Topic: General

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, for Tomorrow We Die

James Lovelock, the author of the “theory known as Gaia, which holds that Earth acts like a living organism, a self-regulating system balanced to allow life to flourish,” has a new message for us: Never mind, it’s too late, Gaia can’t handle industrialization. Earth will be at least 10 degrees hotter in a decade or two. It’s irreversible. “We are poached,” the Washington Post reports.

So we might as well enjoy ourselves. Burn those fossil fuels. Build those McMansions. Eat those cheeseburgers. We’re doomed anyway.

Or you could recall an earlier doomsayer, Professor Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, who wrote in 1968, “The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines. Hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” He was slightly off. But he kept his job at the prestigious university, he made a bundle on his bestseller, and he still writes for publications like Scientific American. He’s even quoted praising Lovelock in the Post article.

As for Lovelock, he’s the subject of a huge, lavish, sales-boosting two-page profile in the Washington Post. Not to mention respectful reviews in major papers on both sides of the Atlantic. He’s speaking Friday at the respected Carnegie Institution of Washington. Why are people like Lovelock and Ehrlich treated seriously?

Crossposted from Comment is free.

California Single-Payer?

It’s been largely under the media radar screen, but California may be on the verge of establishing a single-payer health care system.  Late last month, the California Assembly passed legislation establishing a Canadian-style, government-run health care system.  The legislation had earlier passed the California Senate, and while there are small differences that will have to be reconciled, there is no doubt that the bill will be sent to Governor Schwarzenegger.  The question now is whether Schwarzenegger will veto the bill.  In the past he has said he would, but it’s an election year and he is under big pressure from unions and others to sign it.   Schwarzenegger has caved in other issues recently, from prescription drug price controls for MediCal to vehicle emission controls to state budgeting.   If he signs this bill it will be bad news for Californians and a terrible precedent for the nation.

Under the bill:

  • Private health insurance would be abolished.  The state would become the sole payer for all health care services.  The bill does not specifically prohibit paying for a procedure “out of pocket,” although it states several times that its intent is to have “a single payer.”  We will probably have to wait to see how this would be interpreted by the commission established to oversee the new program, and later by the courts.  The bill does, however, require that doctors take all patients and in the order that they apply for service.  Thus, you couldn’t jump the queue by paying cash.  Nor could a doctor set up a cash-only practice.
  • The bill establishes global budgets for health spending in the state.  If the budget is exceeded the state could cut reimbursements to providers or prohibit capital expenditures.  The latter would impact the quality of health care nationwide, limiting research and development and undermining many of the nation’s top hospitals.
  • The bill contains no funding mechanism (beyond using federal Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, and VA funding).  Earlier versions of the bill proposed funding the proposal with a 3 percent income tax hike and a job-killing 8 percent hike in the payroll tax.  The latest version would have a commission decide how to pay for it.

Interestingly, the Assembly amended the bill to strike out the words “health care consumer” wherever they appeared and replaced them with “patient.”

After College Presidency, Telling It Like It Is

In this morning’s New York Times, William M. Chace, a former president of Emory and Wesleyan Universities, offered the welcoming speech he always wanted to give to incoming students, but could never deliver as a college president. Just a bit of his speech explains what should be obvious about skyrocketing college costs, but is constantly denied by “experts” in higher education policy: As more and more money goes into the ivory tower, students demand ever-grander amenities, and tuition prices are driven higher and higher.

Laudable [a fictitious university] could be cheaper, but you wouldn’t like it. You and your parents have made it clear that you want the best. That means more spacious and comfortable student residences (“dormitories,” we used to call them), gyms with professional exercise equipment, better food of all kinds, more counselors to attend to your growing emotional needs, more high-tech classrooms and campuses that are spectacularly handsome.
Our competitors provide such things, so we do too. We compete for everything: faculty, students, research dollars and prestige. The more you want us to give to you, the more we will be asking you to give to us. We aim to please, and that will cost you. It’s been a long time since scholarship and teaching were carried on in monastic surroundings.

