Author Archives: tarran
Like her ideological forebears from the last century, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is angry that businessmen who are eager to avoid a loss are raising prices.
From the LA Times, Anthem Blue Cross asked to justify controversial rate hikes :
The Obama administration called on Anthem Blue Cross on Monday to justify its controversial new rate hikes of as much as 39% for individual policyholders, saying the increases were alarming at a time when subscribers are facing skyrocketing healthcare costs.
In a letter to the company’s president, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius voiced serious concern over the rates, which go into effect March 1 for many of the insurer’s estimated 800,000 individual policyholders.
The increases have triggered widespread criticism from Anthem members and brokers, who say the premium hikes will put health coverage out of reach for some and very costly for others.
“With so many families already affected by rising costs, I was very disturbed to learn through media accounts that Anthem Blue Cross plans to raise premiums for its California customers by as much as 39%,” Sebelius wrote to company President Leslie Margolin.
“These extraordinary increases are up to 15 times faster than inflation and threaten to make healthcare unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of Californians, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet in a difficult economy.”
Let’s get one thing straight; these increases are entirely due to inflation, and they are likely largely caused by the Obama administration’s stimulus plan. Anthem executives didn’t wake up one morning and say “Hey! Let’s jack up prices so that our customers can no longer afford our product!” Rather they are increasing prices to deal with the increased costs they anticipate for the coverage they provide. Now why would they do that?
It turns out that while California has been receiving large amounts of bailout and stimulus funds, the supply of medical service providers has stayed steady. That new money has largely gone to the California State government’s payroll and to cover their administrative overhead costs. One of the largest discretionary expense most government employees have is the cost of medical insurance, and the demand for the insurance is relatively inelastic. This insurance is used to pay for a multitude of doctor’s visits etc. Thus you have a large pool of people with freshly printed money in their pockets engaged in a bidding war trying to consume an essentially static supply.The winners pay higher prices for the scarce goods, and the losers are left out in the cold.
This phenomenon is precisely how prices increase when whoever controls the money supply engages in inflation. It’s not mysterious. It’s not greed. It is merely a predictable outcome counterfeiting.
This is one favorite method used by totalitarians to justify their seizures of power. They engage in reckless government spending financed using the printing press. Then, when these newly printed funds lead to a bidding war between buyers that drives prices up, they use the price increases as a justification for even greater usurpations of power.
If Kathleen Sebelius is serious about reducing prices for health care in California, she should be penning angry letters to the head of the California Medical Licensing Board. This bullying of a company trying to stay solvent despite an economic storm created by government intervention – while making for very nice populist theater – will contributed nothing positive to the problem.
I regularly read the Science Based Medicine Blog since it is an interesting combination of intelligent, rational examination of medicine and the naive monstrous morals of a toddler.
This week’s column by Dr Steven Novella does not disappoint. The good doctor reviews the medical impact of modern sodium consumption and states:
As usual, the medical and regulatory communities are tasked with making sense out of chaos – with implementing bottom-line recommendations in the face of inconclusive evidence. While there remains legitimate dissent on the role of salt in vascular health, the current consensus is something like this:
- Most of the world, including Americans and those in industrialized nations, consume more salt than appears to be necessary.
- In the US most of that salt comes from processed or restaurant food (while in other countries, like Japan, most salt intake is added while cooking).
- There is a plausible connection between excess salt intake, hypertension, strokes and heart attacks.
- There is evidence to suggest that reducing overall salt intake will reduce the incidence of these health problems, but the evidence is not yet conclusive and longer term and sub-population data is needed.
Given all this it seems reasonable (from a scientific point of view – and ignoring the role of political ideology) to take steps to reduce the amount of salt in processed and restaurant food, while continuing to study the impact of such measures. But we also have to consider unintended consequences. Part of the reason salt is added to processed food is because it helps preserve it – give it a longer shelf life. People also develop a taste for salty food, and a sudden decrease in salt content may be unsatisfying, leading people to seek out higher salt foods. But these are technical problems that can be addressed.
It should also be noted that salt requirements and tolerance may vary considerably from individual to individual – based upon genetics, and certainly underlying diseases. Therefore recommendations from one’s doctor should supercede any general recommendations for the population.
In any case it seems that the War on Salt has begun. I only hope this is a war we choose to fight with science.
The last sentence left me gobsmacked. A war fought with science? Does he understand what exactly it means when a government wages war?
The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning. Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action
Let’s take, for example, the war on (some) drugs. 150 years ago, if I had described the government proscribing the growth of hemp, sowing poison on illicit fields in an attempt to kill marijuana smokers, sending paramilitary forces into homes with orders to shoot first and ask questions later, and setting up checkpoints where people with large amounts of cash would have it confiscated on the grounds it must be involved in this illicit trade, it would have beggared belief. Those who lobbied for its outlawing would have denied wanting to do those things, they merely wanted to protect white women from being seduced by black jazz musicians and to preserve the social order against uppity darkies.
