I had the opportunity the other day to dine with a collection of Blue State liberals. It was enlightening, not because I actually learned anything from them, but because I learned about them. It was also a reminder of how far I’ve traveled ideologically, because I used to be one of them. Looking at them, I don’t regret my journey.
Most of the evening, of course, was idle chitchat, without any political ramifications. Inevitably, though, politics and ideological issues cropped up. I’ll just run down a few topics.
Antisemitism in higher education:
I was told in no uncertain terms that Columbia University cannot be antisemitic because it’s in New York. My offer to produce evidence to support my thesis was rebuffed. For those of you who, unlike Blue State liberals, feel that facts are valuable, these links support my contention that, New York address notwithstanding, Columbia is in thrall to Palestinian activists and BDS derangement:
And of course, there’s simply the fact that Columbia is one of the more ideologically Left schools, although that wouldn’t have bothered my dinner companions.
The effect of taxes on investment:
One of my dinner companions is a successful investment analyst. I asked him if he’d been hearing about any effects flowing from the Obamacare medical device tax. “No, of course not. It’s — what? — a two percent tax. That’s not going to make a difference to anybody.” Again, my offer of contrary data was rejected, because it was obviously Fox News propaganda, never mind that it’s not from Fox News. Stephen Hay, at Power Line, neatly summarizes a Wall Street Journal article predicated on actual investment data:
Today in my Constitutional Law class I’ll be taking up the famous case of McCulloch v. Maryland, the bank case from 1819 in which Chief Justice John Marshall observed that “the power to tax involves the power to destroy,” which immediately set my mind to thinking about . . . Obamacare. Obamacare’s medical device tax—a tax not on profits remember, but on revenues—is doing its destructive work already.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that “Funding Dries Up for Medical Startups,” noting that “Investment in the medical-device and equipment industry is on pace to fall to $2.14 billion this year, down more than 40% from 2007 and the sharpest drop among the top five industry recipients of venture funding.” It seems we have to relearn every few years (such as the luxury boat tax of 1990, swiftly repealed when it killed the boat-building industry) the basic lesson that Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan taught us: tax something and you get less of it. Especially when you tax it like Obamacare, where the tax significantly reduces the after-tax return to investors.
When a 2% tax is on after-tax returns, and it targets a specific industry, surprisingly it does make a big difference to people. Right now, the difference is at the investment level, but soon it will be at the consumer level, as consumers are less likely than ever before to see life-changing inventions such as the insulin pump or the cochlear implant.
American healthcare compared to other Western countries: Everybody agreed that America has the worst health care compared to those countries with socialized medicine. Britain doesn’t count, my fellow dinners told me, because it’s “chosen” to offer bad health care. My attempts to talk about freedom of choice, market competition, declining government revenue, cost-based decisions to deny treatment to whole classes of patients, etc., were rudely brushed aside. “That’s just Fox News propaganda.” Likewise, the liberals also dismissed as “Fox News propaganda” my statement that the studies they’re relying on have as their metric availability of coverage, rather than quality of outcome. I therefore wasn’t surprised when they equally rudely dismissed me when I said that a recent study showed that America has some of the best cancer survival rates in the world.
Since I know that you’d never be that rude, let me just quote Avik Roy, who actually studies the numbers:
It’s one of the most oft-repeated justifications for socialized medicine: Americans spend more money than other developed countries on health care, but don’t live as long. If we would just hop on the European health-care bandwagon, we’d live longer and healthier lives. The only problem is it’s not true.
The problem, of course, is that there are many factors that affect life expectancy. One is wealth. It’s gross domestic product per capita, and not health-care policy, that correlates most strongly to life expectancy. Gapminder has produced many colorful charts that show the strong correlation between wealth and health.
If you really want to measure health outcomes, the best way to do it is at the point of medical intervention. If you have a heart attack, how long do you live in the U.S. vs. another country? If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer? In 2008, a group of investigators conducted a worldwide study of cancer survival rates, called CONCORD. They looked at 5-year survival rates for breast cancer, colon and rectal cancer, and prostate cancer. I compiled their data for the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, and western Europe. Guess who came out number one?
U-S-A! U-S-A! What’s just as interesting is that Japan, the country that tops the overall life expectancy tables, finished in the middle of the pack on cancer survival.
I’m not doing justice Roy’s article with these snippets, so I urge you to read the whole thing. Suffice to say that my companions were uninterested in data that ran counter to their narrative.
The racist inside every liberal: My dinner companions did concede that culture is a factor in health care, although they stopped short of admitting (as they should have) that a country as diverse as America will never be able to counter cultural differences with socialized medicine. (Or, rather, they couldn’t admit that it would take overwhelming government coercion to do so.)
One of the guests described a patient with a treatable disorder — i.e., one that could be controlled with a carefully regimented plan of medicine and treatment — who was too disorganized to follow the treatment. As a result, this person ended up in the emergency room one to two times a month, at great cost to the system. The healthcare provider finally hired a minimum wage worker to remind the patient to take the medicines and to drive the patient to the hospital. Another guests said, “Black, right?” The person who told the story said, “I can’t tell you that, but probably.” They snickered companionably over the fact that blacks are just too dumb to care for themselves.
Another way of looking at it, though, was that this patient did fine: The patient didn’t have to fuss with drugs (and their side-effects), got emergency treatment on an as-needed basis, and ended up having a dedicated employee to detail with the finicky little details of disease maintenance. Who’s snickering now?
The power that maintains slavery: One of the people at the dinner was a student studying American history. The curriculum had reached the Civil War. The student asked a good question: “I don’t get how the slaves let themselves stay that way. After all, they outnumbered the whites.” Good point. The liberal dinner guests started mumbling about systems, and complexity, and psychology. And I do mean mumbling. They didn’t offer data. They just mouthed buzzwords such as “it’s complex,” or “you have to understand the system,” or “well, there’s a psychology there.” I interrupted: “The slave owners were armed. The slaves were denied arms. The side with weapons, even if it’s smaller in number, wins.” To my surprise, none of the liberals in the room had anything to add.
The food was good and my dinner companions were periodically interesting and charming, so the dinner wasn’t a total loss. Nevertheless, I found dismaying the arrogant ignorance that powers their engines. All I could think of was my own blog’s motto: “Conservatives deal with facts and reach conclusions; liberals have conclusions and sell them as facts.” That was my dinner in a nutshell.