Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Health "Insurance" isn't insurance at all

It's more of a cost shifting mechanism, writes The American Thinker, and rightly so:

It is no more practical to have "health insurance" to pay for prescription drugs and routine doctor visits than it is to expect your auto insurance to pay for your oil changes and tire rotations.

I tend to agree that the larger issue is the creeping of the entitlement culture, and tonight's comments from Obama only confirmed that, and the role of Obamacare (C)(TM) in worsening the problem:

"I'm rushed because I get letters every day from families that are being clobbered by health care costs, and they ask me can you help," he said.

If you think that's what insurance is, the government moving money from one pocket to another to make things more affordable, you're going to have a tough time when your car gets rear-ended. That's why the car insurance analogy is so fitting - we've come to expect that the routine be subsidized, insured and cost-mitigated, as if its not that - routine, and so expected that we could easily budget for it ourselves and pay less than the health insurance premium. In fact, that most people with employee sponsored coverage can afford their employee health insurance premium seems strong evidence that they could afford the routine medical costs themselves. What they couldn't cover, and what insurance was supposed to alleviate, was unexpected health care costs and incidents.

The problem here is that when people say "insurance," they mean "I want something for nothing (or substantially less)." Routine, maintenance healthcare is not cheap, but simply bundling the costs does not eliminate the fact that somebody has to pay them. By creating a system where payment at the point of the transaction is lessened (or removed, in a socialized system), the illusion of zero cost allows the average person to ignore the increased taxes, and inevitable burden on businesses and "wealthy individuals," required to pay the costs. Hiding them doesn't fix the problem, but it does make people feel better.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sometimes they say it best...

In case you had any reservations regarding what the stimulus is really about, President Obama accidentally gave it away - from Yahoo!:

"But I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people's business"

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Inaugural aspirations, his and mine

At last, the pageantry of the inauguration has begun to fade, and although the media's chanted refrains ("historic!," in case anyone alive, anywhere, had yet to be informed of the history-making going on) continue to echo across the morning talk show spectrum, we are finally beginning to see what sorts of policies will actually come from the Obama Presidency. Thus far, it has been a decidedly mixed bag. While I have been pleased to see the President backing off of "cut-and-run" campaign promises vis-a-vis Iraq, I can't begin to describe how ironic and condescending it is for Democrats to demand tax increases for the rich, and then to nominate and confirm a rich, tax-evader to oversee the IRS. Ah, yes - not those rich.

I am realistically inclined to believe that the next 4 years will not be kind to the small-government, free-traders amongst us, but I think there are a few possible outcomes we might reasonably hope for:

  • Honor the legacy of Dr. King, and complete the civil rights revolution, by ending race based preferences in education and hiring: "A man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a sacred oath," the President declared, and proud we should rightly be. Yet, with the election of our nation's first minority President (or, as I have argued, with his very nomination), the politics of race and the grievance-based culture of victimization have been necessarily marginalized. What can be more farcical than claiming that our system still requires separate rules for certain groups of people, when that very system is led by a member of one of those groups. Mr. Obama should declare that if his election has any meaning beyond the political, as so many millions believe it does, than he, and our nation, can no longer tolerate a government that is not blind to race. While probably a long shot,Obama has indicated that he has warmed to the idea, particularly when discussing race-based versus means-based preferences.

  • Enact meaningful economic reforms without doing more damage: In his inaugural address, President Obama promised "...not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth," signaling early and sizable action to counter-act the current recession. Yet, thus far, congressional democrats have continued to propose outdated Keynesian experiments that will do little to address the current crisis, and much more to address their wallets, and their special interest constituents. Rather than pump tax-payer billions into congress's pet projects (Condoms? Really?), President Obama should propose a comprehensive plan based on marginal tax cuts and pro-business incentives. As the Wall Street Journal argues, any stimulus to individuals and businesses need to be in the form of incentives to produce and spend, rather than temporary, lump sum payments. Only by changing the marginal incentive structure will government effect consumer and supplier decision-making on a semi-permanent basis. Infrastructure spending is an important priority, but hardly an effective way to stimulate the economy, and federal subsidies to bail-out state budget deficits and fund state-level infrastructure are a bad idea, aside from doing diddly for the economy (University of Chicago Nobel Laureate Gary Becker makes a strong argument here that it could even hurt the private sector). Again, there is growing clamor for a tax-oriented stimulus, and President Obama has met with congressional Republicans to discuss the topic.

    Moreover, and perhaps more important to the long-term vitality of the economy, we must not return to an era of over-regulation, nor should we demonize the products and tools that were abused in the lead-up to this crisis, rather than those who abused them. The ability to spread and exchange risk, represented in such now-demonized products as sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps (CDS), is vital to a thriving economy and continued capital investment. Onerous regulation and government intervention, while pacifying to reactionary populist sentiment, will only hurt those it intends to help.

