Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: October 22, 2009

Final Thoughts

Final as in the last thing I’m thinking about when I go to bed. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a bit of a brain dump at the end of the day, instead of writing about the hottest topic du jour, so consider this a flagship post (N.B. even though my not-so-well-thought-out-or-composed trial balloon was pretty much a flop).

I have very mixed feelings about the announcement from the Pay Czar today that 7 of the firms receiving TARP money would have their salaries dictated to them, resulting in as much as a 90% pay cut (although I’ve also heard 90% was the average).

On the one hand, I figure if you dance with the devil, then you can’t complain when he calls the tune. And since in my estimation these firms should have been allowed to fail in the first place, I’m not exactly shedding any tears over their lost compensation. If they wanted to have control over their businesses, then they shouldn’t haven’t gotten involved with the government in the first place. Whatever Paulson said in that room that fateful day, the decision-makers still had a choice. That they chose poorly is really not my problem, and I don’t feel one bit sorry for them.

Yet, I have no way of knowing if any of those salaries being cut would be going to mismanagers or saviors of the bailed-out firm. Clearly if these firms are going to survive (and the taxpayers are going to have any chance of getting their money back), then we would want the smartest, most industrious, and capable workers in there plugging away, whether it’s in the mail room or the board room. But how is that supposed to happen if these people aren’t getting paid their market rate? Why wouldn’t they go somewhere else, or start their own private companies?

More importantly, what sort of precedent does this set? I understand that the Pay Czar’s actions are legitimized by Congress in the statute setting up the TARP program, but what constitutional authority ever gave any of them the right to dictate pay? The Commerce Clause? The General Welfare Clause to which Congress is now hitching its hopes on forcing people to buy health insurance? The answer to that question only raises much deeper and frankly hair-raising questions.

If Congress can constitutionally give the Executive Branch the power to dictate the pay of those who receive federal funds, what else can it do to those being subsidized? If the federal government is picking up the tab for any portion of your health insurance or health care, for example, what limits can it place on the way you live your life? Can it force you not to smoke? Not to drink? Maybe you won’t be allowed to go skiing or rollerblading without a special permit. Would motorcycle riding still be allowed? How about eating fatty foods of any sort? What happens to student loan recipients? Will their classes be decided for them? Their future employment?

Scoff if you must, but if the government can dictate what your intellectual and physical efforts are worth, then why can’t it also dictate what your actual life is worth? And don’t be confused into thinking that decisions concerning how much the government will pay for your health care, or what you will do to earn a living, are anything but a determination of how much your life is worth.

Like I said above, I’m ambivalent about the Pay Czar actions. While I’m not crying over some Wall Street fat cats having the their lucre cut off, I am worried about the seeming ease with which Americans are taking this news and their apparent lack of interest in what it could mean for them (and me!). Governments are dangerous, no matter what goodies you think you might personally get from them. A government that exercises control over any of our lives with fanfare from the constituents, or worse, with their apathy, is by far the most dangerous. Which government and which polity do we have now?

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Comments Upgraded

There’s been an upgrade to the TinyMCE Comments plugin that allows commenters to use the WYSIWYG interface for creating comments, instead of a plain old text box.  Works fine for me, but some of you are using off-brand, suck browsers like Opera or whatnot on your home-built Linux systems, so try it out and see if it works.  If it doesn’t, let me know, so I can either unplug the plug-in, or tell you you to use a decent browser like Firefox.

Is A “Public Option” Really Popular With The Public?

Although Obamacare is still pretty unfavorable to most Americans (and getting worse?), for some reason a nebulous “public option” continues to poll rather well. Jay Cost takes a look at the polling data and offers a reasonable suggestion for the disparity:

How can we reconcile these gloomy numbers with the sunny results on the public option?

It might be due to the public’s lack of information. I’m sure that the average polling respondent is paying some attention to the health care debate, but she is paying much less attention than political junkies. This will limit the amount of information she actually has in her mental filing cabinet. So, the crucial question is: even if she has absorbed some pro- and anti-reform arguments, does she have enough information to relate them to specific reform proposals? Color me skeptical on that one. I think your average respondent – even with some general opinions on reform – will have a hard time using those broad considerations to evaluate items like the individual mandate, guaranteed issue, community rating, and…wait for it!…the public option.

