Health Care Reform: WWJD?

Today’s post comes from my theologian father:

There was a man (M) going down from Jerusalem to Jericho who needed health care (Luke 10:25-37).  All bypassers were free to provide for him or keep walking.  The Priest (P) and the Levite (L) used their freedom in one way and the Samaritan (S) used his the another way.

WWJD?  He said do what S did.  (M’s quality of care was outstanding.)

WWJND?  He did not say that S, P, and L should agree on the level of care and funding for M and chip in.  Maybe He realized that P and L had a bullet-proof majority.  Maybe He realized the time, attention, care, funding, and personal touch of S were very important.  Maybe He realized that even if M got to an inn, the innkeeper would be at risk for exceeding guidelines and would have to wait longer to be reimbursed.  Maybe He realized the devil was in the details and could complicate or possibly compromise M’s care: the timely availability of government run donkeys (ambulances); inns (hospitals); professionals at every point in the chain and in between; plus, auditors to prevent fraud and abuse.  The moral lesson Jesus drew was: use your freedom to care for your neighbor and do not hand it over to P and L if you want your neighbor and yourself to get to Jericho.

Today, millions of Ms are by the side of the road in nursing homes, and the Ps and Ls have already said they want to shrink their funding so they can fund care for the rest of us.  Sympathy and sentiment are wonderful but do not always work well as criteria for good policy.

Jesus was a magnificent policy wonk.

For more on how the Parable of the Good Samaritan applies to health policy, click here and here.

Harold Meyerson is Part of the Problem

I have argued time and again that America’s growing aversion to trade during the past few years is the product of myth perpetuation by campaigning politicians, captured policymakers, TV media charlatans, and woefully ill-informed newspaper columnists. Harold Meyerson always comes to mind as emblematic of this last category, so his fallacy-laden diatribe about the decline of U.S. manufacturing in yesterday’s Washington Post is par for the course.

Meyerson makes some claims that cannot be allowed to stand, such as.

“”We don’t [make things] any more – at least, not like we used to. Since 1987, manufacturing as a share of our gross domestic product has declined 30 percent.”

First of all, please note that Meyerson’s second sentence does nothing to support his first. A decline in the manufacturing sector’s share of the total economy speaks to the rapid growth of other sectors of the economy, but says nothing about the change in U.S. manufacturing output or value-added.

According to data from the 2009 Economic Report of the President, as gathered and reported yesterday by George Mason University Economics Professor Don Boudreaux, since 1987 real U.S. manufacturing output has increased by 81 percent – hardly a sign of manufacturing decline.

The facts – as reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis – demonstrate that real manufacturing value-added reached a record high level in 2007 (the last year for which final data are available).  Notwithstanding the recent recession that has affected all sectors of the economy, U.S. manufacturing has been thriving in recent years.

Second, if the United States doesn’t “make things anymore,” then nobody does. According to data from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, U.S. factories are the world’s most prolific, accounting for 25 percent of global manufacturing value-added. By comparison, Chinese factories account for 10.6 percent.

That may be hard to fathom, given that everyone’s favorite story about shopping in retail establishments these days is that it’s impossible to find anything labeled “Made in the USA.”  But that’s because, increasingly,  U.S. manufacturing produces sophisticated components, such as airplane parts, not consumer goods.

American manufacturing is by no means in decline.  What should be is Meyerson’s myopic way of seeing things.


Get Kids Out of the Detroit Public School System

Oh, the hits keep on coming out of Detroit. From the WSJ today:

Five employees of the Detroit public school system were charged Wednesday with multiple felonies as part of an investigation into alleged corruption and the loss of tens of millions of dollars in school funds.

Here’s my take on the depraved crapulence (not a scatological reference ;))

of the Detroit Public school system and its unions and what to do about it

(and an article here).

It’s Not So They Can Buy You Gender-Appropriate Birthday Gifts

ac_secure_flightStarting Saturday, U.S. airlines are going to start asking you for your birth date and gender when you go to buy tickets. They will hand this information over to the Department of Homeland Security for use in running your name (with these other identifiers) against their watch lists. This is the “Secure Flight” program moving forward.

