Free Markets, Free People
Got a huge chuckle out of Steven Levitt’s opening sentence at the Freakanomics blog:
Many economists view the health-care bill passed in the U.S. earlier this year as falling somewhere between “a complete waste of time” and “actually making the situation worse.”
Indeed. In fact, I’d have to go with the “actually making the situation worse” determination, given what we’ve seen this past couple of weeks as more and more companies react to the impact of the legislation.
The context of Levitt’s remark is a story by Delia Lloyd talking about the UK going in precisely the opposite way. Yes, a country which has had socialized medicine for over 60 years is looking at taking steps for a more market-based health care system, with the belief it will improve the British system.
Markets? Pricing signals? Competition?
Nah, our Congress just rejected all of that – couldn’t be a good thing.
Why are we always 60 years late and a dollar short?
In our apparent rush to be just like Europe, I wonder if our leaders would think this was a good idea:
The UK’s tax collection agency is putting forth a proposal that all employers send employee paychecks to the government, after which the government would deduct what it deems as the appropriate tax and pay the employees by bank transfer.
You know, George Orwell was an Englishman and, it seems, knowing their proclivities, he was right on target with "1984". Not the year, the outcome.
Besides the practical reasons for not doing this, the premise under which it operates is horrifying. It says, "the government has first claim on all money earned in this nation." That may indeed by true by law, but this would make it true in fact. It would essentially turn the government into your paymaster.
Never mind the huge and assuredly bloated and inefficient bureaucracy that would grow up around this, or the cost to taxpayers (who ironically, would then get less in their pay check than previously because of it), just what in the world would cause anyone to offer such a suggestion except the belief that government owns all the money anyway?
The proposal by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) stresses the need for employers to provide real-time information to the government so that it can monitor all payments and make a better assessment of whether the correct tax is being paid.
You see, per the suggestion, it would be better for the government if this was implemented. Not you, government. You would pay for it of course and it would most likely cost you a pretty penny, but then you’re there to support government and make things easier for the bureaucrats – don’t you see?
Move a long citizen, nothing to see here. Just report to work early or we’ll dock you paycheck.
Kyle Smith spends the majority of his column talking about the Obama administrations relationship, or lack thereof, with the UK. He also talks about the way the administration is attacking BP, far above and beyond the call of duty as he sees it.
BP after all is British Petroleum, and one of the mainstays of the economy whose profits fuel pension funds there, etc.
The quote? Well, again, it is one of those great one sentence summations and contrasts that grab you as true when you read it:
Obama seems to think corporations are alien invaders sent here to destroy us and should be handled accordingly — yet seething peoples who actually do want to destroy us should be confronted with diplomacy and listening.
Given the last 16 months or so, it is hard to mount an argument that would refute his point.
In a little noted Financial Times article yesterday, it reported:
The European Union’s public debt could by 2014 rise to 100 per cent of gross domestic product – a year’s economic output – unless governments take firm action to restore fiscal discipline, EU finance ministers will be warned on Monday.
The EU claims that the measures the countries of the union took to “rescue Europe’s financial sector and combat recession” are to blame.
But then, 7 or 8 paragraphs later, we get to the real “tip of the iceberg”:
The Commission identifies five countries as at particular risk – Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Spain and the UK – because their public finances will come under strain from large increases in pension and healthcare costs, and high deficits triggered by the financial crisis.
This is particularly the case for Greece, which faces the second-highest increase in age-related expenditure in the EU, while its high debt ratio adds to concerns on sustainability.
Pension and health care costs? Translated into US lingo – Social Security and Medicare. You know the two programs with 50+ trillion in unfunded future liabilities? So tell me again why we want to go even further off this debt cliff by enacting government run health care?
Now I know you’ve been led to believe that Euro socialism is magic and that their health care delivers amazing care at much less cost than ours. But in reality, it doesn’t do better on either measure. The 5 countries listed above are only those in the “worst” shape. Any guess what they’ll have to do to bring their “free” health care costs in line, so, like Greece, they won’t see the cost at 135% of GDP next year?
