Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: November 2010

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Guess who voted against the Senate ban on earmarks?

I assume none of these names will come as a particular surprise to anyone. 8 GOP Senators joined Democrats in voting down a ban on earmarks for the next two-years. They were:

Sens. Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), James Inhofe (Okla.), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Richard Shelby (Ala.) voted against an amendment to food-safety legislation that would have enacted a two-year ban on the spending items. Retiring Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) and defeated Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah) also voted against it.

Of the 8, only one – Dick Lugar – faces reelection in 2012.

As has been said by many, the ban on earmarks is mostly symbolic since the amount of funds earmarked each year are a veritable drop in the ocean compared to the rest of the federal budget. But the symbolism of members of the Senate foregoing a spending tradition dear to incumbents to emphasize that government in all areas must cut back on its spending would have been a powerful one indeed. Instead

Instead, the usual suspects decided that midnight drop-in earmarks unvoted upon or debated, are absolutely critical to the functioning of the federal government and funding projects in their state.

Of course, somewhere in the next few years, all 8 of them will “go on the record” about wasteful spending.  They’ll also claim we must cut spending in all areas of government.

But when given the opportunity to put their words into action – well, there are the results.

~McQ

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Climate “scientists” ratchet up AGW scare warnings

In case you missed it, this weekend all those who’ve made an industry of global warming climate change will be gathering in Cancun, Mexico to again try and find a way to tax the world into submission based on dubious science and and obvious political agenda.

Apparently, faced with the fact that the Goreish climatic apocalypse warnings have mostly been refuted and in the wake of Climate-gate, it appears the reaction of warmists is to again ratchet up the scare factor.

The UK’s Telegraph reports on the latest attempts.

In a series of papers published by the Royal Society, physicists and chemists from some of world’s most respected scientific institutions, including Oxford University and the Met Office, agreed that current plans to tackle global warming are not enough.

Unless emissions are reduced dramatically in the next ten years the world is set to see temperatures rise by more than 4C (7.2F) by as early as the 2060s, causing floods, droughts and mass migration.

Of course readers here are familiar with the arguments (and the fact that the Met office admitted to serious problems with its temperature data used as a base for previous projections) and the fact that skeptics seem to be winning the day.  As mentioned in a previous post, the public’s belief in the science supporting the warmist cause has dropped to an all time low, with a vast majority now seeing no reason to engage in cap-and-trade to tax emissions of CO2.

So the answer, of course, is to make the consequences of ignoring the warmists seem worse.  We’re now likely to see 7.2F increases as soon as 2060 if we don’t do what they want now!

Oh, and by the way, rich nations, here’s more that you should do:

In one paper Professor Kevin Anderson, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said the only way to reduce global emissions enough, while allowing the poor nations to continue to grow, is to halt economic growth in the rich world over the next twenty years.

This would mean a drastic change in lifestyles for many people in countries like Britain as everyone will have to buy less ‘carbon intensive’ goods and services such as long haul flights and fuel hungry cars.

Prof Anderson admitted it “would not be easy” to persuade people to reduce their consumption of goods.

He said politicians should consider a rationing system similar to the one introduced during the last “time of crisis” in the 1930s and 40s.

This could mean a limit on electricity so people are forced to turn the heating down, turn off the lights and replace old electrical goods like huge fridges with more efficient models. Food that has travelled from abroad may be limited and goods that require a lot of energy to manufacture.

“The Second World War and the concept of rationing is something we need to seriously consider if we are to address the scale of the problem we face,” he said.

Or said another way “let’s do a wartime command economy”  among the rich nations, because command economies works so well history tells us.  Meanwhile China and India?  Keep on keeping on.  And don’t worry, our eminent scientist tells us it won’t be so bad:

Prof Anderson insisted that halting growth in the rich world does not necessarily mean a recession or a worse lifestyle, it just means making adjustments in everyday life such as using public transport and wearing a sweater rather than turning on the heating.

“I am not saying we have to go back to living in caves,” he said. “Our emissions were a lot less ten years ago and we got by ok then.”

You know, I’ve always thought scientists should stick to science and let the politicians concentrate on political agendas.  Someone – anyone – tell me this isn’t “science” wrapped in politics?  And surprise – the agenda will cost you money, freedom and the ability to live the lifestyle you now live.

All for a trace amount of a trace gas that until recently has always been found by science to be a lagging indicator of warming.

Go figure.

~McQ

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Are the chances for bi-partisanship real or imagined

Before we proceed today, let’s take note of a couple of things.

One, President Obama has made an executive decision to freeze federal payrolls for 2 years at a savings of $5 billion over those two years. Good for him. Of course the left is outraged, disingenuously claiming this will adversely effect jobs and the economy. Hardly.

