Free Markets, Free People

Monthly Archives: August 2009


What Is Happening To Choice?

Freedom’s fundamental principles are choice and the lack of coercion. When you are free you make the choices in your life and you’re responsible for the consequences of your choice. In an authoritarian regime, someone else makes the choice for you and you’re left to obey or be punished. In some cases, you don’t even have the choice to obey – you are forced to comply.

And it is the latter of which this reminds me:

Public health officials are considering promoting routine circumcision for all baby boys born in the United States to reduce the spread of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

No. Huh uh. No way.

“Public health officials” don’t get to make those decisions if a free country. There they’d be limited to offering the surgery as an option for the reasons stated, but no more. But “routine circumcision” doesn’t mean it will be offered as an option – routine means it will be done as a part of the birth procedure with or without the parent’s permission.

But Dr. Peter Kilmarx, chief of epidemiology for the division of H.I.V./AIDS prevention at the C.D.C., said that any step that could thwart the spread of H.I.V. must be given serious consideration.

“We have a significant H.I.V. epidemic in this country, and we really need to look carefully at any potential intervention that could be another tool in the toolbox we use to address the epidemic,” Dr. Kilmarx said. “What we’ve heard from our consultants is that there would be a benefit for infants from infant circumcision, and that the benefits outweigh the risks.”

Now, let’s take a broader view of what is being said here by Dr. Kimarx in relation to the health care insurance reform now being considered.

Remember, we’re told, almost daily by proponents of this reform that decisions on care will be left to you and your doctor – correct?

So whose advice is Dr. Kilmarx basing his treatment recommendation on? That’s right his “consultants”. Where are you and your doctor in this decision making process?

Left out.  Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, Kilmarx is talking about keeping both you and your doctor completely out of the loop.

What Dr. Kilmarx is saying is the recommendations of the “consultants” outweighs your concerns and puts you out of that decision making cycle. Or, said more succinctly – they don’t care what you or your doctor want, they’re going to direct that “routine circumcisions” be a part of the birth procedure and they invoke an “epidemic” as the reason for this “intervention”.

So, given this is just the CDC, imagine what those government officials charged with providing “evidence-based medicine” for everyone will be putting out as directives that get between you and your doctor. And don’t forget, Obama is a great fan of “evidence-based care” as he noted at one of his pep-rallies townhalls on health care insurance reform.

What you’re seeing from the CDC is only the very tiniest of tips of the iceberg if government is put in charge of health care. Allowing the government to dictate forced circumcision would only set the precedent for what we all fear government run health care would bring. It may not seem to be that important of an issue, but it is.

This isn’t the government’s choice to make or direct. And it never should be.

~McQ


Will Doctors Opt Out Of Public Option?

It appears at least some plan too. Dr. Alfred Bonati, who heads the American Society of Medical Doctors, says he plans to say “no” to accepting patients under a government run plan and, according to a poll he cites, so do an awful lot of other physicians:

Perhaps this is why a nationwide, nonpartisan poll of physicians this month found that a full 70 percent oppose the health care reform proposals under consideration by Congress. Sixty-six percent feel that a government-run health insurance plan would restrict doctors’ ability to give the best advice and offer the best care possible to their patients. Perhaps most importantly, 60 percent said they would not accept new patients covered by a government insurance plan.

His reasons are based in experience:

Nearly all the doctors polled have worked with Medicare. Most have likely been denied Medicare reimbursement, or given minimal reimbursement, for a course of treatment that they prescribed that best fits the needs of a patient and that patient’s family. They know that government coverage does not allow for flexibility, creativity, or, sometimes, even compassion.

[...]

I share the view of the 60 percent in the August poll — those doctors who are planning to “just say no” if government-run health coverage is implemented. Many of us already do not accept patients who are on Medicare or Medicaid because of restrictions those programs put on our decisions as doctors. It pains us to turn away a patient in need, but the narrow rules of government reimbursement programs stymie our ability to follow our oath, so we simply opt out and work with patients who are also in need but have more flexible, private coverage.

If a government option gains the popularity that is expected — after all, who would not choose the most affordable option available, and how could any option compete with one that is subsidized by taxpayers — millions of Americans will face severely limited options in choosing a doctor. As physicians reject working with a system that does not honor our oath, patients will be left opening their own checkbooks, or going into credit card debt, to get the treatment they need and deserve.