Cuts in spending. Cuts in benefits. Cuts in care. Rationing.
And for countries like the UK, where the medical workers work for the government, what options or choices will medical consumers be left with? There is no real private market. Government killed that decades ago.
Is that really what we want here? My goodness, the evidence is out there and many of us seem to want to remain willfully blind to the consequences of what we’re considering here in countries who are now doing it. The arrogance and hubris of that is simply mindboggling. Want to see the economy killed and debt skyrocket? Hope the Senate passes “health care reform” then. We can race Greece to see who can run up the biggest percentage of debt vs our GDP. And given the way this Congress and President think, we’ll “win”.
Appearing before microphones at the G-20 conference, the Presidents of the US and France along with the PM of the UK made an announcement concerning Iran:
President Obama and leaders of Britain and France accused Iran on Friday of building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, saying the country has hidden the covert operation from international weapons inspectors for years.
Appearing before reporters in Pittsburgh, Mr. Obama said that the Iranian nuclear program “represents a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime.” French President Nicholas Sarkozy, appearing beside Mr. Obama, said that Iran had deadline of two months to comply with international demands or face increased sanctions.
Essentially the argument is the facility is too big for the manufacture of nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes and can only exist to enable the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
American officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to make public the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the project. On Monday, Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that it now had a “pilot plant” under construction, whose existence it had never before revealed.
So now Iran has been called out. That’s the easy part. Increased sanctions are promised. That’s the hard part. Russia may possibly come on board (we’ll see if the unilateral decision to remove the missile defense shield from eastern Europe), but China is an unknown (although the Chinese foreign ministry recently said it was not in favor of increased sanctions). That’s assuming the Obama administration plans on working all of this through the UN.
One of the sanctions that the US and others are considering is one which would restrict the importation of gasoline. While Iran sits on a sea of oil, it has very limited refining capacity. It must import most of what it uses. Cutting those imports would seriously effect the country. However Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez, during a recent visit with Iran, promised to provide the regime with gasoline. That could set up a confrontation between the US (and others) and Venezuela. Hugo Chavez might finally get the confrontation with the US he’s been claiming was coming very soon.
This is about to get complicated and nasty. December is the date in which France has demanded compliance with international demands. In the interim, both sides are going to be scrambling to line up their allies. And then there’s the wild card – Israel.
This will be an interesting couple of months. But one question I have – why wasn’t this presented to the UN before the president of Iran spoke?
UPDATE: Dale sends me a link to this article by Simon Tisdale at the Guardian in reference to this story:
…Now it seems the Iranian regime has been caught red-handed, and clean out of trumps, by the forced disclosure that it is building, if not already operating, a second, secret uranium processing plant.
The revelation will bring a triumphal roar of “told you so!” from Bush era neoconservatives in the US to hawkish rightwingers in Israel. The likes of former vice-president Dick Cheney and UN envoy John Bolton, and the current Israeli leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, have long insisted that Tehran’s word could not be trusted.
Yet the argument about who was right and who was wrong about Iran is hardly important at this juncture…
As Dale sarcastically notes:
Yes. Whatever we do, let’s not try and keep track of who was right and who was wrong about Iran. We certainly wouldn’t want to have a track record of foreign policy reliability we could consult in the future.
Because this is about, uh what was it again, oh, yeah, change!
As the president gears up for a new push to pass health
care insurance reform with a “major speech” to a joint session of Congress this coming Wednesday, it’s always instructive to peek in periodically at a system that is the practical end state he’s claimed he’s always wanted – the single payer system.
Today, as usual, we take a look at the National Health Service in the UK.
In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, a group of experts who care for the terminally ill claim that some patients are being wrongly judged as close to death.
Under NHS guidance introduced across England to help doctors and medical staff deal with dying patients, they can then have fluid and drugs withdrawn and many are put on continuous sedation until they pass away.