And once the stuff was outlawed, once the law enforcement apparatus started to wage its low level guerrilla campaign, and faced resistance the government naturally escalated, flooding the media with propaganda to buttress its position, until the war became an end to itself, with otherwise sensible people saying things like “I am a fan of freedom but we must protect the citizenry against the scourge of drugs”
I am curious why the good Dr Novella thinks that a war on salt will turn out any better than the War on Gold, the War on Sucrose, the War on Opiates, the War on Miscegenation or any of the other social crusades little petit tyrants enlist the government to engage in?
Moreover, is he blind to the fact that these wars on inanimate substances and ideas are actually wars on people? It’s not the marijuana that’s getting its child’s hand shot off in a police raid, it’s a person. It’s not the marijuana who is having their life savings confiscated, it’s the retired couple who don’t trust banks. It’s not the marijuana who has his dogs shot in his home, its the hardworking mayor of a small town.
If I were to propose a War on the North Korean Government, I would imagine that Dr Novella might be a little reluctant to support it, given the large number of innocent people who would inevitably die having been propagandized into fanatically defending the state that looted and brutalized them so thoroughly.
But here, we get nary a peep of condemnation, only a pious desire to have “science” inform the strategy of the war on a common cooking ingredient, which will really be a war on people who use to much salt (according to the government) in their food preparation.
And, I should note, this war would have savage monsters like Mary Beth Buchanan deciding what was an appropriate amount of salt, just as she decided her judgment on how much pain medicine was appropriate for patients in chronic agony was better than that of the MD’s treating them, and used that rationale as justification on her war on doctors.
Dr Novella’s blindness it encoded in an assumption in the first sentence I quoted:
As usual, the medical and regulatory communities are tasked with making sense out of chaos – with implementing bottom-line recommendations in the face of inconclusive evidence.
Why are they tasked with this? Sure, doctors are asked to give advice on questions where there is no clear answer, much like any other profession. They have the power to say “I don’t know”, however. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with doctor’s giving advice. The act of making a suggestion does not actually harm anybody.
The regulatory apparatus, on the other hand, is dangerous. When it acts, people get hurt, they go to jail, they have their finances ruined. If we assume such an apparatus should exist, then we should use it only when the harm it does is worth the benefit. Otherwise, the regulatory apparatus need do nothing! Especially where there is no overwhelming evidence to justify regulation. It’s not as if salt causes an epidemic like cholera! The notion that people with vascular disease drives up health care costs requiring such regulation is laughable. Dr Novella has never, in all the essays he has authored that I am familiar with, shown much concern with the major reasons why health care costs are so high. If anything he supports the measures that are the primary drives of the high costs.
It is a shame that otherwise rational people fail to learn the lessons of history. Their blindness would not be so bothersome, if it weren’t for the fact that their hands are helping aim the guns pointed at us.
One of the most pernicious effects of the Bismarkian Welfare State is the infantilization of society, the destruction of adulthood. This infantilization renders people incapable of caring for themselves. It places them in a state of permanent dependence. Unable to live without the state, people are put in a position where resistance to the rulers, even in small areas like a personal preference for ingesting one mind-altering substance rather than another, risks their ability to practice their professions, the services they depend on, their children’s education, their access to modern financial institutions, in the future, even possibly affect their access to medical care.
If you want to be free, you must become an adult, which is difficult in this age when society, the media, the state, your family are all suggesting that you continue behaving as a child.
What is it to be an adult?
Every philosophy tackles this question. While there are many nuanced disagreements over the precise description of what adulthood actually is, there is widespread agreement on certain fundamental elements of adulthood.
Quite simply, an adult is widely described as a person who is aware of the consequences of his or her actions, is capable of reason and holds himself accountable for the results of his or her choices. An adult is prepared to provide for his or her needs or to do without.
The modern state discourages adulthood for the simple reason that a person who is prepared to only consume that which they have earned will not accede to being plundered. If the state is to gather the vast riches its rulers desire, the state must place the producers in a state of dependence and fear – two conditions guaranteed to make men malleable.
Dr Stephen Covey has spent his life studying what made people and organization effective – capable of exerting influence over the people and organizations they come in contact with. He observed that the most effective organizations and people all first turn inward and master themselves. He observed that the rational and consistent application of their principles to their own conduct earned the respect of those who observed them.
Too many lovers of liberty fail at this. They talk the talk well, but when it comes to ordering their lives, they fail to walk the walk.