So, asking about specific proposals might be taking the conversation too far into the woods for the average respondent – and she is going to have a hard time recalling a relevant piece of information upon which to base a response. Instead, she might use the question itself as a basis for her answer. It follows that the information or perspective given in the question could make her more or less partial to the proposal under consideration.

I made a similar argument back in August when dissecting a report alleging that there is 80% support for the public option. Among other problems with supposed poll, it was not at all clear that respondents even new what was meant by “public option”:

If in fact the question was worded as described by Singer, then the inclusion of the phrase “if they can’t afford private plans offered to them” alters the results dramatically. Although some have suggested that this is the reason we need health care insurance reform so desperately, it completely ignores the fact that those who can’t afford health insurance are generally covered by Medicaid, SCHIP and other federal and state programs. So when respondents are asked whether such people should be covered, how do we know they aren’t thinking about those federal and state programs already in existence and not the public option as proposed by Obama and Congress? In short, we don’t. To be fair, the question allegedly refers to “starting a new” program, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people understood the question to be asking about ObamaCare’s public option.

Indeed, according to PSB, “only 37 percent define ‘public option’ correctly” and “about one-fourth of those polled believe the ‘public option’ is a national health care system, similar to the one in Great Britain.” Of course, how to “correctly” define the public option is not revealed, but suffice it to say that the survey’s respondents did not reveal they had a concise grasp upon what a public option actually means.

The fact is that most people have better things to do with their lives than become expert in the sausage-making going on in D.C. That they are rationally ignorant (and, thanks to the MSM, often completely misinformed) of the details regarding the public option should come as no surprise.

But Cost digs much deeper and finds that the wording of the survey questions makes a dramatic difference. He points out that most of the recent polling uses “feel-good-phraseology” that tends to diminish the concept of government control and assume the idea that the public option would “compete” with private insurers:

If the theory that question wording is playing a role is correct, then altering the wording should induce a change in the results. So, what happens when information less partial to the Democratic side is introduced? To start answering this question, let’s consider the Gallup results, which are decidedly less bullish on the public option:
USA Today Gallup Poll

Like ABC News/WaPo, Gallup uses the Democratic buzzword “compete.” However, Gallup also uses a Republican buzzword: “government-run.” This is opposed to the weaker formulation – “government administered” – offered by CBS News/New York Times and CNN. With this more balanced choice of words, Gallup finds a roughly even split. I would not call this definitive evidence, but it suggests that we might be on the right track.

More damning is the result of a Rasmussen poll where the wording is less “feel-good” and the public option question is followed up with this one:

Suppose that the creation of a government-sponsored non-profit health insurance option encouraged companies to drop private health insurance coverage for their workers. Workers would then be covered by the government option. Would you favor or oppose the creation of a government-sponsored non-profit health insurance option if it encouraged companies to drop private health insurance coverage for their workers?

What happens when this Republican argument is substituted for the Democratic argument? Support for the public option plummets dramatically. Nearly 3/5ths of all respondents voiced opposition to the public option when it was phrased in this way.

Additionally, Rasmussen asked whether respondents thought the public option would save taxpayers money (they didn’t), whether they thought it would offer better health insurance than private insurance (again, no), and whether people preferred to have a public option or a guarantee that nobody will lose their current coverage (the guarantee won in a landslide).

As Cost admits, none of this means that people are necessarily against the public option, just that their opinions are highly influenced by the way questions are asked, stemming from the fact that they are relatively uninformed about the topic. However, Cost’s theory would explain why there is such incongruity between the public’s distaste for the ObamaCare plans floating around Congress and their seeming desire for a public option. Interestingly enough, it also explains why “Medicare for all” is the new rallying cry coming from Washington.

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India: We’re Not Hurting Our Economy For “Climate Change”

The Copenhagen summit is in December and yesterday UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said he didn’t expect a binding agreement to come out of the meeting, dashing the hopes of environmental extremists that the nations of the world would agree to binding reductions of so-called greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Today India, apparently speaking for, or speaking with the approval of, the world’s developing nations (of which China considers itself one):

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Thursday that the world’s poor nations will not sacrifice their development in negotiations for a new climate change deal.

The issue of how to share the burden of fighting global warming has divided the developing and industrialized worlds as they prepare to negotiate a replacement to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol at a December summit in Copenhagen.

“Developing countries cannot and will not compromise on development,” Singh told an international conference on technology and climate change.

