Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

Obama: “This is a limited time offer! Act now!”

Almost all adults figure out early in life how to deal with pushy salesmen. But there’s a small supply of gullible fools that keep alive the classic sales scam: “You must act now to get this deal!”

Any reasonably savvy adult knows how to deal with such a tactic. You pull back and don’t allow the salesman to bully you into doing something prematurely. The urgency he’s injecting into the situation is purely artificial, and it’s to his benefit for it to be there, not yours.

Obama’s continues to show contempt for the American people by using this tactic. It was slightly plausible for passing the bloated, pork-laden stimulus bill, though many of us saw through it. It’s been a common theme for the cap-and-trade legislation, with presumed incipient global warming as the urgency creator. Again, the excuse is slightly plausible but is far from established if you look at the other side of the debate.

But now he’s ready to drop even the facade of plausibility. Witness his attempted sale of the healthcare bill:

“This is what the debate in Congress is all about: whether we’ll keep talking and tinkering and letting this problem fester as more families and businesses go under and more Americans lose their coverage,” Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address. “Or whether we’ll seize this opportunity — one we might not have again for generations [emphasis mine] — and finally pass health insurance reform this year, in 2009.”

Translation: Act now! You may never be offered this deal again! You’ll be sorry if you don’t act right away!

This is nonsense on toast. If his health insurance reform is such a good idea, why won’t it continue to be a good idea after more discussion on it? Why can’t it pass next year after Congress has actually had a chance to read the thousand page bill? Why the rush?

Because this salesman senses that he’s just about to lose his potential customers. His approval figures are dropping, Congressional members are being barraged with email and being visited by protesters, and the decrepitude, insolvency, and dysfunctionality of the healthcare systems already put in place by the government become more obvious every month.

Obama is probably right. If his more-or-less socialist healthcare reform doesn’t pass this year, it will probably be shelved for at least ten years. But that’s not because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime special deal. It’s because it’s a bad idea. And the very fact that he tries to sell it the way he does should tip off all but the most gullible to realize it.

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The Hunt For Red Tomato

One of the things I love about living in the South is the food. Yeah, I know all about the propensity to fry just about anything that can be eaten. That includes two of those foods I love – fried okra and fried green tomatoes. And hell, if you haven’t had a fried pickle, you just haven’t lived.

But there’s much more to it than fried food.

For instance there is one goody that you’re most likely not going to find in a Pennsylvania roadside produce stand that is almost a staple at a Southern produce stand. I speak, reverently, of boiled peanuts. I can’t tell you how many northerners I’ve converted over the years to this Southern delicacy. I’ve stopped many a time while driving from, say Huntsville, AL to Montgomery to pick up a hot quart of these beauties. With plenty of paper towels and an ability to drive with my knee, I’ve eaten these things until the steering wheel has a bit of a salt crust. Please note: If you’ve been driving down I-75 and stopped at Jim Bob’s Pecan Farm and bought a can of “boiled peanuts” you are a true Yankee (and Jim Bob is still chuckling about it).

Another of my Southern favorites is the tomato sandwich (or “mater sammich” if you want to go deep South). Now, before you get all excited and run off to make one, there are some things you need to know.  While it is indeed a simple delight it does have certain stringent requirements that must be met before it is certified as the “real deal”.  So pay attention.

First, it has to be on white bread. And not some “artesian”, whole grain ,fru-fru white bread. We’re talking Wonder Bread white bread. Yup, if it isn’t made with overprocessed bleached white flour with no nutritional value, it’s not fit for a tomato sandwich.

Secondly it has to have mayonnaise on it. Real mayonnaise – not “lite” or aioli or any other nasty concoction that’s low on cholesterol. Mayonnaise. Real, honest to goodness, artery clogging Hellman’s. Or Duke’s.

There is a heretic band of Southerners who claim Miracle Whip is a sanctioned substitute, but purists turn up their nose at such a desecration of a sacred Southern staple.

And, of course, wonderful, vine ripe, plump and thick homegrown tomato slices. And that’s where the eternal hunt for the tastiest tomato comes in.

