstrating a “disparate” performance – was assumed to be discriminatory with respect to race, even if that was not the intention of the test.
  • Tests with disparate results are illegal unless the test has a direct business necessity.

Since, most businesses weren’t interested in wasting money on tests that were not necessary to screening out unfit employees or identifying the most fit employees, they were stunned.  The Supreme Court had a very complicated definition of what constituted “Direct Business Necessity”, one that was difficult to meet and gave considerable deference to the employee of the Equal Opportunity Commission who was deciding whether or not to accuse a company of illegal discrimination.  Only the simplest tests, such as requiring a prospective driver to pass a driving test could reasonably pass muster.  Other tests, which businessmen clearly felt were useful to reducing the risk of hiring the wrong person for the job,  now could get them sued.

Companies began casting about for a way to screen out the-incompetent or unfit in a way that would not result in them being sued.  The simplest solution is to demand a college degree.  Any racial discrimination demonstrated in the pool of degreed people would be the colleges’ liability, and the business could get on with the business of hiring new employees without being worried about lawsuits.

It has taken thirty years for this unfortunate unintended consequence to play out;

  • People entering the workforce have been kept idle for four years unnecessarily.
  • People entering the workforce are saddled with debts that are difficult to pay off.
  • Colleges have gotten away with lowering educational standards because their graduates are in such high demand.

When summed across the millions of people who have entered the workforce in the last two decades, the economic costs imposed by this well-intended but horrendously misguided effort are staggering.  They include

  • Almost 100 million man-years’ lost productivity.
  • An additional 10 million man-years spent paying off college loans
  • Increased pressure on children to engage in organized activities designed to win the child a scholarship at the expense of their personal development.

Had the proponents of the Civil Rights Act limited their aim at racial discrimination by the government, they would have been crafting a very socially beneficial law.  But by seeking to use the law to force people not to racially discriminate, they wreaked massive damage on the economy.  Ironically, this damage disproportionately affects minorities who are far more likely to be at the mercy of awful government schools than other ethnic/racial groups.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Harold Fish is Free!

On the Liberty Papers, much of what we write is negative; decrying the steady movement towards tyranny and totalitarianism that is the trajectory of the U.S.. Occasionally, we get to report some good news.Harold Fish has been released from jail.

His case is an important one; the state of Arizona charged him with murder for defending himself with too powerful a weapon; while hiking in the backwoods, Mr Fish was charged by a group of aggressive dogs (who were, quite reasonably, unleashed) . Fish had a 10mm Kimber Pistol with hollow point ammunition. He fired a warning shot into the ground to scare them off as they closed to within a few feet of him. At this point, he was attacked by the dog owner who screamed that he was going to kill Mr Fish and charged swinging his fists. Mr Fish fired three rounds at the last moment before the man got within punching distance and mortally wounded his attacker. he then spent agonizing minutes trying to get medical help for the man.

The police investigating the case thought it a clear case of self defense. The lawyers working for the state of Arizona disagreed, claiming that the size and type of rounds he was carrying indicated that Mr Fisher had set out on his hike with murder on his mind.

Through this argument, and by convincing the judge to keep exculpatory evidence out of the trial, the attorneys were able to successfully convict Mr Fish of murder, although within 24 hours at least one horrified juror contacted the defense attorney claiming that the excluded evidence would have resulted in a different verdict.

This case is important in that people have a right to defend themselves. Certainly, the courts have long held that police have not obligation to defend us. The act of walking outside the patrol area of the police does not mean that we have agreed to allow people to murder or assault us.

Luckily, the appelate court agreed that Mr Fish had been convicted unfairly, and thanks to recent changes in Arizona law clarifying the rules governing self defense, there is little chance that his retrial will result in a conviction.

Harold Fish lost three years of his life to prison. He is nearly $500,000 in debt at a time of his life where he has little prospect of paying it off (Donate here to his defense fund). All because a stranger attacked him, he defended himself, and a prosecutor didn’t like the size of his gun.

In a just world, the prosecutor would have to make Mr Fish whoole for all the money and time he lost on this frivolous prosecution. Unfortunately, we do not live in a just world.

At least Mr. Fish gets to have dinner with his wife again…

Hat Tip: Massad Ayoub of Backwoods Home Magazine.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

The Perfect Guidebook As We Travel Down The Road To Serfdom

As I’ve noted in the past, sales of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged have increased significantly over the past year.

Now it appears that the same is happening to Frederich Hayek’s seminal work:

So far this year the most popular edition of Road to Serfdom has sold 11,000 copies. That compares with 3,000 copies at the same point last year. That’s a 263 percent increase for those of you keeping score at home.

