Topic: General

Thud, Part II

In an email, Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation took issue with my characterization of his proposal (which has now been introduced as federal legislation) to foster health policy experimentation among the states. So I thought I might elaborate. (Readers can get the particulars of the proposal in Stuart’s paper.)

The system Stuart proposes seems predisposed to increase government health care spending and to produce little or no free-market reform.

Under his proposal, states would petition Congress for the funding or flexibility to experiment with different reforms within their borders. If the past is any guide, states would be more likely to request more federal money than either deregulation or less federal money. For example, we could count on states to ask Congress to fund expansions of government programs or the creation of state-chartered “purchasing pools.” It is less likely that states would request market-based reforms, such as capping and block granting federal Medicaid spending. Proposals to expand health savings accounts or eliminate the exclusion for employer-sponsored insurance in certain states would never get off the ground, for they would run afoul of the Constitution’s requirement that “all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” (Stuart argues that “other site-specific programs involving federal tax changes, such as enterprise zones, have passed muster.” But even if we could have the feds devise different tax rules for different states, would we want them to?)

Even if some free-market reforms could get approved, they would be less likely to survive than big-government reforms. To qualify for reauthorization, reforms would have to meet “clear and measurable goals, including coverage increases and quality improvements.” Yet new government programs would always have an advantage at “increasing coverage” because the state could always claim “you’ve got Medicaid!” even if you can’t get a doctor’s appointment. Free-market reforms – by definition – do not force coverage on people. With regard to quality, government programs whose funding is in the balance could force delivery of whatever the feds label “quality” health care, even if some patients get hurt. Meanwhile, if patients’ preferences deviate from the quality measures, market-based reforms lose because markets actually try to satisfy those diverse preferences. Finally, government-expanding reforms generally bestow benefits on concentrated interests, while market-based reforms (e.g., HSAs) produce benefits that are more diffuse. Thus big-government reforms would have a leg up in the political process that sets and evaluates compliance with performance measures. In short, free-market advocates don’t exactly dominate health policy, and would not dominate this process. The proposal thus ignores the lesson of O’Sullivan’s First Law.

It’s not that this is designed to be a big-government proposal. But it is not designed to be a limited-government proposal, which makes it almost certain that it would be hijacked by the forces of big government. That is why my initial impression boiled down to: Congress creates a commission, gives more money to the states.

But hey, I might be wrong. I’d like to hear Stuart’s thoughts.

Gambling Advocacy Now Illegal in Washington State

Earlier this month, I posted about a disturbing new law in Washington State that would impose up to a five-year prison term for people who gamble online. The law’s supporters said not to worry: no one would be breaking into homes to arrest individual gamblers (though even before the law took effect, there was some evidence to the contrary). Now we find out that not only are Washington State authorities willing to go after individual gamblers, they’re using the law to go after people who merely write about gambling. A Seattle Times columnist writes:

The first casualty in the state’s war on Internet gambling is a local Web site where nobody was actually doing any gambling.

What a Bellingham man did on his site was write about online gambling. He reviewed Internet casinos. He had links to them, and ran ads by them. He fancied himself a guide to an uncharted frontier, even compiling a list of “rogue casinos” that had bilked gamblers.

All that, says the state — the ads, the linking, even the discussing — violates a new state law barring online wagering or using the Internet to transmit “gambling information.”

“It’s what the feds would call ‘aiding and abetting,’ ” says the director of the state’s gambling commission, Rick Day. “Telling people how to gamble online, where to do it, giving a link to it — that’s all obviously enabling something that is illegal.”

Uh-oh. This is starting to get a little creepy.

I’ll say. It gets worse. The state’s puritans anti-gambling cops also lashed out at the Seattle Times itself:

Gambling officials told me The Seattle Times may be afoul of the law because we print a poker how-to column, “Card Shark,” by gambler Daniel Negreanu. He sometimes tells readers to hone their skills at online casinos. And at the end of each column is a Web address, fullcontactpoker.com, where readers can comment.

If you type in that address, you whiz off to Negreanu’s digital casino based in the Antilles.

It’s a tangled Web, isn’t it? The state says we’d best do our part to untangle it.

“My suggestion to you is to remove from your paper any advice about online gambling and any links to illegal sites,” Day said.

So even this column could be illegal?

