Archives: 08/2006

If This Is Wrong I Don’t Want to Be Reich

Pathological liar Robert Reich offers a commentary on Wednesday morning’s “Marketplace Radio” (not posted yet) complaining that American companies are not lobbying for more spending on science and math education because they are unpatriotically opening labs and software design offices in India and China. So let’s see … he’s upset that the people of the world’s two largest countries are finally entering the modern world, and he’s upset that huge American businesses are not lobbying for more business subsidies. What a great liberal!

Political Governance vs. Corporate Governance

A New York Times columnist says it may be a mistake to try “to make government run more like a business.” Citing research by Matthias Benz and Bruno S. Frey, summarized by Larry Yu, the Times says that government works better than the private sector:

The authority over government is split among the branches of government. In business, Mr. Yu writes, “even if directors have stepped up their governance in recent years, institutional norms still stack the deck in favor of C.E.O.’s.”

And while chief executives and directors can serve forever, politicians need to face re-election regularly.

When it comes to corporate governance, maybe there is something to be learned from governments.

Well, let’s see. According to a Booz Allen study, dismissals of corporate CEOs have risen sharply in the past decade. Among the world’s 2,500 largest public companies, “CEOs are as likely to leave prematurely as to retire normally. Continuing a pattern from 2004, in 2005 nearly half of all CEO departures were due to poor performance or mergers.”

Meanwhile, almost no members of Congress are removed from office involuntarily. As this chart shows, House reelection rates are approaching 100 percent.

Does that mean that the U.S. government is performing so much better than the average company that there’s no need for change? It seems unlikely that even the Times columnist would make that claim. No, if you read the links above from Booz Allen and the Washington Monthly, you can see some of the differences between politics and business: Business is competitive, to begin with. There are 2,500 large companies in the survey, all competing with one another and with millions of upstart challengers. If Sears and K-Mart don’t stay on their toes, Target and Wal-Mart will take their business. Wikipedia lists pages and pages of defunct companies, all of which failed to satisfy customers. Executives lost their jobs, and shareholders lost their money, and those realities are a powerful incentive to executives and shareholders of other companies. Corporate boards are getting more aggressive, and different companies are testing different rules for governance – outsider CEOs, separating the jobs of CEO and chairman, acquisitions, divestitures, going public, going private – in an attempt to find the rules that will produce the greatest customer satisfaction and thus the greatest profits.

Contrast that with government. Failed bureaucrats are almost never fired; indeed, the standard response to bureaucratic failure is to appropriate more money for the agency. Gerrymandering, campaign finance restrictions, and taxpayer-funded constituent service and propaganda make it almost impossible for a member of Congress to be turned out of office. People spend other people’s money far less efficiently than their own.

I think the Times got it backwards. It would be more appropriate to say, “When it comes to government, maybe there is something to be learned from corporate governance” – such as the value of decentralization and competition, retirement ages or term limits, and real penalties for poor performance. Since those factors are unlikely to occur in political systems, the best lesson is to keep as much of life as possible in the private sector.

“Abolish Religious Schools” — Guardian Columnist

In response to the latest Islamist terrorist plot, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee makes the following recommendation:

A new Commission on Integration and Cohesion, launching this month, will be worthless unless its first recommendation is to end religious and ethnic segregation in schools. That means no Church of England or Catholic schools, no Muslim or Jewish schools.

Ah yes, social cohesion through religious tyranny, a winning strategy down through the centuries. Nyet.

A nation that fought a number of civil wars over (among other things) the repression of religious freedom should have learned that compulsion in matters of faith does not breed social harmony. I would have thought Ms. Toynbee particularly well equipped to pass along that historical pearl, given that she is the descendant of not one but two well known British historians. Apparently the nut does sometimes fall far from the tree.

Will Power

In another terrific column today, George Will continues his judicious study of the foreign-policy reality created by a profoundly unconservative administration. His last paragraph is a gem:

Foreign policy “realists” considered Middle East stability the goal. The realists’ critics, who regard realism as reprehensibly unambitious, considered stability the problem. That problem has been solved.

Along the way, Will begins to quibble with the war metaphor that has governed our response to terrorism since 9/11. Though, contra the lefty bumper sticker, war may sometimes be the answer, military action is ill-suited to combating a transnational stateless conspiracy operating, among other places, from within the already-democratic West. Will writes that

better law enforcement, which probably could have prevented Sept. 11, is central to combating terrorism. F-16s are not useful tools against terrorism that issues from places such as Hamburg (where Mohamed Atta lived before dying in the North Tower of the World Trade Center) and High Wycombe, England.