I copied an image file from the Transportation Security Administration Web site that illustrates the problem TSA is trying to solve. Many different people have the same name. The government wants to do a better job of vetting you against their watch lists.

TSA has done a lot to keep Secure Flight going. It’s been a rolling failure for many years, and at least one serious problem remains: It doesn’t secure air travel. Watch lists don’t include unknown wrongdoers, and eluding identity checks will always be trivially easy (barring a bulletproof, national, cradle-to-grave biometric tracking system).

The privacy problem is simple: Giving better identifying information to the government reduces your privacy by an equivalent amount. Today, that’s not too concerning, and the TSA’s privacy impact analysis for Secure Flight promises they will keep data on most people’s travels for “a short period of time.” But promises can be broken—either in secret, or with the stroke of a pen. And you’ll have no effective recourse when that happens.

According to a Washington Post report, people will not be denied travel if they decline to provide this information. They will just be directed to secondary search. This points to a strategy that a small number of people—people like yourself—can use to have a large influence on this program.

If enough travelers decline to provide information—and threaten not to travel by air—the airlines will be forced into a privacy advocacy role.  To defend their bottom lines, they will lobby against making this data collection mandatory.

As always, protection of your privacy is up to you. Go ahead and indulge your prickly, obstinate side on this one.

It’s the End of the World as We Know it & I Feel Fine

In Florida, land of sunshine, oranges and signs of the apocalypse, a local teachers’ union and public school district have banded together to help make professional development programs available to… private school teachers.

Are you still there? I heard a thud….

This and other shockers have been brought to you by the Florida tax credit scholarship program. The credits give businesses a dollar for dollar tax cut if they donate money to k-12 scholarship granting organizations. The SGOs then help low-income families afford private schooling.

If chambers of commerce around the country want to know how to make real progress in education, they might want to have a look at the Sunshine state.

What Recovery?

Despite the ballyhooed cash-for-clunkers program, retail sales dipped in July. Initial claims for unemployment also rose. Housing continues to be plagued by foreclosures. And many banks are still operating under the burden of toxic assets, which inhibits their ability to provide credit. These are not the recipe for an economic recovery. Yet the Federal Reserve is signalling it thinks a recovery is on the way. And President Obama is making happy talk on the economy.

A recovery may very well technically begin in the 3rd quarter of 2009, as signalled by rising GDP. But it is shaping up to be a jobless and joyless recovery. Firms are finding ever new ways of producing and earning some profits without hiring workers. The prospect of higher taxes for health care and to fund all the bailouts understandably makes businessmen cautious about taking on the liability of new workers.

The administration’s economic policy has been behind the curve. The idea of initiating new federal mandates, like health care and cap-and-trade with the attendant higher taxes, is a sure way to derail an economic recovery. What is needed is less spending and broad-based tax cuts. The administration’s economic policy is the real clunker and it is time to trade it in.

Arrogant Judges

Item:  Judge sends a man to jail for yawning in court.   A six month jail sentence, if you can believe it.  The Cambridge arrest of the Harvard professor was an example of how the police can abuse their power by arresting people for annoying or obnoxious conduct (not real crimes!). 

This is an example of how judges abuse their power in a similar fashion.  Judges do need to maintain order in court, but this judge did not order the man to leave and did not mete out a fine.  If judges are  going to go so far as to jail a spectator, the prisoner ought to be released (in almost all cases) on his/her own recognizance, and the case should be decided by a jury, not the judge (who is now a witness). 

Item:  Judge says his conduct — deflating the tires of someone’s vehicle — wasn’t a “big deal.”  Compared to what sir?  A person who smokes a  marijuana cigarette in her home to alleviate back pain?  Seems to me that we’re lucky this judge was found out on this.  Not the type of thing we should expect or tolerate from a judge (to say the least).

But there is some good news today: When a local cop was speeding through stop signs and red lights without using a siren or flashing lights, and then broadsided a car,  killing Ashley McIntosh, the officer tried to argue that she was immune from a lawsuit because she was on official state business.  Judge Terrence Ney ruled that the cop’s belief that she was acting under special emergency circumstances did not make it so.   This judge understands that in a free society, state agents do not have carte blanche.  Good judging in action.