What’s the criticism of the insurance industry? That a bureaucrat somewhere is making a life or death decision, correct? Of course that’s precisely the same thing that happens in a single-payer system, except it is a government bureaucrat making the decision.
In an insurance system, what are your choices? Appeal. Or tell them to stuff it and pay for the care yourself. But in such a system it is highly unlikely that any insurance company is going to try to issue “guidance” to doctors telling medical staff how to deal with dying patients like what the NHS has done. They wouldn’t presume to do it (and if they did, the option is to find an insurance carrier that doesn’t).
However, when it’s a single payer system and, as in the case of the UK, everyone works for government, such as the UK, then such guidance is completely within reason given the system. After all the basic presumption of such a system is that, in fact, bureaucrats do have a right to call the shots.
The scheme, called the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP), was designed to reduce patient suffering in their final hours.
Developed by Marie Curie, the cancer charity, in a Liverpool hospice it was initially developed for cancer patients but now includes other life threatening conditions.
It was recommended as a model by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), the Government’s health scrutiny body, in 2004
And there is no appeal as there’s really no one else to whom you can go.
A number of doctors there are concerned about the guidance. Dr Peter Hargreaves, a consultant in Palliative Medicine at St Luke’s cancer centre in Guildford, is one of them:
He added that some patients were being “wrongly” put on the pathway, which created a “self-fulfilling prophecy” that they would die.
He said: “I have been practising palliative medicine for more than 20 years and I am getting more concerned about this “death pathway” that is coming in.
“It is supposed to let people die with dignity but it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Patients who are allowed to become dehydrated and then become confused can be wrongly put on this pathway.”
He added: “What they are trying to do is stop people being overtreated as they are dying.
“It is a very laudable idea. But the concern is that it is tick box medicine that stops people thinking.”
He said that he had personally taken patients off the pathway who went on to live for “significant” amounts of time and warned that many doctors were not checking the progress of patients enough to notice improvement in their condition.
The key of course, and the reason for the “pathway” is contained in the second sentence I’ve put in bold – “overtreated”. Code for spending money on someone in the last stages of life. Obviously, it is much cheaper to put them in a drug induced coma and let them die than it is to attempt to keep them alive. Hargreaves sees that as a “self-fulfilling” process, where patients who would actually respond to more care and live “significant” amounts of time longer are condemned to death in an uncaring system more concerned about cost than life.
From the beginning one of the primary targets of health
care insurance reform has been cost. The claim is that government can help lower those costs. The further claim is it can do it by introducing “competition” into the system. But there’s little in the proposals that anyone can find that actually does that. Instead it appears to most that things like the “public option” are actually designed to move us toward the eventuality of a single-payer system. The NHS provides us almost weekly examples of the cost containment strategies it implements in which extending life takes second place to cutting cost.
If cutting cost is the top priority of a system, any system, those are the types of decisions someone is going to be making. Most likely, if the patient isn’t involved in paying for the service, it isn’t going to be the patient or his family making them. It is going to be some bureaucrat with a budget line busily engaged in the priority of “cutting cost” making the decision.
A bit of ego, a little dab of moral vanity, a smidge of hubris all driven by an agenda and you have the perfect definition of the political class worldwide. Of course I understate the smidges, bits and dabs by quite a bit. But that class has a problem. Other than boring economic stuff they are apparently lacking a great moral cause. So, it appears, they’ve decided to make one up with predicable results.
Dominic Lawson brings us up to date with the goings on in the UK beginning with helping us understand where the “green” movement has gotten them:
I was irresistibly reminded of this by Ed Miliband, the energy secretary, in his launch of plans to cut carbon emissions by switching to “renewables” for more than 30% of our energy use. This, he claimed, would “rise to the moral challenge of climate change”.
Miliband is of the generation of politicians struggling to find a great moral cause. Earlier in the Labour administration Tony Blair thought he had found it with wars of choice far from home, but that has, to put it mildly, lost its lustre. Now it is the “war against climate change”, given additional moral potency by the notion that the greatest concentration of sufferers from global rising temperatures would be among the world’s poorest.