The law of unintended consequences again raises its head. The government may indeed put a public option in place – whether or not the citizens of the nation want it or not. And they may, through legislation, force insurance companies to take everyone without exception, but -at least not at this point- they can’t force doctors to accept patients under plans that don’t feel reimburses at a rate commensurate with the care given or doesn’t allow them to treat a patient in accordance with the oath they took.

Of course that then leaves that system with a problem and the government with a dilemma – does it then force MDs to take anyone who applies (as it will insurance companies) regardless of insurance plan? And if so, how do you suppose doctors and other health care providers will react?

It is these sorts of problems, dilemmas and unintended consequences that few are talking about in this great “debate”. What if it is doctors who become the Atlas that shrugs when all is said and done. What options would the government then have – in this land of the “free” and home of the brave?

~McQ


Darn Right-Wing Militias

Via The Jawa Report, a little “domestic terrorism” update. First St. Louis:

A federal search warrant obtained by the Post-Dispatch connects a former Democratic campaign strategist to a Clayton bombing last year that seriously injured an attorney.

About two months after the October bombing, federal law enforcement officials searched the downtown loft of Milton H. “Skip” Ohlsen III, seeking “evidence related to the planning, execution, and/or cover-up of the bombing in Clayton, Missouri, on October 16, 2008.” Ohlsen in recent weeks has been at the center of a swirling political scandal that is threatening the political careers of at least two Missouri Democratic legislators.

Then, Austin, Texas:

A Texas woman faces trial this month in Austin on charges she threatened to kill a government informant who infiltrated an Austin-based group that planned to bomb the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., last fall…

…Crowder and McKay were part of a group of activists that had gone to the Twin Cities to take part in street demonstrations. The FBI had infiltrated the group with Darby. Crowder and McKay built eight of the gasoline firebombs but didn’t use them, a fact law enforcement officials credited to Darby.

Members of the Austin protest community heaped scorn on Darby, saying he had betrayed longtime friends and colleagues.

I’m headed over to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website to see what they have to say about these right-wingers and their hate crimes …. oh, wait …

~McQ


Orszag Called Newly Adjusted White House Budget “Unsustainable” In March

Back in March of this year, when both the White House and the CBO put out their budget deficit numbers, we were told that the CBO simply had it wrong and were much too pessimistic about the 10 year budget that the Obama administration was touting.

The head of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, Peter Orszag, had this to say at the time:

White House budget chief Peter Orszag said that CBO’s long-range economic projections are more pessimistic than those of the White House, private economists and the Federal Reserve and that he remained confident that Obama’s budget, if enacted, would produce smaller deficits.

Even so, Orszag acknowledged that if the CBO projections prove accurate, Obama’s budget would produce deficits that could not be sustained.

“Deficits in the, let’s say, 5 percent of GDP range would lead to rising debt-to-GDP ratios that would ultimately not be sustainable,” Orszag told reporters.

Deficits so big put upward pressure on interest rates as the government offers more attractive interest rates to attract borrowers.

“I think deficits of 5 percent (of GDP) are unsupportable,” said economist Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com. “It will lead to higher interest rates to the point where it will force policymakers to make changes.”

Of course, today the White House’s OMB acknowledged that, in fact, the CBO’s estimates in March were indeed correct. OMB has adjusted its deficit estimate up 2 trillion dollars to over 9 trillion. That means that in 2019, the deficit will be 6% of GDP – or to quote Peter Orszag, “unsustainable“.

What does “unsustainable” mean to you, and how does one address such a problem?

Well, it certainly isn’t addressed with increased spending, new entitlements and more debt, is it?

Is there any wonder a sizable majority thinks the country is still on the wrong track despite a change of administrations?

In case the politicians still don’t get it (and after this morning’s awesomely dumb move by Republicans, they need to be reminded as well) — It’s the spending, stupid!

~McQ


Central Planning And Health Care

One of the little discussed but probable consequences of making health care both universal and less rewarding monetarily for doctors is an inevitable shortage of doctors. The UK has had such a problem for years. They recently raised compensation for doctors by 50% in hopes of attracting more (the average salary is now 108,000 pounds). They also hoped that the raise in pay would see more British doctors working the odd shifts and weekends.

Apparently the opposite has happened:

The NHS is having to rely on doctors from overseas because a lucrative new contract for British GPs has resulted in more than 90 per cent opting out of responsibility for their patients in the evenings and at weekends.

Consequently, one-third of the primary care trusts (PCT) are flying in foreign doctors (from Poland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, etc) to treat patients “off hours” and on weekends. That obviously drives up costs, and the exhausted doctors have been killing patients, unfortunately.

