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Kalamitous Krugman

August 29, 2009 3 comments


In a recent New York Times Op-Ed entitled “Till Debt Does Its Part,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman rebuffs those few reactionary souls who argue that all this debt we are incurring is a bad thing. He assures us,

…don’t fret about this year’s deficit; we actually need to run up federal debt right now and need to keep doing it until the economy is on a solid path to recovery. And the extra debt should be manageable. If we face a potential problem, it’s not because the economy can’t handle the extra debt. Instead, it’s the politics, stupid.

Sometimes you really have to wonder what the standards are for winning a Nobel Prize. We have an economy built on consumer debt which relative to disposable income increased from a low in 1945 to its peak in 2007. As the Daily Reckoning further notes, we have $20 trillion in excess debt to work through over the coming years. Yet while on the private side, we need to pay for our sins, liquidate our debts, allow malinvestments to go belly up and start over on more solid fiscal ground, apparently the public sector can just keep on trucking.

As the sage Mr. Krugman notes,

Right now deficits are actually helping the economy. In fact, deficits here and in other major economies saved the world from a much deeper slump. The longer-term outlook is worrying, but it’s not catastrophic. The only real reason for concern is political. The United States can deal with its debts if politicians of both parties are, in the end, willing to show at least a bit of maturity. Need I say more?

Explain this to me exactly. When are deficits a help to an economy in distress? If the whole reason we are in economic distress is because of a glut of debt, then why is the answer to pour more gasoline on the fire? Any company that still functions in any semblance of a free market knows that if it can’t service its debt, it will be forced to make difficult decisions, potentially opting for bankruptcy. It cannot continually slop at the trough of the debt market.

But Krugman seems to think that the government can have its cake and eat it too. Where a sober person might argue that in hard times, a government must tighten its belt, like a business or a man, Krugman seems to think that incurring more and more debt, in essence stretching out the inevitable painful liquidation whilst creating another debt/currency crisis down the road is better. Why have one financial crisis when you can have two or three stretched out over a longer period of time? You get the sense that Krugman’s agenda is more political than economic sometimes.

Which brings me to my next point. Krugman believes the only reason for concern over the debt is “political.” Proud of this claim, Krugman states, “Need I say more?” Well yes, I think you need do so. Our currency, and the debts run up by our government denominated in our currency are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government; which is to say our money and debt are backed by our economy, our people. If we are in for a prolonged period of negative private sector growth, high unemployment and increased intervention in all aspects of life, especially our economy, how can Krugman make the assumption that the ability to continue adding to our debt solely rests on the “maturity” of the politicians? Can Barney Frank snap his fingers and suddenly make the world buy our paper?

If the politicians wish to be “mature” they can remove themselves from the private sector, slash spending and taxes, let whole swaths of industry go belly up and allow people to foreclose on their homes and pay off their debts. Alternatively, if the politicians wish to be immature, they can do so through intervention and coercion.

Krugman as one might expect opts for the latter, immature route. Mind-numbingly, he proclaims:

If governments had raised taxes or slashed spending in the face of the slump, if they had refused to rescue distressed financial institutions, we could all too easily have seen a full replay of the Great Depression.

As I said, deficits saved the world.

In fact, we would be better off if governments were willing to run even larger deficits over the next year or two. The official White House forecast shows a nation stuck in purgatory for a prolonged period, with high unemployment persisting for years. If that’s at all correct — and I fear that it will be — we should be doing more, not less, to support the economy.

Krugman, going along with his Keynesian (read socialists) brethren, forgets about the failures of all of the interventionism even before his idol FDR ever got into power during the Depression, in addition to the disastrous results of similar policies (which he of course advocated) over the last two decades in Japan. These frauds continue to peddle the same illogical government gobbledygook that prolonged the Depression, all the way to “cash for clunkers”, the modern day equivalent of FDR’s forced killing of crops and slaughtering of pigs.

Mr. Krugman seems to think that interventionism is what saves economies. Might I ask then, why not intervene from the start? If the state is so good at managing crises, why not let it manage all industry in good times as well? Is the free market only sufficient when the Dow is rising? And if deficits are the cure-all, then why do nations ever default on their debt? Why is Zimbabwe the way Zimbabwe is? Could it be that perhaps the central planners are not so divine after all?

To be fair, Krugman, digressing notes:

But what about all that debt we’re incurring? That’s a bad thing, but it’s important to have some perspective. Economists normally assess the sustainability of debt by looking at the ratio of debt to G.D.P. And while $9 trillion is a huge sum, we also have a huge economy, which means that things aren’t as scary as you might thinkHere’s one way to look at it: We’re looking at a rise in the debt/G.D.P. ratio of about 40 percentage points. The real interest on that additional debt (you want to subtract off inflation) will probably be around 1 percent of G.D.P., or 5 percent of federal revenue. That doesn’t sound like an overwhelming burden.