Given the mostly positive press the fulminations of one Al Gore has received, what pol worth his salt could resist the call to save the world. “Go Green” young man and don’t dally because the earth has a fever!
And so Britain has tried to lead the effort. With high flying rhetoric and an aim to save Africa (really? Yup, so says Lawson), British politicans have bravely decided to throttle back their emissions and, apparently, kill their steel industry. Of course other than see the last vestiges of that industry leave forever, Lawson wonders, in the big scheme of things, if it’s worth it:
The UK is responsible for less than 2% of global carbon emissions – a figure set to fall sharply, regardless of what we do, as a result of the startlingly rapid industrial-isation of countries such as China and India: each year the increase in Chinese CO2 emissions alone is greater than those produced by the entire British economy. On the fashionable assumption that climate change is entirely driven by CO2 emissions, the effect on global temperatures of Britain closing every fossil fuel power station would be much smaller than the statistical margin of error: in effect, zero.
You see, Lawson, like many, has figured out the unfashionable truth – unless the big 3rd world emitters play ball, whatever dinky emitters like the UK do won’t amount to any net change. Whether or not you believe in AGW or not, running your economy on the shoals for no net gain seems something only a politican would do. And you’re right.
But those great moral crusades are beckoning and the political flesh is weak. Who wants to show up and serve their time in the spotlight with nothing but mundane governing to do. Politicians are driven to make a difference:
Gordon Brown claims: “Britain is leading the world in the battle against climate change.” Such remarks are regarded as absurd in the chancelleries of Europe: if you do take as a measure of such commitment the proportion of domestic energy already supplied by renewables, the UK occupies 25th place in the European Union league table, above only Malta and Luxembourg.
Never the less, “leading” certainly has had an effect, at least domestically. With a yawning energy gap promising huge problems in he very near future, the UK is leading by committing itself to 7,000 offshore wind generators.
Two problems with that. One they should have learned from Germany:
Indeed, Paul Golby, who runs the British operations of E.ON, Europe’s biggest wind-power producer, has told the government that a 90% fossil fuel or nuclear back-up will be needed for any of the National Grid’s future wind-power capacity. As Martin Fuchs, his German boss, pointed out: “The wind, sadly, does not blow where large quantities of power are required . . . on September 12 last year wind power contributed 38% of our grid power requirements at all times, but on September 30 the figure went down to 0.2%.”
Yes that’s right – wind is so unreliable that it must be backed up with more conventional methods of power generation up to the 90% mark. And:
The powerful wind-turbine lobby in Germany constantly harps on about the number of jobs “created” by its subsidised investment, quite ignoring the number of jobs destroyed by high-cost energy, or indeed the greater number of jobs that could be created if the same amounts were invested in more profitable activities. This is why the Bremen Energy Institute argues that “wind energy macro-economically has a negative employment impact”.
Peachy. Germany isn’t the only one that has learned “green” means fewer jobs, not more. Spain has also learned that lesson. A study of what has happened in Spain since it took essentially the same path as the UK in 2000 yielded these results:
* For every green job financed by Spanish taxpayers, 2.2 real jobs were lost as an opportunity cost;
* 9 out of 10 green jobs created by Spain over the past 10 years are no longer in existence today;
* Since 2000, Spain has spent €571,138 ($753,778) to create each “green job,” including subsidies of more than €1 million ($1,319,783) per wind industry job;
* Those programs resulted in the destruction of nearly 113,000 jobs elsewhere in the economy and;
* Each “green” megawatt installed destroyed 5.39 jobs in non-energy sectors of the Spanish economy.”
And what about all that wonderful green energy promised by the UK wind machines? Well, unfortunately it’s very expensive:
Miliband claimed last week that the result of his proposals would be an increase in costs to energy users of about 17%. However, the business and enterprise department admitted last year that Britain’s existing “climate policies” – even before Miliband’s latest Big New Idea – would add an extra 55% to energy bills. It’s obvious where this will lead: to the exit from Britain (and, indeed, Europe) of much of what remains of energy-intensive manufacturing industry – the euphemistic jargon term is “carbon leakage”.
