Getting past the personalities *UPDATED*

Arguing personalities in the last two weeks of this election cycle seems fruitless.  For every argument we make about Obama’s being a corrupt narcissist, we hear back that Palin is a moose-hunting, tongue-speaking idiot.  Mention Obama’s lack of experience and you hear about Palin’s lack of experience (although I find almost charming the fact that Democrats forget in this tit-for-tat argument that Palin is only running for Vice President, while Obama is aiming for the big chair).  Mention McCain’s foreign policy experience, and you get the counter argument that Biden has foreign policy experience too (once again confusing the big chair with the back seat).

(As an aside, Biden’s current foreign policy “experience” has arisen in the form of a statement that is simultaneously an invitation to the world’s mad men to attack within the first six months of Obama’s presidency, and a scare-the-bejeesuz assessment of his running mate’s problems that should panic a lot of people who honestly assessed Obama’s inexperience, but were hoping that he’d grow in the job.  If there is the crisis Biden predicts, Obama had better grow really, really, really fast.   But that is an aside, because it’s another personality argument about both Obama’s inexperience and his running mate’s . . . I don’t know, what’s the word?  Insanity?  Naivete?  Self-destructive streak?  Foot-in-mouth disease?  Hatred for America?)

Today, I’m going to eschew the focus on personalities and instead try to think the way I did driving with my friend in the car, when I got him to nod along with me as I described the virtues of less government intervention, not more.  In this regard, it’s useful to examine situations in which the government has intervened, and then to try to determine whether government intervention improved or worsened the situation — and then to try to come up with alternative solutions.

Medicine

Many people believe that health care is a fundamental right, and that everyone should have unlimited access to it without being forced to pay directly.  They therefore believe that, because medicine is expensive, the burden for paying for it should be spread through America, with everyone contributing to and participating in a single system.  In a nutshell, the medical system they envision would be “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

It sounds delightful.  The problem is that, in those countries in which universal health care is practiced (or we could honestly call it “socialized medicine”), it works only so long as the country is flush with cash.  In the golden years of European socialized medicine, when the economies were singing along (helped, in significant part by the part that America made defense spending by those nations entirely unnecessary), it really did seem like a good plan.  The same holds true for Canada’s golden years.

Even in the good times, though, something interesting happened:  the quality of the doctors slipped.  Medicine is hard, hard work.  The training takes years, and the life can be very tough physically — and that doesn’t even account for the mental toll of dealing with and taking responsibility for the sick and the dying.

In America, the best and the brightest gravitate to medicine because it pays well and is (still) a respected profession.  In socialized medicine countries, though, where the pay is unexciting compared to the level of time, stress, and responsibilities required to train for and practice medicine, and where a doctor is a mere government drone, not a respected professional, the quality of medical students drops.

I know this sounds like an insult to the thousands of intelligent, hard-working doctors all over Europe and Canada, but facts are facts.  The prestige is gone, and with it went many of the fair haired boys who made it a “special” profession.  (Speaking of boys, one of the fascinating things about Soviet medicine is that it eventually became a woman-dominated job, because the pay and status were so low that men went elsewhere.)

The real problem, though, is when an economy surfeited with government programs stops generating enough taxes to pay the bills.  Then the trouble begins, because the government starts rationing care.  Already back during my sojourn in England during the early 1980s, the middle class was trying to buy private insurance to step outside of the system, because people could not get anything but the most basic medical care.  I had two friends whose parents were confined to wheel chairs because they were on years’ long waiting lists for artificial hips.

Today, you can open any English or Canadian paper and, on a regular basis, you’ll hear about people pulling their own teeth, people being denied treatment because they tried to get care on the open market, people being told that they have a “duty to die” because they’re an unnecessary burden on the health care system, and people from countries all over the world heading to America, not for the luxury resort treatment offered in India, but for basic, high-quality health care.  It’s that last point that’s the key point.  Since we’re still a competitive market, our health care providers have every incentive to get better and better and better.

I think it’s pretty clear that the open market provides the best health care, and that government controlled systems offer the worst health care — and the most scary, in that the government decides that, while all patients are equal, some patients are more equal than others.  That leaves the problem of expense.  Honest people will admit, however, that the expense doesn’t derive so much from the health care itself as from the layers of insurance.  The answer then, is to streamline insurance.  McCain has the right idea when he calls for opening more competition amongst insurers.  Standardizing forms would help too — which is an idea floated by Sashi McEntee, the Republican candidate for the California State Senate.