While that money won’t be available to be spent by federal employees, it won’t be borrowed either. Or, it won’t be taken from the pockets of taxpayers who can now spend it directly on creating jobs or buying goods.

"Saving" the money doesn’t make it disappear, it simply means federal employees won’t be spending it (those who earned it will) or we don’t add $5 billion to the deficits of those 2 years.

Bigger political question? Is this actually an act of triangulation? Are we seeing this as the first indicator of an administration attempting to move to the center by getting out in front of the GOP on something?  Doing this before the big bi-partisan meet today between Obama and the GOP gives Obama the advantage of saying "OK, I’ve done something to reduce the deficit, what about you" (to which the GOP can say "earmarks"). Whether this is a political anomaly, just gimmickry or an actual move toward the center remain to be seen.

And two, on the GOP side, and in front of the meeting today, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell got their talking points out in an op/ed in the Washington Post. In sum they say the overwhelming message from the election says focus on jobs and the economy.

Perhaps the most important paragraph in the piece was this:

Despite what some Democrats in Congress have suggested, voters did not signal they wanted more cooperation on the Democrats’ big-government policies that most Americans oppose. On the contrary, they want both parties to work together on policies that will help create the conditions for private-sector job growth. They want us to stop the spending binge, cut the deficit and send a clear message on taxes and regulations so small businesses can start hiring again.

I think that’s mostly right. Cooperation for cooperation’s sake isn’t what is being demanded. Cooperation with a focus on jobs and the economy is. And it is also clear, as Boehner and McConnell state, that the American public wants some sort of workable plan to stop the huge deficit spending and to settle the business climate to the point that corporations and small businesses feel confident enough in it to begin hiring and expanding again. That means settling any number of outstanding issues like proposed tax increases.

Bottom line?  Don’t expect much cooperation from either side on things like energy, immigration, health care and the like except at the very margins.  However, there seems to be some signaling from Obama that he may be interested in more substantial cooperation when it comes to the jobs, economy and government spending/taxation.  If so, it would mean that Obama has set his cap for reelection in 2012 and believes that this is the route to accomplishing that (engage the GOP, give a little here and there, do high profile things like freeze government worker pay, and hope the economy and unemployment improve fairly significantly in the next 2 years so he can claim credit).

My guess is he now realizes that his agenda items are DOA.  But I also think he’s satisfied that what he has managed to get passed (ObamaCare and the like) is probably pretty safe from GOP meddling.  So he’s defining the area in which he’ll work and essentially demanding the GOP cooperate.  It will be difficult for the GOP to refuse that.

It is going to be interesting to watch the two sides maneuver over the next two years.   In ‘94 much the same sort of situation existed.  Bill Clinton was deemed irrelevant.  He came roaring back via smart politics and GOP mistakes to be reelected easily. 

We’ve already talked about the new narrative the left is trying to impose – the “GOP in charge” narrative, in which the GOP will be tagged with every failure of government even though Democrats still control the Senate and Executive branch.  But that won’t matter if the GOP House moves aggressively to do what Boehner and McConnell outline in their op/ed.  Make Democratic Senators defeat GOP House legislation.  And if it manages to get through the Senate, make Obama veto it.

Obama claimed that the difference between ‘94 and ‘10 midterms was “you’ve got me”.  That led to the worst “shellacking” in recent memory and much worse that ‘94.  Another difference between ‘94 and ‘10 is the new media.  If the GOP sticks with its guns, makes every attempt to carry out what it said is the people’s message and is thwarted by the Democrats, that story will actually be told. 

It will indeed be interesting to see how the big meeting goes today.  I don’t expect much in terms of substance, but if Boehner and McConnell are smart they’ll essentially relay their op/ed message to Obama and then stand back and see how he chooses to react.

For the moment, popular sentiment is on the side of the GOP.  They need to retain it by actually doing something.  If they don’t and the left succeeds in painting them in a negative way, 2012 could see the backlash from hell, 4 more years of Obama and possible Congressional gains by Democrats.

~McQ

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The progressive deficit plan, ala Krugman

In case you’re interested a group of progressive think tanks has produced an eighty-something page deficit reduction proposal.  Paul Krugman says he’ll have to study it, however:

It’s at least as responsible as any of the other plans being advanced, with a very different emphasis: more reliance on revenue, no attack on Social Security. Some of the revenue comes from indirect taxes — green taxes and fuel taxes — but the rest comes from measures that would raise taxes mainly on upper-income Americans.