So there’s a lot of hand wringing going on about the use of foreign doctors. But for anyone who has studied markets, what has happened there is a natural reaction to centrally imposed salaries. If the average is now 108,000 pounds and it is a 50% raise, you can figure that doctors previously were making less than a good auto mechanic. Why spend the time and effort to become a doctor for such mediocre compensation?

Probably more interesting is the fact that the same doctors now making better money for their type of work, have opted not to participate more in “off hours” and “weekends” figuring they’re still not being compensated enough to do that. Call it a passive but effective way of protesting their wages.

The NHS feels that its increase in wages will help solve the problem of the internal doctor shortage:

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘The NHS has always used professionals trained abroad because until recently we did not train enough for our own needs.

The phrase “until recently” implies that now they are. And it stands to reason the new wage will attract more to the profession than the old wage did. However, will they be “enough”? And will they too “opt out” of “off hours” and weekend care? If so, the problem remains – central planning will decide their work is worth “X”, the doctors will decide it is worth “Y” and until they get “Y”, they will continue to opt out.

That of course means the importation of foreign doctors will continue to grow as it has in recent years. The money that could be going to British doctors will go to the foreign ones. And British doctors will continue to refuse work on off hours and weekends while foreign doctors kill their patients.

A lovely system, wouldn’t you say?

~McQ


Republicans: Dumber Than A Box Of Rocks

The Republican Party is hopeless.

Given a meta-issue from heaven (smaller government, less intrusive government, less taxation, less spending) and a building mandate as exemplified by the anger at townhall meetings, they manage to fumble it completely.

Instead of actually addressing the problem (see meta-issue) they pander and play politics. Instead of talking about market solutions and less government, they decide to establish government health care as a civil right.

The Republican Party issued a new salvo in the health debate Monday with a “seniors’ health care bill of rights” that opposed any moves to trim Medicare spending or limit end-of-life care to seniors.

[...]

Intended as a political shot at President Barack Obama, the Republican National Committee manifesto marks a remarkable turnaround for a party that had once fought to trim the health program for the elderly and disabled, which last year cost taxpayers over $330 billion.

What Republicans would commit us to by making this guarantee is debt your grandchildren, and perhaps their grandchildren will have to pay to the tune of 58 trillion in unfunded liabilities. In other words, the promised benefits for Medicare are underfunded by 58 trillion in the outlying years and the Republicans have just guaranteed them. With what is anyone’s guess, but certainly not with “less taxes and less spending”.

The other thing they do, apparently unwittingly, is make health care a “civil right” (how else do you interpret something the Republicans would call a “seniors health care bill of rights?”).

That is all the opening the left needs to, at some point, throw it back in the Republican’s lap and ask why such a right exists for one group of citizens but not another. The “fairness” police will have a field day with this and the Republicans will have no answer.

If this move is indicative of the level of intelligence and leadership within the Republican party, I say go hire any random person off the street to run the party. They could not do any worse. They have a political opponent in the middle of self-destructing, and they make a dumb move like this.

Amazing.

As they say, you can’t fix stupid.

~McQ


Krugman – Speaking of Zombie Ideas

Today Paul Krugman attempts to make the case that “government intervention isn’t always bad”. However, he says such an argument has a tough time establishing itself because the “zombie ideas” of Reaganism just won’t die, i.e.”government intervention is always bad.”

You know, I don’t remember it that way at all. In fact, few will argue that all government intervention is bad, to include Ronald Reagan. Reagan did say that most times not only is government not the solution, but it is the problem. But I’m not sure that translates into what Krugman is claiming.

As we’ve said many times, the primary function of government is to protect the rights of its citizens and it does so by protecting them from force or fraud. That obviously requires some level of government intrusion and intervention. I don’t think Reagan saw it any differently. As I recall, he, unlike Krugman, just didn’t see government as the solution for the vast majority of problems we encountered.

So what Krugman has erected is a strawmen argument. Most see some role for government that they’d deem necessary and legitimate. But not necessarily in all areas. What Reaganism said was that there are areas of our life and economy which are much more efficiently run by the private side. Government should stick to the protection game – something it actually does relatively well – and leave the rest to private enterprise.

That, of course, doesn’t sit well with the “government is always the answer” crowd. It is a battle they’ve been fighting – and losing – for decades. What is really bothering Krugman is he is seeing it happen again at a time when he believes it should finally be clear sailing for the government intervention crowd.

