Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - Is There a 'Right' to Health Care? - Opinion: Is There a ‘Right’ to Health Care?

If there is a right to health care, someone has the duty to provide it. Inevitably, that “someone” is the government. Concrete benefits in pursuance of abstract rights, however, can be provided by the government only by constant coercion.

The question of health care is not one of rights but of how best in practice to organize it. America is certainly not a perfect model in this regard. But neither is Britain, where a universal right to health care has been recognized longest in the Western world.

Not coincidentally, the U.K. is by far the most unpleasant country in which to be ill in the Western world. Even Greeks living in Britain return home for medical treatment if they are physically able to do so.

Universality is closely allied as an ideal, ideologically, to that of equality. But equality is not desirable in itself. To provide everyone with the same bad quality of care would satisfy the demand for equality. (Not coincidentally, British survival rates for cancer and heart disease are much below those of other European countries, where patients need to make at least some payment for their care.)

In any case, the universality of government health care in pursuance of the abstract right to it in Britain has not ensured equality. After 60 years of universal health care, free at the point of usage and funded by taxation, inequalities between the richest and poorest sections of the population have not been reduced. But Britain does have the dirtiest, most broken-down hospitals in Europe.



Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - New Jersey's 'Italian' Problem - Opinion: New Jersey’s ‘Italian’ Problem

Big Government is the reason New Jersey ranks as the worst of 50 states on the Small Business Survival Index. And Big Government is a leading reason New Jersey has a “corruption problem” that an FBI agent at Friday’s press conference characterized as “one of the worst, if not the worst, in the nation.”

Sandy McClure, co-author of the book “The Soprano State: New Jersey’s Culture of Corruption,” agrees that big government is a big reason behind the state’s corruption problem. “You have all these little authorities that everyone has to go to for permission,” she says. “Too much government means too many opportunities for officials looking to cash in. And there’s no way that the press can keep track of it all.”

Ms. McClure is right: The more extensive government’s reach, the more opportunities the governing class has to steal from and shake down the productive class.

The point is that politicians and officials have more to sell in an environment of high taxes, big spending and overregulation—the same things that help explain New Jersey’s anemic economic growth and job creation. When government gets too big and complicated for businesses to get their permits and approvals and funding honestly, the dishonest prosper. And the honest get fed up and flee.



Wednesday, July 22, 2009 - Europe Thumps U.S., Again - Opinion: Europe Thumps U.S., Again

Across the globe, countries are moving ahead with similar bilateral trade deals, often giving their own national companies an edge over U.S. competitors. In a perfect world, all countries would be able to benefit from multilateral trade opening under the Doha Round. But for now bilateral deals are better than nothing, and America is leaving itself behind.



Friday, July 17, 2009 - Obama Needs to 'Reset' His Presidency

Interesting critique from a Democratic Party insider – while I don’t hope the Democrats remain strong in 2010 elections, I do think the advice he gives to get back on track is telling. 


Mr. Van Dyk was Vice President Hubert Humphrey's assistant in the Johnson White House and active in national Democratic politics over 40 years. - Opinion: Obama Needs to 'Reset' His Presidency

What adjustments should be made?

- Cut back both your proposals and expectations. You made promises about jobs that would be "created and saved" by the stimulus package. Those promises have not held up. You continue to engage in hyperbole by claiming that your health-care and energy plans will save tax dollars. Congressional Budget Office analysis indicates otherwise.

It's time to re-examine these initiatives. Could your health plan be scaled back to catastrophic coverage for all -- badly needed by most families, but quite affordable if deductibles are set at the right levels? Should the Rube Goldbergian cap-and-trade proposals be replaced with a simple carbon tax, with proceeds to be allocated to alternative-fuels development?

- Talk less and pick your spots. You are outdoing even Johnson and Mr. Clinton with your daily speeches in the capital and around the country.

Applause and adulation are gratifying. But the more you talk, the less weight your words will hold. Let voters see you at your desk, conferring with serious people about serious matters. When you do choose to talk, people will understand that it's important and they should listen.

- Conform your 2009 politics to your 2008 statements. During your campaign, you called for bipartisanship and bridge-building. You promised to reduce the influence of single-issue and single-interest groups in the policy process. Yet, in your public statements, you keep using President Bush as a scapegoat.



Thursday, July 16, 2009 - Why We Don't Want a Nuclear-Free World - Opinion: Why We Don't Want a Nuclear-Free World


We use nuclear weapons every day, Mr. Schlesinger goes on to explain, "to deter our potential foes and provide reassurance to the allies to whom we offer protection."

"We will need a strong deterrent," he finally says, "and that is measured at least in decades -- in my judgment, in fact, more or less in perpetuity. The notion that we can abolish nuclear weapons reflects on a combination of American utopianism and American parochialism. . . . It's like the [1929] Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war as an instrument of national policy . . . . It's not based upon an understanding of reality."

In other words: Go ahead and wish for a nuclear-free world, but pray that you don't get what you wish for. A world without nukes would be even more dangerous than a world with them, Mr. Schlesinger argues.

Mr. Schlesinger expresses concerns, too, about the safety and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons, all of which are more than 20 years old…  The U.S. is the only major nuclear power that is not modernizing its weapons.



Tuesday, July 14, 2009 - Mandating Unemployment - Opinion: Mandating Unemployment

Here's some economic logic to ponder. The unemployment rate in June for American teenagers was 24%, for black teens it was 38%, and even White House economists are predicting more job losses. So how about raising the cost of that teenage labor?

Sorry to say, but that's precisely what will happen on July 24, when the minimum wage will increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55.

Proponents argue that millions of workers will benefit from the bigger paychecks. But about two of every three full-time minimum-wage workers get a pay raise anyway within a year on the job. Meanwhile, those who lose their jobs or who never get a job in the first place get a minimum wage of $0.