  • Secure victory and a successful transition out of Iraq: There can be little doubt that America is tired of Iraq, and has been for some time. But with the gains of the last 12-18 months becoming more evident with every passing day of media silence, it would be folly on a grand scale for the President to rush to withdraw our troops, and leave our fledgling democratic ally underdeveloped and ripe for relapse. Just as one-time stimulus payments have little long-term effect because consumers know they are temporary (see 2008, stimulus check of), so too security gains can be squandered if Iraq's enemies know they must simply wait for a hasty American withdrawal to strike. For our endeavor in Iraq to be a lasting success (and make no mistake, it can very well be), we must ensure a functioning Iraqi military and security force that is not only capable of maintaining relative peace, but is also actively doing the job that coalition troops are now, that of rooting out remaining al-qaeda militants and securing the country's porous borders. Luckily, President Obama has begun to back pedal on his aggressive withdrawal timeline, and has been in active discussion with the Joint Chiefs and leaders on the ground. A victory in Iraq is more feasible now than any time since the invasion, and a pragmatic approach could ensure a successful draw down on Obama's watch.

Of course, only time will tell if President Obama will actually turn out to be the pragmatic centrist he claims to be, or if he will cave to left-wing special interests and the lures of a complicit congress. Let's hope for the former, as its the best we can get.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Caroline Kennedy for Senate..

...because, you know, her last name is Kennedy. And her dad was JFK (no, not that one). And her Dad had a dream once, and that dream was Barack Obama. Or maybe it wasn't.

Did I mention her name is Kennedy?

(in related news, Mary Joe Kopechne was unavailable for comment.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Was it ever about race anyway?

In the days following the election, several interesting trends have begun to manifest themselves, according to my (admitedly non-scientific) observations. First, staunch Obama supporters seem reluctant to admit to themselves that its over, they won, and the man who billed himself as a grass-roots, hip and alternative "movement" must now assume the mantle of mere earthly politician. I've noticed a surprising number of people around New York City still wearing Obama buttons; not simply on bags or attached to some accessory where its presence could be forgotten, but displayed prominently pinned to the front of their clothing. At the Knicks game on Sunday, several people brought signs referencing the president-elect, and someone held up a full-sized newspaper declaring Obama's victory. That this election was an education in the cult of personality is no new observation, but this is a bit much.

Second, Obama's administration is already being hailed as a success, the primary criteria being that it will happen at all, and one group is actually lobbying for a national holiday to recognize his election (!).

Most fascinating of all, and perhaps somewhat responsible for the previous two, is the renewed discussion of the future role of race in politics now that America has elected a black president. In today's Wall Street journal, Juan Williams writes a lengthy editorial, detailing the sad history of racial politics in America, ending with the hopeful prognosis that peddlers of racial tension will be marginalized by the landmark election:

"The market has irrevocably shrunk for Sharpton-style tirades against "the man" and "the system." The emphasis on racial threats and extortion-like demands -- all aimed at maximizing white guilt as leverage for getting government and corporate money -- has lost its moment. How does anyone waste time on racial fantasies like reparations for slavery when there is a black man who earned his way into the White House?"

Meanwhile, Louis Farrakhan declared the election a success, but warned that the (apparently ingrained) racism in America would continue, and perhaps even worsen as a result of Obama's victory(!) What this discussion (if you can call Farrakhan's comments part of a dialog) ignores, or takes as a foregone conclusion, is the role of race in this election. Ironically, I believe that the latter concludes the former, in so far as this election was never, primarily, about race at all. What's more, to the extent it was a factor, it probably helped.

In retrospect, 2008 was a year that was all but tailor made for Democrats to begin with, given the President's approval ratings, the shaky economy, and a sticky public opinion of the Iraq war (despite recent gains). From that perspective, the more important race was really the Democratic primary. While Clinton and Obama struggled to diffrentiate themselves, they were both selling a similar product - bigger, more involved government, an exit from Iraq, and an end to Bush fatigue. Much has been said about the achievement of electing a black man to the Presidency, but I think the fact that Obama was able to defeat Hillary is the more telling indicator of the state of race relations in America, primarily because so little seperated the candidates other than their arbitrary racial differences. By prevailing in a contest where most all else was equal, Obama suceeded on the basis of his skills as a politician (principaly an orator, given the dearth of specifics that has marked his campaign), and proved that race was no longer a factor in seeking the presidency. Choosing amongst apparent equals, voters had no problem selecting a minority. Being able to choose whether or not to elect Barack Obama based on his policies and differences from John McCain, not the outcome of that choice, was the truly historical moment.

Evaluating the results of the general election on the basis of race seems largely irrelevant, given the incredible downturn in the economy, the vastly improved (and underreported) situation in Iraq, and the myriad philosophical and practical differences seperating McCain and Obama. There are simply too many other differences between the candidates, and confounding political variables, to claim that Americans cared much at all about race. True, I imagine there may have been some fleeting number of potential Hillary supporters who couldn't stomach pulling the lever for a black candidate. They would likely have been outnumbered by those who were motivated by the desire to achieve a historic election, merely for the superficial satisfaction of it having been done. Voting for Obama in a way even became the perfect form of progressive bona fides for some ("I'm race blind, except when overtly making note of race proves how race blind I am"). These effects were probably marginal, at best, however. Most of Obama's supporters were probably going to vote for him anyway, and likely would have voted for Hilary instead given the option. And that's just the point - Obama won, in the end, because he ran a better campaign, in a more sympathetic environment, against an opponent who never had it all together. Its that simple. His sucess in the general election tells us much about the dissatisfied American electorate, and the marketability of outdated, populist nonsense in shiny packages, but little about race at all. And more importantly, his defeat (despite the dire prognostications) would have told us equally little.