Unfortunately, columnist Danny Westneat closes the piece by arguing that the state’s law against online gambling is “legitimate;” it’s only the act of extending it to people who write about gambling, he asserts, that crosses the line. But as we’ve seen with the drug war, once you’ve given the state the power to enforce consensual crimes that take no victims, it’s only a matter of time before government makes the case that it can’t enforce those laws unless it’s given the power to encroach on other civil liberties.

America & Soccer

The “Lexington” column in this week’s Economist features a now-standard riff about how curious and revealing it is that America eschews the world’s pastime. The twist: The world resents the hell out of us for this. 

But would “the world” really be happier if America took this game seriously and, as a consequence, cut through their footballers like a hot knife through butter? I doubt it. The only way to make “the world” happy would be if we cared a lot about soccer and lost a lot at soccer. Anything else would simply feed the insatiable anti-America hate machine. 

Topics:

Public Education: Social Napalm

Perhaps the most pernicious myth about American public education is that it is the “foundation of our democracy,” the great unifying force that has taken millions of diverse peoples and shaped them into a cohesive, happy whole.

It’s a fantasy. The ugly truth is that our one-size-fits-all public school system, for which everyone must pay but only the most politically powerful can control, has been forcing American communities into ruinous social conflict for almost two centuries. The latest casualty is Miami, where efforts to ban school library books that portray post-communist revolution Cuba in a flattering light have set the community ablaze. From the Miami Herald:

The emotional and political storm surrounding the debate became impossible to ignore in a community so deeply steeped in Cuban culture. It bared the exile community’s considerable political heft as well as persistent suspicion that other groups remain ignorant of – or even hostile to – the deep sensitivity toward Cuba’s image and struggles….

Board member Robert Ingram voted for the ban, but only to invite the ACLU’s lawsuit so the issue could be resolved by the courts, he said. In an impassioned speech, he said threats from the exile community left him thinking board members “might find a bomb under their automobiles” if they voted to keep the book.

“There’s a passion of hate,” Ingram said. “I can’t vote my conscience without feeling threatened – that should never happen in this community any more.”

Tragically, all across the country conflicts like Miami’s occur constantly. Battles over Intelligent Design, school budgets, dress codes, student speech rights, race, and sex education all are symptoms of the same problem: Monolithic systems of public education will only reflect the values of those people with enough political strength to impose their will. This results in either nonstop political warfare or subjugation of the politically weak, neither of which is the foundation of any kind of desirable society. Only freedom, which in education means school choice, can form such a foundation.

Build a Wall around the Welfare State, Not around the Country

Most of the members of the conference committee on the immigration bill seem to have forgotten our own heritage.

Compared to the present, the United States had a higher rate of immigration just prior to World War I when we had no significant immigration controls (except against the Chinese) and no federal welfare programs. Most of these immigrants were from Ireland, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and other poor European countries; most spoke no English and had only crude manual skills. Many Americans from families who had been here for more than a few generations were prone to speak disparagingly about the status and prospect of the new immigrants. For all that, almost all of these new immigrants (including my grandfather) were work-oriented, family-oriented, no burden to others, and, within a generation, fully assimilated Americans.

Most current immigrants, other than being Hispanic, are very much like those who chose to make their future in the United States a century ago. The record of recent immigrants is impressive: a relatively high employment rate, a relatively low rate of birth to single mothers, and an unusually low incarceration rate. So far, the one major difference from prior immigrants is that the Hispanics are less education-oriented. Given the opportunity, there is every reason to expect them to be good workers, good neighbors, and fully assimilated Americans within a generation. 

The one major difference from a century ago that affects this issue is that the United States is now a substantial welfare state. Illegal immigrants appear to be net taxpayers to the federal government but net tax burdens to state and local governments, especially if they have children in school. 

The primary solution to this problem is to build a wall around the welfare state, not the U.S. nation-state. For new immigrants, access to social services could be limited to emergency health care. Access to public schooling could be limited to those children born in the United States. Access to the full range of social services could be limited, for example, to those who have four years of legal work experience, a record of full payment of taxes, and no felony conviction. 

A supplementary solution to this problem would be a federal transfer to those states and local governments with an unusual number of immigrants. This approach should substantially reduce the opposition to immigration by residents of the border states.

Building a wall around the country, in contrast, is unnecessary, futile, and offensive.