Hurray for a Bigger Welfare State!

The Bush administration is deeply infused with a pro-spending, welfare state mentality. It may contain a few conservative officials scattered here and there, but the vast machinery of the Republican executive branch churns out spending proposals, regulations, and big government propaganda just as prior Democratic ones did.

Consider this June 5 press release from the USDA , wherein higher spending and more recipients of government welfare is always a good thing.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns says proudly: “We have increased our nutrition assistance budget by 70 percent since 2001 and we proposed that the 2007 Farm Bill do even more to increase access and participation in USDA programs to help those in need.”

Here’s one particularly silly statement: ”Today’s report highlights the recent growth in the Food Stamp Program — the largest Federal nutrition assistance program, and the nation’s first line of defense against hunger.”

Of course, free markets are the real “first line of defense against hunger.” Has no one in the administration read Adam Smith? It is the self-interest of the butcher, brewer, and baker that we can thank for providing our dinner.

Tyranny Can Be Fun

The Washington Post has a travel article about Atlantic City featuring a brief review of this amusing little bar in the Tropicana Casino:

We stopped at Reichstag (no cover!), a bar with faux-Nazi decor. A portrait of Hitler hangs over the hostess station, and the light fixtures are shaped like Nuremberg Rally torches. For $12.75, I enjoyed the best Pilsner I’ve ever had.

Not so funny? How about this:

We stopped at Red Square (no cover!), a vodka bar with faux-Commie decor. A portrait of Lenin hangs over the hostess station, and the light fixtures are shaped like the turrets of St. Basil’s. For $12.75, I enjoyed the best vodka tonic I’ve ever had.

Is it funnier now?

Dynastic Politics in the Cowboy State?

We Americans know that the head of state in a monarchy is an inherited position. But we rebelled against that system and created a republic, in which men (and later women) would be chosen to lead the republic on the basis of their own accomplishments, not their family ties.

Sure, we had the Adamses, and we may well be fortunate that neither George Washington nor Thomas Jefferson had a son. And there are other dynasties, often connected to one state, like the Longs of Louisiana and the Breckinridges of Kentucky. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen is the sixth member of his family to represent New Jersey in Congress, dating back to the 18th century. One of his ancestors inspired the classic campaign song, “Hurrah, hurrah, the country’s risin’/For Henry Clay and Frelinghuysen!”

And today, of course, we face the prospect of replacing the son of a former president in the White House with the wife of a former president. We may have 24 or more years of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton.

One leading Republican strategist has recommended that Florida governor Jeb Bush run for president this year, on the grounds that — in this of all years — he won’t lose points for being a dynastic candidate. What is the opposing party going to say, “Don’t vote for the president’s brother, vote for the other president’s wife instead”?

But it goes beyond Bushes and Clintons these days. In a country formed in rebellion against dynastic government, some 18 members of the U. S. Senate gained office at least in part through family ties, along with dozens of House members.

And now … Wyoming? The Cowboy State, the Equality State, the home of wide-open spaces, rugged individualists, and yeoman ranchers — Wyoming is about to choose a senator to replace the late Sen. Craig Thomas. And according to the Washington Post, the most likely choices are

Lynne Cheney, whose husband served as a congressman from Wyoming before becoming vice president; state House Majority Floor Leader Colin Simpson, the son of former senator Alan K. Simpson; and two of Thomas’s three sons, Greg and Patrick.

Say it ain’t so, Wyoming. Show the Washington elite that celebrity and connections don’t cut as much ice in the Cowboy State as they do in the imperial capital. This is a republic, not an empire. If we can’t demonstrate that in Wyoming, what hope is there for the rest of us?

On Health Care, Giuliani Sounds Like Arnold Kling

Over at U.S. News & World Report, James Pethokoukis has a piece titled, “GOP Debate: Giuliani’s Libertarian Health Reform,” where he echoes my observation that Rudy Giuliani gave the best health care answer of all the GOP presidential candidates in the most recent debate — sounding even more libertarian than libertarian Ron Paul. 