I guess agreement or disagreement rests in your definition of the word “responsible”.  Let me just say I disagree.  A quick look at the plan (here, PDF) shows it’s pretty much the same old stuff.  Cap-and-trade, raise the income cap on Social Security, tax the crap out of the “rich”, an increased fuel tax and keep at least 50% of the electorate off the tax rolls.  Meantime cut the bejesus out of defense spending – one of the few actual constitutionally allowed federal government expenditures – and lay all those “savings” on health care and infrastructure.

Well here, let’s use their own 5 step plan:

1. Jobs first. Jobs and economic growth are essential to our capacity to reduce deficits, and there should be no across-the-board spending reductions until the economy fully recovers. In fact, efforts to spur job creation today will put us on a better economic path and create a solid revenue base. We believe there should be no consideration of overall spending reductions until unemployment has fallen to 6% and remained at or below that level for six months (Irons 2010a).

No “across-the-board spending reductions” until the economy fully recovers.  Really?  So the assumption here is in many areas of government, there is no “fat” that can be cut and thereby reduce spending?  That’s just nonsense and it puts into immediate question the credibility of this report.  Of course, unsurprisingly defense is not one of those areas which shouldn’t see such across the board spending cuts.

So immediately we have a “keep spending” recommendation until they deem the economy to be fully recovered (what’s that point, 5% unemployment?  3% GDP growth?) with economic predictions saying that we may not see joblessness reduced significantly by 2012.  So far, unimpressed.

2. Stabilize debt. Over the long term, national debt as a share of the economy should be stabilized and eventually brought onto a downward trajectory.

Well duh.  The key question here, given the “let’s keep spending” recommendation above is what constitutes the “long term”?  My guess is “never”.

3. Build on economy-boosting investments. We must build and maintain initiatives that directly support long-term job and economic growth. Failing to invest adequately in these efforts – or sacrificing them to short-term deficit reduction – would be a dereliction of sound public management.

Are you snickering yet?  Or are you already in the full out belly laugh mode?  If you are then you spotted the code words to “keep on spending” didn’t you?  So we have goal 1 – keep spending until the economy recovers and goal 3 – keep spending, er “investing” in stuff that will directly support “long-term job growth” even at the expense of deficit reduction.  But, wait, goal two – stabilize that debt folks.  How do you do that in light of 1 and 3?

4. Target revenue increases. Revenue increases should come primarily from those who have benefited most from the economic gains of the last few decades.

Tax the rich. Wow … that’s new. Don’t forget cap-and-trade and increased federal fuel “fees” as well.

5. No cost shifting. Debt reduction must be weighed against other economic priorities. Policies that simply shift costs from the federal government to individuals and families may improve the government’s balance sheet but would worsen the condition of many  Americans, leaving the overall economy no better off.

See unfunded mandates.  See ObamaCare.  See any number of “target revenue increases”.  See the nonsense?

Krugman goes on to say:

I’ll need to work through the proposal, but one thing it clearly does is to explode the myth that there is no alternative to the Bowles-Simpson-type regressive proposal.

What myth?  Did anyone honestly believe (or say) there wasn’t an alternative?  The fact that one exists doesn’t make it worth a damn though.  It simply exists.  Lots of  “alternatives” exist for all sorts of things.  The fact that they exist doesn’t make them credible or viable.  And my cursory reading of this paper presents nothing new and most of which has already been rejected by much of the American public.

And my favorite:

And it’s definitely worth noting that even with the revenue measures in the progressive plan, the US would have lower overall taxation than almost any other advanced country.

You mean like Greece and Ireland, Paul?  Japan? 

What a ridiculous argument for paying more taxes.   The problem in America, Mr. Krugman, isn’t that Americans are taxed to little – its because the politicians in our government spend too freakin’ much.  There’s not much in that plan that addresses that basic problem, is there?  And that’s why it’s as worthless as Krugman’s commentary.

~McQ

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3 million had access to diplomatic cables?

If you’re wondering why Wikileaks has been able to obtain military reports on Iraq and Afghanistan as well as diplomatic cables for the last 10 or so years, wonder no more.

According to the UK’s Guardian, up to 3 million people had potential access to those archives on the government’s Siprnet system.

More than 3 million US government personnel and soldiers, many extremely junior, are cleared to have potential access to this material, even though the cables contain the identities of foreign informants, often sensitive contacts in dictatorial regimes. Some are marked "protect" or "strictly protect".

To me that’s a phenomenal revelation.  If, like me, you were wondering how a Private First Class like Bradley Manning had access to this sort of information, now you know.  Had I been aware of the number who had potential access to these files, I’d have said it isn’t a matter of “if” but “when” a leak would occur.  Allowing that amount of access to information marked “Secret” and “NoForn”, short for “no foreign dissemination”, as well as the names of highly sensitive sources and contacts is a intelligence disaster waiting to happen.

