Canadian MP “Thinks Very Highly” of Medicare, Goes to U.S. for Surgery

According to CTV.ca:

Liberal MP Belinda Stronach, who is battling breast cancer, travelled to California last June for an operation that was recommended as part of her treatment, says a report.

Stronach’s spokesman, Greg MacEachern, told the Toronto Star that the MP for Newmarket-Aurora had a “later-stage” operation in the U.S. after a Toronto doctor referred her.

“Belinda had one of her later-stage operations in California, after referral from her personal physicians in Toronto. Prior to this, Belinda had surgery and treatment in Toronto, and continues to receive follow-up treatment there,” said MacEachern.

He said speed was not the reason why she went to California.

Instead, MacEachern said the decision was made because the U.S. hospital was the best place to have it done due to the type of surgery required…

Stronach, who announced last April she would be leaving politics before the next election, paid for the surgery in the U.S., reports the Star

While it is rare for MPs to seek treatment outside Canada, MacEachern said Stronach was not lacking confidence in the system.

“In fact, Belinda thinks very highly of the Canadian health-care system, and uses it when needed for herself and her children, as do all Canadians…” MacEachern told the Star.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Canada’s Medicare system.

Best of luck to Ms. Stronach and her family.

H.T. David Hyman.

Senate Now Debating the Manner in Which to Fleece You

After a disastrous result in the House of Representatives, the farm bill debate has moved on to the Senate, where the main conflict is about how to provide assistance to farmers. Senator Max Baucus (D, MT), who sits on the Agriculture Committe but also holds the purse strings as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, favors a permanent weather-related disaster relief fund alongside more “traditional” farm subsidies. The Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Tom Harkin (D, IA) prefers government subsidies based on farm revenue rather than commodity prices, and more spending on “renewable fuels” and conservation of farmlands.

Sen. Harkin wants about $10 billion dollars over the amount currently slated for farm programs to pay for his pet projects, but Sen. Baucus has made it clear that if Sen. Harkin wants more money, then he has to dance somewhat to Mr. Baucus’ tune. Sen. Harkin has in recent days appeared more open to a “modest” permanent disaster-assistance program if it means he gets his money (see here). Something tells me that Sen. Harkin’s definition of “modest” might be different to mine. Nor am I convinced that a permanent disaster relief trust fund would prevent Congress from approving extra disaster funds along the way.

The administration has issued a veto threat, but on ominous grounds. For example, the administration does not like the tax package that the House approved to pay for extra money for food stamps and sees the House income cap of $1 million dollars annual adjusted gross income as an insufficiently tight means test. As well they might, because it would affect only 7,000 farmers.

The veto threat is ominous because (a) it is based on things that are minimal and easily fixed relative to the entire package itself and (b) President Bush passed the similar 2002 farm bill without too much wailing and gnashing of teeth. At no point has the administration seriously questioned the rationale for these programs. While the President may have little to lose this time by vetoing the thing, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns is reportedly seeking the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Chuck Hagel in Nebraska in 2008. Secretary Johanns has pushed strongly for reforms of farm programs until now, but presumably he would not want to campaign after being behind a farm bill veto.

Here’s an idea: instead of spreading the love around to more farmers (like the $1.6 billion in extra spending for fruit and vegetable growers who have traditionally missed out on largess), tinkering with the income limit and changing the method by which we give money to farmers, how about we scrap the whole thing altogether? See here and here for starters.

Chutzpah

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has denounced Hillary Clinton’s health care plan for being a European-style socialized medicine plan” of “government managed insurance.”

Hmmmm…. HillaryCare 2.0 calls for an individual mandate to purchase health insurance, a collectivized insurance pool, huge subsidies for low- and middle-income families, and new regulation of the insurance industry. Why, that sounds like…the plan Governor Romney signed into law in Massachusetts.

Fred Thompson’s Questionable Views on U.S.-China Trade

Fred Thompson’s relatively late entry into the presidential race has left people scrambling to discern his views on a range of topics from social issues to trade with China. I’ll leave it to others of probe his position on the former, but I came across something this week on the latter that is not encouraging for those of us who support free trade.