Now obviously you can grow your own – and that’s preferred. But if, in your harried and hurried life, lovingly caring for a few dozen tomato vines isn’t in your future, you must, of necessity, develop your tomato sources. And trust me one of them isn’t Publix, home of more tasteless tomatoes than Food Giant. Or is it the other way around. Over the years grocery stores have tried their best to improve their tomato selection, even dragging in the little red golf balls still on the vines. But they still taste like the picked-green-and-gassed store-bought maters.

No we’re talking sources which grow their own, vine ripen them and have enough for others to buy. As you might imagine Southerners hold their tomato sources close. We’re likely to share our winter tomato sources because we can appreciate the need for a decent tomato during that season when the tomato craving hits you. We all know a year round produce place that imports Florida tomatoes. Not the picked-green-boxed-and-gassed variety, but those that are vine ripened and sold locally in FL. While they’re a commercial brand in which most of the taste has been genetically removed in favor of pest resistance and longevity in storage, they still have enough tomato taste to get you through the dark times.

But when summer rolls around, it is everyone for themselves. And July is the peak of tomato hunting season because that’s when the heirlooms come in. For taste, it’s pretty darn hard to beat ‘em. There’s a type for every taste (this morning I visited my heirloom source and came home with some beauties the size of my fist).

However, other than taste, there are other requirements for the perfect tomato sandwich tomato. I mentioned plump. Like in not grainy or mealy. Ye gods there is nothing worse than cutting into what looks like a fantastic tomato and finding the inside all mealy. Blech.

The tomato must be red, although some sort of orangish or pinkish tomatos, if they’re heirlooms, are becoming grudgingly accepted. But as good as they taste in a salad, don’t hand me any yellow looking tomato in my tomato sandwich.

Last but not least, it has to smell like a tomato. If I have to tell you what a tomato smells like, I’ll just refer you back to Food Giant because you wouldn’t know a good tomato if you were formally introduced.

So take your white bread, mayonnaise and beautiful, plump and tasty tomato and combine to make a sandwich. Salt and pepper to taste. By the way, the healthy aspects of the tomato are enough to offset the health destroying aspects of the bread and mayo making this a health neutral treat and not likely to be banned under the upcoming new health care regime.

Enjoy.

~McQ

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The Green Shift, again

QandO founder Jon Henke posted at The Next Right yesterday with a suggestion for Republicans that I didn’t think would be very controversial: that they should propose swapping out the payroll tax in favor of a carbon tax.  I’ve established that I’m all for that idea. Though I would go farther, it’s a good idea on its own, especially when unemployment is high and hours worked are very low.

Go over there and read his reasoning (please don’t comment unless you’ve read it).  It makes a lot of sense, whether you believe in anthropogenic climate change or not.  Well, unless you do believe in it, and think it’s such a good thing that it overwhelms the benefits of switching from a relatively destructive tax to a better one.

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Obama Gives The Bill Cosby Speech. NAACP Hears Something Else.

And props to the Prez for doing so.  However, and you knew there’d be one or I wouldn’t be writing about it, it is interesting to note what the NAACP, to whom he addressed the speech, heard:

The organization’s president, Benjamin T. Jealous, said afterward that the address “was the most forthright speech on the racial disparities still plaguing our nation” Mr. Obama has given since moving into the White House.

A little confirmation bias maybe. This is what they wanted to hear (that’s what keeps them in business) and so that’s what they heard.

So lets see what he said and how they might have gotten that impression.

President Obama delivered a fiery sermon to black America on Thursday night, warning black parents that they must accept their own responsibilities by “putting away the Xbox and putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour,” and telling black children that growing up poor is no reason to get bad grades.

“No one has written your destiny for you,” he said, directing his remarks to “all the other Barack Obamas out there” who might one day grow up to be president. “Your destiny is in your hands, and don’t you forget that. That’s what we have to teach all of our children! No excuses! No excuses!”

Sounds like the Bill Cosby speech to me – “no excuses!” means “no excuses!”, right?

Well sorta. Apparently after throwing that out there, he remembered to whom he was speaking and provided them the their portion of red meat:

Even as he urged blacks to take responsibility for themselves, he spoke of the societal ills — high unemployment, the housing and energy crisis — that have created the conditions for black joblessness. And he said the legacy of the Jim Crow era is still felt, albeit in different ways today.