A State Department Spokesman claims it was a reaction to pre-9/11 intelligence sharing – or lack there of:

"The 9/11 attacks and their aftermath revealed gaps in intra-governmental information sharing. Since the attacks of 9/11, the US government has taken significant steps to facilitate information sharing. These efforts were focused on giving diplomatic, military, law enforcement and intelligence specialists quicker and easier access to more data to more effectively do their jobs."

He added: "We have been taking aggressive action in recent weeks and months to enhance the security of our systems and to prevent the leak of information."

While I certainly don’t at all condone the Wikileaks publication of these cables, I have to tell you, given this new information, that I’m not at all surprised it has occurred.  In fact, I’m rather surprised it has taken this long.  And, of course, the damage being done is incalculable to US interests and foreign policy – not to mention those contacts and sources named.  Wikileaks claims to have safeguarded that information, however, that’s a hollow promise.  We have no idea who has seen these archives in full and what they may have done with the information.  Any present contacts or sources have to fear for their lives and the likelihood of developing new sources and contacts just took one hell of a shot in the head.

Prior to 9/11, human intelligence (HUMINT) was an area of extreme weakness for the US.  We’d made a conscious decision decades earlier to rely on technical means to gather intelligence – communications intercepts, spy satellites, etc.  But, with some very notable intelligence failures (India’s nuclear weapons, Cole Bombing, embassy bombings, 9/11), we again understood the critical importance of HUMINT and have been attempting to again establish networks around the world.   Obviously, the strictest secrecy must be maintained in order for that to work.  Leaks like this could completely destroy those new networks and make impossible our ability to establish new ones.

No matter what you think of Wikileaks, and I’m not at all pleased or happy with what they’ve done, the decision to put this information on a network on which 3 million had potential access to the information borders on criminal.  Sharing information is one thing – it should be done, but it must be done intelligently.  This wasn’t about sharing – it was about a structural failure to safeguard critical information in a manner in which it should have been safeguarded.

The fact that these cables are being published around the world right now isn’t just the fault of Wikileaks, but a government which allowed that information to be easily accessed by those who had no reason or need to access it.  The result of such poor management is now evident for all to see.

~McQ

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Quote of the Day – Pecksniffian Progressive edition

George Will goes on a bit of a run today about "progressive puritanism." His current example is the attempt by California to limit minors from buying certain video games:

California officials argue that they should be allowed to limit minors’ ability to pick up violent video games on their own at retailers because of the purported damage they cause to the mental development of children.

The article Will references says that while the court seemed sympathetic to the aim of the law, it "has been reluctant to carve out exceptions to the First Amendment."

Interestingly, and as an aside, it brings us right back to the point about parents we discussed in the comments about the lip balm issue in North Carolina.

However, the point of the Will article is who it is that is constantly attempting to impose bans and restrictions on the rest of us and why. The money quote is:

Progressivism is a faith-based program. The progressives’ agenda for improving everyone else varies but invariably involves the cult of expertise – an unflagging faith in the application of science to social reform. Progressivism’s itch to perfect people by perfecting the social environment can produce an interesting phenomenon – the Pecksniffian progressive.

Indeed, I agree that progressivism is faith based – AGW being the most recent example of faith in science replacing the healthy skepticism one should always bring to any scientific inquiry. Will points out that scares, such as the video game one now being pushed by the Democratically controlled California legislature, are all too common in our past and were inevitably pushed by progressives and based in questionable science.

As an example, Will points to Fredric Wertham’s crusade against comic books in the early ’50s.  Will describes Wertham as “Formerly chief resident in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, he was politically progressive: When he opened a clinic in Harlem, he named it for Paul Lafargue, Karl Marx’s son-in-law who translated portions of "Das Kapital" into French, thereby facilitating the derangement of Parisian intellectuals.”

Since 1948, he had been campaigning against comic books, and his 1954 book, "Seduction of the Innocent," which was praised by the progressive sociologist C. Wright Mills, became a bestseller by postulating a causal connection between comic books and the desensitization of young criminals: "Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry."

Wertham was especially alarmed about the one-third of comic books that were horror comics, but his disapproval was capacious: Superman, who gave short shrift to due process in his crime-fighting, was a crypto-fascist. As for Batman and Robin, the "homoerotic tendencies" were patent.