Even the forms aren’t the biggest problem, though.  The biggest problem (and I have good information on this owing to contacts in my life) is regulations.  That is, the biggest problem isn’t too little government; it’s too much government.  Doctors, hospitals and insurance companies regularly wade through up to 1,600 state and federal regulations on the way to providing medical care and reimbursement to patients.  The time wasted on this is enormous and I’m willing to bet that medical care wouldn’t suffer at all, or would suffer minimally, if the vast majority of these compliance requirements were wiped out completely.  Certainly the cost of sustaining a practice or an insurance company would drop drastically.

Welfare

Poverty.  We don’t like it and we’ll love to get rid of it.  People like me think that, while it’s impossible to get rid of poverty entirely (“ye have the poor always with you“), a thriving economy, which is one that has the maximum amount of money in the market and the minimum locked in the government, is the best way to deal with poverty.  Unlike economists of old (and Marxist economists of today), we don’t believe that the economy is a finite pie (and Obama gives away his economic beliefs with his constant pie references) that only has so much to go around.  If that were true, we’d still be living at medieval standards.  Instead, we believe that the economy has pretty much infinite flexibility and that this benefits the maximum number of people.

Now, economic freedom has to be balanced with a few things:  First, it needs honesty, and the government should step in to police dishonesty in the market.  This doesn’t mean making ever more regulations that can trap the unwary.  It does mean revisiting our entire marketing policy, figuring out the big “do nots” and then having the government come down on those hard.  Everything else is a burden, slowing the movement of money.

Second, economic freedom has to be balanced with charity and mercy.  Not all people are situated to maximize market opportunities, and many people simply have hard times, whether through their own failings or through sheer bad luck.  In a diverse society, with large, anonymous cities, or even small, pride-filled small towns, individual charity is a good idea but it doesn’t always have the scope necessary.  I like it as a first resort, but recognize that it may fail as a last resort.

Nevertheless, providing a safety net doesn’t mean creating a lifestyle.  We’ve seen welfare and the devastation it created within the African-American community.  The government, rather than simply removing obstacles in the way of black success (such as discriminatory employment, education and housing practices), decided simply to give away free money.  Families dissolved, illegitimacy and drug-use skyrocketed, and generations of African-Americans lost sight of ambition, family, self-respect, etc.

So again, when it comes to helping ease poverty, I believe the answer lies, first, in open markets, kept honest by an aggressive government.  And as to those who, for whatever reason have been barred from the market, the answer is not simply to hand out ever-increasing amounts of money.  It’s to take those same government policing skills and make the market play fair by opening up to the group on the receiving end of discriminatory practices.

Crime

Some people believe in justice for the victim; others in justice for the criminal.  While I believe in redemption, I also believe it’s usually accomplished by punishment first — and here is a story that can remind you of the power of true repentance and redemption.  Ayers’ relationship with Obama would be a non-story if he had followed Gerry Charlotte Phelps’ path — radicalism to repentance — rather than boasting about his crimes and demanding that America change to match his Leftism.  Perhaps if he’d actually served time for the crime, as Phelps’ did, he might have come out differently.  In other words, it’s hard to repent and redeem yourself if everybody tells you, the criminal, that you’re actually the victim, and none of it was your fault.

Our criminal justice system has lots of problems, and they need to be addressed, but pretending that criminals aren’t responsible for their acts isn’t a solution, it’s just another problem.

I could do the same analysis for judges (should they legislate or shouldn’t they?), abortion (is it a federally protected privacy right or a matter for local governments), etc., but I have other things that demand my attention, so I’ll leave you to think through these arguments or include them in the comments section.

What it all boils down to is the fact that the above are fundamental belief systems applied to current political issues.  I believe in the free market, free speech, individual responsibility, and the dangerous inherent in big government.  Even if Obama was as honest as the summer’s day is long, and had experience unmatched by others in government, I still wouldn’t vote for him, because I disagree with everything for which he stands. And even if Palin were the idiot portrayed, I’d still vote for her, because her vision of government matches mine.

It’s not about the people involved, it’s about their plans for America.

UPDATEZimbabwe provides a stark reminder of what happens when government decides which of its citizens are more or less equal than others, and decides to redistribute what it views as a finite economic pie.

