Thursday, May 31, 2012

Actions vs. Outcomes: How to Evaluate Morality

Part I: The Problem

What does it mean to do the right thing? Each day we face hundreds of decisions with moral implications. In deciding how to act on these matters, how do we determine what the moral option is? What metric should we use to measure the respective morality of each prospective action?

Not everybody agrees on the answer to that question. Today, I’d like to propose two competing moral frameworks, and then compare the benefits and problems with each. Essentially, the basic question at hand is this: are actions themselves categorically moral or immoral, or does the morality of an action depend on the context and the intended results of the actor? Should we establish a fixed code that says which actions are moral or immoral first, and then apply that code to each situation as it arises? Or should we take each unique situation as it comes and act so as to attain whatever outcome is most moral?

Those are kind of abstract ideas, so let’s apply them to scenario. Let’s say there is an innocent child in front of you, who has done nothing wrong. And let’s say there are three other innocent children whom somebody else is holding at gunpoint. You don’t know any of these four children. The gunman offers you a choice: if you shoot this innocent child in the head in the next two minutes, I will let these three children go. If you don’t, I will kill these three children and let the other one go. Whoever this twisted bastard is, it is impossible for anybody to stop him (yourself included), and you are 100% certain that everything he says is true. So…do you shoot the child?

The first moral framework I discussed would say no. If morality is determined by actions, then the action of killing an innocent child is clearly immoral. The second moral framework I discussed would say yes. If morality is determined by results, the result of one dead child is clearly morally superior to the result of three dead children. Which is correct?

Part II: The “outcomes” perspective

There is no “right” answer to that question; either decision would be justifiable. On the one hand, when it’s presented in this abstract manner, I think most people’s first inclination is to look at it practically: save three kids by killing one. Logically reading this blog, without actually holding the gun or seeing the face of the child in front of you, it seems like simple arithmetic. Ultimately, whichever children are killed don’t much care who is pulling the trigger. If you allow those three children to die, how could you live with yourself knowing that you had the opportunity to save two lives, but didn’t? And what if it weren’t three children that stood to die by your inaction, but five? Or ten? Or fifty, or a hundred, or a hundred thousand? No matter how high the number becomes, the first moral framework would say you can’t kill the child in front of you, because killing is wrong. After a certain number, that viewpoint becomes downright unacceptable. And if we separate ourselves from the agent even further by imagining that somebody else was presented with this decision, our preference becomes even clearer. Which news story would you rather read: that a hundred children were killed today, or just one? It seems like a no brainer: the just outcome is the minimization of death, so you should take whichever action is necessary, however horrible that action may be, to bring about that outcome.

In philosophy, this school of thought is called “consequentialism”. Consequentialism argues that the consequences (or at least intended, foreseeable consequences) of one’s actions are the only metric by which the morality of those actions should be judged. This is the “results” side of the argument. Consequentialists feel there are no moral or immoral actions without viewing those actions in the context of their results.  There may be moral or immoral intentions, but those intentions must be defined by the outcome they intend to bring about. One variation of this is “utilitarianism”, which essentially advocates whatever decision is likely to bring the greatest amount of happiness and pleasure to the largest amount of people or living beings. These theories were historically advanced by John Stuart Mill and, more recently, by Peter Singer.

Another thought group supporting the “results” argument is the political realism movement. As a whole, realism contends that truth exists independently of human perception, and thus independently of purely human constructs like ideals or morals. Like consequentialism, it is very results oriented. Unlike consequentialism, realism rejects human motives, morals, or intentions as irrelevant to these results, whereas consequentialism views them as the metric by which to evaluate those results. Political realists claim that morality is so subjective, and that human motivations for any action are oftentimes so bad and selfish anyway, that morality should essentially be ignored. Practical goals should be prioritized over subjective principles of right and wrong, and agents should simply pursue their own objectives without regard for ideology. Historic advocates of political realism include Morgenthau and Sun Tzu, but Niccolo Machiavelli is often cited as the original political realist. In his most famous treatise, The Prince, he applied this perspective to the life of a ruler. Machiavelli argued that virtually any means to keep oneself in power were justifiable, so long as they served the purpose of protecting the ruler’s ability to effectively rule. In the section of The Prince titled Of Maintaining a Princedom, he summarized this outlook:

“Anyone who would act up to a perfect standard of goodness in everything must be ruined among so many who are not good. It is essential therefore for a prince to have learnt how to be other than good and to use, or not to use, his goodness as necessity requires…the prince, in short, ought not to quit good courses if he can help it, but should know how to follow evil courses if he must.”

Machiavelli summarized this viewpoint by coining one of the most famous, hotly debated philosophic phrases of all time: the ends justify the means. To assert that the ends justify the means is to assert that an otherwise immoral action is justified if it is undertaken to attain a moral result. That statement bears enormous implications on how we ought to live. Is it right?

I think it’s clear that at least sometimes, it is. It can’t be the case that the ends never justify the means, because we need some mechanism to minimize the damage caused by those who don’t follow the rules. Not everyone agrees with me; there are some who say that the ends never justify the means at all. This is perhaps the origin of modern pacifism and anarchism, the notion that using force on others is the ultimate wrong and can never be justified. People of this line of thought cite men like Jesus or Gandhi as examples of how to fight injustice without resorting to immoral actions. Practically, however, such alternatives oftentimes do not exist without incurring preventable negative consequences that most people are unwilling to accept. For instance, in the example I gave above about the gunman, most people agree it would be a mistake to not kill one child to save 1,000. Absent context, it is immoral to kill; but if a gunman enters a school and opens fire in the cafeteria, and you have the power to stop the massacre by killing him, you should do it. Absent context, it is immoral to wield force on others; but if a policeman finds a rapist or pedophile or burglar and has the power to arrest him and prevent him from harming others, he should do it. And absent context, it is immoral to lie, but sometimes white lies in response to questions like “does this dress make me look fat?” or “is Santa Claus real?” or “where do babies come from?” can do more good than harm. Humans are flawed. They sin, and make mistakes, and screw things up. If it is possible to correct those mistakes, sometimes that must be done, even if doing so requires straying from otherwise ideal behavior. In these situations, the ends justify the means.

Part III: The “actions” perspective

But there are also situations in which they do not. Just as there were unacceptable extremes of the “actions” framework, there are unacceptable extremes of the “results” framework too. For instance, take my earlier example with the gunman. What if you had to brutally behead 100 children with a kitchen knife in order to save 101? Would you yourself physically commit such a vicious genocide to save just one life on sum? How could you live with yourself for brutally murdering so many innocent, scared, crying, pleading human children? How can anyone with a conscience actively, willingly participate in something so horrible? To many people, there is something about certain actions that, regardless of context, is just unilaterally unacceptable. There is a certain line between action and inaction, and in a choice between the lesser of two evils, people are understandably reluctant to cross that line. If you do nothing, then at least you can be certain that whatever happens will not be your doing. If the maniac decides to kill those children, it will be horrible, but it will be entirely his fault. You’ve washed your hands of it. If we live our lives by a strict moral code and only do things which we know for certain to be moral and right and virtuous and just, then the onus of responsibility for the world’s ills is stripped from us. That’s a comforting thought. Terrible things may happen due to those who do not abide by our code, but at least we ourselves will be free of blame for the outcome. And if everybody followed the rules and shunned immoral actions, the outcomes would eventually take care of themselves.

In philosophy, this school of thought is called “deontology", "moral absolutism", sometimes "idealism." This is the “actions” side of our debate. Idealists clash with realists because they contend that perception defines belief, and that without something being perceived it does not exist. For example, if a tree falls in the forest without ever being heard or seen, they’d argue that it didn’t really fall at all, since no living being perceived it’s falling. Since morality and principle are human constructs, to an idealist they exist just as vividly as do the tangible world our minds perceive, and thus cannot be dismissed for practical convenience. As it relates to our debate, deontologists would not support the rejection of ideals in order to attain a desired end state. Certain components of deontological ethics have been advanced by Immanuel Kant, George Berkeley, Johan Gottlieb Fichte, George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Francis Herbert Bradley, and Josiah Royce.

Religion is sympathetic to this viewpoint. For example, the Bible does not say “Thou shalt not kill unless thou think the killing is justified.” It says “Thou shalt not kill”, period. That is for good reason, because in real life, the decisions we’re faced with are almost never as simple as the situation provided above. In that example, I stipulated that you are 100% certain of what will happen if you don’t kill the child. In real life, very rarely is the result that clear. When the foreseeable consequences of each option become murky, consequentialist judgments become confusing. And the more the outcomes of each option become obfuscated, the more the intuition and impartiality of the decision maker become suspect. It’s easy for brilliant philosophers to sit back in a comfy chair and muse on hypotheticals, but it’s much more difficult for everyday people to justly make high-stakes decisions in the heat of the moment. For this reason, universal adherence to a set of simple, succinct, memorable, guidelines can often be much more effective at producing just outcomes than leaving decisions to the open interpretations of billions of individuals.