“Make no mistake, no mistake: the pain of discrimination is still felt in America,” Mr. Obama said, by African-American women who are paid less for the same work as white men, by Latinos “made to feel unwelcome,” by Muslim Americans “viewed with suspicion” and by “our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights.”

I’m sure the press will fact check all of this (who, btw is viewing “Muslim Americans” with suspicion and taunting and attacking “our gay brothers and sisters”? Is it those “white men” who’re being paid more than African-American women?), but there it is, the very part that Benjamin Jealous (I love that last name) decided to remember.

The put-away-the-X-Box-go-to-bed-and-study stuff – well, as I said, Bill Cosby has been giving that speech for years. Given the fact that Obama feels compelled to give it now should tell you why the NAACP chooses to ignore the “no excuses” portion in favor of the “racial disparities” portion.

Addendum: And, of course, I’ll be the racist for pointing this out – just hide and watch.

~McQ

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Quote of the Day

It goes to Steve Chapman in his discussion of the government’s health care reform proposals and what they promise:

But efficiency is to government programs what barbecue sauce is to an ice-cream sundae: not a typical component.

Chapman also discusses the illusion of “competition” the reformers are pushing while outlining what real competition in the insurance field might actually look like (and, unsurprisingly it requires less, not more, government).

Make sure you RTWT.

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CBO Says Federal Budget On Unsustainable Path (Is Anyone Surprised?)

I‘m not sure how often everyone has to be told, but here’s the warning again, just as Democrats attempt to pile another trillion plus dollars in federal health care spending (and debt). From the CBO Director’s blog:

Under current law, the federal budget is on an unsustainable path, because federal debt will continue to grow much faster than the economy over the long run. Although great uncertainty surrounds long-term fiscal projections, rising costs for health care and the aging of the population will cause federal spending to increase rapidly under any plausible scenario for current law. Unless revenues increase just as rapidly, the rise in spending will produce growing budget deficits. Large budget deficits would reduce national saving, leading to more borrowing from abroad and less domestic investment, which in turn would depress economic growth in the United States. Over time, accumulating debt would cause substantial harm to the economy.

I’m not sure how it can be said any more clearly and more succinctly.

The choices, as laid out in the paragraph above are fairly simple – cut federal spending dramatically or raise taxes (revenues) dramatically to meet the spending or your going to do “substantial harm to the economy”. Of course we also know that raising taxes dramatically would have the same effect. That leaves one option and, as is clear with the health care reform proposals, that’s nowhere near the table, is it?

Yet that’s the formula:

Keeping deficits and debt from reaching these levels would require increasing revenues significantly as a share of GDP, decreasing projected spending sharply, or some combination of the two.

CBO offers the following graph to illustrate the point of letting the status quo remain in place. Note that the second line coming off the actual/projected line – that’s the “extended baseline scenario” where absolutely nothing is changed and the budget, as projected, is executed. Disregard the first line for the moment.

slide2

What is important is to understand this:

The current recession and policy responses have little effect on long-term projections of noninterest spending and revenues. But CBO estimates that in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, the federal government will record its largest budget deficits as a share of GDP since shortly after World War II. As a result of those deficits, federal debt held by the public will soar from 41 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2008 to 60 percent at the end of fiscal year 2010. This higher debt results in permanently higher spending to pay interest on that debt. Federal interest payments already amount to more than 1 percent of GDP; unless current law changes, that share would rise to 2.5 percent by 2020.

Now you’ve heard that, in various forms for years. But what does that mean to you personally – how does one put that in terms that mean anything to a taxpayer?

Well Jim Glass at scrivner.net has done that for us:

The national debt incurs interest that is paid with taxes. The interest rate on US debt is projected be about 6% annually in the long run, according to the Social Security Administration’s actuaries and other such governmental budget projectors. Six percent of one trillion dollars is $60 billion.

There are 80 million payers of income tax in the US. (If that seems low for a population of 300 million remember that 47% of all “tax units”, 70 million potential taxpayers, pay no income tax or receive refundable tax credits from the government.)