Why? Well, no doubt huge new government spending programs and attempts to massively expand the welfare state send people looking for classic literature that makes the case for liberty and limited government. But what the Marxists call the “objective conditions” can always use a bit of help. And indeed, just as I found in investigating the sales bump for Atlas Shrugged, it looks like an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal was instrumental in boosting the sales of The Road to Serfdom.

On February 4, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, now chairman of Freedomworks, published an op-ed in the Journal titled “Washington Could Use Less Keynes and More Hayek.” Sales of Road to Serfdom, which were in the low hundreds each week since the beginning of 2009, more than doubled over the next four weeks. It seems likely that Armey’s op-ed caused the new interest.

If you haven’t read it yet, you ought to. It does a better job than anything of explaining what’s wrong with where we’re headed in this country.

H/T: United Liberty

Hayek

Real Solutions for Health Care, Part I – The Problem

If one looks at Barack Obama’s principles for health care, the basic ideas are right. His three principles are:

  • Reduce Costs
  • Guarantee Choice
  • Ensure Quality Care for All

Unfortunately, the health care measures the president is backing shows he clearly doesn’t understand the main problem with American health care.

In America today, doctors rarely answer to patients. Instead, they answer to layers of faceless bureaucracy that ultimately answer to either employers or politicians. This makes doctors unresponsive to patient needs and results in ham-fisted results to control costs like senseless denials from private insurers and underpayments by government health care programs.

This system also presents a clear incentives for patients to get as much as they can without regard to cost. Since costs are borne by insurers and the government, the patient seeking treatment is shielded from them and have no incentive to seek only the treatment they need. In addition, they are further spurred to get “their share” by being set up as adversaries of insurance companies, employers, and the government.

The result of this incentive structure is a completely dysfunctional price system in health care. In a functioning price system, buyer and seller are competing for opposite purposes. The buyer wants to get the most product for the least money, while the seller wants to deliver the least product for the most money. When the price system is working, these incentives balance each other out and prices are controlled.

In health care, insurers-both private and government-try to deliver coverage as cheaply as possible without regard to quality because that’s what their masters want. Patients try to get as much value from their insurers without regard to cost. The result of these crossed incentives is a health care system that doesn’t meet the needs of patients while becoming ever more expensive.

Barack Obama’s health care plan does nothing to change this, and in fact goes to great lengths to make this incentive structure inescapable. Barack Obama, like many before him, is proceeding with good intentions but a poor understanding of what he’s trying to fix. The result is a health care plan that takes our problems and apply them to everyone.

Coming soon: Part II – Divorcing Health Care from Employment

Control Without Responsibility

At Cafe Hayek, a letter to the editor by Andy Morriss to the Wall Street Journal is posted:

Holman Jenkins asks “Does Obama Want to Own the Airlines?” (Business World, July 8). I am sure he does not. Rather than own them, the president and his congressional allies want to control the airlines — a crucial difference as ownership implies taking responsibility.

As Mr. Jenkins notes, the Justice Department’s belated intervention against Continental’s efforts to join the Star Alliance appears aimed at extorting concessions for the Democrats’ union allies. That is not the action of an owner of airline assets but of someone determined to redistribute wealth from airline passengers and shareholders to favored special interests.

One of the many benefits of free markets is that the people who own something are the ones who experience the benefits or losses accruing from their use of it. When considering how some property is going to be used, an owner and non-owner may have very strong opinions. The non-owner, who has less to lose, will be less careful and prudent in their decisionmaking. Moreover, often the non-owner will gain more from the misuse of the item than from its prudent use.

One does not have to look to hard to see this phenomenon in action. The attempt by GM to close dealerships, and thus reduce its losses was overridden by Congressmen interested in using GM’s wealth to buy votes by keeping the dealerships open. And that is one example of literally millions of instances that take place every year from all levels of government.

Obama, leading democrats and some very influential economists have repeatedly expressed the idea that increased government control of the medical industry would reduce costs without sacrificing quality. In their vision selfless government officials will ensure that people receive high quality treatment regardless of the cost, while the market power of government as a customer will ensure that costs will stay low. Against this charming vision stands a great body of evidence from public choice theory; government officials – or their private counterparts in the private-public partnerships in vogue today – will be able to exert control without any consequences. Just as medicare and medicaid administrators proved willing to authorize higher and higher treatment prices – to the point where it threatens the budget of the federal and nearly every state government – the administrators of any new government program will behave in similar uneconomic ways.