This is important because if you read this carefully, you can identify within this old progressive campaign the blueprint for almost every other that has followed it.  Based on pseudo-science and faith in that pseudo science,  progressives feel both the right and duty to do what is necessary – by whatever means – to save us from ourselves.  Never mind, as in the case of the great comic book scare and many other subsequent scares have never panned out as feared.  That faith remains undiminished as witnessed by the the California legislature’s attempt to do precisely what the New York legislature tried to do back then – take control of the process and only allow what government deems to be “safe” to be produced “for the children”.

This is the lip balm story writ large.  And even if passed, it only means minors wouldn’t be able to pay for these games at the retail counter.  It doesn’t mean older brother or sister of legal age couldn’t buy it for them.  Or that they couldn’t rent it elsewhere or any of a huge list of ways minors could and would gain access.  It seems as if the law is more for the lawmakers to feel good about themselves instead of actually accomplishing anything.  Much like AGW – most scientists note that even if we were to put drastic limits on CO2 and implement an extensive and horribly expensive cap-and-trade system, it would hardly make any difference at all.  That doesn’t keep the progressives from continuing to pursue that goal though, does it?

Will’s article is another glimpse into the progressive psyche and his observation is dead on.  They are Pecksniffian – always have been.  No surprise there.  The hypocrisy doesn’t bother them.  They simply know better than do you.  And they certainly know how to better raise and protect your child. 

“For the children” is a fairly recent catch phrase for the progressive left – but, as is obvious, they’ve been trying their “for the children” gig for quite some time.  They’ll trot it or a form of it out at the drop of a hat.

But it’s not about the children.  It’s about, as Will notes, building a “perfect social environment”.  One they define as they wish, not you.  They have all the faith in the world they can build that utopia and they’re bound and determined to do so by any means necessary.  “Science” is their anchor to credibility in their pursuit.  Science, after all, simply can’t be disputed – except when it contradicts the wanted outcome.

It is indeed interesting to apply the comic book scare of the ‘50s to the various more recent attempts to apply the same sort of tactical blueprint to other progressive causes.  It helps one understand where they’re coming from and what their aim is.  And it isn’t freedom, liberty, or smaller and less intrusive government by any stretch.

~McQ

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I sometimes wonder about our future

Sometimes it’s something which seems minor or trivial that sets this ‘wondering’ of mine in motion.  I’ll read an article or short blurb which just makes me shake my head.  For instance, from North Carolina:

Students in Johnston County schools looking to relieve chapped lips better have all their paperwork in order.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports that the district has begun requiring a note from parents before it will allow students to bring Chapstick and other lip balms to school.

Schools spokeswoman Terri Sessoms says the policy was set by the county health department. Sessoms says parents were worried that children would share lip balm and spread germs.

It sometimes is a wonder to me that we’ve managed to make it this far in our civilization without the “benevolent hand of government” to guide even the tiniest things in our lives.  Here we have a “county health department” deciding unilaterally to set policy without discussion or input from anyone.  I assume, given the way this is written, that the schools are required by law to do what the county health department says to do. 

But certainly they understand, given the policy covers the entire school district, that lipstick is just as likely to be shared (perhaps more likely) among girls?  Any conspicuous outbreaks of illness or disease experienced to base this policy upon?  Or is this just an normal, everyday, precautionary intrusion upon individual liberty?

And if the kids get a note from their parents, doesn’t that mean that the fears the policy is meant to address are now obviously circumvented by allowing the balm into the school and allowing it to be potentially shared?  So why have the policy?

Yeah, I know, it seem not to be a big thing in the overall scheme of problems we face.  And yes, you have to pick your battles and the hills you’re willing to die upon.  But that doesn’t make the minor governmental bureaucratic intrusions any more palatable than the more major ones.

It is the little intrusions, piled one upon the other, that make government more and more a part of our lives.  We spend more and more time complying with government demands and mandates every day – in areas where frankly, government has no business.  And we, for the most part, meekly accept them.

In reality, this seemingly minor intrusion isn’t terribly different than the recent unilateral decisions made by the TSA to begin full body scanning and enhanced pat-downs.  No discussion, a unilateral decision, and your job is to comply.  The assumption made is the government has the right to make such decisions because their intensions are good and the public’s concerns are of, well, little concern. 

And apparently, so is their liberty.

 

~McQ

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The “right” to health care vs. the right to earn a living

More fallout from the ObamaCare monstrosity.  Reality begins to set in with a vengeance:

Want an appointment with kidney specialist Adam Weinstein of Easton, Md.? If you’re a senior covered by Medicare, the wait is eight weeks.