Two years ago, the former Tennessee senator was one of 11 commissioners to approve and sign the “2005 Report to Congress of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.” The commission was established by Congress in 2000 to hold hearings and write reports on the implications of America’s growing trade with China.

Americans are right to cast a sober eye toward China’s foreign policy intentions and human rights record, but the commission also dabbles in the worst sort of economic populism toward U.S.-China trade. Among the questionable assertions in its 2005 report:

China’s “active participation in the global economy … is resulting in the movement of jobs, especially manufacturing jobs but increasingly service jobs as well, from the United States to China and other countries offering higher rates of return on capital” (p.3).

“U.S. producers of advanced technology products are also subject to the growing pressures posed by China. In 2004, the U.S. trade deficit in advanced technology products with China grew to $36.3 billion” (p. 4).

“The opening of the Chinese, Indian, and former Soviet bloc economies has led to more than a doubling of the global market’s work force and likely will put downward pressure on U.S. wages for workers at all levels, including higher levels of the wage scale. Mobile capital and technology flows accelerate this trend” (p. 5).

“Congress should consider imposing an immediate, across-the-board tariff on China’s imports at the level determined necessary to gain prompt action by China to strengthen significantly the value of the RMB [its currency]. The United States can justify such an action under WTO Article XXI, which allows members to take necessary actions to protect their national security. China’s undervalued currency has contributed to a loss of U.S. manufacturing, which is a national security concern for the United States” (p. 14).

Cato’s Center for Trade Policy Studies has systematically addressed economic concerns about U.S.-China trade at our web site, but here’s the crib sheet:

U.S. job losses from trade with China have been small and have been more than offset by jobs created in sectors that do not compete directly with China. The U.S. economy has added a net 16.5 million jobs in the past decade of expanding trade and the national unemployment rate is a low 4.6 percent.

Trade with China and other emerging economies has helped to boost living standards in the United States by reducing prices for consumer goods that make our lives better everyday. Average real hourly compensation (wages and benefits) paid to American workers is up 22 percent in the past decade. Tariffs on imports from China would reduce the well being of tens of millions of American households.

Real manufacturing output in the United States is up 31 percent compared to a decade ago. As my colleague Dan Ikenson shows in a new study for Cato, U.S. manufacturers enjoyed record output, sales, profits, and returns on investment in 2006. The “advanced technology products” that the commission worries about are overwhelmingly laptop computers and other consumer electronics. A WTO panel would rightly laugh at the claim that imports from China have somehow endangered America’s “national security.”

Which brings us back to Fred Thompson. Does he really believe the many questionable assertions in the 2005 report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission that he approved? Or was he not really paying much attention? Or has he revised his views since 2005? An enterprising economics and business reporter should ask him.

Hillary Hates Freedom

Maybe that’s a bit strong. Let’s just say, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton operates with reckless disregard for individual freedom and the limited government that protects and sustains it.

In her latest salvo, she dismisses the great promises of the Declaration of Independence, the founding principles of the United States, as rhetorical flourishes, mere garnishes on the real stuff of life. “We can talk all we want about freedom and opportunity, about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but what does all that mean to a mother or father who can’t take a sick child to the doctor?” she asked.

In her senatorial activities and her presidential campaign, Clinton has tended to propose modest, moderate programs. Even her new health care proposal is being hailed as more modest than her 1993 plan (though it would in fact impose a new government mandate on every person in the United States). But at her core, Hillary Clinton rejects the fundamental values of liberalism, values like individual autonomy, individual rights, pluralism, choice, and yes, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. She seems to see no area of life that should be free from the heavy hand of government. And to her the world of free people seems a vast nothingness. When a few Republicans proposed to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, which spends about $125 million of the $63 billion spent on arts in the United States, she declaimed that such a move “not only threatens irrevocable damage to our cultural institutions but also to our sense of ourselves and what we stand for as a people.”

After her first attempt at nationalizing and bureaucratizing American health care, she told the New York Times that her next project would be “redefining who we are as human beings in the post-modern age.” I’d say 300 million Americans can do that for themselves.

