Blog: Tom Mullen's Blog
Post: Politicians Talking Gibberish About Health Care
Every minute of every day, Americans are subjected to politicians and media pundits talking gibberish. There really is no other word for it, whether the particular subject is economics, foreign policy, or even climatology. However, the gibberish that is getting the most attention right now concerns health care “reform.” President Obama is leading the Democrats with the familiar socialist model that has failed in every industrialized nation in which it has been tried. The Republicans are answering with gibberish of their own. You have to especially admire the Republicans, because they are not only fomenting nonsense from a discredited, minority position, but are actually trying to suck up to voters by selling their version of government-run, loot-funded health care as a “free market solution.” Only the party of George W. Bush could be capable of gibberish like this.
To truly appreciate how bizarre the arguments are, let’s break down what our ruling class is really saying. Sometimes the music bed, the interruptions by the self-absorbed interviewer, or even the graphics leading into next segment can obscure the gibberishness of some of their assertions.
Let us start by examining the position of the Democrats. They assert that every human being has a right to health care, and that it is the government’s job to provide for those who cannot afford it. There are three key terms here: right, health care, and provide. Let’s define the first two.
Right: that which an individual is entitled to without the consent of or compensation to anyone else. For example, people have a right to life. That is, they do not need anyone’s permission, nor are they obligated to compensate anyone in order to live. It is appropriate for an individual to demand, rather than ask for, their right to life to be respected.
Health care: a service which primarily consists of the labor of health care providers. For example, a physician exerts his mind and body, utilizing his education and experience, to attempt to diagnose and treat a patient’s illness or injury. That physician’s labor is “health care.”
Let us now restate the argument made by the Democrats, using these definitions in place of the terms themselves.
“Every individual is entitled to the labor of health care providers without compensating them or obtaining their consent. It is appropriate for individuals to demand, rather than ask, that health care providers treat them for free.”
To be fair, although the Democrats repeat their slogan about the “right to healthcare” ad infinitum, they do not actually propose that the government defend this “right” directly. Instead, they use their own peculiar definition of the third term previously cited, “provide.” Americans continue to be bewildered by this parlor trick, whether because they are easily confused or because it is more convenient to be fooled than not. In any case, “provide” to the government means that they will employ the method described by William Graham Sumner where A & B get together to pass a law requiring C to do something for X. So as not to miss the opportunity to describe this plainly, this really means that they are going to use the brute force of government to force some people to pay for health care for others. That is all it is, when you peel away the doubletalk, jingoism, and spin.
Moreover, it is not just your property that the government will take in order to run its program. It will also require another huge portion of your liberty as well. In a recent speech about his health care reform plans, President Obama suggested that “we” must begin encouraging healthier lifestyles, including getting our children away from computer games and back to playing outside. “We” means “the government.” Of course, when it is the government’s responsibility to pay for the health care of other people, the government now claims a right on behalf of taxpayers to see that those people keep themselves as healthy as they can in order to limit the cost. There are already government-imposed exercise programs in Japan. Americans should be aware that the same rules will apply here. One can almost hear the government “instructress” from Orwell’s 1984 screaming from the telescreen.
“Smith W.! Yes, you! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that. You’re not trying. Lower, please! That’s better, comrade.”
Political gibberish often conceals rather horrifying ideas. Thankfully, we have an opposition party that is opposing these heinous proposals, correct? As the people from Hertz say, “Not exactly.”
It is true that Republicans oppose a government-run health care plan. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the Republican summary of their “Patient’s Choice Act” argues that “ The government would run a health plan “with the compassion of the IRS, the efficiency of the post office, and the incompetence of Katrina.” All true, but of course the so-called party of individual liberty and free markets fails to argue the main point: the government – we the people – do not have the right to forcibly take money from one person and give it to another, not even for the purposes of paying for their health care. Nowhere in any report made public nor in any interview with a spokesperson for this “opposition party” will you hear this argument. There is a good reason for that.
Of course, the Republicans will argue that their plan works through the tax system and actually let’s families “keep more of their own money” to spend on health care, but a careful read of the WSJ article reveals that the same redistribution scheme is hidden within the stale “free market” rhetoric. First, the Republican plan would eliminate the tax exemption for employers when they provide health insurance benefits to their employees. This amounts to a tax increase on employers, whether they continue to provide the benefits or whether they eliminate them and merely pay taxes on the extra net income. What would the government do with this new revenue?
“Instead, it would give an annual tax credit of $2,300 to each individual and $5,700 to each family that they could use to offset the cost of their health insurance. Low-income families would get extra money to buy into private insurance plans.” [emphasis added]
So, in an effort to appear to be protecting the property rights of their more affluent base but at the same time buy the votes of those who cannot afford health care, the Republicans will simply tax those whom they think they can get away with taxing and call their own version of wealth redistribution a “tax cut,” much like George Bush’s “tax refunds” of the past decade. Of course, there is only one word for the suggestion that you can “cut” or “refund” taxes for people who are not paying taxes.