Sure enough, that’s precisely what is happening:
Jeremy Nicholson, the director of the Energy Intensive Users Group, which represents such industries as steel and aluminium, is exasperated beyond measure: “A future administration will have to say in public what ministers and their officials already admit in private, that the renewables target is neither practical nor affordable. Outsourcing our emissions is not a solution to a global problem. Politicians need to understand that unilateral action will come at a terrible cost in terms of UK manufacturing jobs, investment and export revenue, for no discernible environmental gain – is that really what they want?”
Apparently so, since that is precisely the road the US and UK, without either China, India or the rest of the 3rd world, is headed.
What about the “exasperated” steel and aluminum industuries in Britain?
Well their demise has already begun:
Thousands of British steelworkers and their families are holding a protest march Saturday in a town in northeast England where the looming closure of a Corus steel plant threatens to throw families into poverty.
Closure is expected to result in the loss of 2,000 jobs at the plant, and another 1,000 elsewhere.
But others say the status of the plant, known as Teesside Cast Products, as one of the main regional employers means its closure will result in a loss of local high street spending that could balloon into nearly 10,000 job losses.
On the day Nicholson said this to me, last Thursday, Anglesey Aluminium, the biggest consumer of electricity in Wales, announced that it would cease production, precisely because it could see no prospect of signing up to a long-term supply of electricity at a rate at which it could make a profit. And on the day of Miliband’s announcement, a group of Labour MPs presented a “Save Our Steel” petition, saying: “We need to make sure we act before the light goes out.”
It may well be that the English steel mills will become unable to compete globally, even at current domestic energy prices; but deliberately to make them uncompetitive is industrial vandalism – and even madness when the consequence of Miliband’s Martin Luther King moment may be the lights going out not just for producers but for all of us in our homes. This is worse than a futile gesture: it is immoral.
Indeed. But the moral vanity and hubris involved in the belief one is “saving the world” apparently trumps any concern for the lives of others and the reality such policy brings in its execution.
The immoral part, as it pertains to the US, is we know this from watching what has happened in Europe and elsewhere. Yet apparently, if the administration has its way, we’re going to see the same immorality visited on us here shortly.
That Obama guy really knows what he’s doing! Yessir – we’re in good hands. And he’s sure making our friends in the world like us more than when that evil Bush was in the White House. Umm hmm:
The British Government responded with ill-disguised fury tonight to the news that four Chinese Uighurs freed from Guantanamo Bay had been flown for resettlement on the Atlantic tourist paradise of Bermuda.
The four arrived on Bermuda in the early hours, celebrating the end of seven years of detention after learning that they were to be accepted as guest workers.
But it appears that the Government of Bermuda failed to consult with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the decision to take in the Uighurs – whose return is demanded by Beijing – and it could now be forced to send them back to Cuba or risk a grave diplomatic crisis.
Foreign Policy 101 – coordination and negotiation with friendly countries before doing something like this for which they now have to take responsibility.
What has happened to our State Department? Lobotomies?
UPDATE: It only gets worse:
Pressed on whether the US had told the British government, an unnamed state department official was quoted as saying: “We did talk to them before the Uighurs got on the plane.”
Now a senior US official has told the BBC it was a deliberate decision not to consult London on the resettlement, after other countries came under pressure from China not to accept the Uighurs.
In a highly unusual move, a senior US official said Washington opted to keep details of the deal from London until the last minute to enable Britain to deny all knowledge of the deal and thus avoid China’s anger, says the BBC’s Washington correspondent Kim Ghattas.
The official said they expected London to be upset but added he felt the deal was made on solid ground, in direct talks with the Bermuda government, who accepted the men as part of guest worker programme.
Yeah — no arrogance there, huh? Kind of like the UK doing the same thing on Puerto Rico. Who would China go after – the governor or PR or the US?