Now $60 billion divided by 80 million taxpayers equals $750 per taxpayer — so each trillion dollars of the national debt costs the average taxpayer $750 per year, every year that the debt is carried, forever.

So for every trillion in debt the federal government puts us, we owe $750 per tax payer in interest alone.

Jim extends his example to what the chart above depicts:

As of the end of last year the government’s outstanding explicit and implicit debt was $64 trillion. Add another year’s interest on that, plus this year’s $1.8 trillion deficit, and we will be well over $66 trillion at the end of this year. Which creates an explicit and implict annual interest liability to just carry the debt of more than $49,000 per taxpayer.

Yet we have Joe Biden claiming we have to spend money to avoid bankruptcy – and there are people out there who believe him.  As Jim points out:

As of today most of that is implicit (for unfunded Medicare liabilities, etc.) but every year from now on (as more seniors retire and start collecting Medicare, etc) more of the debt will shift from being implicit to explicit, requiring cash tax collections to pay for it.

And the same entity which has put the country in this shape running a health care system, now wants the rest of it with the stated goal of cutting costs.

If you’re gullible enough, given the facts above, to fall for that, I have to question your critical thinking abilities. In fact, you might want to consider the chart above again and pay attention to the top line coming off the actual/projected line – that’s likely what our debt will look like if you hand over health care to the federal government.

It is very close to fish or cut bait time for the people of the US – we have got to realize, very quickly, that in fact,  we are on the verge of bankruptcy and what that buffoon Biden says is just abject, unthinking nonsense.

Either cut government spending – drastically – or go under. Those are your choices.

~McQ

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Quote of the Day

If we didn’t have Joe Biden, we’d have to invent him.  Here’s Joe talking about the Obama administration’s health care plan:

“Now, people when I say that look at me and say, ‘What are you talking about, Joe? You’re telling me we have to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt?’” Biden said. “The answer is yes, that’s what I’m telling you.”

In light of the CBO’s latest testimony on the Democratic health care proposals, this does indeed become a bit of the “we had to destroy the village to save the village” type rationale, doesn’t it?

~McQ

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Ed Morrissey Hits A Home Run

If I could see my old buddy Ed Morrissey today I’d give him a hug. A man-hug of course, but still, what he wrote today deserves that.

Ed managed, in a well-written and timely bit of sarcasm, to lay bare the rotten claim that health care is a “right”. And he does it brilliantly by using everyone’s favorite foil – lawyers – and illustrating absurdity with absurdity.

Heh … it’s OK Michael, you’ll enjoy it too.

Go. Read.

~McQ

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CBO: Busting The Health Care Savings Lie

Does anyone know who Dr. Doug Elmendorf is? He’s the director of the Congressional Budget Office. And today, in testimony before the Senate Budget Committee he answered a few questions from Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) about the supposed great savings the country would reap under the planned Democrat “health care reform” bills under consideration by Congress.

Here it is uncut, unfiltered and unedited [emphasis mine]:

Conrad: Dr. Elmendorf, I am going to really put you on the spot because we are in the middle of this health care debate, but it is critically important that we get this right. Everyone has said, virtually everyone, that bending the cost curve over time is critically important and one of the key goals of this entire effort. From what you have seen from the products of the committees that have reported, do you see a successful effort being mounted to bend the long-term cost curve?

Elmendorf: No, Mr. Chairman. In the legislation that has been reported we do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount. And on the contrary, the legislation significantly expands the federal responsibility for health care costs.

Conrad: So the cost curve in your judgement is being bent, but it is being bent the wrong way. Is that correct?

Elmendorf: The way I would put it is that the curve is being raised, so there is a justifiable focus on growth rates because of course it is the compounding of growth rates faster than the economy that leads to these unsustainable paths. But it is very hard to look out over a very long term and say very accurate things about growth rates. So most health experts that we talk with focus particularly on what is happening over the next 10 or 20 years, still a pretty long time period for projections, but focus on the next 10 or 20 years and look at whether efforts are being made that are bringing costs down or pushing costs up over that period.

