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Profiteering and the singular ant problem

I found this video highly interesting. Why do we have to have such heavy blinders on about healthcare in this country? Regardless of the position you hold on the Affordable Care Act, everyone should understand the facts presented in this video:

As a summary:

  • We pay more per capita in taxes for healthcare than any other country, but only a few get the benefits of a single payer health system

  • We pay more as a percentage of GDP on healthcare than any other country

  • Our care is not better (as measured by outcomes) than any other country with socialized medicine

  • It's not one thing that causes high healthcare costs, but a variety of things, but the common causes dragged out for public vilification are not the most significant factors

  • One cannot negotiate for better prices for healthcare while receiving care, so prices will naturally increase to the level the market will bear, which is pretty high

I personally think it's unethical to profit by the treatment (or cause for that matter) of suffering. That doesn't mean the healthcare provider shouldn't be compensated for his or her time, equipment, and materials and that they shouldn't be allowed to expand their business or invest in research and development of new treatments, but the provider administrators shouldn't be beholden to stakeholders demanding higher profit margins, and administrators in turn demanding more high margin tests to be ordered by providers when deciding what care to give to a patient.

Government Social Programs vs. Private Charity

"Oh, if government didn't provide for the poor and needy, then charity would! Small local charities would be vastly more efficient than Government, and provide better services to boot!" This, first of all, ignores simple economies of scale; small local charities would have much more overhead/dollar and much less purchasing power than large national charities. Second, if natural charity worked with modern man, we'd still live in a Victorian era of asylums, orphanages, and debtors' prisons. It didn't. We don't, and we're better off today because we've recognized that fact. Could charity cover the gap if the Government closed down all it's social programs? My math says no. I wish I was wrong, but history has shown that the poor, diseased, or downdrodden are nearly universally ignored by society as a whole, so if we reduced taxes by the $1.3+ trillion spent every year on social programs, the $300 billion a year in charitable contributions wouldn't increase to cover the gap, even if we were able to get incredible efficiency gains. Charitable contributions nearly universally come from disposable income; we don't naturally sacrifice our own standard of living to raise another.

Not that Government run social programs are perfect: we waste tons of money by making Social Security payments mandatory, you receive them whether you really need them or not; by allowing welfare recipients to shop for themselves at retail (even at convenience store prices) vs. using the economies of scale to buy foodstuffs and other essentials at wholesale prices; using subsidies and tax credits instead of collective bargaining to make essential services (phone, water, power, housing) more affordable, etc; and paying most benefits out in CASH. There's even a measurable (sizeable even?) amount of graft and abuse. But despite their faults, and the levels of abuse, they provide some level of social safety net that didn't exist 30-80 years ago, and I think society is better for it.

An aside about the graft; Florida recently required all welfare recipients to take a drug test. They found that less than 2% of applicants failed the tests. From this we learned at least three things:
  1. that the 4th amendment doesn't allow the government to require invasive tests of worthiness for social programs.

  2. that contrary to popular belief, most welfare recipients are not drug addicts.

  3. that implementing bureaucracy to police graft may save some money, but not significant amounts.

So if you're going to propose to me that we "Abolish Social Security" or cut social services in some other way, you'd better be prepared to explain to me
  1. where those people will go for help when they need it.

  2. how those charities would receive the funding they would need to care for the large numbers of people who would need their services, and

  3. How that makes us a stronger society than the status quo.

Robin Hood Economics (or Hey Look Joseph's finally posting to his blog again!)

I find myself composing long replies to Facebook posts, but I feel Facebook is a poor medium for sharing such weighty ideas, so I'm going to start/resume posting here instead. Hopefully my friends and family recognize this as an opportunity to discuss civilly vs. as an attack on their deeply held political beliefs. I don't have all the answers, and I consider myself to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal, so none of the current political parties interest me much, and some of what's going on in Washington, D.C. and in Raliegh, N.C., really worries me.

Here's my rant for today:

Why is it that when we tax the poor to give to the rich it's called "social darwinism" or "lucrative government contracts" or "trickle down economics", and it's ok. But when we talk about taxing the rich to give to the poor it's "forced wealth redistribution", or "communism", (socialism doesn't mean what you think it means) and it's not ok? The former is really Prince John's feudalism, so wouldn't the latter be Robin Hood's economic policy? Which should we be cheering?

I guess my real point is: it's hard to have meaningful discussions about hot topics when the terms of the debate are set up to be so emotionally charged.