There is a certain humility in raising eternal ideals above flimsy human judgment and selfish human motives. Important decisions often must be made by people who have a huge personal stake in the outcome, and the outcome that favors them may be different from the outcome which is morally superior. When asked to make complex case by case evaluations under tremendous pressure, stress, and temptation, are human beings really noble enough to prioritize the greatest good for the greatest number over their personal desires? And if they are, are they really knowledgeable, clearheaded, insightful and wise enough to accurately foretell the long term consequences of each option, and then justly evaluate the morality of each result? History is rife with examples to the contrary. To assert that we can weigh all these factors objectively and fairly, that we possess the mental capacity and selflessness to accurately diagnose when it is okay to do terrible things (like murder), is not only dangerous and unrealistic, but also a bit arrogant.

For this reason, if one is to do something with the justification that the ends justify the means, he has to be damn sure he’s right. The bar has to be set pretty high on his degree of certainty. To take an immoral action on anything less than concrete assurance that it’s justified is to take a mighty big risk with other people’s rights. As a people, we should receive these claims with suspicion and a critical eye. We must make sure they are the exception rather than the rule.

So…what qualifies as an exception?

In what circumstances is it okay to take an immoral action in pursuit of a morally superior outcome?

When do the ends justify the means?

Part IV: When do the ends justify the means?

We need a mechanism to draw the line separating the times they do from the times they don’t. Naturally different people will draw that line in different places. But in most circumstances, I believe we can use objective, logical observations to help us draw it.

After much thought, I have identified four conditions which must be met if the ends are to justify the means. Each condition deals with a variable that affects the morality of each respective option. In order for each condition to be met, the variable it deals with must be at a certain level. To establish a basic, memorable framework to help the decision maker in the heat of the moment, I have associated each variable with a question. By answering these four questions, the decision maker should be able to choose more wisely.

The first question is, “How moral are the ends desired compared to the morality of the means employed?” Clearly, this can be subjective. The underlying variable here is the relative goodness/badness that each option stands to bring about. If the ends are to justify the means, they must be of such dire importance that not achieving them would be an even greater moral offence than the means would be. For example, while the ends may justify the means of you’re trying to save ten lives by killing one person, the ends do not justify the means if you’re trying to win $10 by killing one person. The immorality of the means is the same in both instances, but the ends only justify them in the first case. This is the most obvious and frequently cited justification for employing the maxim.

The second question is, “How direct is the link between the means and the ends?” The underlying variable here is the agent’s certainty that taking said action will bring about the desired end state. For the ends to justify the means, that certainty must be very high; there must be little doubt that the means will directly and infallibly lead to the ends. Otherwise, the actor risks merely adding additional immorality, without ameliorating the immorality he seeks to avoid. For example, if one is faced with a button that will kill one person, and in exchange ten other lives will definitely be saved, it makes sense to push the button. But if one is faced with a button that will kill one person, and in exchange for pushing it those ten other people’s chance of surviving goes from 0% to 5%, pushing it may not make sense, because there’s a 95% chance that doing so will result in eleven deaths instead of ten. It is not certain, in fact not even likely, that taking the immoral means of killing one will actually bring about the desired ends of saving the ten.

The third question is similar to the second, but not identical: “How direct is the link between not using said means and not attaining the ends?” The underling variable here is the agent’s certainty that the even-more-immoral result will definitely come about if he takes no action at all. Returning to our example above, this is the opposite percentage: if you do not push the button, what is the chance that those ten people will die, irrespective of how that chance will be affected by pushing the button? In order for the ends to justify the means, we must be able to affirm with a high degree of certainty that if this immoral action is not taken, an even more immoral event will take place.

The last question is “Are there any alternate means of lesser immorality which might obtain the same ends?” Up until this point, we have assumed that there are only two options: doing the immoral means, or not doing them. Real life is oftentimes more complicated, and multiple courses of action must be considered. For example, killing one life to save ten may be justified under the circumstances above, but not if the ten will also be saved by pressing a second button that doesn’t kill anyone. The distinction between this question and question three is that question three deals with inaction, while question four deals with a previously unconsidered action, a sort of “Plan C”. If there exist any alternate means of lesser immorality which will attain the same ends, the morally inferior means are not justified.

That’s a mouthful, but it gets even more complicated because these conditions and variables are not wholly independent of one another. Oftentimes, answering one question requires knowing the answer to another. For example, condition three is sometimes dependent on question one. If the potential moral consequences of inaction are severe enough, the standard of certainty in question three lowers, because we simply cannot risk those consequences regardless of how small the percent chance is that they occur. For instance, if the chance that 10 people will die is 20%, it may not make sense to kill 5 innocent people in order to send that chance back to 0%. But if the chance of a nuclear holocaust is 20%, killing five people in exchange for returning that chance to 0% is probably a safe way to hedge ones bets. Similarly, condition two and condition four are related. There are oftentimes many different means which might bring about the desired effect, but the relative probability of success is different for some than for others. So in our example on condition four, if button one kills one person and has a 100% chance of saving the other 10, and button two kills nobody but has just a 75% chance of saving the ten, those odds need to be weighed.

The last three conditions are mostly objective; in theory, we could assign a % to the possibility of various different outcomes. On occasion, the first condition is also objective; if all the outcomes deal with one and only one fixed numerical unit (money lost, lives saved, people displaced, etc.), and the agent doing all the action is the same, we can make objective determinations of which outcome is preferable using the percentages from the final three conditions (in philosophy, this is called “decision theory”.)

But oftentimes, the first condition is subjective. Much like the opening scenario with the child and the gunman, deciding which actions are acceptable in pursuit of outcomes can be a deeply personal decision. Analyzing the likelihood of various outcomes resulting from various actions can help, but ultimately the decision may need to be predicated on moral beliefs that differ from person to person. When agent making the decision is an individual, that person has to do some soul searching and act accordingly.

But what if the agent itself is not an individual person?

What if the agent has no moral preferences?

What if the agent is an organization that claims to represent millions of people all at once, and claims to act on their behalf, but each of those people have their own unique moral beliefs?

In other words, what if the agent is the government?

Stay tuned…

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

My Philosophy: A two part breakdown

The past month has been pretty busy with finals, essays, and end of year cramming, so regretfully I’ve been unable to post anything substantial. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking, however. In fact, I’ve been saving up for something big. Now that I have a three week hiatus before I get busy again with an interchange to Germany, I’d like to get back into a more regular posting schedule. But first, I want to kick off the summer with a bang by writing something that’s been on my mind for a few months now.

Essentially, it’s a summary of the moral framework I accept as a libertarian. As avid readers will know, I support minimum government and maximum freedom. However, I am not an anarchist, because I feel that the appropriate level of government to maximize the protection of people’s rights is above zero. That seems like a contradiction to some people: I argue that all government wields force in order to function, and that initiating force on others is inherently wrong, and yet support some government. How can that be? For what purposes is it just to use force on others, and for what purposes is it not? Morally, philosophically, where do I draw the line, and why do I draw it where I do? Those are the questions these essays will attempt to answer.

It will come in a two parts. The first part will examine morality in more general philosophical terms. A core purpose of philosophy is to determine what people should do, how we ought to act. In such debates, whichever person, group, or entity is making the decision on how to act is called the “agent”. My first post will propose, compare, and contrast two competing metrics by which an agent might measure the morality of each option before him. In the process we will touch on some classic philosophic debates, including idealism, consequentialism, and if the “ends justify the means.”

The second part will apply this general moral framework to the specific case in which the agent is the government. This adds several complications to what was already a complicated equation. For one, there are now more people involved in making the decision; in our country, we claim that hundreds of millions of people, each with their own unique sense of morality, ought to be able to have a say in making the same decisions. In doing so we want to enable majority rule while protecting minority rights. The post will touch on issues like democracy, autonomy, legitimacy, tolerance, liberty, and the universal similarities between many moral codes.

These posts are doubly important because they’ll be referenced to explain positions on many specific issues in the future. I’ll try to keep them as short as possible while still fully exploring the topic. Here goes...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Democrats, don't you hate it when Mitt Romney flip flops on important social issues? I mean, he says one thing in the 90's, another thing in 2004, then goes undecided for awhile, then reaffirms his old position, then flips back again just in time for election season.

Wait a second...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Illegal Immigration - NBA Edition

*(Note: in line with my previous post, I support greatly reducing the restrictions on who is or isn't allowed to enter the country. But I also support enforcing what few restrictions should exist, and that means deporting those who enter the country illegally. This is an essay I wrote two years ago making an analogy to help explain why.)

