A Challenge to Jesse Larner

Over at Huffington Post, Jesse Larner has a lengthy piece on Michael Moore’s film SiCKO and the right-wing reaction to it. Larner calls SiCKO “a clumsy piece of propaganda” and thoughtfully explains how Moore is dead wrong when it comes to the health care systems (and the overall economies) of France and Cuba. Larner concludes that SiCKO is so irresponsible that Moore ultimately injures his own cause.

Unfortunately, Larner stumbles quite a bit. He claims that people don’t die on waiting lists in Canada’s health care system. Canada’s Supreme Court disagrees. He claims that America’s relatively high infant mortality rates make our system obviously worse than other nations. That claim is dubious, since we tend to try to save premature infants that other nations don’t. He makes the same claim about our mediocre life expectancy statistics; but once one controls for fatal injuries and homicides, our life expectancy stats come out better than all other advanced nations’. (If life expectancy really is a “measur[e] of international health care quality,” then does that mean our health care system is the best? I’m not sure, but Larner must think so.) He repeats persistent myths about administrative costs in Canada and America. And he speaks of the bureaucratization and rationing in Canadian and British versions of socialized medicine as if these were unfortunate choices rather than inevitabilities.

Larner also misrepresents the perspectives of Cato scholars. Setting aside whether libertarians are part of the right wing, here are the two places where Larner mentions Cato health policy scholars:

  1. “[T]he trends that emerge show that the American free enterprise system of health care is doing worse than the folks at the Cato Institute would like you to believe, and that socialized medicine systems are doing better.”
  2. “The free enterprise people at Cato and the Heritage Foundation are always moaning about the enormous cost of preventive medicine.”

I am somewhat familiar with Cato’s health policy work, and those depictions do not ring true. I challenge Larner to show where a Cato scholar either (1) describes America’s as a “free enterprise system of health care,” or (2) “moan[s] about the enormous cost of preventive medicine.” I could be wrong, but I suspect he will have difficulty substantiating either claim.

Finally, Larner writes, “these issues [that Moore raises] are important and deserve a better hearing than either Moore or the reactionary right is willing to give them.” Cato has been giving those issues a good hearing. See here and here. (Another reason not to lump libertarians in with the right-wingers.)

Recessed Enlightenment

With Congress adjourned for its August recess, Americans can enjoy a brief respite from the steady stream of bad legislation that typically emanates from the Capitol.

But wouldn’t it be nice if Congress stayed out of Washington for a bit longer?

Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) recalled a conversation with former Senator Jim Eastland (D-Miss.) about the way Congress used to deal with the summer heat:

“‘Before we had air conditioning,’ he said, ‘that sun would beat down on that dome, heat up that place,’ he said. ‘It would get too hot and we’d leave Washington, and we’d leave for the year,’” Biden quoted Eastland as saying.

“‘Then we got air conditioning, stayed year-round and ruined America.’”

No Right to Life?

Open the newspaper, turn on the television, or surf the net, and you’ll find people saying the government can solve our problems and make life better.  This is the happy face of government:

Behind the happy face is an institution that is willing to strip of us of our right to self-defense, and, worse, deprive dying patients of life-saving drugs.   Who do these politicians and bureaucrats think they are?

For more on the right to life, go here, here, and here (pdf).

Health Care: Why Pols Can’t (or Won’t) Identify the Problem

Arnold Kling writes:

The biggest incentive problem in health care is the insulation from costs under comprehensive health insurance.

Yet most politicians’ idea of health care reform involves expanding insulation.  I’ve got a theory to explain why.

“Insulation” is another term for spending Other People’s Money.  Politicians are predisposed not to see spending Other People’s Money as a problem, because spending Other People’s Money is what politicians do for a living.  If politicians thought there were something wrong with it, they would be in a different line of work. 

If, by some epiphany, a politician were to realize that spending Other People’s Money is wrecking our health care sector, he would be loath to point it out.  Doing so would only encourage voters to question whether spending Other People’s Money causes problems everywhere else too.

Sneaky Sequentialism

Amid the current debate over expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program – as well as every other attempt to expand federal control over America’s health care sector – opponents accuse proponents of incrementally moving America toward a government-run system.  The strategy seems to be:

First, we let government programs, the tax code, and special-interest-driven regulation slowly kill private markets.  Second, we have government take over each area as it collapses: first health care for the elderly, then the poor, then the kids, then the near-elderly.  Lather, rinse, and repeat until government controls it all.

Left-wing politicians pursue this strategy because they know American voters won’t swallow socialized medicine all at once.  (Just look at what happened to the Clinton health plan.)  And they don’t speak openly about it, because they know voters are less likely to swallow SCHIP expansion if they see where it’s headed. 

That’s why it was so refreshing to read what Ezra Klein blogged while attending the YearlyKos convention last weekend:

At the health care panel, Kathleen Stoll, from Families USA, says, “some of you may think of me as an incrementalist. I prefer to think of myself as a sneaky sequentialist.”

I think I prefer the term “sneaky sequentialism” too.  “Incrementalism” doesn’t necessarily suggest an ultimate destination.  “Sequentialism” suggests there is a destination, and a mind consciously devising a plan to get us there.

In an upcoming briefing paper on SCHIP, I note how that program fits the Left’s sequentialist strategy, and identify Families USA among the “Baptists” who seek to expand SCHIP because that would move us toward total government control of the health care sector.

Pandering to the Protectionists

Given the audience, one could have expected a goodly amount of protectionist rhetoric from the Democratic presidential candidates in their debate last night at an AFL-CIO forum. But at times it seemed as though they were battling to see who among them could pander the most.

Dennis Kucinich has never been a promoter of open trade and markets, so it is hardly surprising that he said withdrawing from NAFTA and the WTO would be a “first week in office” priority. Thank goodness he’s not a serious candidate. What is worrisome is the cheers his pledge elicited. Do the members of the AFL-CIO truly believe that if two of our largest trade partners (Canada and Mexico) increased their tariffs on American goods, that would somehow benefit them? Is the WTO seen as such a negative force overall that withdrawing from its forums and its legal protections is perceived as wise?

The other candidates, to their credit, did not match Mr Kucinich’s pledge. But that is to damn them with faint praise, however, as most of them did undertake to “revise” trade agreements, including NAFTA, (presumably by putting in more stringent rules on labor and environmental provisions) and to put more emphasis on enforcement of trade agreements. None of them, not even Senator Clinton, whose husband showed a commendable commitment to trade during his time in office, stood up and defended the benefits of trade.

Senator Obama, given the chance to acknowledge the positive effect of trade on working families – i.e., cheap goods – demurred, making an emotive, if economically illiterate, point about how a cheap T-shirt is useless if one doesn’t have a job. As though the U.S. economy was not demonstrating that consumers can have access to cheaper goods as well as record employment.

Perhaps the next Democratic presidential candidates debate should be held at a consumer- or taxpayer-group forum.