Even though all this debt we’re adding on might not actually be so great, we have a huge economy. Ah, the panacea of the huge (albeit shrinking) economy – an economy based on consumption, services and debt, the hallmarks of any economic powerhouse. He also argues that a rise in debt/GDP of 40% is OK, since this debt will only be 5% of federal revenue, which doesn’t sound so overwhelming. So essentially, because it’s only 5% of a massively-sized federal government which will have ever-decreasing tax revenues necessitating continued debt financing (to pay for more boondoggles), we should be OK to pay off our debt (with devalued dollars I suppose?).

What might our lenders think about that? Krugman has an answer for this too.

Now, this assumes that the U.S. government’s credit will remain good so that it’s able to borrow at relatively low interest rates. So far, that’s still true. Despite the prospect of big deficits, the government is able to borrow money long term at an interest rate of less than 3.5 percent, which is low by historical standards. People making bets with real money don’t seem to be worried about U.S. solvency.

I would challenge the assumption that the US government’s credit will remain good. As Krugman notes, our debt/GDP is going to rise significantly, “The official White House forecast shows a nation stuck in purgatory for a prolonged period, with high unemployment persisting for years,” and as I mentioned government is intervening in the economy on an unprecedented scale, but relax, our friends in the Far East will continue to bankroll us. Krugman should take a page from Milton Friedman’s playbook (along with those of Hayek, von Mises and Bastiat) and remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch. All government can do for “revenue,” is directly tax, or indirectly tax through issuing debt (taxing future generations and/or devaluing the currency) or printing money.

While Krugman argues that the people “making bets” don’t seem worried about our solvency, as numerous publications have noted, the Chinese are buying less treasuries and stockpiling commodities (however short-lived the Times may think it will be), indicating that they are diversifying out of dollar-denominated assets. Meanwhile, the government has had to take the drastic measure of purchasing its own Treasuries, with the Fed committing to buy $300bn in notes (i.e. printing $300bn) and also monetizing the debt more discretely. In other words, the government has had to keep its own borrowing costs down artificially, making up for the lack of demand of its primary dealers by bidding for its own debt. But look at the YTD yield curve for the 10-Year Treasury, and tell me that the markets aren’t reacting at all to our fiscal recklessness:


Moreover, just because rates haven’t spiked by 500bps in the last year, does that mean that market participants really aren’t scared about our solvency? Markets can stay irrational for long periods of time, just look at the housing bubble or any of the other bubbles which after the fact have seemed so obvious. Further, I would argue that creditors like China are being perfectly rational. The Chinese are trying to shift their money towards assets with real tangible value like commodities, while doing as little as possible to spook the government debt markets, because doing so would hurt the value of their own paper. If they flooded the markets with Treasuries, all of their dollar-denominated assets would plummet in price. It’s not in their interest for there to be a run on the US government yet. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t slowly but surely make their exit from US paper assets, leading to higher borrowing costs for our government and less confidence in our dollar. As I mentioned, there is no free lunch.

Krugman notes that other governments that have practiced similar profligacy like Belgium and Italy never faced financial crises in the early 1990s, but there are obvious notable differences. We are the biggest economy in the world. We were the most prosperous one. We have the world’s reserve currency. We are not accustomed to the kind of fiscal stagnancy faced in Europe. I just do not see that Krugman’s comparisons hold water. A more apt comparison in my eyes would be the US versus the British Empire circa its collapse.

Regardless, I want to return to the fundamental point that going into more debt to solve a problem caused by too much debt makes no sense. One might argue that sometimes debt can be beneficial and not cause long term harm. One might cry that parents are right to take out a mortgage on a house to raise their children. If the family can reasonably expect to generate the cash flows to retire this debt over time, then this will certainly be fine. But the US is like one giant family of drug-addled deadbeats looking to buy a mansion in the Hamptons, having already foreclosed on its subprime mortgage, maxed out all of its credit cards and traded in its Rolexes to the local pawn shop. And its only cash flows are those it can obtain by plundering its citizenry.

Debt is OK if you can reasonably expect to pay it off. To incur even greater debt in the face of debt that you will already be unable to service is downright immoral and will lead to severe consequences for the people.

These deficits in and of themselves are also not productive. They represent a stealing of wealth from future generations. As I mentioned, the only way to pay down the debt will be to tax future Americans, either directly or indirectly through inflating the money supply and thus devaluing the currency. Further, regarding what the debts are actually being used to finance, as I have argued in accordance with sound Austrian economics, the deficit spending for bailing out failing ventures stops the market from naturally adjusting, and leads to less productive if not downright destructive “jobs,” and labor being diverted from the private sector.