How about a checkup from geriatric specialist Michael Trahos? Expect to see him every six months: The Alexandria-based doctor has been limiting most of his Medicare patients to twice yearly rather than the quarterly checkups he considers ideal for the elderly. Still, at least he’ll see you. Top-ranked primary care doctor Linda Yau is one of three physicians with the District’s Foxhall Internists group who recently announced they will no longer be accepting Medicare patients.

"It’s not easy. But you realize you either do this or you don’t stay in business," she said.

For those slow on the uptake – when limited resources meet unlimited need, rationing is going to take place regardless of whether one wants it or likes it.  Rationing can take effect in many ways.  Two of the most common are by price and by availability (or a combination of both). 

Declaring everyone is “entitled” to health care doesn’t make it more affordable or available.  Because its availability doesn’t increase automatically on such declarations.  And that was the fly in the ObamaCare promise from the very beginning.   Then add in the absurd claim that you can get more for less and you’re where we are now with doctors and Medicare patients.

Reality is a harsh mistress.  Reality says that a person will do what is necessary in the business world to keep their business going.  We’ve seen that with the drop in employment during this recession as businesses cut back on headcount to survive it.  The same goes with the business mix of paying customers any business has.   If it takes a certain amount a month to maintain your practice, you have to ensure that is covered along with whatever profit (read salary) you want for yourself. The most common way a business does that, besides cutting expenses, is to raise prices.

But in health care you can’t really do that.  So?  So instead you change your business mix.  You begin to refuse to see those who pay the least in favor of those who pay the most, i.e. less Medicare patients and more private insurance patients.

If you’re a doctor, you spent 10 years of your life getting to the position you now hold and even more years building your practice.  You are, in fact, a small business owner who employs a good number of health care workers both directly and indirectly.

If however 40% of those you see are Medicare patients and those patient payments to doctors are being drastically reduced such that you’ll now be pulling in much less a month than you need to meet all your financial requirements, it is time to reassess the mix of patients you can afford to see.   Note the word – afford.  This is the only way a doctor can “raise prices”. 

There are those who claim that such a doctor has a responsibility to see whoever comes in the door.   In fact that doctor has many other responsibilities that preclude that – like his responsibilities to those he employs, the expense of his practice, malpractice insurance, student loan payback, etc.  He can’t see the first patient until all of those things are paid for.  And then he has to maintain his or her practice (thus the overhead) at a certain level to meet the needs/demands of the patients he does see. 

So when he looks at his mix of patients, he has to make a decision, doesn’t he?  And, as you see in the cite, many are beginning to make that decision.  He has to get that revenue stream back up to the level at which he can at least cover minimum needed to sustain his practice at a level he deems necessary.

Among the top points of contention is the complaint by doctors that Medicare’s payment rate has not kept pace with the growing cost of running a medical practice. As measured by the government’s Medicare Economic Index, those expenses rose 18 percent from 2000 to 2008. During the same period, Medicare’s physician fees rose 5 percent.

"Physicians are having to make really gut-wrenching decisions about whether they can afford to see as many Medicare patients," said Cecil Wilson, president of the American Medical Association.

But statistics also suggest many doctors have more than made up for the erosion in the value of their Medicare fees by dramatically increasing the volume of services they provide – performing not just a greater number of tests and procedures, but also more complex versions that allow them to charge Medicare more money.

From 2000 to 2008, the volume of services per Medicare patient rose 42 percent. Some of this was because of the increasing availability of sophisticated treatments that undoubtedly save lives. Some was because of doctors practicing "defensive medicine" – ordering every conceivable test to shield themselves from malpractice lawsuits down the line.

Of course they practice preventive medicine because Congress has adamantly refused to address tort reform, so, in many practices the largest expense incurred per year is malpractice insurance.  And naturally that constant threat drives the medicine to some extent.  Additionally it is human nature to try to get what you believe your services are worth if you’re going to render them. 

Instead we have  an outside entity arbitrarily declaring what they’re worth.  It is has now  gotten to the point that providers have to make some decisions because they can no longer operate at the level they desire too with the payment structure in effect.  And, as can be seen, they are making those decisions.

Which brings us back to the point that was made on this blog many times before when the promise of health care for all at lower cost kept being thrown around.  You can’t have it both ways.  The fact that there is now going to be more demand on a finite product means that rationing is somehow going to exist.  The fact that you have insurance obviously doesn’t guarantee you a doctor. 

Of course the reaction to these decisions is predictable as well:

Still, even if primary-care doctors had to rely exclusively on Medicare’s lower payment rates their incomes would only drop about 9 percent, according to a recent study co-authored by Berenson, who is also a fellow at the non-partisan Urban Institute.

"The argument that doctors literally can’t afford to feed their kids [if they take Medicare's rates] is absurd," said Berenson. "It’s just that doctors have gotten used to a certain income and lifestyle."

