Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Obamacare and the "Healthcare Market"

As the Supreme Court arguments on Obamacare unfold, it is becoming clear that the government's principal justification for the law's constitutionality rests on its characterization of the nature of the healthcare market.

According to the government, the "market" is unique because, at some point in the life of nearly every person, he will need to participate in this "market" in order to procure healthcare services for himself. As such, the government contends, by requiring an individual to purchase health insurance, the government is effectively regulating the "market" in which, sooner or later, the individual will necessarily participate.

There are manifold flaws in this logic, but the core problem lies in the assumption the government makes about the ill-defined "market" it purports to regulate. Because most people pay for medical services via insurance, the government pre-supposes that the insurance-based model is an essential element of the "market"; that is, as a result of the very nature of this "market", one must pay for health services via a third-party insurance company or a fund of some kind.

This, of course, is not true. The present predominant means by which people pay for healthcare is the result, in the main, of longstanding government policies, including the favorable tax treatment accorded employer-provided coverage and the creation of quasi-insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Employer-based health insurance is an accident of War World II wage controls under which the government prohibited employers from openly competing for scare labor by offering higher pay, but allowed employers to attract labor with the unrestricted ability to provide health insurance and other "fringe benefits."

The government-caused market distortion persisted after the war, leading to the modern system whereby people expect the insurance companies basically to pay their medical bills. By and large, people began to assume that health insurance was inextricably tied to employment and that coverage could only be obtained through their employers. Always eager to help, state governments across the country made it harder for individuals to purchase policies on their own by requiring that all health insurance policies cover an ever-expanding array of services, driving costs sky-high.

But the present system is not the only possible system, and certainly not the most efficient. We could, for example, pay for medical services the same way we generally pay for food, shelter and clothing--out-of-pocket, from our own funds. People could shop around for a doctor's services, just as they tend to ask a lawyer his fees before retaining his representation. If the law permitted individuals and insurance companies to freely negotiate their insurance contracts, individuals could craft policies to suit their needs and economic circumstances.

In short, the "market" is unique only in so far as the government has regulated it into uniqueness. If we tended to pay for our medical services as we tend to pay for most other services, it would seem absurd to assume that an individual must have insurance in order to partake in the market. The Obamacare mandate would seem insane, just as it would appear insane to mandate that all person purchase "food insurance" because, at some point, we will all purchase food.

The fact that the government has already regulated the "market" into an inefficient one dominated by third-party payers does not provide a constitutional basis on which to force a person to enter into a private contract.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Obama is No Rutherford B. Hayes

President Obama's gas price/energy policy panic continued apace this week, with president's noted remarks depicting Republican proponents of domestic oil production as backward-looking Luddites.

The president's penchant for arrogant and ill-informed sarcasm was on full display, as he declared that oil drilling advocates are the modern equivalent of "flat earth society" members. With haughty disdain, Obama compared those who favor more energy production to his oh-so-pathetic predecessor Rutherford B. Hayes, whom Obama slandered as an anti-technologist who thought that the telephone was a useless invention. "That's why he's not on Mount Rushmore!" Hilarious!

As is so typical of Obama's endless three years of blather, this latest speech is shallow, narcissistic and intellectually false. For starters, press reports immediately debunked his cheap shots at a long-dead president about whom most people know very little. In fact, Hayes enthusiastically installed a telephone at the White House (assigned telephone number "1") and was a friend of Thomas Edison and a supporter of Edison's work. Hayes never questioned the telephone's utility. Obama, rhetorical heir to Cicero, blithely attributed words to Hayes that he never spoke.

And what gall. This from a man who has, more than once, explained our economic troubles by citing the invention of ATMs and airport kiosks--technological advances that put people out of work. One wonders if Obama would have been a fan of Edison, like Hayes, when the light bulb was forcing lay-offs in the lamplighter industry. Certainly not if the lamplighters had a union.

Moreover, the president's general vision for the country is utterly backward looking. He bemoans advances and globalization. He speaks longingly for the days of the unionized, industrial economy of the early and mid-20th century when sons could aspire to have the same assembly-line or steel mill jobs as their fathers held. Dare to dream!

All in all, Obama believes in a 1930s, big government, managed economy--a model that has slowly been abandoned around the world and now, where it exists, is collapsing under its own weight.

Ah, but regardless, the president sees himself as a man of the future. He doesn't favor more production of the substances that actually power homes and automobiles (though, while disparaging production, he simultaneously tells us he has increased it to record levels. So is that good or bad?). He not only favors "green energy", but he insists that the government subsidize and manage its production.

The president seems not to notice or care that his "investments" in solar and wind and algae have flopped. He still maintains that if you oppose larding tax dollars on to unproven companies that frequently go bankrupt, you are a fool and a Luddite. Indeed, why not "invest" in a flying car company or one that is working on a Star Trek-type transporter. We could "beam" millions to work! We wouldn't even need cars--and the government could still keep GM going just for the helluva it! It's iconic! I'm sure Newt Gingrich's moon colony could use a few taxpayer backed loans.

