Leonhardt on Health Care Spending, Part II

A few weeks ago, David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrestled with the problem of health care spending.  In his column today, he inches closer to the question he’s dying to ask: how can we reduce health care spending without increasing costs?  (Here I see the fingerprints of Cato’s Arnold Kling, whom Leonhardt cites, as well as GMU’s Tyler Cowen.)

Readers of Cato@Liberty know I’m skeptical of a solution that Leonhardt offers: having the Medicare bureaucracy pay more for what it considers “quality” medical care.  It’s not that I think “pay-for-performance” is a bad idea – I think it’s a good idea that Medicare will undoubtedly ruin

At a Cato policy forum on November 2, I will be joined by Harvard’s David Cutler, National Medical Association president Sandra Gadson, and former Medicare administrator Gail Wilensky to discuss whether that’s so.

The Global Warming Cult

Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle penned a spot-on essay the other day regarding the manner in which the warming crowd has donned the trappings of a religious cult.  The true faith has even managed to claim a large number of scientists who one might think would resist the rather unscientific nature of this particular belief system.  Her opening paragraph sets the tone:

GLOBAL WARMING is a religion, not science. That’s why acolytes in the media attack global-warming critics, not with scientific arguments, but for their apostasy. Then they laud global-warming believers, not for reducing greenhouse gases, but simply for believing global warming is a coming catastrophe caused by man. The important thing is to have faith in those who warn: The End Is Near.

Unfortunately, the media is largely blind to the increasing weirdness of the debate and seems to have signed on as PR operatives for the New Church of the Earth Redeemed.

This is a theme I’ve hammered on before in these pages, but Saunders does a better job than I have highlighting the rather unscientific demeanor of our self-proclaimed guardians of scientific truth.  Worth reading.

Friday. Orange County. Property Rights.

This Friday afternoon the Federalist Society of Chapman University Law School in Orange, California, will present a seminar (.pdf) on property rights, eminent domain, and California’s Proposition 90. The leadoff speaker will be Timothy Sandefur, author of the new Cato book Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in the 21st Century.

Here you can also find information about upcoming speaking events by Sandefur in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Berkeley.

Net Regulation Proponent Concedes: Markets Work

Other than the religious devotees of regulation, most observers of the drive for “network neutrality” regulation have recognized that the essential question is whether there is sufficient competition among broadband providers.  If there is enough competition, broadband providers can’t use their market power to do bad things to consumers and public utility regulation of broadband is not needed.

Columbia law professor and champion of net neutrality regulation Tim Wu is quoted in the October 14 Economist admitting consumers’ power to influence broadband providers:

“The public reaction has already been as powerful and effective as any law,” says Timothy Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School who is credited with coining the term “net neutrality”. The debate has put the telecoms companies on notice that they are being watched closely, he says, and has forced them to make public pledges not to block or degrade access. “Shame can have more power than litigation,” says Mr Wu. “The market and consumers can control bad practices, but consumers actually have to be aware of what is going on for that to happen.”

It’s an interesting strategic and ethical question whether brandishing the regulation cudgel is appropriate, but as long as it’s agreed that consumers have influence in the broadband marketplace, that question can wait for another day.

Christian Toleration

I’ve just seen an interesting new book, The Choice Principle: The Biblical Case for Legal Toleration, by Andy G. Olree, who is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, where he studied under Richard Epstein and Michael McConnell, and now teaches law at Faulkner University’s Jones School of Law. The book presents an evangelical Christian argument for a legal framework that tolerates most “sinful” choices by individuals.

Olree writes, “The Choice Principle posits that Christians are called to influence law and government in ways that maximize opportunities for human freedom of choice–that is, for individual autonomy.” And he applies that principle in ways that might surprise critics of the religious right, to issues ranging from prostitution and homosexuality to Social Security.

He criticizes Roy Moore, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson as “fearmongers” who “simplistically reduce complex societal problems to…the age-old struggle of good versus evil.” But he also takes on more academically serious defenses of enforced morality, devoting an entire chapter to a critique of Princeton professor Robert George’s book Making Men Moral.

Christians and libertarians could learn a lot about each other from reading this book. Or to be more careful with my language: Christian libertarians will find this book an effective presentation of a principle they likely agree with. Non-Christian libertarians and non-libertarian evangelical Christians will find it a provocative challenge.

It’s Not about Same-Sex Marriage

The lead headline in the Washington Post on Tuesday reads “53% of Voters Say They Back Va. Same-Sex Marriage Ban.” Slate’s “Today’s Papers,” reporting on that story, says it shows that “Virginia voters [are] supporting a ban on gay marriage.” Washington’s public-radio WAMU refers to the upcoming vote as “the proposed ban on gay marriage.”

All these journalists are doing the supporters’ work for them. Bans on gay marriage have passed everywhere they’ve been placed on the ballot. That’s what the supporters of the Virginia amendment want voters to think they’re voting on. But that’s not what the Virginia amendment really does.

Same-sex marriage is already prohibited in Virginia, and there’s no prospect of legislative or judicial change in that fact. So this amendment is touted as banning something that is already banned.

The real impact of the amendment can be seen in its second sentence:

This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage. [emphasis added]

It’s not just about same-sex couples, and it’s not just about marriage. The law firm of Arnold & Porter analyzed [pdf] the amendment and concluded:

the [proposed Virginia] Amendment could be interpreted by Virginia courts to have the following effects:

  • Invalidate rights and protections currently provided to unmarried couples under Virginia’s domestic violence laws;
  • Undermine private employers’ efforts to attract top employees to Virginia by providing employee benefits to domestic partners, as the courts and public medical facilities may not be permitted to recognize those benefits; and
  • Prevent the courts from enforcing –

– private agreements between unmarried couples,
– child custody and visitation rights, and
– end-of-life arrangements, such as wills, trusts and advance medical directives, executed by unmarried couples.

The firm went on to say: “This exceedingly broad and untested language is the most expansive such proposal ever to have been put before the voters of any state.”

Journalists should not call this “the proposed amendment to ban same-sex marriage.” Rather, they should give readers and listeners a more accurate summary, along the lines of “the proposed amendment to restrict gay rights” or “the amendment on unmarried couples.”

Getting Data Breach in Perspective

Indiana University law professor and cybersecurity/informatics expert Fred Cate wrote sensibly in this weekend’s Washington Post about data security and identity fraud.  “The fact is that few if any [data] breaches lead to identity theft or other consumer injuries.”

When a Department of Veterans Affairs laptop with data on 26.5 million veterans was stolen earlier this year, VA notified all of them and asked Congress for $160.5 million to cover the cost of one year of credit monitoring.  Even if the laptop had not been returned (the data untouched), this reaction would have been overkill.

Washington has a hard time responding to problems dispassionately and proportionately.  If only this failing could be the crisis du jour - even just for a day.