Control without responsibility is a very bad idea.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Lies, Damn Lies, and California Budget Proposals

The news out of Sacramento appears good for the California middle class:

The good news, Schwarzenegger glowed, is no new taxes.

Digging a little deeper, of course, reveals the truth:

REVENUES

* Accelerate income tax withholding — $1.7 billion
* Increase estimated tax payments for businesses and the self-employed — $610 million

Between now and the end of the year, $2.3 billion will be extracted from the economy in more aggressive tax collection. Where is that money going to come from? Everyone who works:

It also raises $4 billion by in part accelerating personal and corporate income tax withholdings and increasing income tax withholding schedules by 10 percent.

The state will take 10% more than it does today out of every paycheck issued in the State of California. That means that the Californian trying to stay afloat on a mortgage, pay medical bills, or send a kid to school will have less money to do it. The Californian out trying to support local businesses will have less money to do it. The Californian who lives paycheck-to-paycheck will have less money to survive.

Since this is a withholding change, the taxpayer should get the excess withheld back on next year’s tax return. That, though, won’t undo the foreclosure that happened because a Californian couldn’t pay his mortgage. It won’t make right the bankruptcy that occurred because a Californian couldn’t pay her medical bills. It won’t bring back the corner store that went under because people couldn’t afford to shop there.

The simple fact is that this budgetary shell game will cause each and every worker to pay more to the State of California in taxes. The state is so desperate to pass a budget that it is almost certain that this tax hike will pass. All I ask is that the clowns in Sacramento have enough respect for the taxpayers to level with us and admit that their budget contains $2.3 billion in tax hikes…

Fat chance.

Don’t Blame Me Just Because I Voted For Bob Barr

Over the weekend, Melissa Clouthier took the time to take to task those of us who refused to compromise our principles last November and voted for Bob Barr over the atrocious McCain/Palin ticket:

DontBlameBobTShirt[P]eople are coming out of the woodwork saying, “Don’t blame me! I voted for Bob Barr!” I ask you, Is that something to be proud of?

John McCain was a terrible candidate for a myriad of reasons I won’t list here. Rather than blogging anything negative, many times, I just held my tongue. (Other times, not so much.) Why? Do I and all conservatives who voted for John McCain lack a spine and principles? Some would say so. Did I hold my nose and vote for John McCain because I’m a conservative sellout?

I voted for John McCain for precisely the reasons we’re seeing right now. President Barack Obama is a statist. He’s a socialist. He wants to remake America into some liberal delusional utopian fantasy and he’s damn near succeeded at every single thing he’s wanted to do.

My brother was in Venezuela last week and talked to a local businessman who marveled of Chavez,”It’s amazing how much has changed in four years. How quickly it happened.” And it wasn’t good change. And he wasn’t hopeful. Do those who voted for Obama honestly think a slide of Venezuela-like proportions is impossible?

President Obama is a disaster for America and I hold those who voted for Bob Barr every bit as accountable as if the so-called principled person voted for Barack Obama himself. It was a vote that aided and abetted an enemy of freedom. How can a freedom-loving person be proud of this?

First of all, it’s worth noting, as Bruce McQuain does, that those of us who voted for Bob Barr can hardly be blamed for the outcome of the election:

Bob Barr pulled all of 511,324 votes. Statistically that’s 0% of the electorate. Had every Bob Barr voter voted for John McCain, he’d have ended up with 58,854,995 votes instead of 58,343,671 to Obama’s 66,882,230.

So, even if Robert Stacey McCain, Jason Pye, and myself — along with 511,321 other people (or those 181,818 people, like Leslie Carbone, who voted for Chuck Baldwin) — voted for McCain/Palin rather than Barr/Root last November, it would have had absolutely no impact on the election. It wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Heck it wouldn’t have even shifted a single Electoral Vote. Therefore, the good Doctor’s assertion that Barr voters are in any way responsible either for the election of Barack Obama, or any of the policies he’s implemented is simply wrong.

Clouthier acknowledges this simple fact in an update to her post but goes on to insist that McCain would have been better as President, from a libertarian perspective I assume, than Obama has been to date, but that statement belies that fact that John McCain was never the conservative that his supporters claimed he was:

On the issues, John McCain isn’t much better. The difference is that McCain campaigns on rhetoric that makes you think that he believes in individual liberty, self-reliance, and small government. The reality of a hypothetical McCain Administration, though, is demonstrated quite clearly in his response to the financial crisis, his support of the bailout, and his insane idea to have the government buy-up and renegotiate distressed mortgages. These are not the policy proposals of a man who believes in the free market.

