Thursday, September 17, 2009

Well, it's good to see the President behaving during this time of recession in such a thoughtful and historically aware manner. If you like your stock market and housing crashes to be followed by a global trade war and perhaps if we're unlucky enough, a real bonefide Depression. Of course you don't need to take my word for the Economist article. They're not Fox News, heck they're not even American so shut up about crazy racists right-wingers and just read.

And while I'm here. This is a further comment I made on Sept. 10, 2009 on the Bad Astronomy Blog in regards to American politics and health care reform. It is in response to comments made by a nice, and reasonable British chap.

"I totally agree that my own biases shape my views in all manner of ways. And I don’t dislike Europe at all. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Spamalot in the Westend. But I do not over rate my fellow man. I believe that an individual making his own decisions is in the best position to see that all of his wants and needs are fulfilled. I don’t believe in anarchy or some other such dystopian/utopian nonsense. Socialist, and in fact all government programs, arise from the actions of people and as such are just as flawed as any other type of government. In the same vein corporations, non-profit organizations, clubs, gangs and every human organization is flawed. I just think that adding yet another level of bureaucracy, a de fcto middleman, drives up costs and takes decision making away from the individual.

I am glad that you like your health care system but there is a large number of people who would not agree with you. The same goes for Canada. And as a person with a congenital heart defect who has had four major open heart surgeries and many minor procedures I would not want to have lived in a different country. (I had all of my surgeries at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. This hospital has been consistently ranked #1 in the country by US News and World Report.) Given the track record of our government, I’m looking at you Amtrak, US Postal Service, Medicare and Social Security, I don’t trust the government’s ability to run any type of health care system.

Many of the “socialist” programs you list as good examples of socialism could easily run by service companies competing in a free market. This already occurs with car insurance, life insurance, some utilities, home security, and many other services, and in nearly every instance the prices of the company services are cheaper for the consumer. Take Laser Eye Surgery for instance. It is not covered by health insurance and so exists outside of this heavily regulated government controlled system. Being in the free market has led to a great reduction in prices, and yet I have never heard of any major scandals within the industry. As for the military this is a bit of a straw man as defense of the nation is a defining characteristic of being a legitimate nation-state, though this is changing as the US government turns to private security companies (i.e. corporate mercs.).

As for the free market and health care, unless you can magically produce doctors, drugs and high-tech medical devices out of thin air, than yes it is a limited resource. Thus, it is still beholden to laws of supply and demand. So long as entrance into the market is unhindered, by either government regulations or corporations deemed “too big to fail” or getting an unfair advantage from government subsidies, price-fixing will be a non-issue as new companies will always work to undercut established firms. This is why the price of consumer products almost always declines soon after a new product is introduced. Why then should health care be any different from buying a big flat screen TV? The price of these TVs are always going down as competition forces price reductions. If hospitals and drug companies truly competed prices would fall and more services would be offered in order to get customers.

As for whether or not the US has the best health care in the world, it depends on how you view the statistics. Survival rates for cancer and congestive heart failure, the two largest natural causes of death in the first world, are the highest. Infant mortality rates are higher because the US counts every live birth from the moment it leaves the womb not after an arbitrary grace period as many nations do. Also, the US has a high number of teen pregnancies which increases complications. The lower life expectancy is almost totally due to inner city violence which leads to a high number of young male fatalities. but if the victim makes it to an ER in the US they have a very high chance of survival. I contend that America’s health care is the best in the world, which is why the rich oil sheiks often come to Johns Hopkins for their medical care Unfortunately, other social issues such as inner city violence and teen pregnancies skew the statistics.

As for your belief that American don’t care about the poor or sick, you are greatly mistaken. Americans are very charitable people. Hospitals are required to offer services if you go to the emergency room. Poor people are not denied care and there are many free or low cost clinics run by non-profit organizations and volunteers. I also do not have problem with a reduced Medicare that assists only those in true need of financial help. Remember also that a large number of millions of uninsured Americans are young healthy people who have made the conscious decision not to pay for health insurance. Would you force them to have insurance? Libertarianism is no more callus than the group think that spawns evil governments, and the actions of these governments always have a higher death toll.

I get the feeling that you have never visited the United States, especially if you have the misguided belief that the people opposing health care reform do so because they feel, “…that companies and their continued profits are far more important than people getting sick and dying, but that’s my European prejudices showing - I know that many in the US have a different philosophical view. We regard health care in the UK as a human right, when people don’t get it it’s an abuse and a tragedy; in the US it seems (to an observer) to be a tradeable commodity like any other; desired, but hardly a right.”

Having been to the UK, and many other European countries (Sweden, France, Spain, Italy, Slovakia, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands), I can honestly say that nearly every nation is full of nice caring polite individuals (even the French;-). The same is true of the United States. Yes, even Republicans are by in large kind and caring, and very few of them are racists. Having a different view of the government’s role is not a sign of callousness or insanity.

Finally, I have no problem with the government funding pure science. But I’d prefer to see it done in partnership with entities that will follow up on the research in order to make a profit. If this had occurred than perhaps the Apollo Program would have had a far more lasting impact on the history of lunar exploration and settlement."


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