For state and federal policymakers, the implications of the basic economic reality Chace describes should be pretty clear. All the aid that they give to students using taxpayer dollars–more than $96 billion in the 2004-05 academic year alone (which is more than twice the inflation-adjusted total of just 10 years prior)–allows students to demand more and more grandiose stuff, and in so doing drive college costs to ever-dizzier heights.
 

What Washington Thinks of You

For a hint of what Washington bureaucrats think of the rest of the America, take a look at this letter to the Wall Street Journal:

You say the average federal civil worker makes more than the average private sector worker. That’s true, but this isn’t even an apples and oranges comparison – it’s more apples and filet mignon. The federal government doesn’t sell fast food or operate large-scale retail stores using minimum-wage employees. So yes, medical researchers at the National Institutes of Heath [sic] and the Centers for Disease control [sic] are paid more than entry-level workers at McDonald’s. Yes, intelligence analysts in the Department of Defense and State Department diplomats working under harsh conditions around the world are paid more than Wal-Mart greeters. And, yes, the thousands of dedicated doctors and nurses caring for our wounded and disabled veterans in the Department of Veterans Affairs are paid more than a new barrista [sic] at Starbucks.

Max Stier
President
Partnership for Public Service
Washington

Max Stier, a lobbyist on behalf of government, whose official biography boasts that he “has worked previously in all three branches of the federal government,” sees medical research and intelligence analysis when he thinks of the federal government. And when he thinks of the 124 million Americans who work in the private sector, he can only imagine McDonald’s clerks, Wal-Mart greeters, and Starbucks coffee servers. Stereotypes, anyone?

As I wrote a few years ago, some people in Washington look across the fruited plain and see only a vast and barren wasteland interrupted by federal bureaucracies.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in 1992, “The ballot box is the place where all change begins in America”–conveniently forgetting the market process that has brought us such changes as the train, the skyscraper, the automobile, the personal computer, and charitable or self-help endeavors from settlement houses to Alcoholics Anonymous to Comic Relief.

Entrepreneurs and businesses in America satisfy far more of our needs than coffee, Big Macs, and cheap clothes, as useful as those things are. Housing, for instance. Planes, trains, and automobiles. Software and computer networks. Entertainment. Medical research. (Yes, there’s some done at NIH. There’s more done by pharmaceutical companies.) Compound interest. In that earlier article, inspired by the latest proposals for some niggling regulations of banking services, I suggested:

Consider the presumptuousness of such a bill and the relative contributions of banks and senators to our lives. Civil society, hampered at every turn by petty political rules, takes thousands of years to develop the technology, the complex market mechanisms, and the levels of trust necessary for individuals to be able to get cash, at midnight, in an airport or a 7-Eleven thousands of miles from home, from a bank that they do no other business with–and members of Congress decide that the bank shouldn’t be able to charge a dollar for that service. Imagine what kind of banking services we’d have if we had to wait for Congress to develop the necessary institutions, and then imagine what we might have if Congress got entirely out of the business of controlling, hamstringing, and bullying banks.

Has Max Stier ever tried to do business with American Express and the Social Security Administration, Federal Express and the U.S. Postal Service, McDonald’s and the DMV? His demeaning of 124 million American workers in the attempt to defend the above-market wage rates of bureaucrats is laughable. But it’s also insulting, and utterly revealing of the Washington mindset.

Much Ado about Crisis of Abundance

The American Prospect’s Ezra Klein and Berkeley’s Brad DeLong have each weighed in on Cato’s book forum for Arnold Kling’s new health policy book, Crisis of Abundance (Cato Institute, 2006). 

Kling notes that we had invited The New York TimesPaul Krugman to speak. I was disappointed that Krugman had to decline. I would have loved to see that matchup, as I have for some time thought of Kling as The Anti-Krugman.

