Archive for September 2009
In the comments on this post at Ben’s Law, Ben and I discuss the subject of why God is necessary for objective morality and epistemology. It occurred to me that David Spade provided a great contemporary, and amusingly crude example of the necessity for an immovable cornerstone to our intellectual reality. This exchange takes place when Joe Dirt takes strong exception when his new friend, Kicking Wing, describes the wimpy inventory at his fireworks stand:
Joe Dirt: Well, I see you got those snakes and sparklers. But where’s the good stuff man?
Kicking Wing: Good stuff? This is the good stuff, snakes and sparklers.
Joe Dirt: Are you nuts dude? You need stuff that’ll explode. Go boom!
Kicking Wing: Why is that good?
Joe Dirt: Well, duh, might as, might as well ask why is a tree good? Why is the sunset good? Why are boobs good? Man, firecrackers, ya stick ’em in mailboxes, you drop ’em in toilets, shove ’em up bullfrogs asses.
Kicking Wing: I would never do that, because one day I’m going to be a veterinarian
Joe Dirt: Well there you go, one day a bullfrog has a M-80 up his ass, he comes to you, you win twice brother.
That’s actually quite a good bit of philosophy. If we cannot agree on certain basic fundamentals, such as that God exists to hold together a common moral framework, then we’re left to lamely quibble over whether tyranny is undesirable, whether the Holocaust was evil, or whether Castro is a seething scumbag. The answer to all those questions, just like the answer to why trees, sunsets, and boobs are all good, is not yes, no, or abstain—it is simply “duh.”
And there you have it, the closest proof to the existence of God that you’re likely ever to find. And you have the guy who popularized “ri-dong-culous” to thank for it.
This point, I thought, was too good to miss:
“I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits — either now or in the future,” he solemnly pledged. “I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit, now or in the future. Period.”
Wonderful. The president seems serious, veto-ready, determined to hold the line. Until, notes Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, you get to Obama’s very next sentence: “And to prove that I’m serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don’t materialize.”
This apparent strengthening of the pledge brilliantly and deceptively undermines it. What Obama suggests is that his plan will require mandatory spending cuts if the current rosy projections prove false. But there’s absolutely nothing automatic about such cuts. Every Congress is sovereign. Nothing enacted today will force a future Congress or a future president to make any cuts in any spending, mandatory or not.
Just look at the supposedly automatic Medicare cuts contained in the Sustainable Growth Rate formula enacted to constrain out-of-control Medicare spending. Every year since 2003, Congress has waived the cuts.
Mankiw puts the Obama bait-and-switch in plain language. “Translation: I promise to fix the problem. And if I do not fix the problem now, I will fix it later, or some future president will, after I am long gone. I promise he will. Absolutely, positively, I am committed to that future president fixing the problem. You can count on it. Would I lie to you?”
This is an excellent point that illustrates how a politicians will use legal and theoretical concepts, and their constituencies’ lack of understanding of them, to promote their agendas. While legislative bodies are powerful, there are limits to the power of the laws they enact. Specifically, a sitting legislative body cannot bind a future duly-elected legislative body to pass more legislation in furtherance of the laws it plans to enact today. As Krauthammer says, one sovereign has no power to bind another sovereign.
But the point is even more dramatic than that. One sovereign cannot even bind itself: A law passed today cannot bind even that same Congress to pass another law tomorrow. Every time a legislative body sits, it begins with a blank slate. It is entitled to be utterly schizophrenic and pass laws entirely at odds with what it passed a moment before.
So when a politician says he can prove he is “serious” because of what eventual laws a piece of legislation will require in the future, don’t you believe it.
One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.
So there you have it. If only America could drop its inefficient and antiquated system, designed in the age before globalization and modernity and, most damning of all, before the lantern of Thomas Friedman’s intellect illuminated the land. If only enlightened experts could do the hard and necessary things that the new age requires, if only we could rely on these planners to set the ship of state right. Now, of course, there are “drawbacks” to such a system: crushing of dissidents with tanks, state control of reproduction, government control of the press and the internet. Omelets and broken eggs, as they say. More to the point, Friedman insists, these “drawbacks” pale in comparison to the system we have today here in America.