On Cinco de Mayo, Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver announced that his team would wear a specially designed jersey that read "Los Suns" for their playoff game that evening, partially as a celebration of Arizona's Mexican population on their special holiday, and partially as a protest against the state's new illegal immigration act. He released a statement which read "The frustration with the federal government's failure to deal with the issue of illegal immigration resulted in passage of a flawed state law. However intended, the result of passing this law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question, and Arizona's already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks at a time when the state can ill-afford them."

Regardless of the fact that that is not what the Arizona law does at all, it’s intriguing that Sarver feels he is such an expert on how illegal immigration affects Arizona's "struggling economy," so much so that he feels qualified to use his unrelated sports franchise as forum of protest. Perhaps his comprehension of this economic impact would be enhanced if illegal immigration were put in terms Sarver can surely understand: that is, the economic results of an "illegal immigration" to a Phoenix Suns game.

There are over 30 million illegal immigrants in the United States, a nation which has 300 million citizens. That represents 10% of our population. According to, the Phoenix Suns’ stadium (the US Airways Center) has a capacity of 19,023 seats. So imagine that for this playoff game, 2,000 Spurs fans who did not buy tickets to the game decide to burst past the security guards and ticket checkers, hop the turnstiles, and take a seat at the game. Obviously, the security guards would catch some of these people, but the overflow of simultaneous turnstile-hoppers would easily outnumber them, and about 2,000 would be able to gain entrance to the stadium and take a seat.

When the late-arriving ticket holders arrive at their seats, they find them taken by somebody else, who will not move from their seat, forcing the ticket holders to stand around while the 2,000 intruders enjoy the game.

Midway through the first quarter, these Spurs fans notice that everyone around them is happily devouring hot dogs, ice cream, cotton candy, and other crowd favorites. The turnstile-hoppers did not bring their wallets, and cannot buy such amenities. So, they all loudly complain about this abhorrent injustice: “Why is it that everybody else gets food and we don't?”

By the start of the second quarter, all the Spurs fans are so hungry that they begin starting fights with the legal ticket holders in the crowd to take their food. While drunken fights do occur with some frequency at sporting events, these fights are far more prevalent than are fights amongst ticket holders. After all, the ticket holders already have food, so why would they need to fight one another to acquire it?

At halftime, the ticket holders who are either left without a seat or beat-up complain to the Security Guards and ask that something be done. Recognizing the ridiculousness of this situation, the Security Guards ask the seatless ticket-holders and the beat-up ticket holders to lead them to their seat number so that they may find the perpetrators and kick them back into the street. But when the ticket-less Spurs fans are checked, they complain loudly that the security guards are not also checking everybody else in the stadium for their tickets: “The only way you could possibly determine who's supposed to be at the game and who illegally broke-and-entered the stadium is by looking at what jersey's we are wearing!” they notice. “How come you're not checking people wearing Suns jerseys? What about all the Spurs fans in attendance who did legally buy a ticket? How dare you check my ticket without checking everyone else in the row!”

So the security guards oblige. They check everybody else in the row as well, and when the Spurs fans cannot provide their tickets, they confess to their crimes. But when the security guards apprehend them, kick them out of their seat, and return those seats to the paying ticket holders, half the bleachers explode in protest. "Aw, come on, he's already been here for 2 quarters!" they say. "You might as well let him stay now, he's been here just as long as any of us have been!"

By this time the 3rd quarter is well underway, and but the pandemonium in the crowd is so distracting that it's very difficult to play the game. The protests against the removal of the Spurs fans become so fervent that scores of people, fans of both the Spurs and the Suns, rush the court holding signs protesting this jersey-discrimination and demanding lower ticket prices so that maybe these poor Spurs would have been able to afford a ticket in the first place. After all, Spurs fans come from Texas, which means it's much harder for them to attend Arizona sporting events than it is us privileged citizens of Phoenix. It's only fair that their ticket price be waived!

You see, folks, this is exactly what has happened in our country. The basketball game is our economy, Spurs fans are Mexicans, ticket holders are citizens, security guards are cops, seats are jobs, fights are crime, and the various types of food are healthcare, drivers licenses, public education, and other amenities citizens enjoy. Illegal aliens barge into our nation and demand the same govt. services our citizens receive, without paying one cent of the taxes that support these services. Any attempt to crack down on the madness is met with unending protest by those who sympathize with their poverty.

For some reason, if Suns games were infiltrated in a similar way, I think Robert Sarver might have a change in heart.

Graphic Explanation of US Immigration Policy

Just click on the image to enlarge it and read the captions. Or, see the whole image at it's source at

Reflections on the Arizona Immigration Law

*(Note: continuing with the posting-old-essays trend, this was a Facebook note I wrote during all the hubbub over the Arizona immigration law passed a few years ago. I have since become more knowledgeable on the issue and my views on illegal immigration, particularly on which types of immigration ought to be legal, have developed since then. I now think there should be minimal legal restrictions on immigration unless we have solid evidence that that person is a health or security danger to our well being. But I still agree with most of what this article says, particularly the three-point plan outlined at the end.)

The media has created such a hubbub over this bill that nearly everyone I’ve spoken to seems universally opposed to it. Yet so few people actually understand what the Arizona Immigration Bill says. The same people who complained when Republicans portrayed Obamacare in a negative light have totally lied about what the bill actually contains. I've met 3 people this week who thought the bill said "all Mexicans may be checked at any time and forced to prove they're a citizen or they're deported" which is totally not true.

The bill does one thing: it makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally. That's all. It transfers federal laws making it illegal to be in the country illegally (duh) and makes them also enforceable at the state level by state policemen, instead of only federal border police. That is honestly all the bill says: it is illegal to be an illegal alien. Doesn’t that sound repetitive to you? It seems to me like common sense.

The controversy arises from the "reasonable suspicion" clause that applies to any state law, claiming that if the police have "reasonable suspicion" that someone has committed a state crime they may arrest or interrogate them. In this case, if the police have a reasonable suspicion that somebody is an illegal immigrant, they may ask them to prove their citizenship. What liberals will tell you is that race is the only factor that could possibly determine a “reasonable suspicion” of illegal alien status, meaning that racial profiling could be used by this bill. I understand these accusations and share that fear. However, the same risk exists for any law! Accusations of police discrimination based on race are nothing new. In every other element of the legal system, we train our policemen not to do that, and trust they will follow that training. Why is this different?Arizona governor Jan Brewer passed a clarifying addition to this bill last week that made it explicitly illegal for race to be used to justify any indicator of such suspicion: other variables, such as residence, under-the-table employment, or association with other convicted aliens can be used to determine if someone’s citizenship should be checked. And it’s not like they can arrest people because of such suspicion; policemen can merely ask them to prove their citizenship, in much the same way you would be asked to provide proof of insurance when you get pulled over. And even if some cops do break the law and check people exclusively on the basis that they look Latino (which I would be utterly opposed to), any legal citizen would have nothing to hide and nothing to worry about: a 2 minute inconvenience from their day would be the only penalty any legal citizen would pay to help solve this massive problem. But again, I cannot reiterate enough that this bill does nothing of the sort: the reasonable suspicion clause is not unique to this bill, it applies universally to all state laws, including murder and rape and robbery and any other crime. Racial profiling is specifically illegal in the prosecution of any of them.

I totally understand where the left is coming from with the racial profiling thing. Even though illegal immigration is a pressing matter of national security, a Libertarian like myself knows that you can NEVER trade freedom for security: the potential interference with privacy rights disturbs me as it does you. This is not a perfect fix, and has some downsides. I realize that perhaps there are better ways out there to oust illegal immigrants. I hope there are! But I do think it's an improvement on the way things are now. I’m not sure about just what is the perfect approach to get tough on this problem. The only thing I am sure about is, however we do it, we must get tough on this problem! Us northeasterners have a hard time appreciating just how bad it is, but let me read you some stats and see if you’re not shocked: 29% of Federal Prison Inmates are illegal aliens. According to the Los Angeles Times, 40% of all workers in Los Angeles County are working for cash but not filing tax returns. I wonder why that might be? 95% of all LA County’s murder warrants are to Latinos not registered as citizens, AKA illegals. Similarly suspected illegals make up 50% of suspected gang members, 75% of the most wanted list, and 35% of all California inmates. There are 300 million citizens of the United States, and an estimated 35 million illegal aliens: this means that one-eleventh of all people living in the US is an illegal alien (and obviously far worse in the Southwestern states). Tens of millions of desperate, impoverished people are coming here and clogging our roads, schools, prisons and welfare lines (of which 29% of all illegal aliens are on), without paying one penny of the taxes that fund these services. It is simply unsustainable, and simply ludicrous, and whenever Republicans try to do something about it Democrats call them ignorant racists.