In the course of making that point, the nation’s premier conservative columnist cites John Kerry–favorably. This could not have been what George W. Bush envisioned when he said he’d govern as “a uniter, not a divider.”

The Evolutionary War, Part Deux

In response to an earlier post, a reader e-mails with the following comment: “Intelligent Design is fundamentally a religious theory and thus cannot be taught in public schools according to the First Amendment.” 

Regrettably, it’s not that simple. For the first century of their existence, state schools engaged in official prayer and Bible reading in bald defiance of the First Amendment. That official religiosity was only discontinued after a 1963 Supreme Court ruling. There’s no reason it couldn’t come back. The sad truth is that our Constitution and Bill of Rights are regularly trampled over by legislators who find their content inconvenient (viz., the 10th Amendment). 

Furthermore, there is no guarantee that all courts, in perpetuity, will see Intelligent Design as a religious theory, as happened to be the case in last year’s Pennsylvania District Court verdict [.pdf]. 

Even at present, public schools in many parts of the country have watered down their coverage of the theory of evolution to avoid rousing the ire of adherents of ID or creationism. This is perhaps part of the reason that only 13 percent of Americans think humans evolved through entirely natural processes, while the rest think they were created in their present form (46%), or guided in their evolution (31%), by the god of their choice.

Natural human evolution has been public schools’ sole explanation for human origins for three generations, and that is the result. The official knowledge thing has thus already been tried, at length, and it has failed on its own terms.

Parental choice is a better approach. Those who want their children to receive a high-quality secular scientific education will be able to get it – which many cannot do in our current public schools. And those who want to pass along their religious beliefs about human origins to their children will be free to do so, without being forced to wheedle those beliefs into the official government schools for which they are compelled to pay. 

Most important of all, in a country founded on freedom of conscience and individual liberty, it is not the government’s proper role to indoctrinate children with the majority’s views (or, in this case, a tiny but influential minority’s views) – whether or not you or I happen to think those views are correct. 

Still more here.

Dr. Cardin’s Misdiagnosis

Maryland congressman Ben Cardin is running for the Democratic nomination for US Senate.  But apparently he has a higher calling in mind.  Cardin promises that if he’s elected, we will find a cure for cancer.  He even released a television commercial in which a cancer survivor credits Cardin, who is not a doctor, with saving his life.  “Thanks to Ben Cardin, others can have their chance. … He’s literally a lifesaver.”  (The ad is an apparent reference to Cardin’s advocacy of early screening under Medicare.)

However, if Cardin truly wants to help cancer patients, perhaps he should reexamine his policy proposals.  The congressman is a supporter of single-payer national health care.  However, the rationing under such national health care systems means more cancer patients die.  For example, even though American men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than their counterparts in other countries, we are less likely to die from the disease.  Fewer than one out of five American men with prostate cancer will die from it, but 57 percent of British men and nearly half of French and German men will.  Even in Canada, a quarter of men diagnosed with prostate cancer die from the disease. 

That is in part because in most countries with national health insurance, the preferred treatment for prostate cancer is… to do nothing.  Prostate cancer is a slow-moving disease.  Most patients are older and will live for several years after diagnosis.  Therefore it is not cost-effective in a world of socialized medicine to treat the disease too aggressively.  The approach saves money, but comes at a significant human cost.

Similar results can be found for other forms of cancer.  For instance, just 30 percent of U.S. citizens diagnosed with colon cancer die from it, compared to fully 74 percent in Britain, 62 percent in New Zealand, 58 percent in France, 57 percent in Germany, 53 percent in Australia, and 36 percent in Canada.  Similarly, less than 25 percent of U.S. women die from breast cancer, but 46 percent of British women, 35 percent of French women, 31 percent of German women, 28 percent of Canadian women, 28 percent of Australian women, and 46 percent of women from New Zealand die from it. (For more data on international comparisons, see here and here [.pdf]).

Even when there is a desire to provide treatment, national health care systems often lack the resources to provide it.  In Britain, for example, roughly 40 percent of cancer patients never get to see an oncology specialist.  Delays in receiving treatment under Britain’s national health service are often so long that nearly 20 percent of colon cancer cases considered treatable when first diagnosed are incurable by the time treatment is finally offered.

The Canadian Society of Surgical Oncology recommends that cancer surgery take place within two weeks of preoperative tests.  Yet one study indicates that median waiting time for cancer surgery in Canada ranged from 29 days for colorectal cancer to more than two months for urinary cancers.   Radiation treatment and new therapies, such as brachytherapy, are also far less available than in the United States.  Consider this: seven out of ten Canadian provinces report sending prostate cancer patients to the United States for radiation treatment.

If Ben Cardin is determined to practice medicine, he’s already learned about malpractice.