This how Krugman begins his argument today:

The debate over the “public option” in health care has been dismaying in many ways. Perhaps the most depressing aspect for progressives, however, has been the extent to which opponents of greater choice in health care have gained traction — in Congress, if not with the broader public — simply by repeating, over and over again, that the public option would be, horrors, a government program.

You have to appreciate his choice of wording. Krugman has come right out and said that he sees the public option as one that could “evolve” into what he prefers, single-payer. Yet within two sentences, he tries to brand those who are against the public choice trojan horse as “opponents of greater choice in health care”. Nice try, but no cigar, Mr. Krugman.

He then launches into a fairly incoherent attempt at “proving” Reaganism (as he’s defined it) failed.

But in fact, it didn’t fail. People remember the ’80s and the prosperity they brought with some fondness. It’s one of the reasons voters were willing to give an uninspiring Republican VP a shot, before turning him out of town for another smooth talking Democrat who promised “change”. But what should you believe, Krugman’s version or your own lying eyes?

Krugman transparently attempts to erect this strawman of Reaganism, declare it thoroughly discredited, further declare its “zombie” ideas to be worthless and proclaim that since he’s destroyed the zombie, the opposite (don’t try to apply logic here) must be true – i.e. government intervention is good. And if government intervention is good, then it follows it must then be good in all areas, to include health care.

Of course even Krugman’s hero, Barack Obama, in a Freudian moment, mentioned that it wasn’t UPS or FedEx constantly in financial trouble, no siree – it was the good old, government run USPS that couldn’t quite cut the mustard.

Krugman laments:

But some of the blame also must rest with President Obama, who famously praised Reagan during the Democratic primary, and hasn’t used the bully pulpit to confront government-is-bad fundamentalism.

My goodness, you’d think praising Reagan was akin to praising some fascist who made the trains run on time, wouldn’t you? But for those who are deacons in the church of “government intervention is good”, that’s probably a valid comparison. Because everyone knows history is rife with examples of government intervention success stories . That’s why people are constantly trotting them out instead of attempting to discredit arguments about government that were never made.

~McQ


Honduran Court Says “No” To Restoring Ousted Leader To Power

Honduras continues to refuse to buckle to international pressure to restore constitutionally ousted leader Manuel Zelaya. The latest rejection came from the Honduran Supreme Court:

Honduras’s supreme court has rejected a Costa Rica-brokered deal to restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya to power and ordered his arrest if he returns.

The ruling also affirmed the legitimacy of the government of interim leader Roberto Micheletti.

The move comes on the eve of a planned visit by a delegation from the Organisation of American States (OAS), which backs the Costa Rican proposal.

It is unclear if the court ruling will affect the delegation’s plans.

The court reminded Mr Zelaya that he faces several charges – including crimes against the government, treason, and abuse of power – and would be subject to trial if he re-entered the country.

Citing their own constitution, the court declared Zelaya’s ouster legitimate and Micheletti’s ascension to power as “constitutional succession”.

I know this has been tough sledding for Honduras, but I have to admit a sense of pride in a country which sticks up for its constitution in such a way and refuses to be intimidated by those who would be happy to see it torn up and ignored.

Viva Honduras!

~McQ


The Health Care “Moral Obligation” Argument

Dave Schuler, via Cassandra, provides the best counter to the emerging argument on the left meant to reframe the health care debate. That of a supposed “moral obligation” to provide it through government.

As I’ve said before, I don’t believe that there’s a right to healthcare nor have I seen a coherent argument made that it is, merely a claim. However, bear with me.

Is it possible to make a coherent argument that government-provided healthcare is a moral obligation but that our obligation doesn’t extend to people in Zambia? I don’t think it is but I’m willing to listen to the arguments.

As am I. Because what Schuler lays out there in question form is the logical extension of such a “moral obligation”. It is either a universal one (government has the obligation to provide health care to everyone), or it is no moral obligation at all – just another bit of cheap political rhetoric designed to appeal to your emotions.

And that brings me to the attempt this past week by Obama to enlist religious leaders into his campaign by claiming such a moral obligation (MichaelW has written about it here) and framing it in such a way that the inevitable “What Would Jesus Do” questions emerge.

Well, quite frankly, Jesus wouldn’t say anything about the state, much less anything about the state providing aid and comfort to the people. As is clear to even those with just a passing familiarity with Jesus’s ministry he implored individuals to care for their friends, neighbors and even strangers in need.

But the state was never a part of his ministry or his exhortations to help the poor. In fact he made a distinct separation between the two noting that the state was of this world and his ministry was of the divine.