Really, this bill in one state is small potatoes in the larger picture of the issue. The big showdown will come when the congressional voting is over this November and the Obama administration finally tries to tackle immigration reform. The results of that election, and how many Democratic seats he has to work with, will likely shape what proposals the bill will include. In my opinion, true reform would have 3 major components:

1. Make it easier to immigrate here legally. Instead of prospective immigrants having to jump through all kinds of hoops and prove why they SHOULD be allowed to come here, the govt. should have to have a good reason why they SHOULDN’T be allowed to come here if they want to block them. Citizenship is not a right to anyone who wants to enter, but it should still be easier to acquire than it is currently. Such reforms would make many people on the left very happy!

2. Make it harder to immigrate here illegally. Bigger and tougher fences. More border police. Tougher sanctions on under-the-table employers to deter them from aiding and abetting this crime by giving the salary incentive for immigrants to move here. Recognize that it is economically and militarily essential that the unending stream of aliens be curbed as much as possible. Both parties would likely support this goal, although the means by which to do it (fences vs. employment sanctions) would likely be contested.

3. Enforce the current laws on all current illegal aliens living within our borders. There is a certain time of residence in this country after which illegal aliens cannot be deported: this is fair, and these people should be put in line for citizenship (albeit behind those who have waited patiently in line the legal way). As for those non-naturalized, recent illegal immigrants, they should be deported, plain and simple. Do I feel bad for them because they’re poor and living in shitty conditions? Sure, but only in the same way I sympathize with someone who’s so poor they’re driven to steal from a bank. That is, not enough to impede the fact that they are fugitives of the law who are inadvertently stealing from other people. If I barged into a special club or sporting advent, didn’t pay admission, and demanded the same services as everyone who did pay admission, I would be promptly thrown into the street, and rightfully so. We need the same fair, if sometimes harsh, reasoning with our borders. The only just punishment for the crime of illegally entering this country is undoing that crime by removing them from the country, and anything resembling a fair reform bill will need to solidify this justice. Republicans would staunchly favor this aspect of the bill, while Democrats would likely loathe it.

The Case Against ObamaCare (full version)

*[Note: This is the full version of the editorial (length wise, it better resembles dissertation) I wrote against ObamaCare in the months before it was passed. Keep in mind that I have not edited this text at all from it's original format, and since it was written nearly three years ago it does not wholly resemble my developed views on the issue. My understanding of the economic, constitutional, and historical issues it discusses is now more nuanced and complete than it was then; this is not "the best I can do" to make a case against the law. Additionally, it only minimally discusses the bill's constitutionality, relying instead on more pragmatic arguments against its passage. But it is still a useful analysis of the law's negative ancillary effects and offers some basic suggestions on what real reform would include.]

While healthcare reform has been a priority of the political left for decades, in recent years the problem has grown to pressing magnitude irrespective of political affiliation. As President Obama noted in his Congressional Address on the issue, “I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.” Reform seekers trumpet that 47 million Americans do not have health insurance, and that rising costs have caused healthcare to constitute 1/6th of our economy. Health insurance premiums have skyrocketed for decades at rates unsustainable in a healthy, balanced economy. These problems have made effective, cost efficient, and radical healthcare reform a necessity. It is for precisely these reasons that the proposed healthcare legislations in the House and Senate must not be passed, and that they be replaced with a wiser, fairer, cheaper removal of government regulations instead of an illogical, unfair, costly expansion of them.

The proposed healthcare cure features the following flaws:

I. A False Diagnosis

In order to effectively cure our ailing healthcare system, it is critical that its specific ailment is accurately diagnosed. Central to this diagnosis is a fluid understanding our current healthcare setup and how certain factors have caused the problems the industry sees today. Congressional liberals would love to convince their constituents that the industry’s failure is a result of greedy, “profiteering” insurance industries and the helplessness of afflicted patients. A sick individual cannot be expected to forgo the purchase of healthcare, regardless of its cost, and so liberals argue this allows health insurance companies to raise the price indefinitely without losing business. The healthcare and health insurance industries are, in reformist eyes, arenas in which the open market has failed to provide an affordable, reasonable price, and so the government has taken it upon itself to heavily regulate the industry.

But this theory does not hold up to careful examination. Healthcare is by no means the only insurable product which consumers cannot go with out. Shelter is also necessary for survival, yet home insurance is a thriving, successful, affordable industry. This is because on the open market, the price is set by the all-too-important rules of supply and demand, forcing companies to compete and offer lower prices acceptable to the consumer. In an unrestricted free market, competition sets a price that is affordable to the consumer yet profitable to the producer. These same principles apply to every other industry on earth, including such successful industries as auto, home, and life insurance. The president is correct that rising, uncontrollable costs are due to a lack of competition, but he errs in determining why that lack of competition exists, and how to fix it. In reality, the health insurance in this country is not sold on an open market, and the places it deviates from a free market, rather than the profits the industry produces, are the sources of the problems it sees today.

One major example of this deviation is the third party, employer-based system utilized by 85% of insured Americans. Under this system, employers provide each of their employees with a bought-in-bulk company health insurance. While this practice originated as a perk used by employers to lure prospective workers, it has molded into a tremendous hindrance to a free market in the industry, compounded by government taxation of these benefits as a source of income instead of a purchased product. Since companies can make far more money selling in bulk to employers, it’s only natural that they raise the prices for individual buyers. The result, as Obama noted in his healthcare address this September, it that it costs three times as much for an individual to purchase his own insurance as it costs the employer to provide it to him. This ludicrous system also has the handy feature that the unemployed, who are most unable to pay for insurance as they have no income, must pay prices three times as high as employed people “pay” (the cost being withheld from their paycheck). And since employers have their wallets in mind instead of their employee’s health, they will naturally buy the cheapest option available, rather than the one which provides the best coverage. This means that 85% of insured Americans are forced to rely on someone else to make their healthcare choices for them, voiding their ability to shop for the coverage and prices most suited to their needs. The other 15%, thanks to this system, must face prices three times as high. Ones employer purchasing his health insurance makes no more sense than purchasing his house, car, or any other expensive, complicated, and individualized purchase.

Another hindrance to the free market in healthcare is government intervention. Sheldon Richman, editor of The Freeman magazine, points out that “Nearly every aspect of medicine and health insurance that the politicians say needs fixing is the result of politicians’ previous attempts to fix something.” And as David Hogberg of IBD notes, “Over the past 40 years government's role in the health care system has continually expanded, from programs like Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP, to regulations like HIPAA and COBRA.” These obstacles to free market have only served to raise costs by making the system more complicated and less efficient. Such entitlement programs provide no incentive for individuals to limit their healthcare intake, as it’s free, causing government costs to soar. Such regulations raise costs by making the market more complicated, less efficient, and less free. Another example of meddling government intervention is a law which disallows the purchase of health insurance from other states. Pennsylvanians can buy orange juice from California, grapes from Italy, and chocolate from Belgium, but they cannot buy health insurance from Delaware. Finally, the federal government has cooperated with the AMA to form a virtual cartel of doctors with the power to restrict the supply of healthcare. Richman writes that while the above third-party payer regulations increase demand “others constrict supply: occupational licensing, insurance mandates and barriers to entry, patents on drugs and devices, FDA regulations, certificate-of-need requirements, and more.” Such restrictions severely cap the number of practicing doctors, limiting the supply (and increasing the price) of healthcare. Famed economist Milton Freidman wrote nearly 50 years ago that "Licensure has reduced both the quantity and quality of medical practice," and that trend has increased dramatically today. In this way government intervention only serves to tamper with the laws of supply and demand, and contributes significantly to rising costs.

These are the real problems in the health insurance industry. Yet those pushing through the healthcare bills give the industry a false diagnosis; they instead blame the industries ills on corporate greed and “profiteering”. Despite the fact that profit drives our economy and is beneficial to all in an open market, many liberals give it a negative, greedy connotation. Not only do the Senate and House plans ignore the true causes of health insurance, but they exacerbate them. Instead of removing middle-man interference with market dynamics, the plans expands the senseless third-party system by forcing most employers to provide insurance for their employees, under penalty of fine or tax. And instead of lowering government meddling with the industry, the legislation creates over 1900 pages and “450,000 words of new regulations, rules, mandates, penalties, price controls, taxes, and bureaucracy,” as Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi accurately described the House bill. Any prescription written to cure a system ailing from government intervention with more government intervention is surely doomed to failure.

II. Improper Examination of Similarly Afflicted Patients

For decades, the supposedly better healthcare systems of Europe and Canada have been hailed as a model by liberal reformists. Contrary to leftist belief, these systems are no better, not much different, and produce a far lower quality healthcare than do our own. One catchphrase Obama used to argue for the adoption of such policies is “We spend one and a half times more on healthcare than any other country, but we aren’t any healthier for it.” He uses the US’s comparatively low life expectancy to back up this argument. But life expectancy truly has no correlation to the quality of healthcare. The US is the fattest nation in the world, and you are far more likely to be killed through crime or a car crash here than in most other countries, lowering our life expectancy irrespective of the healthcare system. Forbes columnist Shika Dalmia cites Robert L. Ohsfeldy and John E. Schnieder’s book The Business of Health, which “set out to determine where the U.S. would rank in life span among developed nations if homicides and accidents are factored out. Their answer? First place.” Obama is confusing his causes and effects; our national health isn’t a result of how much we spend on healthcare; rather how much we spend on healthcare is a result of our national health (or lack thereof).