As we wrote in our letter to you and Senator Gregg, the creation of a new subsidy for health insurance, which is a critical part of expanding health insurance coverage in our judgement, would by itself increase the federal responsibility for health care that raises federal spending on health care. It raises the amount of activity that is growing at this unsustainable rate and to offset that there has to be very substantial reductions in other parts of the federal commitment to health care, either on the tax revenue side through changes in the tax exclusion or on the spending side through reforms in Medicare and Medicaid. Certainly reforms of that sort are included in some of the packages, and we are still analyzing the reforms in the House package. Legislation was only released as you know two days ago. But changes we have looked at so far do not represent the fundamental change on the order of magnitude that would be necessary to offset the direct increase in federal health costs from the insurance coverage proposals.

Conrad: And what about the Finance Committee package, as it stands?

Elmendorf: I can’t speak to that Mr. Chairman. We have been working with the Finance Committee and the staff for a number of months on proposals that they have been addressing. But our consultations with them have been confidential because they have not yet released the legislation, and I don’t want to speak publicly about that.

Conrad: All right. In terms of those things that are public from other plans, what are the things that are missing that in your judgement prevent a bending of the cost curve in the right way?

Elmendorf: Bending the cost curve is difficult. As we said in our letter to you, there is a widespread consensus, and you quoted some of this, that a significant share of health spending is not contributing to health. But rooting out that spending without taking away spending that is beneficial to health is not straightforward.

Again, the way I think experts would put it – the money is out there, but it is not going to walk in the government’s door by itself. And devising the legislative strategies and the regulatory changes that would generate these changes is not straight forward. But the directions that have widespread support among health analysts include changing the preferential tax treatment of health insurance. We have a subsidy for larger health insurance policies in our tax code, and that like other subsidies encourages more of that activity. Reducing that subsidy would reduce that. And on the other side, changing the way that Medicare pays providers in an effort to encourage a focus on cost effectiveness in health care and not encourage, as a fee for service system tends to, for the delivery of additional services because bills for that will be paid.

So here is the opinion of the director of the organization that both sides like to quote and use as a definitive source saying that what has been legislatively put on the table will not – not – bend the “cost curve” down, but, will instead bend it upward. It does not – not – in fact accomplish the goal of “cost savings” in terms of health care spending.  Anyone with the brain of a glow worm who had taken a look at the proposals and the promises knew it was a large load of pony pellets.   Those on the side of “belief and faith” (and hopeychangitude) chose to believe in the politician’s promises and have faith in their truth.

Unfortunately for them, Dr. Elmendorf apparently deals in facts and figures.

The last part of the questioning is equally important.  Elmendorf discusses the funding mechanism (along with the eternal promise of corralling “waste, fraud and abuse”). Some savings will come from eliminating waste, fraud and abuse (all of which are rampant in both Medicare and Medicaid and politicians have vowed to end for decades), but not enough to fund the rest.

So they’re left with few options besides a general tax increase. Those options, per Elmendorf include taxing health care benefits and reducing the cost of Medicare by changing how providers are paid (i.e. cutting payments and prohibiting procedures Medicare doesn’t feel are necessary to treatment – the very accusation the government health care proponents constantly level at private insurance).  The first isn’t very palatable politically (and they’d have to exempt unions which would be very unpopular politically) and the second would most likely find a back lash among seniors.  So the fall back position is “tax the rich” – an unstable revenue stream (once the rich figure out how to dodge it).

Anyway, the Democrat’s “cost savings” narrative is again busted. Not only will the proposed legislation not save money, it will cost us a bundle. As I said yesterday, I believe, when I posted the chart with the curve of proposed health care spending under the Democrat bills, the curve isn’t going to go down.

Today the CBO validated that point.

~McQ

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Rationing Health Care

Peter Singer has popped up again and he engages in telling us a simple truth about health care – no matter what system you have, health care will be rationed.  Well, for those of us who understand supply and demand we’ve always known health care would be rationed.  When you have 800,000 doctors in a country of 300 million, it isn’t really that difficult to figure out.

However, that’s really not Singer’s point.  If you read through his multiple page piece, you’ll find that he is of the opinion that government bureaucrats would be much better at rationing than would private bureaucrats.  And he attempts to make his point by selectively offering facts that will back his position.