No one is supposed to question Obama's incredible intellect. But the more he speaks, one certainly has to question whether the president has really thought through his positions on various issues. It is increasingly apparent that Obama is blinded by his assumptions and prone to arrogantly dismiss any dissenting view. This narcissism leads him to intellectually confused and ultimately ridiculous positions that, I believe, ultimately will cause the end his presidency this fall.

If only Obama would emulate, rather than mock, Rutherford B. Hayes. After all, Hayes kept his promise not to seek a second term.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Take Pride in the Bailouts, Comrades!

The wisdom and propriety of the Obama Administration's bailout of General Motors and Chrysler is sure to be a significant issue in the fall campaign. As such, the speech that the president gave about two weeks ago in front of  the UAW convention in Washington has been on my mind because, I think, it illustrates just how much is a stake in the November election.

This post is not intended as a comment on the merits of the bailouts themselves, though I oppose them, whether initiated by President Obama or his predecessor. Rather, I wish to direct attention to the way in which Obama touts the bailouts as a proud achievement, a central piece of the policy that helped bring about our economic recovery.

Long ago and far away, say three years ago, there seemed to be a consensus across the political spectrum that bailouts are undesirable. Some believed, however, that, during an extraordinary emergency, such as the financial crisis and its immediate aftermath, bailouts of certain industries were a necessary evil to prevent economic calamity. Nonetheless, all agreed that bailouts are unfair and, basically, un-American. Everyone, including President Obama, pledged to end bailouts forever as we emerged from the crisis of 2008-09.

In other words, at best, having the government save, subsidize and quasi-control private industry was regarded as a highly undesirable policy that should be implemented only in a temporary and dire emergency, if at all.

But Obama has since discarded this cramped view of bailouts. Indeed, he is making the quasi-nationalization of GM and Chrysler a centerpiece of his bid for re-election. Now he damns bailout opponents as cowards who simply wanted to let the domestic auto industry fail (never mind that Toyota, BMW and others also make cars here and never sought a dime from the federal government).

Speaking in the first person, in order to take maximum credit, to the union to which he partially sold these GM and Chrysler, he praised the bailouts as a positive good and a sign of his personal commitment to the domestic auto industry, as if he is a (gasp!) Romney-like private investor who staked his personal fortune on turning around two failing giants.

This attitude is deeply troubling--and it ought to disturb observers across the ideological band. It is not exactly in the American tradition to have a president essentially nationalize favored firms and then campaign in front of the very workers who directly benefited from his use of the public fisc on their behalf. This is the stuff of banana republics; there is no question that Obama's words and manner before the UAW would fit in nicely at a sanctioned gathering in Havana or Caracas.

Conservatives, of course, loath bailouts as unwarranted, even illegal, expansions of federal power. But the left, too, objects. Liberals disdain bailouts as examples of the unholy conjunction of evil corporate American with big government. Witness Occupy Wall Street and the Naderite tradition in the Democrat Party. Why, then, is anyone, liberal or conservative, comfortable with a president who is so comfortable with the bailouts of large private firms?

The truth is Obama likes bailouts--they aggrandize federal power, give him a fair amount of control over large portions of the economy (build move Volts!) and virtually guarantee a political pay-off from the persons and groups that reap the benefits of federal intervention. Obama is unconstrained by such details and niceties as the Constitution, the division between public and private sectors and a general presumption in favor of a market economy with its implicit right to succeed or fail on one's own merit.

Accordingly, he depicts the bailouts not as the regrettable residue of an extraordinarily difficult moment, but as a hallmark of the brilliance of his centrally-planned economy. Too bad he wasn't president during the last days of the Dumont, Packard, Gimbal's or Pan Am. Then we might have up to four television networks! We'd have cars on the road and even department stores and airlines--all industries that no longer exist due to federal inaction.

So the next time Obama praises himself on the bailouts, hear his words with these thoughts in mind. Does anyone, left or right, really want a president who so proudly proclaims himself as industry savior, who so blithely ignores the lines between public and private, the market and the government? It is this mentality that not only makes Barack Obama a bad president, but a dangerous one.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Understanding Obama on Israel and Iran

After his press conference today, many are left scratching their heads over President Obama's policy on Israel and Iran. In the days leading up to his recent meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Obama made a series of statements in which he appeared to rattle the sabre at Iran and give strong backing to Israel.

"Don't call my bluff," he Bushianly blustered to the Mullahs. He expressed his support for Israel, using the now much-quoted unpresidential and childish colloquialism that the U.S. has Israel's "back."

He went to the AIPAC convention and, once more, brazenly proclaimed himself the most pro-Israeli president in history.

But earlier today, the president seemed to "walk back" these statements. He described his "got your back" proclamation as merely a description of the United States' long-standing, historical support for Israel. He insisted there is still time to make a decision about how best to handle Iran and bemoaned the repercussions of a "premature" attack.

So here is how best to understand the sum of Obama's words: they mean nothing.