Now comes word that Harvard’s Greg Mankiw recommends the webcast of the book forum.

The Right That Was

Remember FreeRepublic.com? The right-wing web forum for Clinton-hatred, respectable and otherwise? I recently ran across an article, “The Secret FISA Court: Rubber Stamping Our Rights,” that somebody posted on FR back in 2000. (Hat tip: Glenn Greenwald.) The comments are precious:

This is beyond frightening. Thank you for this find.

This does not bode well for continued freedom. Franz Kafka would have judged this too wild to fictionalize. But for us - it’s real.

And my personal favorite:

Any chance of Bush rolling some of this back? It sounds amazing on its face.

Today, when NSA surveillance is in the news, as with the recent decision in ACLU v. NSA [.pdf], you’re far more likely to read this sort of thing over at FR.

Privacy is a false argument and has been for some time. Your insurance company and the credit bureaus have more on you than the feds do and you can do nothing about it. I would rather be secure knowing that the feds were looking over my shoulder and keeping me safe. I have nothing to hide, and in times of war, these steps are necessary.

There are a few exceptions per comment thread, a few throwbacks to the pre-9/11 Right who think skepticism about power is justified even when the Red Team’s in charge. But they’re a distinct minority.

Was it September 11th that “changed everything,” or Republican takeover of the executive branch? Either way, for the Right, it’s a different world indeed.

Rural Newspaper Calls for the President and the Senate to “Mind Their Business”

The Enid News and Eagle posted an opinion article last week on the new farm bill. Admittedly, it is a rural paper (based in Enid, Oklahoma) catering to a rural readership. Most of you will probably not have seen it. But I was struck by a number of passages.

Take this one, for starters:

“It seems the 2002 farm bill was one of the more popular farm bills to come out in the history of farm bills, according to Frank Lucas. The Third District representative has been traveling the state getting input from agricultural officials and farmers on what should be included in the 2007 version of the farm bill.”

Of course the 2002 Farm Bill was popular, Congressman, at least with the “agricultural officials and farmers” you are talking to. A significant backtrack from previous farm bills, payments to farmers under the 2002 Farm Bill are projected to average over US$20 billion per year from 2005 to 2007. Agriculture officials are hardly going to support huge cuts to the agriculture budget, either.

Or consider this gem:

“…the House committee knows the most about agriculture and has the most contact with the people it will affect…”

The Enid News and Eagle is suggesting that the “people it will affect” are farmers and ranchers. This is undeniably true. But this farm bill, like all the others before it, will also affect every taxpayer and consumer of food in the country, not to mention commodity producers abroad. (more here)

On the one hand, it seems fairly reasonable that as part of the 2007 Farm Bill preparations, the administration and House and Senate Committee Members are holding a series of hearings all over the country. But on the other, who shows up to those hearings? Is it the consumers and taxpayers who, while collectively shelling out billions of dollars every year to agricultural subsidies and paying over-market prices, shoulder relatively little burden as individuals? No. Most of them have jobs to go to and little incentive to harangue Congressmen and officials. Farmers, on the other hand, are relatively well organized and have large incentive to ask for more money (or, in their more modest moments, ‘just’ the status quo).

Finally, for good measure, the Enid News and Eagle proposes letting the House agriculture committee and the farmers have full and exclusive rights over the farm bill:

“While we encourage input from farmers and ranchers, we discourage a lot of input in the bill from the president and the Senate.”

I’m new to this country, but isn’t there supposed to be a system of checks and balances here? Why do these opinion writers assert that there is no role for the administration or the Senate in crafting a new farm bill? While I, too, think there should be “little input” from government in farm policy, I don’t restrict my skepticism to only one chamber and the president.

If you missed our forum today on the farm bill, you can watch it here within the next 24 to 48 hours.

Hat-tip to Keith Good for the tip on the Enid News and Eagle.