Pethokoukis writes:

It will be fascinating if Giuliani pursues these ideas since they provide a clear choice vs. the Democratic health plans, which all call for increased government intervention one way or another. But what Giuliani is doing is far more radical than his folksy debate answer suggests. Essentially, he is calling for the complete abolition of the current way healthcare insurance operates in the United States. It echoes the analysis of libertarian economist Arnold Kling, who argues that what Americans have right now is health insulation, not health insurance.

Those interested in further reading should check out Kling’s book, Crisis of Abundance: Rethinking How We Pay for Health Care.

Europeans Continue to Flee

Immigration is not just about Latin Americans moving to the United States for higher wages. It is also about Europeans moving to just about anywhere that has lower taxes.

A column in the Washington Times explains that, as a result, most of Europe’s major economies are suffering a significant brain drain:

Last year more than 155,000 Germans emigrated from their native country. Since 2004 the number of ethnic Germans who leave each year is greater than the number of immigrants moving in. …In a survey conducted in 2005 among German university students, 52 percent said they would rather leave their native country than remain there. …Some complain that the tax rates in Germany are so high that it is no longer worthwhile working for a living there.

…The situation is similar in other countries in Western Europe. Since 2003, emigration has exceeded immigration to the Netherlands. In 2006, the Dutch saw more than 130,000 compatriots leave. …In Belgium the number of emigrants surged by 15 percent in the past years. In Sweden, 50,000 people packed their bags last year — a rise of 18 percent compared to the previous year and the highest number of Swedes leaving since 1892. In the United Kingdom, almost 200,000 British citizens move out every year.

Americans who think that the European welfare state is the model to follow would do well to ponder the question why, if Europe is so wonderful, Europeans are fleeing from it. European welfare systems are redistribution mechanisms, taking money from skilled and educated Europeans….

[A] German sociologist at the University of Bremen, warns European governments that they are mistaken if they assume that qualified young ethnic Europeans will stay in Europe. “The really qualified are leaving,” Mr. Heinsohn says. “The only truly loyal towards France and Germany are those who are living off the welfare system, because there is no other place in the world that offers to pay for them…. It is no wonder that young, hardworking people in France and Germany choose to emigrate,” he explains.

A Gem from Pearlstein

In this morning’s Washington Post (man, I need to do my blogging earlier in the day), business columnist Steven Pearlstein dings Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for “demonizing the drug companies and health insurers, and turning them into opponents” when she should be enlisting their support for health care reform.

Pearlstein’s column includes this gem:

[Y]ou have to have a pretty finely calibrated moral yardstick to see how drug companies and insurers are any worse than hospitals and doctors, who profit just as handsomely from the current system and have been just as dogged in opposing reasonable reform. And you could add to that list the medical-equipment makers, laboratories and nursing-home operators.

Yes, there are plenty of bootleggers behind government control of health care.  Here’s hoping they don’t start making nice-nice with the Baptists.

Armey Wades into Swampland

Former House majority leader Dick Armey is guest blogging at Time magazine’s Swampland blog about health care and other issues.

When Armey argued against government subsidies and price regulation, Time’s Jay Carney asked a couple of good questions. Here’s how I would have answered them.

“Would we really be better off if we could shop around for the best price on a quadruple bypass? Or chemotherapy?” 

I suggest Carney ask Howard Staab, a 56-year old uninsured contractor in North Carolina who needed a heart valve repaired in 2004. Durham Regional charged $200,000, which Staab couldn’t possibly afford. So he went to India, where a former associate professor of medicine from NYU performed the surgery in a quality hospital for just $10,000. (Mike Tanner and I wrote about Staab and patients with similar stories in our delightful book.)

We don’t need every quadruple bypass candidate to shop around, or to shop internationally, or to shop just on the basis of price.  If only a few of them do so — economists call them the “marginal consumers” — we will establish the kind of competition that reduces prices and improves quality even for patients who don’t have the luxury of time.

“Wouldn’t that lead to even greater disparities between the quality of care received by rich and poor?” 

Personally, I’m mostly concerned with developing better medical care, and making those innovations available to the poor as quickly as possible. Market competition is the best tool for doing so. Other approaches either stifle innovation or keep prices way too high for the poor to afford.