Contrary to Obama’s claim, American healthcare’s quality is second to none. Canadians and others are forced to wait in tremendously long lines to receive inferior service, Britain’s NHS is sued dozens of times daily for malpractice, and many wealthy foreigners flock to the US to receive treatment because they know it is superior to what they get in Europe or Canada. British Tory David Hannan has labeled the government run NHS “a 60 year failure” which he “wouldn’t wish on anybody.” While the NHS is more radical than what is being proposed, Hannan holds similar feelings regarding the proposed US bills: “I find it incredible that a free people living in a country dedicated and founded in the cause of independence and freedom can seriously be thinking about adopting such a system…and massively expanding the role of the state.” The cost of healthcare and health insurance in America is a problem, but the quality is certainly not; in fact it’s the most advanced in the world.

Yet America’s system is already far closer to those of Europe than many realize. The US already guarantees healthcare to 1/3rd of the populace through Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP. With the exception of England, most European countries utilize a part-public, part-private blended system not unlike our own, including France and Germany. Dalmia compares:
For the same flat fee—regardless of whether it is paid for primarily through taxes as in France in Germany or through lost wages as in America—patients in all three countries effectively get an ATM card on which they can expense everything (barring co-pays) regardless of what the final tab adds up to…Thus, in neither country do patients have much incentive to restrain consumption or shop for cheaper providers.
France and Germany are struggling to contain costs too; the US spends a massive 16% of its GDP on healthcare, while France spends 20% and Germany spends 11%. These identical struggles stem from an identical problem featured in the US healthcare system: the use a third party system which eliminates cost consciousness and leads to price increases. It is lunacy to model the US health insurance system off of those with equal or higher costs and inferior quality of service.

III. Too Many Doctor’s Orders

Perhaps the most outrageous aspect of this bill is its blatant, unfair encroachments on individual liberties. The first of these illogical mandates is forcing all insurance companies to cover customers with pre-existing conditions at no extra charge. As Richman put it:
If someone is already sick, no government plan to pay his medical bills can be called ‘insurance.’ Insurance is a voluntary way to spread risk. Risk comes from uncertainty. But someone already sick doesn’t face a risk that he might need medical attention for his ailment. He is certain to require the attention.”
But the problem with this practice is not only that it defies the English language, it also defies business logic. Why should any company in any field be forced by the government to do something sure to lose it money? The equivalent is forcing companies to sell life insurance to a dead man, insure a car that has already crashed, or insure a home that has already burned down. Sick people without insurance are unfortunate, but they are not entitled to coverage for their ailments any more than other unfortunate people are entitled to coverage for their woes.

The defiance of individual liberty gets much worse. At least individuals forced to make bad investments may leave the insurance industry if they so choose. But in order to pay for this costly policy, the healthcare bill forces nearly all Americans to buy health insurance whether they want it or not, and forces all companies to provide their employees with this product. The proposed Senate legislation fees those who don’t have insurance 750 dollars for the privilege of remaining uninsured, and these fees are indexed to increase in future years. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has gone so far as to suggest jail time for those who fail to comply. Obama attempted to justify this unconstitutional new law in his Healthcare address:
There may be those, and especially the young and the healthy, who still want to take the risk and go without coverage…The problem is, such irresponsible behavior costs all the rest of us money. If there are affordable options and people still don't sign up for health insurance, it means we pay for these people's expensive emergency room visits…That's why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance--just as most states require you to carry auto insurance.
What the president calls “irresponsible behavior” might also be called “choice”. The government is not a parent; it’s not responsible for making us responsible, and such nannying is hardly the motive behind this mandate. Similarly, when the president says such emergency room visits are “expensive”, what he means is that they account for less than 3% of our healthcare budget, or about $40 billion.

Such petty cash is a trivial superfluity when compared to the trillion plus dollars the current bill is projected to cost, leading to the realization that Obama cares about neither the well being of those who choose not to purchase insurance they can afford nor the light dent this puts on taxpayers. The true motivation behind the individual mandate is so that the young and healthy can subsidize the old and sick. The only way the government can even pretend to afford covering people with pre-existing conditions (namely the old and sick) at no extra charge is to forcibly extract funds from those who don’t require treatment (namely the young and healthy). Politically, democrats cannot take extra tax dollars out of them through a government run single-payer system, but an individual mandate shaking those who don’t need health care by the ankles is the next best thing. Congress may well be willing to compromise on the public option, but no educated supporter of these bills will budge on the individual mandate because they realize it is the central component, the bottom jenga block, to the entire legislation. Without it companies could not afford to cover those with pre-existing conditions, the number of uninsured would not significantly decrease, the public option could not be self-sustaining, and the whole jenga tower would come crashing down.

Such a mandate eradicates any semblance of free market principles the current system has left. Insurance, as a sellable commodity, is when a company assumes a varying level of monetary risk in exchange for accordingly varying monetary payment. The sale of insurance is based on the premise that the risk is worth the payment for the company and that the cost is worth the security for the individual, making it a mutually beneficial business agreement. But the congressional plans force companies to assume risks that are clearly not worth the payment, and force individuals to purchase security against those risks at prices that it may not be in their interests to pay. If the producer is forced to sell, and the consumer is forced to buy, the principles of choice and freedom through which so many markets have flourished cannot be present.

The bottom line is that under no circumstances, no matter how dire the situation, should the government have any power to force anybody to purchase any product at any time. Obama makes a politicians lie when he claims that “most states require you to carry auto insurance”; no state has any such requirement unless the consumer first chooses to purchase a car. That prerequisite is key, as the consumer purchases a car with full knowledge that he must now also pay for insurance. But the only prerequisite for the individual mandate is being alive, which hardly gives the government the right to swipe money in exchange for unwanted services. Yet the more important distinction between car and health insurance mandates is that auto-insurance is only mandatory for drivers because it is essential to the financial security of other drivers the consumer may cause to crash, not because the government cares about the driver himself. Car insurers cover the FULL cost of the accident if their customer is at fault, even for the other driver’s car/injuries. This is why they charge according to perceived driving proficiency, and charge accident-prone drivers more than safe ones. Without the mandate, uninsured and risky drivers would incur huge and unfair costs on the innocent drivers they crashed into, even if the crash was entirely the fault of the uninsured. Health insurance, on the other hand, does not insure anybody other than the purchaser of the policy, so the only one who can be scorched by its non-purchase is the one who made that decision not to purchase it.

If the government forces everyone to obtain health insurance, they must define what constitutes as passable coverage, so these bills dictate that all insurance plans meet the government’s specific qualifications. These qualifications include covering all patients regardless of risk, guaranteed renewal for life, no annual or lifetime limits on coverage, and full coverage for all hospital visits, incidental services, prescription drugs, physical exams, colonoscopy, mammography, rehabilitative services, and maternity care. Any plan that does not follow these specifications to a T is illegal. Individuals may not pay for only what they want insured, they must instead buy whatever quantity of insurance the government deems appropriate. This will outlaw the “catastrophic coverage” plans favored by many Americans, which cover emergency costs like cancer or a car crash but not routine things like doctor checkups. Naturally, these plans cost less, because the company incurs far less risk; banning them will drive up the cost of insurance and remove consumer choice from the industry.

Forcing all these things to be insured for every American removes the incentive to check ones healthcare consumption in these areas, as it’s already paid for. If people are covered for more products and services than they are now, they will naturally use more products and services than they do now, and this increased usage will force up the costs of care. This same principle is responsible for the soaring costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and will contribute to a higher price tag on this bill than the president’s calculations admit. Advocates insist these preventive-care requirements will save money because they can catch more expensive diseases before they progress, but the evidence says otherwise. Preventive care may stretch ones life, but it will commonly shrink ones wallet as he pays for more services over a longer lifespan. Health-care expert John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis cites “literally hundreds of studies from over the past 40 years that show preventive medical services usually increase medical spending,” and John Stossel writes “contrary to popular belief, checkups for children and adults do not save the health care system money.”

And why is it the government’s job to make such meddling, trivial laws in the first place? If one wishes to make a less extensive coverage agreement with another, with no risk to anyone outside themselves, it is exclusively their business and entirely none of the government’s concern. The government should not have the ability to enforce a one size fits all plan on the entire nation, making it illegal for companies to offer insurance that fits their specific economic needs and illegal for individuals to purchase insurance that fits their specific coverage needs. Nobody knows what kind of plan is best for the consumer better than the consumer himself, and the government is no exception. Obama has boasted that this plan promotes “competition and choice,” but the renowned economic institute FEE suggested a more accurate catchphrase: “cartel and restriction”.