2009 was a bad year for lovers of liberty. The governments of the world continued increasing their stranglehold on humanity. here in the U.S. Barack Obama expanded and continued to socialist policies of George Bush, capitalizing on Bush’s successful efforts to increase government control of the capital markets. The U.S. congress passed laws that increase their control of the medical industry, laws intended to control the Earth’s climate that threaten to send humanity back to the dark ages. And many of our countrymen seem only too happy to submit to the yoke, with over 50% of Americans now consuming state aid in some form or another.
However, the states have also set the seeds of their own doom. They have lost control of mass media; the pyramid schemes of plundering and redistributing wealth are cracking; the unsustainable distortions to the capital structures of the world economy are failing . The governments of the world are doomed. The only question is how destructive their collapse will be.
So, we must now begin looking to laying the foundations for the next revolutions, and the most important foundations stones are the ones we lay in our own hearts, and in the example we set for others.
So how far should we go to end our sependence? Shall we eschew government roads, pull our children from government schools? Refuse to use Federal Reserve Notes in our business?
What steps you take are really up to your conscience. In the areas where the government has monopolized a service, such as its road monopoly, I see nothing immoral in using that service, especially when one considers the impact refusing to use the service has.
But, there are certain principles you should strive for:
- Support yourself as much as possible.
- Get in the habit of planning for the future.
- Limit the services you consume from the state as much as practicable.
- Be honest in your dealings with your fellows. Provide good value in your business dealings
- Enter a profession that is as far removed from state privilege as possible.
These steps will help you better resist the usurpations of the state and allow you greater freedom, and make you a nucleus around which a free sociey willgrow.
Fortunately for humanity and the civilization that sustains it, Barack Obama stayed true to his record of incompetence and failure, messing up the talks at Copenhagen. The talks have ended with nothing more than yet another agreement to meet again in a few years’ time. His last ditch instructions to Hillary Clinton, which led to her offering $100,000,000,000 of taxpayer dollars each year to nations hard hit by climate change could not band-aid the gaping gash that is the rift between developing and developed nations.
The root of the conflict is very simple: curbing emissions produced in the territory of poverty-stricken nations would require them to regress to a poorer state of being. The politicians ruling over these nations recognize that such attempts would probably inspire revolts that would topple them and earn them an appointment with a noose and a lampost. In the meantime, the politicians ruling developed nations also recognize that if they allow people living in the developing nations to produce CO2, that global economic production will simply be moved to those territories. And the newly unemployed will come after the politicians who screwed them over with pitchforks.
By the time Obama landed in Denmark with his entrourage of bodyguards, the conference was doomed. The failure lay in the groundwork; having failed to prioritize effectively between his desire to take over the medical industry, the financial industry, the automotive industry and the manufacturing industries, and having spent money like a drunken sailor with a fist-full of Continentals, the Obama administration was in no position to offer a credible deal of any sort.
Most politicians outside the U.S. recognize that the days of U.S. hegemony are almost over. The vast welfare state and creeping state takeover of industry have emptied the U.S. treasury, and the U.S. government is having an increasingly difficult time borrowing the money it needs to meet its current obligations. Had Obama eschewed the “spend-your-way-into-prosperity” approach of George Bush, the U.S. government might have been in a position to make credible offers both to curb CO2 production. Instead, he showed up at the conference with a track record of leading a government that had no backbone, a reputation for rhetoric over substance, and a fiscal state that is laughably shaky. Moreover, he also has been consistently lying through his teeth throughout his time in office. For these reasons, no promise or offer he could make would carry serious weight.
If the AGW alarmists are correct, the situation involving the production of CO2is an externality; Those who produce CO2 through economic activity gain the benefit of the wealth produced while the costs of warming are suffered by everyone. Thus, those who decide not to produce CO2 suffer, while those who engage in production gain the benefit of of the wealth they create.
The proper way to handle an externality is to internalize it: to establish a regime where the people who cause ‘harm’ suffer a loss commensurate with the harm the do. This is not simple with the atmosphere. The plan favored by most alarmists, which essentially amount to requiring nearly every source of CO2 to require government permission to operate, permission that in essence controls how much CO2 is produced, are functionally equivalent to the centrally planned economies of the now defunct Soviet block. In essence they recreate the crippling economic coordination problems that Ludwig von Mises identified in Socialism.
Obama seems to be oblivious to the economic collapse he is dicing with in his attempts to build a more fair world. For this reason, I am grateful for his incompetence. The socialism that he and many of the delegates in Copenhagen were advancing has a demonstrated track record of creating incredible misery particularly for the masses that are not politically connected. As a result, we are fortunate that Obama’s incompetence has postponed the AGW alarmist juggernaut. By the time the next meeting is held, the temperature trend will likely give lie to the dire alarmist predictions that gave the alarmists much of their political momentum.