Got the implied argument there?  Whatever the income and lifestyle, they’ll just have to get over it and go along with the arbitrary price fixing government decides on. They’re probably among the “undeserving rich” Krugman was talking about below.  Oh, and note that a 9% drop in income also means a commensurate drop in the amount of overhead the office can afford – headcount in other words.  And that may mean poorer treatment.

You don’t get to decide what you’ll charge and let the market either reward or punish you for doing so. Oh, no.  The government will decide on what is acceptable, private insurance will go along because it is worth their while (they may not match the cost but they’ll lower their payout because the government has lowered its payout), malpractice insurance will most likely rise (you can’t do a better job with less staff and less time) and there you are, captaining a sinking ship.

Of course the reaction  being documented here is an immediate reaction to a flawed policy.  It is as natural as self-defense, because in a business sense, that’s precisely what it is.  Health care is a business, not a “right”.  And this is how businesses react to such intrusions in the market that could conceivably kill their chance at survival.

Long term the result will be even worse and more drastic.  And we’ve begun to see it already.  With all the turmoil and cost cutting in the health care industry, fewer and fewer are choosing it as a career path.  People like Berenson can sneer at doctor’s concerns now, but as almost every medical association out there has noted, fewer and fewer people are entering the profession.  And that’s across the board.  It seems, for whatever reason, our social engineers simply don’t understand economic basics and constantly and consistently dismiss them with disastrous results. 

Incentive is a wonderful motivator that has brought us all sorts of innovation and a better life.  Destroy that and you destroy motivation and the desire to excel.  That’s precisely what is happening here – with predictable results.

~McQ

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Krugman’s latest pearls of wisdom

I noted yesterday that one of the more prolific hacks left off of Alex Pareene list (link in previous post) at Salon was Paul Krugman.

QandO has a long history of examining Krugman’s political thoughts and finding them mostly wanting.  That’s not to say he’s a bust at everything he does – when he just talked economics he had some interesting things to say.  But his venture into political advocacy has, shall we say, not helped his overall reputation in the least.  One of the reasons is he’s prone to saying things like this:

The rich don’t necessarily deserve their wealth, and the poor certainly don’t deserve their poverty.

Don’t “deserve” wealth or poverty according to whom and by what standard, Mr. Krugman? 

Who gets to decide what is or isn’t “deserved” if earned or obtained legally?  And how does one make the blanket statement that “the poor certainly don’t deserve their poverty?”  That, in many cases, is demonstrably false. 

If we agree we are the sum of our choices in life, and those who’ve made consistently bad choices (drop out of school, take up drug use, commit criminal acts) end up in poverty, how is it they don’t “deserve” what they now suffer?  Certainly I can think of examples of the poor who may be poor through no real fault of their own – the mentally deficient who haven’t the skills to earn high wages, etc.  But for the most part, if everyone is offered essentially the same opportunities as others and they choose not to take advantage of them, how does one relegate their descent into poverty as “undeserved”?  Especially when others in precisely the same circumstances make different decisions that raise them out of poverty?

What, in fact, that statement is meant to reflect is Krugman’s apparent belief that wealth is unequally distributed not because it is earned, but by an immoral and unfair system that needs to be fixed. 

The market, in Krugman’s world, arbitrarily picks winners and losers and rewards them at whim apparently.  Thus most of the rich and none of the poor “deserve” their financial status.

So this should come as not surprise:

Allow me to make a point: Economics is not a morality play. It’s not a happy story in which virtue is rewarded and vice punished.

The market economy is a system for organizing activity — a pretty good system most of the time, though not always — but not according to any moral significance.

Really?  So nowhere in such an economy is honesty, fairness, good customer service rewarded with business over competitors who exhibit none of those virtues?  Instead, it’s just a “system for organizing” where consumers buy from which ever vendor they first come upon without ever once considering those virtues as a reason for buying?  Does the system punish those who act in what one could consider an “economically immoral” manner – i.e. in violation of the laws of economics” or screwing over customers?  Does it not mostly reward those who act in a manner that most pleases their customers and helps their reputation?

How is that not evidence of a moral code operating within a given market?

Well of course it is – but such a code is inconvenient to the Krugman’s of the world, because admitting that markets, unimpeded by government intrusion, would reward or punish those who transgress its laws would mean the argument for more government intrusion would fall flat.  And certainly, admitting that the rich “deserve” their riches as much as many in poverty “deserve” their poverty would again admit to a morality that precluded government making everything “fair” by it’s attempts to redistribute that “undeserved” wealth.