But this amazing paragraph pretty much represents where he believes we must go with our health care reform (and indications are our politicians implicitly agree given the goals they’ve set for “reform”):

Of course, it’s one thing to accept that there’s a limit to how much we should spend to save a human life, and another to set that limit. The dollar value that bureaucrats place on a generic human life is intended to reflect social values, as revealed in our behavior. It is the answer to the question “How much are you willing to pay to save your life?” — except that, of course, if you asked that question of people who were facing death, they would be prepared to pay almost anything to save their lives. So instead, economists note how much people are prepared to pay to reduce the risk that they will die. How much will people pay for air bags in a car, for instance? Once you know how much they will pay for a specified reduction in risk, you multiply the amount that people are willing to pay by how much the risk has been reduced, and then you know, or so the theory goes, what value people place on their lives. Suppose that there is a 1 in 100,000 chance that an air bag in my car will save my life, and that I would pay $50 — but no more than that — for an air bag. Then it looks as if I value my life at $50 x 100,000, or $5 million.

Frankly, this paragraph should make your skin crawl. Because what Singer is doing here is presuming we all accept that others, those nameless bureaucrats he’s so fond of if they happen to be from the government, now have the job (and duty) to decide what your life is worth. Not you. Not your family.

No, what Singer proposes is reducing your life to an arbitrary worth beyond which “they” are not willing to pay to save it. Whether you are or not is apparently not a factor in such calculations.

Singer goes on:

Nevertheless this approach to setting a value on a human life is at least closer to what we really believe — and to what we should believe — than dramatic pronouncements about the infinite value of every human life, or the suggestion that we cannot distinguish between the value of a single human life and the value of a million human lives, or even of the rest of the world. Though such feel-good claims may have some symbolic value in particular circumstances, to take them seriously and apply them — for instance, by leaving it to chance whether we save one life or a billion — would be deeply unethical.

“Deeply unethical” for whom? Certainly not the person with the desire and means to do what they feel is necessary to extend their life or the life of a loved one. They, of course, would value human life above the arbitrary level which Singer and “economists” calculate.

But Singer’s premise here is they shouldn’t have that right. Because other’s don’t have the same opportunity. It would be “deeply unethical” for some to be able to “buy” what others can’t afford. So instead, the ethical thing to do is have everyone held to the economically calculated standard, whether they have the means and desire to do otherwise or not.

Of course we can argue this philosophically for decades, but the point remains that rationing is a feature of any health care system. What isn’t a feature of every health care system is choice. What Singer is actually proposing is taking the choice that now exists in our health care system away and putting everyone under the arbitrary rationing guidelines calculated by government.

He says as much in his next paragraph:

Governments implicitly place a dollar value on a human life when they decide how much is to be spent on health care programs and how much on other public goods that are not directed toward saving lives. The task of health care bureaucrats is then to get the best value for the resources they have been allocated. It is the familiar comparative exercise of getting the most bang for your buck.

The best bang for “your” buck? It’s no longer “your” buck at that point. It is the government’s buck and you have no choice in how it will be spent or “saved”. You will, however, be on the receiving end of any decision.

And where that leads (and where Singer was going with all of this to begin with) is found here:

As a first take, we might say that the good achieved by health care is the number of lives saved. But that is too crude. The death of a teenager is a greater tragedy than the death of an 85-year-old, and this should be reflected in our priorities. We can accommodate that difference by calculating the number of life-years saved, rather than simply the number of lives saved. If a teenager can be expected to live another 70 years, saving her life counts as a gain of 70 life-years, whereas if a person of 85 can be expected to live another 5 years, then saving the 85-year-old will count as a gain of only 5 life-years. That suggests that saving one teenager is equivalent to saving 14 85-year-olds.

Pretty darn predictable, no? This is the logical end of Singer’s rationing policy. Utilitarian calculation based on arbitrary worth. And the inevitable decision to ration in such a way as to deny the elderly because they just aren’t “worth” it anymore.

And that, per Singer, would be very ethical.

Trust me, those collectivist premises are what will drive government run health care’s rationing. Given the goals (more coverage, less cost) they must. Choice will eventually be driven out of the system and, as they must, bureaucrats will decide how long you will be allowed to live.

Count on it.

~McQ

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