Moreover, McCain has run his campaign in a manner that is at the very least offensive and borders on an insult to the intelligence of the American voter. He selected as his Vice-Presidential running mate a woman manifestly unqualified for the job. He engaged in the pointless, some might even say reckless, stunt of pretending to suspend his in response to an economic crisis that he obviously had no real understand as to either the causes or the remedies. And, most recently, he engaged in nearly two weeks of relentlessly negative campaigning that concentrated not on the issues facing the country, but on his opponents alleged associations with someone even he admitted was a “washed up terrorist” and, in the process, brought out some of the worst in his supporters.

I said a long time ago that I would never vote for John McCain based solely on his manifest disdain for one of the fundamental freedoms in the Constitution. Now I can say that, even if he had never sponsored McCain-Feingold, his conduct during the course of this election has demonstrated to me that he is unfit to be President of the United States

The prospect of as President John McCain serving, as he would have, with a Democratic-controlled Congress should not be one that anyone who calls themselves a limited-government free-market fiscal conservative would look forward to, and it was in that spirit that Leslie Carbone made the conservative case against John McCain back in October:

If McCain is president, thanks to conservative votes, it will be McCain, and his fellow anti-conservatives–both those philosophically opposed to small government and those so philosophically unmoored that they have no convictions at all except power–who continue to shape the right-of-center side of America’s political conversation. And that will mean continuing to fight destructive Democrat policies with destructive Democrat-lite policies.

Rejecting McCain, on the other hand, gives us time and space and, most of all, integrity, to recover the principles that made Ronald Reagan the most successful president in modern times, and, in so doing, repair the conservative cause.

Clouthier, on the other hand, took the opposite approach:

John McCain was a terrible candidate for a myriad of reasons I won’t list here. Rather than blogging anything negative, many times, I just held my tongue. (Other times, not so much.) Why? Do I and all conservatives who voted for John McCain lack a spine and principles? Some would say so. Did I hold my nose and vote for John McCain because I’m a conservative sellout?

Which is worse ? Supporting a candidate you know is “terrible” and staying silent about his many, known and obvious, failings ? Or supporting a candidate that clearly stands up for the principles you believe in even though you know he is going to lose ?

Quite honestly, I can’t fathom a scenario where Clouther’s support makes more sense than Carbone’s.

Finally, Clouther seems to think that libertarians are little more than impatient Republicans and that we all just need to sit down, shut up, and take our medicine:

Libertarians don’t help anything by flopping around at the edges and indulging in third party fantasies. Libertarians needs to put their formidable energy into the Republican party at the bottom and take the party back to constitutional greatness.

The biggest mistake that Clouthier makes is assuming that libertarians are, or at least ought to be, naturally Republican. While the Republican platform does lean libertarian when it comes to economic issues, and Republican politicians and pundits tend to use limited government rhetoric that clearly appeals to libertarian ears, the reality of Republican governance over the past decade leaves much to be desired. It was a Republican President and Congress that gave us Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, and an unprecedented increase in the surveillance of our daily lives. It was a Republican President and a Republican Congress that allowed government to grow at a rate unseen since the days of LBJ. It was a Republican President, and the Republican leadership in Congress, that gave us the TARP bailout. It was a Republican President who bailed out the auto industry even after Congress had voted against it. It was a Republican President who doubled the national debt over the course of eight years. And, it was a Republican President and Congress that single handed-ly destroyed the credibility of the Republican Party on economic issues.

Given the way that it’s performed over the past decade, there’s no reason to believe that the Republican Party will govern any differently than it has in the past, and no reason for libertarians such as myself to sign on to the Republican agenda.

It’s a story we’ve seen play out before. Obama will, most likely, fall victim to the economic realities that make much of what he wishes to accomplish impossible. Republicans will come back to power. Government will continue to grow. Deficits will rise. Freedom will erode. And, then, when it all goes to pot again, there will be those like Dr. Clouthier telling libertarians that they just need to buck up and be good little Republicans.

Sorry, but I’ve already been burned once and it’s not going to happen again. That’s why, when November 2008 rolled around, I voted for Bob Barr for President. When it comes to lesser offices and future elections, I’ll vote for candidates who actually believe in limited government and free markets regardless of which party they belong to. If neither of the major party candidates fit that bill, I’ll vote for the Libertarian Party candidate, or I won’t vote at all.

The Republicans can have my vote back when, and if, they earn it.

Originally Posted at Below The Beltway

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