Ironically, this mandate is entirely contrary to the promises Obama made during his campaign.
When opponent Hillary Clinton proposed the same individual mandate last spring, Obama repeatedly attacked her for it, claiming it was unfair and inneffective; he gravely warned voters that "everyone would be forced to buy coverage, even if you can't afford it. You pay a penalty if you don't." Now of course the individual mandate features a prominent role in healthcare legislation. Other healthcare flip-flop’s abound, including one on the promise not to “mess” with the insurance plans people already had. But to raise funding for the bill, the legislation cuts the Medicare Advantage program, a branch of Medicare preferred by many lower class seniors. As David Catron, an expert on healthcare revenue cycles with over 20 years experience in the field, writes:
The tragic irony here is that many of these very seniors voted for Barack Obama because he promised to protect their benefits from ravenous Republicans. Likewise, many of the workers now facing higher taxes voted for the president precisely because he vehemently denounced the very concept of taxing health insurance benefits. And many people who will soon face fines for not buying health insurance voted for Obama because he told them he was against insurance mandates and the penalties that go with them. These voters, along with many others, have been swindled.
Democrats proclaim that since they won a resounding victory in the 08 elections, their proposed changes are in line with the will of the people. But what they’re proposing now is entirely different from what they proposed then, and it’s no wonder that with each new opinion poll an increasing majority of the country does not favor the proposed changes.

IV. A Costly Placebo

Arguably the most controversial aspect of the healthcare bill is the creation of a government run public option, which advocates claim will lower prices by removing inefficiencies, thus increasing competition in the health insurance industry. It will do nothing of the sort; as Steve Chapman aptly notes, “efficiency is to government programs what barbecue sauce is to an ice-cream sundae: not a typical component.” But increasing competition is not the reformists aim in the first place. If that is the goal, why would the government not remove the abundant regulations and free market detriments already in existence? Such laws hinder competition, and are expanded tenfold through this same bill. Even with these impediments, “it will come as a surprise to private health insurance providers that they have not had to compete until now,” Chapman remarks. There are over 1,300 competing health insurance companies across the nation, and while some control most of the business select states like Indiana and Alabama, this is largely due to the aforementioned government law against purchasing out of state insurance, not a lack of available competition in the private sector. On average, the typical state has about 27 competing insurance companies, more than enough to lower prices were government intervention removed. Given his Keynesian track record, it’s hard to take Obama seriously when he claims that “My guiding principle is an always has been that consumers do better when there is choice and competition.” In reality, the advocates of this bill do not care about or understand true market competition, and the public option serves only to expand detrimental government intrusion.

Public option backers oft belabor supposedly obscene health insurance profits as justification for less profit-hungry government intervention, but in reality health insurance is only the 86th most profitable American industry. Chapman observes that “Health care plans average profits of just 3.3 percent. In wireless communications…profits are 11 percent. Does Obama think we need a government cell-phone company to compete with Verizon and AT&T?” No private company can ever be expected to fairly compete with the government, as their goals are entirely separate. While private companies are out to make a profit, the public option aims merely to get as much insurance out to as many people as possible. Since government employees have fixed salaries, they’d have no incentive to increase profits, only to break even. Chapman argues that with a public option, “private insurers will be ‘competing’ against a team that gets to write the rules, run the draft and hire the referees.”

Even if it were fair to companies, the entire premise is flawed. Just because many people can’t afford something is not grounds to create a government run company to sell it to them at a price they deem affordable! Political trends towards entitlement in the past few decades are disturbing, and this bill merely promotes the fallacious concept that if people can’t afford something, the government will provide it for them. This ideology is the equivalent of giving a man a fish instead of teaching him to fish; the government hand feeds citizens affordable insurance instead of freeing the market so that it can produce lasting affordability. The US constitution instructs the government to “promote the public welfare,” not “provide the public welfare;” similarly the Declaration of Independence ensures the inalienable right to “the pursuit of happiness,” which is very different from ensuring happiness itself. The spirit of these documents establishes the government’s role as to provide equal rights, not to provide equal things. In this application, the government should protect everyone’s right to free enterprise instead of attempting to provide affordable insurance.

Taken in conjunction with the “pre-existing conditions” stipulation and the individual mandate, this public option is not in fact a government run insurance program but a rather a disguised redistribution of wealth program. Since the price of what those with pre-existing conditions would receive far exceeds the price they would pay, they would effectively be receiving a government check. Any sick individual could merely walk up to the government and, in exchange for a set sum of money, receive a service worth a larger sum of money. The government will fund this by forcibly extracting money from other people through the individual mandate. This renders the proposed public option as not an improvement of health insurance, but the initiation of health welfare: a government body through which the unfortunate receive a service at the expense of others.

Yet proponents of the bill adamantly deny accusations that the bill represents “a government takeover of healthcare,” and accuse the conservatives who spread such phraseology as alarmists or scare tacticians. They rightly claim that the vast majority of health insurance will still be bought and sold in the private sector, but fail to acknowledge that government stipulations over that private sector make it merely an extension of their power. As Forbes columnist Shikha Dalmia writes, the proposed legislation “will tell patients when, what and how much coverage they must buy; it will tell sellers when, what and how much coverage they must sell.” If that isn’t a government takeover of healthcare, what is?

V. Sneaky Premiums

And a costly takeover, at that. The most uncertain issue of the healthcare debate has been the financial hit of the proposed changes. Estimates as to the bills’ total cost range anywhere from $800 billion to over $2 trillion. For a country already 12 trillion dollars in growing debt, such a price tag is nowhere near affordable, and these bills are an irresponsible expenditure with so little funds to spare. In fact, we have no funds to spare; the majority of the bill is paid for by simply diverting at least 475 million dollars of so-called “inefficiencies” from Medicare. Never mind that these inefficiencies are vastly overestimated; illuminating half a trillion dollars of inefficiencies in a government healthcare program hardly argues for creating another government healthcare program. As Chapman put it, “efficiency is to government programs what barbeque sauce is to an ice-cream sundae: not a typical component.” Government spending on prior healthcare legislation is hugely responsible for our current deficit. Obama himself states that “the biggest driving force behind our federal deficit is the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid.” These are desperate, failing, over-budget systems, however popular they may be among the poor and old. If there truly are hundreds of billions of dollars of inefficiencies in Medicare, (a program falsely heralded for its supposed efficiency) these funds should be reapplied to fix the problems within Medicare itself. The rest of the bill is funded through the socialistic individual mandate fees and typical big-government tax hikes on prescription drug industries, owners of various economic accounts and plans, the wealthy, employers, and many others. Other various levies, such as a 40% tax on insurance premiums exceeding $8,500, are abundant. Even with these funds, the fact is that both healthcare plans are tremendously costly endeavors at a time when we have no money to burn.

Thankfully, a trillion dollar price tag is a sure turn off to potential congressional supporters. It is for this reason that Obama and friends have taken to knowingly downsizing the projected cost.
While dishonest, highly optimistic projected costs are an unfortunately effective method of downsizing a program’s financial dent. Liberals have a long history of intentionally underestimating the cost of their reforms to get passage, and there is no better example than Lyndon B. Johnson and Medicare. Revealed tapes of phone calls between Johnson and the late Ted Kennedy reveal the president intentionally used his influence to make sure the projected cost of Medicare did not get too high. The program was passed, and not surprisingly the actual price has increased exponentially from the projections in nearly all aspects of the plan. As Richman observes “when Medicare was put together, the pooh-bahs projected that by 1990 hospitalization coverage would cost only $9 billion. When 1990 arrived, the price tag read $66 billion.”

Ronald Bailey of Reason Magazine compares this historical situation to our own:
Democrats who are pushing health care reform, especially the government-run insurance option, know that their cost projections are wildly underestimated. But like LBJ, contemporary Democrats don't care because they also know that once their health reform programs are enacted they will be almost impossible to kill. Enacting government health care is more important than telling their constituents the truth about what it will cost them.
And so, to get their beloved bills passed, reform advocates have found numerous means to “soften the blow” of the legislation. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former CBO director, explains a few:
The bills are fiscally dishonest, using every budget gimmick and trick in the book: Leave out inconvenient spending, back-load spending to disguise the true scale, front-load tax revenues, let inflation push up tax revenues, promise spending cuts to doctors and hospitals that have no record of materializing, and so on.