Mr. Neumark calculates that the 70-cent per-hour minimum wage hike this month would kill "about 300,000 jobs for those between the ages of 16-24." Single working mothers would also be among those most hurt.



Monday, July 13, 2009 - The Seinfeld Hearings - Opinion: The Seinfeld Hearings

In the 1930s, academics developed a philosophy they called "legal realism" to undercut judicial resistance to "progressive" statutes such as laws restricting the hours a baker or a woman could work. Legal realism elevated just results over the rule of law. It saw analysis of "the law" as an after-the-fact rationalization that allowed reactionary judges to conceal their empathy for the oppressed. Because legal realists believed judges inevitably made law when they ruled, they thought judges should decide cases with progressive ends in mind.

At the same time, and somewhat inconsistently, realist progressives also condemned judges who declared progressive federal and state laws to be unconstitutional as judicial activists who were thwarting the will of the people. Never mind that the Supreme Court was only tepidly enforcing the original meaning of the Constitution and was upholding the vast majority of enlightened regulations. Any interference of the will of the people was deemed to be undemocratic.

Today we live in a legal world in which many progressives and conservatives share the legal realists' preoccupation with results. So justices must be chosen who will reach the politically correct results or opposed because they will reach the wrong results. Judicial confirmation hearings are thereby turned into a game of gotcha…


Supreme Court confirmation hearings do not have to be about either results or nothing. They could be about clauses, not cases. Instead of asking nominees how they would decide particular cases, ask them to explain what they think the various clauses of the Constitution mean….  Don't ask how the meaning of these clauses should be applied in particular circumstances. Just ask about the meaning itself and how it should be ascertained. 


Such a hearing would not only be entertaining, it would be informative and educational. After all, it would be about the meaning of the Constitution, which is to say it would be about something.



Thursday, July 9, 2009 - The Dumbing Down of Democracy - Opinion: The Dumbing Down of Democracy


With a calm and confident smile, Mr. Peskov replied: "Ours is a different system of democracy." That was it. He stopped talking but kept smiling. The message sank in.


Dmitry Peskov was defining democracy in a way that could hardly be more different than the system of political pluralism developed over the past 300 years in the West. He couldn't have been clearer: We are changing the rules. Get over it.


Where is it written that American-style democracy will last forever, much less spread to new nations? If the members of the U.N. General Assembly could choose between the democracy of the U.S., Britain and France or that of Russia, Venezuela and Bolivia, likely it would be the latter. Genuine democracy is hard work. Why should the likes of Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey, Taiwan or Brazil endure that stress if Potemkin Village democracy is acceptable?


What Putin, Khamenei, Chávez, Morales and Mubarak want is fait-accompli legitimacy. When resistance to their dumbed-down democracy stops, they'll have it. China's Orwellian filtering software is a nice metaphor for what's at stake. Vocal criticism, even as eloquent as Mr. Obama's in Moscow this week or in Cairo, is not resistance. Real resistance requires acts of political push-back that all the world's people can see and recognize.



Thursday, July 2, 2009 - Fuel Standards Are Killing GM

A good example of unintended consequences from poor regulation: - Opinion: Fuel Standards Are Killing GM

The actual Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) results will depend on the mixture of fuel-thrifty and fuel-thirsty vehicles consumers choose to buy from each manufacturer -- not on what producers hope to sell. That means only those companies most successful in selling the smallest cars with the smallest engines will, in the future, be allowed to sell the more profitable larger pickups and SUVs and more powerful luxury and sports cars.

General Motors is likely to become profitable only if it is allowed to specialize in what it does best -- namely, midsize and large sedans, sports cars, pickup trucks and SUVs. The company can't possibly afford to scrap billions of dollars of equipment used to produce its best vehicles simply to please politicians who would rather see GM start from scratch, wasting more taxpayer money on "retooling" to produce unwanted and unprofitable subcompacts and electric cars. The average mileage of GM's future cars won't matter if nobody buys them.

Politicians are addicted to CAFE standards because they create an illusion of doing something sometime in the future without voters experiencing the slightest inconvenience in the present.

The bottom line is that CAFE standards are totally unenforceable and ineffective. Regardless of how much damage the rules do to GM and Chrysler, Americans can and will continue to buy big and fast vehicles from German, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Indian car companies. CAFE standards might just be another foolhardy regulatory nuisance -- were it not for the fact that they could easily prove fatally dangerous for any auto maker overly dependent on the uniquely overregulated U.S. market.



Wednesday, July 1, 2009 - Parsing the Health Reform Arguments - Opinion: Parsing the Health Reform Arguments

Here is how one humble economist sees some of the main arguments…

- “Health care represents a rising proportion of our income."

That's not only true but perfectly natural. Quality health care is a discretionary, income-elastic expense -- i.e. the richer a society, the larger the proportion of income that is spent on it.

- "A universal plan will reduce the cost of health care."

Think a moment. Suppose you are in an apple market with 100 buyers and 100 sellers every day and apples sell for $1 a pound. Suddenly one day 120 buyers show up. Will the price of the apples go up or down?

- "We need a public plan to keep the private plans honest."

The 1,500 or so private plans don't produce enough competition? Making it 1,501 will do the trick? But then why stop there? Eating is even more important than health care, so shouldn't we have government-run supermarkets "to keep the private ones honest"? After all, supermarkets clearly put profits ahead of feeding people. And we can't run around naked, so we should have government-run clothing stores to keep the private ones honest. And shelter is just as important, so we should start public housing to keep private builders honest. Oops, we already have that. And that is exactly the point. Think of everything you know about public housing, the image the term conjures up in your mind. If you like public housing you will love public health care.