As on countless matters over the past three years, the president feints towards a certain policy or a potential compromise for political reasons, only to subsequently, and on a dime, disavow his former statements either in word or deed.

To wit:

Feint: We should have a summit with Republicans so I can hear their ideas on healthcare reform and try to incorporate some of them into my final bill.
Outcome: All of the Republican ideas are ridiculous; we'll do it my way.

Feint: I am for an "all of the above" energy policy.
Outcome: Advocacy for more oil drilling is merely a political bumper sticker that will not help us produce more oil.

Feint: Come, Catholic bishops, let's discuss how we can resolve the contraception mandate problem.
Outcome: Sorry, we are mandating you provide free birth control and abortion drugs for your employees. What else did you want to discuss?

The obvious end driving Obama's "policy" is his desire to contain Israel, not Iran, because he is afraid of the political consequences of an Israeli attack.

Now, no one wants a war in the Middle East. However, many of us understand the dire effects of permitting the Iranians to obtain a nuclear bomb. For those who see national security, and Israel's survival, as the paramount concerns, the costs of military action are likely outweighed by the benefit of preventing a nuclear Iran.

But these are not Obama's principal concerns; his re-election is his primary concern. In short, he fears the complexities and consequences, including high gas prices, that would flow from an Israeli strike. He does not wish to be pulled into a serious military conflict that might impede his ability to continue his vast expansion of federal power and his "fundamental transformation" of American society.

Obama has cut, and plans to cut, nothing from the federal budget, save for his gutting of the military. He wants to reduce American power and influence around the globe because, essentially, he wants to spend more money on a giant welfare state and has leftist moral qualms about the use and projection of American power. Just review the opening year of his Administration when he was more frank about his views during his magical healing tour of the world. His plans and outlook cannot withstanding a war with Iran.

Obama wants to campaign on ending wars, not starting them: Look I ended the war in Iraq! Who cares about the consequences? I just declared victory and left. And we're fleeing Afghanistan, have no fear! A few more apologies and we're gone! I surged troops, it worked, we're leaving, understand? I'm great.

Moreover, the president does not care for Israel and clearly loathes its prime minister. As a standard-issue leftist, Obama was always sympathetic to the Palestinians and hostile to Israel. The fact that he indignantly casts himself as Israel's greatest champion is laughable, almost satiric. Again, just review his record. Recall Netanyahu's previous White House visit: Bibi, could you throw this paper in the Dumpster you'll pass on your exit from the White House? You'll be going through the way we take out the garbage. I'll be at dinner; call me when you've agreed upon world peace so I can take credit. I'm great.

In Netanyahu, Obama confronts a serious man, an experienced, conservative, independent figure who will not fawn over Obama's brilliance or simply reinforce the president's jaundiced and naive worldview. Netanyhu is committed, no matter the priorities of the White House, to protecting his nation against a nuclear attack by Islamic fascists. This attitude is not becoming a client in Caesar's presence.

And so it is, as always, best to discount Obama's rhetoric and look to his actions and his record. The president will say what he feels he must for political cover--he stands squarely with Israel. But, when he can, he'll back away, refuse to offer specifics and continue to leave himself off-ramps; then he'll become annoyed when anyone dares to suggest his statements are contradictory. His surrogates will continue to argue that sanctions can and will work, that we have time, that we don't even really know for sure Iran's intentions and on and on. If only this could all wait until after the election!

But we have Israel's "back", of course. Obama can clearly see its back, because he is aggressively leading from behind once more.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How Can A Just Society Ask its Law Students to Pay for Birth Control?

It is a satire of itself, and a truly sad commentary on the current state of affairs in this country, to say nothing of off-the-deep-end status of the Democrat Party.

This actually happened this week in our nation's capital, folks. Nancy Pelosi convenes a congressional committee to take testimony in support of the Obama birth control mandates.

The star witness is a prim young woman, a law student from Georgetown University, a hot bed of right wing oppression and Catholic orthodoxy.

The witness' principal contention is as follows: Law students like herself--quasi-adult high achievers whiling away three years in fancy law schools--cannot be burdened with the cost of paying for their own contraceptives. It's too expensive. Yes, it can cost up to $3,000 over the course of a law school career. 

How can we possibly expect people like the star witness, attending Georgetown on a "public interest scholarship", to purchaser their own condoms? 

Once, our grandparents rejoiced to get an orange for Christmas during the Great Depression. Today, some fat cats want law school dilettantes to go all the way to a CVS and actually pay for their own birth control. We simply can't get justice in America.

But the dream shall never die. Indeed, these public-spirited geniuses ought to be sheltered from all manner of life's burdens. And why stop at birth control pills? I'm sure eating is an expensive habit on a "public interest scholarship." We ought not allow these students to be gouged by the heartless Big Food industry. To the barricades, comrades!

One might ask how Nancy Pelosi can listen to this stuff with a straight face. Suffice it to say there are undoubtedly treatments covered by the congressional health plan that provide the answer.