As usual, the American public is served up a carefully framed debate that attempts to appear to have two sides but doesn’t. In either case, we are getting “reform” of the health care system in the only way that any government can “provide” anything. They are going to forcibly take away the property (taxes) of one group of people and use it to provide property (health care) to another group. Lest anyone mistakes this brutal practice as “the wrong means to a compassionate end,” let us remember the only reason that politicians from either party suggest this: to buy the votes of those who believe that they will benefit from it. Since there are more who would receive benefits in the voting base of the Democratic Party, they are more open about what they are really doing. Since there are more of those who will be forced to pay in the base of the Republican Party, they try to spin their redistribution scheme as a “free market solution.” However, it is dressed up, it amounts to one thing; stealing.
In addition to ignoring the fundamental violation of rights that is part and parcel of any government provided service, both the Republicans and Democrats seem completely unaware of the root cause of the problem: health care is only so expensive because government already provides so much of it. This is the other elephant sitting in the corner whenever politicians from either party start talking about health care reform.
Last year, total health care spending in the United States amounted to roughly $2.4 trillion dollars. Medicare and Medicaid alone accounted for over $800 billion, or 33% of that. Add the Veteran’s Administration and other smaller government health care programs, and government is directly providing almost half of all health care delivered in this country. What does this have to do with the price? Any first-year economics student can tell you.
Price is determined by the intersection of supply and demand. Demand has two components: the desire to buy a good or service and the ability to buy that good or service. Let us assume that the desire for health care services is unlimited, as it is for many other goods or services. In that case, the only factor that can limit demand for health care services is ability to pay. This is the factor that most influences the price of every other good or service provided in the marketplace, including food, clothing, and shelter, which are even more vital to human life than health care. It is the finite amount of money that the buyers have to spend which keeps the price down and makes most goods affordable to those on limited budgets.
However, when government makes something an entitlement, demand suddenly becomes unlimited. Since the government now must provide the benefit and they have the option of taxing or printing what money they need to provide it, there is no longer anything holding down the price. This is the reason that we have seen health care prices skyrocket in recent decades. They will continue to rise until all resources are consumed trying to provide them.
State and local governments have already been experiencing this for years because of the exploding cost of their shares of the Medicaid programs (half of Medicaid benefits are paid by the states, some of which require their local governments to pay a percentage as well). They cannot print their own money, so they have instead cut their police forces and other legitimate functions of government in order to divert money to the insatiable Medicaid beast. In one local county in upstate New York, 100% of the property taxes collected in that county and $40 million dollars of sales tax revenue – the county’s only other revenue source – went to pay that county’s share of the Medicaid bill for their recipients. Now, it has been reported that the majority of the TARP funds that were supposed to go to “shovel-ready infrastructure projects” are instead being earmarked for “existing state social programs.” An audit of these payments would undoubtedly reveal that the bulk will go to Medicaid.
Economic laws are like the forces of nature. They can be held off, as a levy holds off a flood, but they will eventually overwhelm any attempt to violate them. The most fundamental economic law is this: you cannot consume more than you produce without taking the difference from someone else. Government produces nothing. Therefore, any health care benefit that government provides must be funded with money taken by force from someone else. There is no political theory, mathematical equation, or black magic incantation that can change this.
However, even if we are able to put aside the moral repugnancy of this practice, we cannot do so forever. Once voluntary exchange is abolished, market forces are suspended and the price of providing health care will rise until the government is no longer able even to steal enough to pay for it. That day was only a few decades away for the existing government health care programs before the economic crisis we find ourselves in now (which was similarly caused by government for all of the same reasons). If government attempts to provide everyone with health care, the end will come much sooner.
This sheds light on a fundamental misconception that underlies all of the societal problems that American society faces today: the belief that there is a conflict between individual rights and the “needs of society.” This conflict doesn’t exist. Protecting the rights of every individual serves the needs of society. Violating those rights, for whatever purpose, destroys society. In fact, it is by violating the individual rights of its constituents that government causes nearly every societal problem we face. The high price of health care is just one example.
There is only one moral and practical answer to the high cost of health care: we must get government out of the health care business entirely. That includes rejecting new programs proposed by either major party and figuring out a humane way to get our children out of the existing entitlement system without cutting off those presently dependent upon the benefits. The only lucid argument I’ve heard so far has been put forth by former presidential candidate, Congressman Ron Paul. He suggests that we dismantle our $1 trillion per year overseas military empire and use that money to pay Medicare and Social Security benefits while our children are allowed to enter the workforce without enrolling in the system themselves.
What do you know? A politician moved his lips and something besides gibberish came out.