Ironically, if George Bush had said some were out there were “bearing false witness”, or called his effort “40 days to health care reform”, or had told religious leaders that he felt that it was a “moral obligation” to provide health care (through government) the left would have exploded. We’d have seen references to separation of church and state and claims we were headed into a “theocracy” from the usual suspects.

Yet so desperate is the left right now to push government run health care that even the sort of appeal for religious support that would have initiated a veritable feeding frenzy with the anti-Christian zealots among them has solicited barely a whisper of dissent.

In a free country if you feel you have a moral obligation to provide health care to others, no one will stop you from acting to provide it. However, in a free country, no one will force you to act on what they arbitrarily choose to define as a “moral obligation” and with which you don’t agree.

~McQ


Reality Begins To Dawn In America

For the first time since 1975, Social Security recipients will not get a cost of living allowance increase in their Social Security check. Another in a long line of ominous indicators that, to quote President Obama’s favorite disavowed preacher, the fiscal “chickens are coming home to roost.”

We seem to have been living in a dream world for the last few decades where the majority of Americans ignored the reality and believed we could continue to increase the size of the welfare state forever with no ill consequences. The small coterie of realists claiming that it was indeed a fantasy world we were living in were declared alarmists who were using scare tactics and dismissed by the politicians.

Now, with huge deficits, we’re about to see the US go from one of the least-indebted developed nations to one of the most indebted. The IMF reports that for the US, general government debt as a percentage of GDP will rise from 63 percent in 2007 to 88.8 percent this year and to 99.8 percent of GDP next year.

That’s huge and, with the revised deficit of almost 10 trillion over 10 years, getting larger.

Even without the numbers and reports, Americans have increasingly come to understand that the government we have and the programs it funds through our tax dollars and massive borrowing are unsustainable. And, as I’ve pointed out, that realization has been brought to a head by the recent financial problems we’ve suffered and government’s reaction (under both the Bush and Obama administrations) to that problem. And yet the supposedly tuned-in Obama and the Democrats simply don’t seem to understand that, or, perhaps worse, don’t want to believe it, given the agenda they’ve undertaken. Matt Welch lays it out well:

After 11 months of federal bailouts and freakouts, Americans have become bone tired of panicky power grabs from Washington. It’s the big government, stupid.

The message of the various Tea Party protests, which predated this summer’s ahistorical media panic over town hall “lynch mobs,” has been pretty simple, says Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the nonprofit that has helped organize the protests, told Reason magazine this spring. “It was: stop spending so much money, stop borrowing so much money, and stop bailing out people who were irresponsible.”

It’s a reality that surely haunts the politically sensitive Obama administration: Ever since George W. Bush first tried to cram the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) down the throats of largely unwilling citizens, bailouts of failed institutions, from AIG to American Axle, have been enormously unpopular.

What Obama and the Democrats are left with then, when pursuing an agenda that is a naked attempt at even more government expansion, is a natural resistance that has been building since before this administration took office. Either the Democrats and Obama completely misread the election results and assumed a mandate that wasn’t at all present, or their natural hubris left them believing that even if that was the country’s attitude, they would be able to allay the fears and talk them into supporting more big government.

As is obvious, it’s not working. And the mood of the country seems to be at a point where it is swinging in exactly the opposite direction.

You have some Democrats who are realizing that - Senator Kent Conrad (D-SD) among them – who are talking about a vastly scaled back health care bill (I stick by my claim that Democrats realize they must pass something called “Health Care Reform” or the Obama presidency is DOA).  But that too flies in the face of polling which says that a majority of Americans would like to see this version scrapped and for lawmakers to start over. The obvious implication of that poll result is the public is not happy with the size, depth of intrusion and cost of the current proposals.

Bill Clinton once famously said that the era of big government was over. And most cheered. But that turned out to be a mirage as Republicans took over, became Democrat-lite and expanded government yet again. Big government came back with a vengeance. As pointed out by Welch, the Tea Parties, which were the first public evidence of discontent within the country, began under George Bush and had absolutely nothing to do with Barack Obama.

If, as with most protests, the protesters represent the tip of the iceberg, we may be seeing the political sea change that many government minimalists have been hoping for for decades.

The winning political issue is out there for the politician and party smart enough to grab it. Smaller and less expensive and intrusive government.

Who will grab it and how will turn it into a winner is at this point unknown. But Americans are very uneasy right now and their anger at being marginalized by their politicians and ignored is mounting. Not only is 2010 going to be a very interesting year, but depending on who emerges on the right and how they approach addressing this anger, 2012 could be equally as interesting.

~McQ

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