I cannot begin to tell you how this is exactly the argument that was made by American fans of Mussolini in the 1920s. It is exactly the argument that was made in defense of Stalin and Lenin before him (it’s the argument that idiotic, dictator-envying leftists make in defense of Castro and Chavez today). It was the argument made by George Bernard Shaw who yearned for a strong progressive autocracy under a Mussolini, a Hitler or a Stalin (he wasn’t picky in this regard). This is the argument for an “economic dictatorship” pushed by Stuart Chase and the New Dealers. It’s the dream of Herbert Croly and a great many of the Progressives.
Jonah is right. Of course, for an even more thorough analysis of how “enlightened autocracy” leads inexorably to weeping and gnashing of teeth, there is no shortage of copies of The Road to Serfdom available. But what’s the use? There is a segment of humanity that will damn the torpedoes and insist that life be planned by the government. There is no cure for such an ailment. The task is left to those with the fiber to do so to scar them with ridicule. Ah, the Great Society. Isn’t that just the next town over from the Land of Chocolate?
Andrew Romano at Newsweek offers the suggestion we should insure illegals. Why? Because, Romano theorizes, it would save money. Since illegal immigrants are, on average, young and healthy, they would bring the average cost for the pool of covered individuals down.
“So if you add cheaper people to the pool, like immigrants, you reduce the average cost.” More undocumented workers, in other words, means lower premiums for everyone.
That means cheaper, dunnit?
Well, yes, the same way buying a cask of mayonnaise is cheaper than an 18 ounce jar. Until the jiggly white stuff goes rancid, you can sog your sandwiches on the cheap. But then what are you left with when it starts to smell as frightening as it looks? However cheap it was to begin with, it’s worth zero now.
This is the urge Costco customers learn to overcome. It matters little whether you can buy twelve pounds of meat for the price of six if it spoils before you can get through two. It makes even less sense when talking about a public option for health care. Why would anyone get excited that we can get a better per insured rate on the public option if the bottom line is more expensive? Romano talks as if he’s found a way to spin gold out of day laborers’ belly button lint.
Romano also believes Obama when he says the public option won’t cover illegals. But HR 3200 suggests otherwise. The Congressional Research Services report on HR 3200 explains:
H.R. 3200 does not contain any restrictions on noncitzens—whether legally or illegally present, or in the United States temporarily or permanently—participating in
Footnote 27 goes on:
H.R. 3200 would not change any of the alien eligibility restrictions on the receipt of Medicaid. Thus, there could be aliens who would meet the categorical and income eligibility requirements for Medicaid but are ineligible due to their alien status (e.g., legal permanent residents within five years after entry to the United States), who under H.R. 3200 would be required to have health insurance.
I don’t know who’s buying what Romano’s selling.
Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Long hours at work and all. Things will probably pick back up by the end of the month.
In this post, I joined the refrain of those who accuse the health care machine of manipulation and abuse by refusing to publish objective costs of medical procedures. By so refusing, hospitals will charge insurance companies less (due to insurers’ strong negotiating position) and make up the costs on private payers (who have a lousy negotiating position). My friend Tom left some numbers in the comments that are worth repeating. In one instance, the hospital mis-billed him privately, sending him (rather than the insurer) a bill for $68,000. When they corrected the billing and resubmitted to the insurer, the bill was $12,000.
I haven’t seen enough instances to know whether this is the norm. But if price discrepancies are truly this great, it seems there’s a problem. It is one thing to have the advantage of your own negotiating power. An insurance company is an 800 pound gorilla, and it is its right to throw its muscle around. On the other hand, if it has so much muscle to throw around that hospitals are truly sucking wind by the end of the negotiations that they’re left looking to private payers to make up the difference, that’s a problem. My best to you to get the best deal you can, but if I wind up paying more than I otherwise would have, then that puts us at odds. Specifically, I will want to either regulate insurers, or be forced to get insured—negotiating my own deal is no longer an economically viable option. And another problem: if it’s no longer economically viable to be uninsured, there’s some credit to the idea that insurers should not be able to deny coverage. None of this sounds like a free market scenario.
I must be missing something here.