Sadly, though, there is a possibility that Americans have become so stupid that they’re going to get a socialist government even though they wouldn’t vote for it if they had the minimal intelligence to know what’s going on.  In the latest NYT/CBS poll, voters favor Obama because they think McCain will raise taxes.  What are these people?  Dumb as stumps?

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  • 11B40

    Greetings:

    Senator Joseph Biden (nom de Mafia, “Joey Plugs”) reminds me of a loudmouth guy that used to come into my father’s favorite bar, Archer’s. Once, when I was about seven, my father took me there on a Saturday afternoon to watch the then New York Giants baseball game on TV. I was sitting at the bar with my father, having my coke with two cherries, when the loudmouth guy thought he saw an opportunity to insert himself into our afternoon. Over he comes, in his gladhanding way, and says too loudly, “Well, Ted, are you going to introduce me to your boy-o?”
    Now, my father didn’t and had no intention of ever suffering fools gladly. Taking a long pull on his Lucky Strike cigarette, and exhaling slowly, he answered, in that New York way with a question, “What are you doing at this end of the bar?”

  • Deana

    Haa-haa-haa! That’s a good story, 11B40.

    Joe Biden has diarrhea of the mouth. I mean, there is just SO MUCH in what he said in Seattle that should be discussed.

    But what has surprised me is that no one seems to be talking about how he said that he has forgotten more than most of his colleagues know.

    Really?

    Deana

  • Mike Devx

    Book,
    This is a long, heavy and worthwhile post! Many possible worthwhile comments; I’ll try to keep mine short as well.

    My general response: How can you guarantee something that cannot be guaranteed? The answer is, you can’t. Our Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, were limits placed on government power; they were restrictive. The Modern Perspective, often called ‘The Second Bill Of Rights’, are attempts to guarantee the delivery of services that simply cannot be guaranteed. Even were the government efficient, noble and wise – but the seat of power is rarely or never any of these, and tends constantly to corruption.

    Medicine:
    > Even in the good times, though, something interesting happened: the quality of the doctors slipped.

    This is the law of unintended consequences, and it is a damning law. Also, it cannot be avoided; there is no way around it. If your leaders must be preternaturally wise and good for something to work, it is guaranteed that it will not work.

    > Even the forms aren’t the biggest problem, though. The biggest problem (and I have good information on this owing to contacts in my life) is regulations.

    Streamlined regulations can certainly help. A lot. However, there are medical services that simply cost a lot of money, as well – even if you think of it as “Quality of Service”. Does every amputee get the most recent and highest quality replacement artificial leg, the one that costs $7.2 million? Any service beyond the basics is going to be rationed one way or another. I don’t think there is any way around that irrefutable fact, no matter how unpleasant it may be.

    Barack Obama has said he wants the Phillies to win the World Series, and Tampa Bay to win the World Series. Promise everyone everything. In services, he’s doing the same thing, promising everything to everyone, and so far it’s working. Until we become adult about these hard choices, I don’t know what happens. For me personally, I see gradations of insurance levels separated by cost as the only possible solution to the problem.

    Welfare:
    > Second, economic freedom has to be balanced with charity and mercy.

    This point applies to health and welfare. “Charity and mercy” have no meaning when income is seized and forcibly redistributed. I like to use the phrase “siezed at the point of the government gun”, and while in a way that’s an analogy, but in truth it is real. At its core government is enforced POWER.

    I believe in the safety net to catch people on the way down, and support them for a very short time, while they recover from the fall. Especially in the case of welfare, it must *never* be allowed to foster generational dependency. Even FDR warned repeatedly and soberly about this. It’s catastrophic to do so.

    Crime:
    The biggest fallacy here is that the police exist to protect you. They can’t (except by pure luck of timing). Self-defense is the sole choice of the individual. The police actually exist 1. to enforce the law and 2. to investigate crimes after they have occurred. The first of these provides disincentive to break the law, reducing crime. The second hopefully prevents criminals from repeating crimes by removing from them their freedom. I suppose we could argue about rehabilitation, but I don’t think our social sciences are up to any rigorous approach yet for deliberately fostering rehab; and right now it seems a fortunate dawning within the criminal soul that sometimes turns them away from crime. Something at least worth hoping for. (So let’s *not* brutalize the criminals when they’re in jail, seems like a good idea to me. I’m referring to gang-run jails, random violence and rapes.)