Either way, as Williams' editorial notes, it appears we have at last transcended the era of race as a limiting factor in politics. Maybe now we can stop hearing about it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The sun also rises

What a time to be an American, some will say, and they'll be right of course. While he was not my candidate, Obama will be my president; that is the essence of democracy, and a courtesy that many of my contemporaries refused to extend to President Bush (more on that later). And while I did not vote for him, and am disappointed so many did, the election of Barack Obama nevertheless represents a historic moment for America, and a grand opportunity for both parties in Washington.

Last night's election was closer than many expected, despite the eventual electoral count, and I am heartened that even in a year as bad as 2008 (for Republicans), McCain still had a sporting chance. That said, it is essential that those of us on the right re-examine the direction of the conservative movement in America, and where it has fallen short. There will be plenty of time to make such reflections, and I plan on doing just that as I resume blogging, but for today, I wanted to point out a few opportunities for optimism:

  • It appears that the Democrats will not gain a 60 seat super majority in Congress. A hollow victory, maybe, but the four remaining races still called "tossups" are all leaning republican. The ability of the republicans to prevent shenanigans on an unprecedented scale will do much to temper the coming ideological hairpin in Washington.

  • On that note, its razor thin, but Al Franken looks like he will remain a bad Limbaugh wanna-be.

  • Several important, and contested, ballot referendums passed last night, notably Nebraska's bid to end race-based preferences in government and higher education. Colorado's similar measure remains too close to call. That such important initiatives would pass in this election is even more meaningful, and signals even more decisively the post-racial state of the American voter. A number of referendums on gay marriage appear to have passed, and while I am begrudgingly in agreement with most of them (for lack of any "its all civil unions to the government, gay or otherwise, and churches can call it how they see it" options on the ballot), I am more pleased that such decisions are being made at the state level, where they belong. Local and state policies can and will differ, but ought well to be decided at those levels anyway. Sadly, right to life initiatives did not fare as well last night.

  • The Democrats have nowhere to go but down, and nobody to blame but themselves - Bush will soon be a memory, and Democrats control both houses of congress. Charged with the mantle of leadership, rather than opposition, the spotlight will quickly become uncomfortable, especially when the disastrous policies being handed down have the Pelosi/Reid seal of approval. The opportunity will be ripe for a 1994 replay in 2010.

  • Republicans can finally regroup as a party. McCain finally had his day in the sun, and at last the lingering bitterness over 2000 has been vanquished. With nothing to lose, once again conservatives can turn their attention to fiscal responsibility, sound foreign policy, aggressive free-trade promotion, and a new generation of leadership. Good riddance Ted Stevens, make way for Bobby Jindal.

  • Perhaps, and this is just optimism speaking, there will be some turning of the tide against bitter partisanship; nothing angered me more than the disgraceful way people behaved toward President Bush, and it will not soon be forgotten. Disagreement is important, but disrespect for the man, and the office, was both enraging and pathetic. Republicans will do well not to take such an approach toward Obama - the American people deserve that, and will take notice of it.

Only the coming months will tell the damage, and the opportunites, this election has yielded. For those on the right, don't lose heart - we can, and will, be competitive again, and there is opportunity aplenty for a strong Republican minority to stem the tide of wasteful spending and backward policy flowing from Washington. And for those on the left, celebrate, but mind your words. America is a wonderful, and peculiar place, and the tides of politics quickly change course. Govern with responsibility, or be prepared not to govern for long.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Obama vs Economics

The Wallstreet Journal editorial page scolds Obama today for his temper-tantrum response to energy companies and oil & gas prices. Among the better gems:

You may also be wondering how a higher tax on energy will lower gas prices. Normally, when you tax something, you get less of it, but Mr. Obama seems to think he can repeal the laws of economics.

I remain at a loss as how Obama, or Clinton for that matter (she also supports the windfall profit pyramid scheme), plan on lowering the cost of gas to the end consumer by imposing an increased marginal cost on the supply side of the equation. An increase in the tax rate on oil companies means they get less money for selling the same gas at the same price - somehow this is supposed to either flood the market with supply, or magically lower the price, rather than have the predicted effect: companies lower supply and invest elsewhere, or increase price. As the WSJ article points out, we've tried this sort of thing before, and it had the predictably negative effect of lowering supply from domestic producers.

As an added bonus, gasoline demand appears to be relatively inelastic historically, meaning that if domestic suppliers are increasing supply and/or decreasing supply, the excess demand will have to come from the very tyrannical foreign oil meanies we all seem so worried about. The journal ends with the tragically poignant rhetorical, "And these people want to be President?" - but the real sad part, via instapundit, is that one of them probably will be.