Naturally he threw a little diplospeak out there to soften the refusal to play the game:

However, even poorer countries need to “do our bit to keep our emissions footprint within levels that are sustainable and equitable,” he said.

Riiiight. And that means they’ll decide what constitutes “sustainable and equitable” as it applies to their economy, not the targets some world body wants to put on them. Both India and China, two of the largest emitters of GHGs in the world have repeatedly said no to binding reductions and international monitoring. But they’re up for a little friendly looting:

Developing countries want financial aid for their climate change efforts, and Singh said wealthy nations have an obligation to ensure they get access to new, clean technology that will cut emissions and increase energy efficiency.

“We need technology solutions that are appropriate, affordable and effective,” he said.

I certainly don’t blame them a bit for refusing to hurt themselves economically in the name of specious “science” (thankfully, Americans are beginning to figure out the scam). And the fact they won’t do so should confirm to even the most fanatic global warmist that attempts to cut GHGs will indeed cause major economic distress. Additionally, as pointed out here and elsewhere, cap-and-trade attempts in Europe and elsewhere have been a disaster with no net reduction in such emissions observed.

I look for Copenhagen to be a bust and am quite happy about that, frankly. The US will show up empty handed with nothing but promises (Waxman-Markey thankfully not having passed yet), the UN will play the international “Chicken Little”, 3rd world “developing” countries will have their hands out as usual and industrialized nations won’t be able to agree on much of anything.

Perfect.

~McQ

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When Is A “Cadillac” Plan Not A “Cadillac” Plan?

When you’re a federal worker, of course.

Reps. Jerry Connolly and Jim Moran, two Democrats from the federal employee haven of Northern Virginia, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., expressing concern that the Senate health care proposal, which includes the tax, “may adversely affect health coverage for federal employees and retirees.”

Connolly and Moran explain in the letter that the Congressional Research Services has provided them with data indicating that the cost of Federal Employees Health Benefits Plans used by federal employees is close to the threshold ($8,000 per individual and $21,000 per family) that would trigger the proposed 40 percent excise tax.

“Throughout this year, we and members of the Administration have assured the public, including 2 million federal employees, that if individuals or families like their current health coverage, they will not have to change,” the letter said. “The current proposal from the Senate Finance Committee could undermine that tenet of health insurance reform.”

Don’t you just love special interest legislation. It’s okay for you, but not for the 2 million federal employees. And they join a growing list of groups for whom exemptions are being sought – firefighters, labor union members, coal miners and other favored groups.

You? Just shut up and pay the tax.

Hope and change.

~McQ

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Is Harry Reid Incompetent?

That used to be one of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats favorite descriptions of George Bush. The irony is I’ve seen nothing from Harry Reid that says he has any room to judge anyone else’s competence. The latest:

After a month of praising bipartisanship, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lashed out at the GOP on the Senate floor Wednesday when a Medicare measure he brought up for a vote failed amid concerns about its impact on the deficit.

The bill would have prevented a 20 percent drop in Medicare reimbursement rates to doctors that is scheduled to take effect in January.

Reid angrily blamed the loss on bad intelligence from the American Medical Association, which he said promised him 27 Republican votes (he got none), as well as Republican dirty tricks designed to impede Democrats’ progress on meaningful reform.

Just as a lawyer should never ask a question of someone on the stand for which he doesn’t know the answer, you’d think a Senate Majority leader wouldn’t bring something to the Senate floor for a vote unless he knew he had the votes. And Senate Majority leaders normally don’t rely on lobbyists for their vote counts. Outsourcing such a task to the AMA doesn’t appear to have been a very smart move.

Vote counting is a tried and true art within legislative bodies and any competent leader would pretty much know what to expect before ever putting a bill or amendment up for a vote. In fact, Reid missed by 27 – just on the Republican side.

Apparently he wasn’t aware of the 13 Democrats who were going to vote against it as well.  That’s 40 no votes in a body of 100 that he didn’t know about. That’s a pretty big miss.  And a reminder – Democrats hold a 60 vote filibuster-proof majority (the two “indies” caucus with the Democrats).

Then he whines about things being run by a minority – a game he was more than happy to play when he was the Minority leader.

Harry Reid – incompetent (not that I’m complaining, mind you – just pointing it out), and the opposition’s best friend.

~McQ

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