So in some respects again, Krugman is right that our politicians need to be mature. But the people get the government they deserve, and as of yet though there have been some bright signs, the majority of people don’t seem to want to deal with the pain that mature servants would bring them today for a brighter tomorrow.

It is worth noting that in Krugman’s delusion, he actually makes a redeeming comment:

Over the really long term, however, the U.S. government will have big problems unless it makes some major changes. In particular, it has to rein in the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending.

He actually has me for a second, until the subsequent stanzas:

That shouldn’t be hard in the context of overall health care reform. After all, America spends far more on health care than other advanced countries, without better results, so we should be able to make our system more cost-efficient.

But that won’t happen, of course, if even the most modest attempts to improve the system are successfully demagogued — by conservatives! — as efforts to “pull the plug on grandma.”

Keep it classy, Paul.

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On the Principle of National Healthcare

August 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” – Frederic Bastiat



Pundits, pontificators and plebeians all have polarized around the issue of national healthcare. Many have spoken wisely on the pros and cons of the proposed system, a heartening fact given the relative deafening silence when it came to the other government boondoggles of the last few years (really the last hundred to be exact). At the heart of the matter is a debate fundamental to our liberty that the public has failed to have. This regards the broader ramifications of a government-granted right to health.



Aristotle said that man seeks pleasure while avoiding pain. Healthcare is a means to prevent physical pain, and thus I would argue secure pleasure. However, a need for healthcare is dictated by one’s physical condition. One’s physical condition is attributable to a variety of factors. First, there is the question of diet. Then, there are one’s living conditions, namely shelter and clothing. Surely there is a psychosomatic factor as well. Finally of course, there is the question of one’s physical activity level.



If we are to allow healthcare to fall under the purview of government, then certainly it must follow that all things that contribute to one’s health must also be regulated by the government.



Thus, necessarily each and every citizen will have a responsibility to provide ample food, sufficient shelter and clean clothing for each and every other citizen. Likewise, it should follow that the types of food be regulated to ensure an optimal diet, and the shelter and clothing be comfortable enough and of high enough quality to meet government standards. Since one needs a stable living environment, should not the government also have a say as to how children are raised within their homes? Naturally one’s mental health might also be tied to access to diversions, so should not all entertainment such as the arts, film and sports also be government-controlled and taxpayer-subsidized? Should not exercise be mandated, with government-run physical fitness centers for all? What scares me most is that in writing this list, government already controls many of these things in one way or another.



Naturally, a government-run system of healthcare will lead to arbitrary, whimsical intrusions into our daily lives. Who is to set the bounds as to what constitutes proper controls to make the system “competitive” and “affordable,” when the Ezekiel Emanuel’s of the world will influence the system?



Much like the Necessary and Proper Clause, nationalized healthcare will serve as a Trojan horse; it will lead to the greatest infringement on our natural rights of all, infringement on our lives. You’d think the state would already be satisfied having devoured our liberty and property (pursuit of happiness if you prefer), but always hungry for more power, under this system it will get personal.



Perhaps scarier than the details of this system, devilish as they may be is the principle that from the first day we spend on this Earth, given a right to health for all, our responsibility will be to provide for our fellow man, valuing the community above ourselves. If one were to choose to dedicate one’s life to supporting others, of one’s own volition, than this would be fine. The merits of sacrifice for others are numerous and in many cases commendable. However, under a national healthcare system, because of a handful of politicians, we will be forced from day one to work to support everyone else, because the state says so. In the end, we will all be enslaved to each other. Our common lot will be one of misery.



Call me selfish. Call me greedy. Call me immoral. I value my life above yours, insofar as the Leviathan is forcing me to subsidize your eating habits, drinking habits, smoking habits mental health and genetic predisposition. I do not want to be forced to pay for your healthcare by government decree, nor should I. The Founders guarantees my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To presuppose that the collectives’ right supersedes my own destroys these very rights. It ensures pain for all and pleasure for none.



I leave you with some prescient words from Grover Cleveland – the last respectable Democrat – regarding his reasoning for rejection of an act to appropriate federal funds for drought-stricken Texas farmers. He declared:

The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of the kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.

From FDR to Obama – the Destruction of Our Rights

May 26, 2009 1 comment


Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a “Second Bill of Rights” during his State of the Union Address in 1944. He noted that while “under the protection of certain inalienable rights…our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness….true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” He argued that we “cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.” Under the auspices of “economic security and independence,” FDR laid out the following list of rights for the American people:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

During and after FDR’s presidency, many programs were taken up to establish these so-called rights. The US government implemented a minimum wage with the hopes of providing people with a baseline level of income to be able to pay for life’s necessities, and created unemployment insurance so that people would have sufficient money to purchase goods when they lost their jobs. They created agricultural subsidies to protect farmers. They implemented all sorts of regulations and restrictions to stop (certain) companies from dominating their competitors. They created HUD and devised the CRA to force lenders to finance housing for those who were less well off, to ensure the “American dream of home ownership.” They provided healthcare for the old and poor. They created Social Security to allow the old to receive checks after they were retired. They expanded public education and pushed for everyone to receive a college degree. They empowered the Federal Reserve to flatten the business cycle and protect against recessions.