Perhaps the most fantastic assertion about the legislation is that it would magically pay for itself. Advocates proclaim the senate plan will cut the federal deficit by $81 billion over the next ten years. They can only get away with this statement because plan’s initiation, with all its expenditures, does not take effect until 2013; however, the fees, mandated penalties, taxation, and Medicare cuts used to fund the plan, would take effect immediately, temporarily lowering the deficit over the short time frame they cite. Remember, the government can give to nobody what it has not first taken from somebody else. To claim that a trillion dollar bit of legislation is essentially free is wishful thinking at best. The projections for these costs, in addition to the aforementioned dishonesty, are based on the idea that every healthcare consumer will use the same amount of healthcare in the future as they do now. But by making additional services insured for every American, the bill removes the incentive to check ones healthcare consumption in these areas, as it’s already paid for and it is illegal for the rates to increase based on use. If people are covered for more products and services than they are now, they will naturally use more products and services than they do now, and this increased usage will force up the costs of care. This same principle is responsible for the soaring costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and will contribute to a higher price tag on this bill than the president’s calculations admit, just as those programs drastically exceeded their budgets.

Based on the simple rules of economics, the goals of the legislation are impossible and contradictory. The main goals of the proposed healthcare reform is to a) open access to health insurance to the 45 million uninsured Americans, and b) lower the soaring healthcare costs; Obama has personally promised both of these results. Both plans do promise--in fact ensure, under penalty of fine--that most of the uninsured obtain insurance. But due to supply and demand, it is mathematically impossible that both of these things take place under the current legislation. Healthcare products and services do not grow on trees; they are of a set, limited quantity and require much human effort and money to create. No bill can increase or decrease the set supply of hospitals, doctors, nurses, medicine, drugs, or medicinal technologies in the country. But by bringing in 31 million more insured americans elligible to receive these things, the demand for this set supply skyrockets! Economics and simple reason tell us that when there is more demand for the same supply of products, the price of those products increases. So by promising both things, Obama is either lying or unwilling to admit just how socialist this plan is. There are only two plausible ways Obama could possibly meet both goals: rationing or price controls. This is the root of Sarah Palin’s alarmist term “death panels,” as it is not difficult to imagine a government agency under such circumstances determining that 95-year old, cancer stricken Grandma shouldn’t receive that pricy hip replacement. Since such tools are socialistic and entail a host of other problems, democrats are sure to label their mention as an unfounded scare tactic; it is true that the current bill establishes the right to neither. But they are the only means by which Obama could magically bring about the contradictory promises his legislation contains.

Something’s got to give, and the most likely something is that the price of healthcare, and US spending on healthcare, will rise. Not surprisingly, projections have shown the bills will in fact fail to lower healthcare spending. Richard Foster, the chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, found that these bills “increase the pace of national health-care spending will increase by 2.1% over 10 years, or by about $750 billon”. Holtz-Eakin, former Congressional Budget Office director and fellow at the Manhattan Institute, shows “The CBO found that the House bill fails to reduce the pace of health-care spending growth…In this way, the bills betray the basic promise of health-care reform: providing quality care at lower cost.”

The above rhetoric has, at great length, torn apart the proposed healthcare reforms. Yet as the introduction to this paper plainly states, the US is in dire need of effective, efficient reform.
On Labor Day, the president challenged healthcare opponents: “What’s your answer? What’s your solution? The truth is, they don’t have one. It’s do nothing.” While doing nothing is a preferred alternative to the ominous changes the current bills entail, it is the aim of this paper to disprove that statement by suggesting multiple courses of effective government action, with equal vigor as it criticized those changes proposed.

A cheaper, fairer, freer health insurance reform bill would emphasize cost reduction over directly granting coverage to the masses. Reduction of the number of uninsured, currently around 47 million, is the primary goal of new health insurance legislations. But as associate editor of Reason magazine Peter Suderman argues, that number is greatly exaggerated:
The number is presented as a static fact, but instead it's the total number of people who go uninsured for even a single day each year. The number also includes several million illegal immigrants, 11 million individuals who already qualify for some form of government health assistance, and 18 million individuals who make more than $50,000 a year, many of whom presumably could buy insurance but simply choose not to.
Due to this, the number of people who are truly not eligible for government insurance and cannot afford it is closer to 18 million, less than 6% of our populace. It is not the government’s responsibility to ensure that each of these people get insurance; it is not even those individual’s responsibility, rather their prerogative. What is the government’s responsibility is finding ways to effectively decrease the cost of healthcare and health insurance which it has inflated through previous legislation. Not only will this help our national budget as a whole by lowering our healthcare expenditures, but it will lower the price for those 47 million individuals as well. So health insurance reform should center on fairly lowering cost, with the knowledge that success will increase health insurance ownership anyway.

In any industry, the unrestricted open market is the greatest cost setting tool. So to effectively lower costs, reform must do away with the numerous impediments to free trade, starting with the employer-based system. Allowing 85% of Americans to purchase their own insurance, based on their own individualized needs and budgets, would force the open market to set a fair price as it does in every other industry. Since insurance companies could no longer rely on employers to buy in bulk, they would be forced to lower prices to meet the demands of individual consumers, and since employees would no longer have a slice taken from their paycheck they would have additional salary with which to purchase this product or anything else they so choose. These salary hikes could also do much to stimulate our slow economy by encouraging open market transactions.

Additionally, the government tampering that has led to higher costs must be downscaled as much as possible. John Stossel rightly observes that, “professional licensing and controls on medical schools keep the supply of medical services limited and prices high.” The removal of these controls is essential to allowing the supply of healthcare to increase, and thus the price to decrease. Nonsensical state barriers to insurance purchases must be removed. Government cost controlling initiatives HIPPA and COBRA should also be eliminated. Due to their immense popularity, it is not politically feasible for the massive entitlement programs Medicare and Medicaid to be removed outright, despite their economic failures. This sticky situation warns gravely of the dangers of creating government healthcare programs that cannot be retroactively undone. Still, cost cutting measures may be taken to save Medicare. As our nation’s life expectancy, the age at which the average American dies, increases, so too should the age at which American seniors become eligible for Medicare. Pushing back this date a few years would take a few million patients off our government’s shoulders, easing the program’s economic burden. Furthermore, government bodies should be formed to ensure political aims to expand healthcare insurance do not riskily abuse government power to artificially increase these numbers; similar political trends regarding home ownership are largely responsible for our economy woes today.

These reforms, in full, may not be feasible right now due to the political climate at this time. As Obama has stated, political compromise is key to passing whatever reforms both sides can support. But compromise does not mean the extremely limited concessions Democrats have been willing to make, the minute details they have been willing to tweak, in their proposed reforms. Beneficial reform can be accomplished by comparing the ideas and suggestions from both sides of the aisle and implementing the compatible elements from each. For example, it is hard to imagine that Republicans would oppose the Democratic initiative to closing the legal loopholes insurance companies utilize to avoid paying when their customers get sick. Similarly, pragmatic Republican ideas like reforming the medical malpractice laws to make it harder to sue doctors, thus reducing the drain of defensive medicine and over-prescribing, are not based on party differences and should find bipartisan support. Obama has blasted healthcare opponents for sticking to “entrenched ideological camps,” and then proceeded to entrench himself in his own ideology. Truly effective, immediate, bipartisan reform attempts cannot run contrary to either party’s basic ideological differences if they are to succeed. If the President wishes to succeed in reforming healthcare in a bipartisan manner, he must forgo minor partisan concessions in exchange for more agreeable non-partisan concepts both sides can accept.

In conclusion, America’s healthcare system needs reform, and the consequences of failure to curb the growth of healthcare costs are dire. But as with any important, consequential national decision, congress must be sure to make the correct changes, and as the current plans do not take effect until 2013 at the earliest there is no rush to hastily pass a verdict. The current healthcare bills misdiagnose and mistreat the causes of healthcare woes, finalize an illogical third party system, further impinge on the open market, inflict on individual liberties, unfairly expand government powers, create another unconstitutional entitlement program, break recent promises to the American people, increase our national debt and simply cannot succeed. For these reasons Congress must vote against the proposed healthcare bills in both the House and the Senate, and instead pass a reform bill that will more fairly, cheaply, and effectively run the industry.

Ronald Reagan once wisely advised on the issue of government healthcare programs:
One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It's very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project — most people are a little reluctant to oppose anything that suggests medical care for people who possibly can't afford it. Now, the American people, if you put it to them about socialized medicine and gave them a chance to choose, would unhesitatingly vote against it.

 Here’s hoping the American congressmen will do the same.

The Case Against ObamaCare (Summarized Version)

(With a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of Obamacare expected any week now, I felt it fitting to post the essay I wrote the month before it passed about why it was a bad idea. This is a highly condensed summary of that 24-page editorial. The full version will be posted soon.)