Those key premises are what Krugman and much of the left base their criticism of capitalism on, never once admitting that a) capitalism as it should exist doesn’t and  b) the reason the markets may not seem to be “working” is because of the amount of distortion they already suffer from government intrusion.

Of course, it is the age old cycle many of us have come to understand – government declares something to be a problem, declares it is the solution, exacerbates the problem and again declares only it can fix it with even more intrusion. 

“Morality” is, at a base level, “good and bad”.  We label what we deem “good” as moral.  The bad stuff is “immoral”.  How one can observe real markets at work, where the basic transaction is a voluntary exchange of goods for money between two people (entities) and not recognize the basic morality of such an act wouldn’t understand morality if it bit them on the leg.   Billions of those transactions will happen on this, Black Friday.  Consumers will go to stores they trust from experience, buy from vendors with good reputations and the best customer service and reward them with their business.  That decision is one based in morality in which the consumer weighs the options and picks the vendor who best exemplifies their moral ideal in the marketplace.  If they’ve been burned in the past by store X, that store most likely will not get their business – a decision based on the moral judgment of the consumer.

How a so-called economist doesn’t understand the basic morality of markets seems a bit beyond me.  Which is why I put Krugman in the hack category.  That morality, which is plainly evident to me, is inconvenient to Krugman’s thesis that government must intervene in the economy.  He can’t really point to any success stories (well he tries by saying, finally, that massive government spending for WWII brought us out of the Depression and that’s suspect), so he’s left trying to explain why it is government’s job to save us from the inherent unfairness of the market.

You have to leave a whole bunch of stuff out to do that.  And you have to establish nonsensical premises like “the rich don’t necessarily deserve their wealth, and the poor certainly don’t deserve their poverty”, in order to advance your government intrusion thesis.

Thus the cycle repeats – government is again the only solution to the problem government created.  After all, the markets put us 14 trillion in debt, not the profligacy of government – or so I fully expect Krugman to explain in some future bit of nonsense in the New York Times.  It would make about as much sense as this nonsense.

~McQ

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Happy Thanksgiving!

I know it has been a rough year for a number of us. The economy, the debt/deficit that’s been increased, and the usual political nonsense, etc.  On a personal level, my job of 24 years went away on Oct. 1st (company sold, didn’t need my redundant position).

On the plus side of the ledger, my son came home from Afghanistan (which wipes away all the “aw crap” moments), I see the lay off as a gift (it has gotten me off my complacent rear and into trying something I’ve been dying to do for years – more about that at a later date), and health wise, most of the family is in pretty good shape.  Besides, I have 4 grandsons who live within 4 miles of me – how could life be much sweeter.

Enough about that – on to  more about what we talk about here daily (and another thing I’m continually thankful for are the QandO readers and commenters – from the bottom of my heart – thank you).

One of the things I’m most thankful for are hack writers.  They create such a target rich environment.  Without them I couldn’t go off on righteous rants which I truly enjoy.  To make life easier for those of us thankful for hacks, Alex Pareene of Salon has compiled a list of what he considers the 30 worst hacks now writing.  For the most part I agree with his list and I have no problem at all with his number 1 pick.  There are others I’d add however, like this one.

Conspicuously absent from the top 5, however, is this one.

A couple of other writers who could easily graduate to that list and actually end up in a top 10 position are Mark Ames and Yasha Levine who wrote one of the worst articles for the Nation it has ever been my displeasure to read.  It is entitled “Koch-funded libertarians behind the TSA scandal”.  About the only fairly interesting thing about the article is they don’t provide a scintilla of proof to back the premise in their title.  None.  In fact it is so bad that Glenn Greenwald and I agree on something – mostly that this is just pitiful.  It is a hatchet job that should end up in every J-school course as a case study on how to destroy your own reputation and that of the journal for which you write in one easy lesson.

One other thought that occurred to me while sifting through the merde was “what were the editors thinking” when they okayed this nonsense?  Another in any number of increasingly obvious cases that question the worth of editors.  Even a lunatic with a blog out there in flyover land would most likely think twice before publishing this sort of crap.

Finally, at least for today, I’m thankful for this:

[T]he number of Americans who agree the earth is warming because of man-made activity has been in free fall, dropping to 34 percent in October, from 50 percent in July 2006, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

It is nice to see sanity winning over Chicken Little alarmism.  Science is all about skepticism, not consensus.  And there has been plenty, as we’ve noted over the years, to be skeptical about. 

Anyway, enough for today – go, enjoy the family, enjoy the turkey and have a wonderful day.  And thanks again for your loyal readership.  We appreciate you more than you know.

Happy Thanksgiving.

~McQ

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