Today, King Obama looks to be finishing off the dirty work of the progressives of the last century. He is pushing for “fair” credit card charges, universal healthcare, onerous governmental control of business under the guise of environmental protection, government control of college loans and empathetic justices who understand the concerns of everyone who is not white, male or wealthy.

Essential to the justification for this platform is FDR’s argument that there be equality in the pursuit of happiness, and that “individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” What those like FDR and Obama mean is that there is not equality as an outcome of the pursuit of happiness, i.e. equality of condition. By economic security and independence, FDR and the King mean that people need safeguards so that they can keep their jobs, pay for products and be comfortable in retirement.

All of the ends that these progressives seek seem admirable, but the means to achieve them end up making it impossible for the ends to be obtained. Nobody wants to see masses of unemployed, sickly or uneducated people. But the government policies implemented to protect against these problems – to guarantee the “rights” listed above – end up leaving people unemployed, unhealthy and uneducated. They impoverish the citizens by destroying the inalienable rights that even FDR admits allowed the US to gain its strength as the world superpower.

It was not economic security or independence that allowed our country to thrive, but a system in which people voluntarily traded and had the opportunity to innovate and take entrepreneurial risks. Failure, not economic security, had to be a motivator because there was no safeguard against it; no notion of being too-big-to-fail. If you failed, you simply had to pick up and try again. The Federal Reserve in attempting to protect against failure ends up leaving the people economically insecure by decreasing their purchasing power and savings through inflating the money supply, and by incentivizing people to allocate resources improperly through the manipulation of money and credit which leads to the painful boom and bust cycle. The moral hazard created by providing safeguards against failing, be it in business or in one’s own life ends up weakening the people.

Economic security and independence come as a result of our rights to life, liberty and property, not the other way around. The best thing the government can do to ensure these rights, the rights that lead us to maximum wealth, the fullest employment for those who seek it, the best and cheapest medical care and the most practical and affordable education is simply to protect its citizens from attacks on their individual rights. Individual rights, not entitlements. Entitlements beget more entitlements. Entitlements breed laziness in the citizenry. Entitlements cause people to take things for granted. Freedom is the one thing that cannot be taken for granted. As Reagan put it, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”

If you disagree with this in principle, then look at the results of the governments’ policies, those policies representing the antithesis of freedom. The US populace is probably dumber than it has been at any other time in history, even though a greater number of people are graduating from public high schools and attending colleges than ever before. Our economy teeters on the brink of collapse. Our government is larger, more intrusive and more corrupt than it has ever been. It is also effectively bankrupt minus its monopoly power to print money; interesting that it can have this monopoly power while also protecting people from “unfair business competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.”

Other examples of government failures abound. Amtrak is a money-loser, as is essentially all public transportation. If public transportation is not a money-loser, then I would venture to guess that it still isn’t as cheap or efficient as private alternatives. The US postal service is nowhere near as effective as FedEx. The DMV is a joke. The purchasing power of our dollar has decreased by over 95% since being under full control of the Federal Reserve, and we have had more frequent recessions than prior to the Fed’s creation. In countries with nationalized healthcare, we see that the price of better-quality, private healthcare increases, while public healthcare services leave people waiting sometimes for months on end for essential medical procedures. People flee to the US if their lives are in danger with good reason. If King Obama gets his way, they will have nowhere to flee anymore. Ironically, when it comes to almost every sector of our economy, while economists would have you believe that government corrects market failures, it appears that we would be far better if markets corrected government failures.

In the final analysis, there is not one good or service that the government provides that is cheaper and better than the equivalent one in the private sector, with the caveat that in terms of defense, only the government can coordinate the forces necessary to effectively protect us. And even then, the government outsources weapons development and certain tactical supports to private defense companies. And even then, the government screws up at times in the way it carries out its wars.

I want to reiterate that only the market can provide the people with the best goods and services at the best prices. This is the same for credit as it is for housing as it is for healthcare. If you take the market out of the equation and try to centrally plan, in the end you impoverish society and leave a nation to anarchy and revolution. Through a dictatorship, which is what the Second Bill of Rights effectively creates (a tyrannical government), you create the unemployed and the hungry that FDR speaks of.

With the burgeoning deficits at the state and national levels, the impending tsunami of inflation and the undermining of the rule of law and protection of life, liberty and property by our leaders, it looks as if in their quest to grant us the Second Bill of Rights, they have also destroyed the rights granted to us by an authority higher than that of our politicians, our natural ones.