    In the end, to me, it’s all about equality of opportunity vs equality of results. We’re all best served by striving endlessly for the first of these. Any attempt to guarantee the second will always end in disaster eventually, in one form or another. Sometimes I think we give lip service to equality of opportunity (ie, “education is the great equalizer of opportunity”, while our schools fail all around us and we don’t care as long as certain classes of people have their prerogatives protected (Democrat-style) or as long as my neighborhood schools are guaranteed better than yours, ensuring that in fact there is no possible equality of opportunity (Republican-style). If we’re going to say that we absolutely believe in equality of opportunity, especially relying on it as our rejection of equality of results, we ought to unfailingly back it up as a matter of critical principle.

    I also think some forms of limited regulation and oversight will always be beneficial, and we’d best focus on checks and balances of every sort possible to prevent corruption.

  • Gorgasal

    Book: nice post.

    Re medicine, a little anecdotal evidence from Germany: as the hours are brutal (as everywhere in medicine) and as the pay is ridiculous, all young doctors that can do so try to move to Switzerland, where the system is still far more privatized than in Germany. It’s come so far that the Swiss health care system is basically run by Germans.

    On the other hand, what do German politicians do to stem the recent cost explosion in the health care system? That’s right: more government interventions, less choice, less competition, higher insurance premiums. Dumb as stumps here, too.

  • Danny Lemieux

    The problem with your post, Book, is that it is far, far too logical. Like the song (
    “Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke) goes, “don’t know much about history…”. Come to think of it, it could be the anthem for Obama World.

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  • suek

    >>I’ll try to keep mine short as well.>>

    Heh. You didn’t.

    Still…it was a good one…worth your time!

  • Mike Devx

    suek,
    Guilty as charged! Sigh. I nominate that post as “Word Vomit of the Month”.
    There might be something worthwhile in there. After I reduce its size by 9/10, maybe I’ll find it.

  • suek

    Yeah Mike…keep it up and we’ll have to visit _your_ blog!

  • BrianE

    I would ask the question, if health care is a right, is good health a responsibility? Liberals have tried for the last 75 years to remove the effect of consequences with limited success.
    Since liberals are driven by a sense of fairness, it seems patently unfair to unduly penalize healthy, wealthy Americans though.
    So it would seem obvious that we should divide the country into four segments—poor and unhealthy, poor and healthy, wealthy and unhealthy and wealthy and healthy. The unhealthy poor should receive a level of health care slightly below the healthy poor, since we want to create an incentive for the unhealthy to improve their health and move up to the status of healthy poor, where they would receive good health care, at minimal cost.
    On the other end of the scale, the unhealthy, wealthy should pay the most, again with the incentive that improving their health would result in a slight reduction of their costs.
    Rather than just put this money into the general pool of tax revenue, it should be treated like social security, in a separate account—or like the highway tax or the tobacco settlement that was to go to pay the increased health costs of unhealthy smokers.
    Now we all know this proposal would never be acceptable to the Left, since it still smacks of rewarding or penalizing consequences.
    Instead, we need to see more of healthy fairness initiatives. People too fat—outlaw fatty food. Of course, we can’t do that—so let’s just make fat food very, very expensive, like we have tobacco. In fact, let’s just tax the fat content in food and put that in our health care fund. McDonalds wants to offer a super-sized menu? Let’s tax the fat content of food at the checkout counter. Each meal could have a maximum fat content of xx grams. Any combination of food order that exceeds the maximum would have a fat surcharge applied.
    Let’s move to risky behavior. Skiing is a fairly risky sport with higher than average injuries. In fact, we could create a commission to rate all the sport activities and then charge a tax for each activity based on its relative risk.
    Do you see the possibilities. We could do this to every area of society!
    How about rewarding good healthy behavior, like exercise. Tax credits for walking a certain distance each year—provable by GPS trackers we could buy from the government (poor people would be given the trackers and would result in a negative tax consequence (not to be confused with welfare)).
    As you can see, with some creativity—we can easily fund free health care. Think of this as alternative energy for the body. Think of the millions of jobs this could create. Why, it could provide a new source of wealth in this country! A kind of green revolution for the soul.

  • Mike Devx

    I want to enact redlining legislation on Whole Foods Markets. We can sue ‘em over and over until they open as many stores in poverty-stricken urban zones as they have in the trendier zip codes. Threaten them with fines. Crowd the checkout lanes with loud protests and shut down all activity until their managers submit.

    Aragula For All!

  • BrianE

    LOL