In order to effectively cure our ailing healthcare system, it is critical that its specific ailment is accurately diagnosed. In reality, American health insurance is not sold on a free market, and the places it deviates from a free market are the sources of the problems it sees today. Examples of this deviation abound. One is the third-party-payer system used by 85% of insured Americans. Ones employer providing ones health insurance makes no more sense than providing ones house, car, or any other expensive and individualized purchase. Another hindrance to the free market in healthcare is government intervention. Government actions like Medicare, Medicaid, a ban on out-of-state insurance purchases, HIPPA, SCHIP, COBRA, and supply-restrictive licensure laws are largely responsible for rising health insurance costs. These are the real problems in the health insurance industry, yet those pushing through the healthcare bills give the industry give a false diagnosis; they instead blame the industries ills on corporate greed and “profiteering”. Not only does their legislation ignore the true causes of soaring insurance prices, it exacerbates them. Instead of removing middle-man interference with market dynamics, the plans expand this senseless system by forcing employers to provide insurance for their employees under penalty of fine or tax. And instead of removing government meddling with the industry, the legislation creates over 1900 pages of new mandates, regulations, fees, and bureaucracy. Any prescription written to cure a system ailing from government intervention with more government intervention is surely doomed to failure.
Perhaps the most outrageous aspect of this bill is its blatant encroachments on individual liberties. The bill forces insurance companies to cover those with pre-existing conditions at no extra charge, the equivalent of selling life insurance to a dead man, insuring a car that has already crashed, or insuring a home that has already burned down. Why should any company in any field be forced by the government to do something sure to lose it money? In order to pay for this costly policy, the legislation forces nearly all Americans to buy/obtain health insurance whether they want it or not, a law called the “individual mandate.” Fees or even jail time await those who fail to comply. Obama’s argued in September that those who fail to obtain insurance practice “irresponsible behavior” which “costs all the rest of us money” because “it means we pay for these people's expensive emergency room visits.” What the president calls “irresponsible behavior” might also be called “choice”, and when he says such emergency room visits are “expensive”, he means is that they account for less than 3% of our healthcare budget. The true motivation behind the individual mandate is making the young and healthy subsidize the old and sick. The bills also dictate that all insurance plans meet the government’s specific qualifications. Consumers may not pay for merely what they want insured, they must instead fill whatever insurance parameters the government deems appropriate. This removes the incentive to check ones healthcare consumption, as it’s already paid for. If people are covered for more products and services than they are now, they will naturally use more products and services than they do now, and this increased usage will force up the costs of care. All of these measures have been tried before in several states, where they have repeatedly increased costs. The present legislation will merely repeat this failure on a grander scale.
Such mandates eradicate any semblance of free market principles the current system has left. The sale of any product is based on the premise that both consumer and producer agree to the transaction. If the producer is forced to sell, and the consumer is forced to buy, the principles of choice and market freedom through which so many industries have flourished cannot exist. Under no circumstances should the government have any power to force any citizen to purchase any product at any time. As Forbes columnist Shikha Dalmia writes, the proposed legislation “will tell patients when, what and how much coverage they must buy; it will tell sellers when, what and how much coverage they must sell.” If that isn’t a government takeover of healthcare, what is? And it’s a costly takeover at that. The most uncertain issue of the healthcare debate has been the budget hit of the proposed changes. Estimates of total cost run anywhere from $800 billion to over $2 trillion. For a nation already $12 trillion debt, with a soaring national deficit, such a price tag is an irresponsible expenditure even if the bills were effective. The bill is partially funded through diverting $475 billion of so-called “inefficiencies” from Medicare; a half trillion dollars of inefficiencies in a prior government healthcare reform hardly argues for further government intervention! Current projections are vastly underestimated; the healthcare plans are tremendously costly endeavors America simply cannot afford.
The legislation aims to a) open access to health insurance to the 45 million uninsured Americans, and b) lower soaring healthcare costs. But it is economically impossible that both of these things take place without rationing. Healthcare products and services do not grow on trees; they are of a set, limited quantity and require much human research and funds to create. Only entrepreneur initiative can increase the set supply of healthcare in the country, not a government bill. In fact, government liscensure laws and the AMA keep this supply low. But by bringing in 31 million more insured Americans elligible to receive these things, the demand for this set supply skyrockets! Simple economics tells us that when there is greater demand for the same set supply of products, the price of those products inevitably increases.
The proposed healthcare legislation fails to reform the health insurance industry by misdiagnosing the causes of the healthcare crisis, finalizing an illogical third party system, further infringing on individual liberties, and unfairly expanding government powers at an unacceptable cost. For these reasons Congress must vote against the proposed healthcare bills and instead pass a reform bill that will more fairly, cheaply, and effectively fix the industry. Ronald Reagan once accurately stated that “the American people, if you put it to them about socialized medicine and gave them a chance to choose, would unhesitatingly vote against it.” Here’s hoping the American congressmen will do the same.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Better Schooling, Not More Schooling

(I wrote this essay two and a half years ago for Junior Year English class, and just recently found it in an old folder. Thought it was worth reposting. Enjoy!)

The educational system in this country has been much decried in recent years. The competency of US students compared to those in other countries has been falling for decades, especially in math and science. These poor results, combined with policies in other countries, have led many to call for more compulsory schooling through a variety of avenues, including mandatory preschool, longer school days, and severely shortened or nonexistent summer vacations. But these measures do not attack the true problems in US schools, they merely extend the length of time these problems persist. Such steps would be ineffective in their stated goal of improving student performance, mentally taxing on students, literally taxing on their parents, and encroaching on the rights of individual school districts to choose for themselves. The United States should not mistake its admirable goal of bettering the educational system with the costly blunder of elongating it.
The proficiency of American students, measured through numerous standards and means, has dwindled for decades. US children are being outscored by those in many weaker nations in numerous subjects, and there are several ideas proposed combat this trend. Many Americans favor a longer school year, a longer school day, mandatory preschool, and increased government funding for college, in an overall larger scholastic path dubbed “cradle to college.” Their cause has been taken up by the new administration, particularly Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who asserts that he favors “longer school days, longer school weeks, [and] longer school years” to ensure our students are not “at a competitive disadvantage” with those of other countries. Duncan and his followers cite nations like Sweden, Belgium, and Denmark, which have longer school days and higher test scores. But studies show that these calls are misguided; there is in fact no correllation between higher test scores and more hours of schooling. Dozens of school districts across the nation have experimented with year-long schedules, and most have noted no improvement in scholastic performance. David Harsanyi of The Denver Post cites, “kids in the U.S. spend more "hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests—Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013)." Parental emphasis on a child’s education, however, is far greater in these Asian cultures than in most American ones, which explains why “Asian-American students consistently outscore their counterparts in this country, within the same school systems and with the same class times.” Harsanyi states that “the most consistent indicator and predictor of a student’s educational achievement is parental involvement,” and no government mandate or elongated calendar can increase or improve these factors.
While students are succeeding less in this country than in others, they’re certainly not working less, as the above statistics indicate. US children often have hectic schedules chock full of extra-curricular activities and homework, with precious little free time. In high schools especially, these packed schedules combined with the volatile insecurities of adolescence lead to a student body that can often be overworked and overstressed, especially among the most ambitious students with the most challenging and work-requiring courses. Longer school days would leave less time to complete homework, less free time to relieve this stress, and would encroach on already low student sleep hours. More numerous school days would shorten student breaks and extend the schooling curriculum, thus increasing student workload, fatigue and stress levels all the more. The Association for the Study of Higher Education notes that “a field study and laboratory tests support the notion that excessive stress is harmful to a student’s performance,” rendering an increase in these stress levels via an extended school schedule counterproductive.
In addition, this expansion of a key government-funded infrastructure would come at a hefty price. Should a mandatory year-round calendar or shortened summer break be adopted, schools unaccustomed to summer operation would be forced to install costly air conditioning systems. More educational hours would mean the salaries of teachers, administrators, and other school staff would need to be increased for the extra work time. The cost of facilities like electricity and other fixed budget items must also increase, as they must be utilized for more hours than they are today. All these incurred costs would ultimately be paid by taxpayers, people who may not wish for an extended schedule in their own school districts in the first place. Leaving these decisions to individual school districts, with locally elected officials, would more accurately reflect the wishes of taxpayers and the needs of their children than would an overriding federal mandate. Such measures would also hurt the US economically. Shortening or removing students’ summer vacation must also shorten or remove family vacations taking place over the summer, in turn harming the hotel, swimming, airline, leisure, summer camp, and tourism industries. President and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association Joe McInerney fears that “fewer vacation days will dry up the industry's labor source and lead to huge losses of revenue.” Burdening the already struggling economy with such concerns hardly seems wise, especially when the impact on test scores and educational performance is so undetermined.
For these reasons, an extension of the compulsory school schedule would incur many problems. The argument that longer schooling produces smarter kids is far too contested, unfair, and inadequately supported by statistics to justify such difficulties. It is vastly important to secure the future of the nation by effectively reforming our educational system. If the United States is to compete economically and in the labor force with the most powerful nations in the world, it must procure students and test scores competitive with the best educated nations in the world. Initiatives designed to better motivate students, better encourage parents to become involved in their child’s education, and better arm educators with the evolving tools needed to effectively educate must be central in this improvement. New ideas regarding the function and organization of schools are bountiful, and may further the learning environment of US students. But while increasing the quality of US education is necessary and beneficial, increasing the quantity of US education is not.