Her hostility to freedom is not just a left-wing attitude. In the Senate, she’s been adding the paternalistic agenda of the religious right to her old-fashioned liberal paternalism. Clinton has called for federal legislation to prohibit the sale of “inappropriate” video games to children and teens. She’s introduced a bill to study the impact of media on children, a likely prelude to restrictions on television content, and she touts the V-Chip regulation that President Bill Clinton signed. She supports federal legislation to outlaw flag desecration (though not a constitutional amendment).

In her book It Takes a Village, she insisted that 300 million free people could somehow come to “a consensus of values and a common vision of what we can do today, individually and collectively, to build strong families and communities.” She told Newsweek, “There is no such thing as other people’s children,” a claim that ought to frighten any parent. She promised to inflict on free citizens government videos running constantly in every gathering place, telling people “how to burp an infant, what to do when soap gets in his eyes, how to make a baby with an earache comfortable”—all the things that no one knew how to do until the federal government came along.

Hillary Clinton is no socialist. But when she makes her rejection of liberal values as explicit as she did on Monday – dismissing “freedom and opportunity [and] life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as irrelevant to people’s real lives–she is far too reminiscent of some of the most authoritarian figures of the 20th century. Lenin, for instance, wrote, “Bourgeois democracy is democracy of pompous phrases, solemn words, exuberant promises and the high-sounding slogans of freedom and equality.”

And maybe it’s no surprise that Clinton cosponsored her videogame ban with Sen. Rick Santorum, who is also an articulate and determined opponent of individualism. In his book It Takes a Family and in various media appearances, he denounced “this whole idea of personal autonomy.” At least once he rejected “the pursuit of happiness” explicitly, saying, “This is the mantra of the left: I have a right to do what I want to do” and “We have a whole culture that is focused on immediate gratification and the pursuit of happiness … and it is harming America.” Not the mantra of the Hillary Clinton left, obviously.

We know that societies that reject bourgeois freedom – the freedom of individualism, civil society, the rule of law, and yes, you guessed it, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – in favor of collectivism and economic goods end up with neither freedom nor prosperity. The United States has the most advanced medical care in the world – The rate of death from heart disease in the U.S. was cut in half between 1980 and 2000, for instance – because we have a mostly free and capitalist economy. Mandates and regulations make medical care more costly than it needs to be, and Hillary Clinton now proposes to pile on yet more mandates and regulations. But the really scary prospect of another Clinton presidency is not what she would do to our medical care but what she would do to the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that is the foundation of our free society.

More than a Glancing Blow

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has just released its “Education at a Glance” report for 2007, but before glancing at it Americans might want to sit down.

We already know, from a variety of international testing programs (e.g. TIMSS, PISA), that U.S. students fall further behind their international peers the longer they stay in school (.pdf). We’re close to average among wealthy nations in the 4th grade, below that average by the 8th grade, and near the bottom of the heap by the end of high school. Apologists for the status quo sometimes claim that this is because many other nations track their students into vocational and academic programs, and supposedly do not test those in the vocational tracks. “Education at a Glance 2007” shows that isn’t so. Test data for vocational students are available, and show that vocational track students in other wealthy nations actually outperform the overall U.S. average.

Nor do any of the other common excuses for our poor performance hold up. At the elementary and secondary level, the United States spends more than all but two countries (Luxembourg and Switzerland – tax havens, both). Though the United States was once a world leader in the fraction of our student population that completes college, we have been caught and surpassed in that regard. With 34% of our students going on to graduate from college in 2005, we now fall below the average of the OECD, and in 13th place overall.

The reason we now lag in this area is not hard to fathom: We are tied for the highest college dropout rate in the whole of the OECD, 46 percent. The problem is not that our colleges are inaccessible, it is that our elementary and high schools have failed to prepare students for college. They can get in. They just can’t cut it once they’re there.

At the college level, we have consumer choice and competition between public and private providers, and our college system is still the envy of the world, according to the OECD’s “At a Glance” report. At the K-12 level, we have a monopoly in which most students are automatically assigned to government-run schools. The first works, the second doesn’t. The policy ramifications should be pretty obvious to anyone who actually cares about educational outcomes.