Remedial economics: Obamacare as teachable moment

Photo credit: peasap / Foter.com / CC BY

Here’s a good news article–from AFP of all places–that highlights the problem when government negotiates prices.  The headline says it all: “Secret pricing spikes US healthcare costs.”   The unflattering description of price negotiation, which is a favorite tool of economic liberals, is remarkable.  The article quotes European health policy experts, who advise the US to follow their lead by turning pricing over to market mechanisms. What a concept!

Meanwhile, a blogger at Values and Capitalism reminds us of the importance of basic economic literacy.  Her mention of “price signaling” triggers that part of me that must lecture everyone: prices communicate information about scarcity.  When government offers subsidies or fixes prices, it distorts that information.  These interventions produce illusion and falsehood.  It’s quite arguably immoral.

The spectacular implosion of the Affordable Care Act that we are now going through is a teachable moment.  Many fiscal conservatives spend a lot of time snarkily tweaking liberals and the Obama administration.  It would be a serious waste not to turn aside for a moment, and soberly remind our fellow citizens that no one can wish away immutable economic realities.  Central planning will never beat a free market.

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ENDA’s game: pandering and distraction at high cost

This past Monday, President Obama and Apple CEO Tim Cook released twin editorials urging Congress to pass ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  Consider this portion of Cook’s appeal, as cited in the Washington Times:

“For too long, too many people have had to hide that part of their identity in the workplace,” he wrote. “Those who have suffered discrimination have paid the greatest price for this lack of legal protection. But ultimately we all pay a price. If our co-workers cannot be themselves in the workplace, they certainly cannot be their best selves.”

Mr. Cook refers to the LGBT community.  But notice that that special class goes unmentioned in the passage. One can easily imagine he is writing about another group of persons who “have had to hide that part of their identity in the workplace.”  Which makes me wonder, would this Silicon Valley captain of industry–a scion of progressive, elite culture–have gone to bat for Republicans, gun enthusiasts, or Evangelical Christians?  In sociologist George Yancey’s 2011 book, Compromising Scholarship, it precisely these groups that face the most bias from university faculty hiring committees.

But that point is not germane to the merits, or demerits, of the legislation.  Earlier this week, Melinda at Stand to Reason noted that while religious institutions are exempted from ENDA, small business owners are not.  It’s the same befuddling logic that granted Obamacare exemptions to big businesses, but not to small ones.  The editors at National Review pointed out some more liabilities, including an increase in bureaucracy and lawsuits.

A factcheck.org piece dismissed as spin House Speaker John Boehner’s claim that ENDA will result in “frivolous” lawsuits.  But in doing so, the factchecker had to affirm a Congressional Budget Office estimate that $47 million will be needed for new oversight and processing of 5,000 new legal claims annually.  The writer couches the real economic cost this way:

As for Boehner’s claim that ENDA would “cost American jobs, especially small business jobs,” that may well be the outcome in some isolated cases, but the law specifically applies only to companies with 15 or more employees — which exempts nearly 90 percent of all small businesses (and nearly a third of those employed in businesses with under 500 employees).

This supposedly inquisitive journalist’s lack of concern for “isolated cases” reminds me of President Obama’s now immortal prevarication, “If you like your plan, you can keep it.”  Five million individual market health insurance plans are not good enough.  Off to the exchange you go!  If you are on the wrong side of “history,” as outlets like The Week want to label it, you will get steamrolled under Progress.

Speaking of Obamacare, isn’t this trotting out of ENDA just a timely distraction from the trainwreck?  At least one advocacy group sees the move for what it is: a shameless pandering to a constituency,  but only when it’s convenient.  LGBT activists are right to take the move as an insult.

This is really nothing new for Obama or the Democratic Party.  Manipulating a menagerie of supporters through identity politics is straight from the party play book.  Talk about a wedge issue; our president is the great Divider-in-Chief.

Real people are being thrown under the bus.  With Obamacare and ENDA, we have the Forgotten Man.  Person A takes from person B to benefit person C.  That is, if person C really gains any significant benefit.  The one thing we can be sure of is that person A is looking out first and foremost for himself.

Ronald Reagan’s admonition is timeless: the nine scariest words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Photo credit: Princes Milady / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Defunding Obamacare: principled, or pointless?

Robert Ariail, Townhall.com

For some time now, the Wall Street Journal editorial board has been warning about the futility of the strategy to defund Obamacare before it goes into effect in October.  The evening before Ted Cruz saddled up to fillibuster in the Senate, indulging the painful path to government shutdown, the Journal issued a preemptive, if qualified, “I told you so.”

We wish the GOP luck, since we support the policy if not the strategy. But however this charge into the fixed bayonets turns out, we hope the folks who planned it will take responsibility for what happens now.

The Journal points out that the leaders of the defund charge could not drum up solid GOP support, but only a “rump minority.”  And I think for good reason: Republican Representatives in swing districts can’t afford to take the blame for government shutdown.  A senator like Cruz does well to play to his base, with re-election five years away, if he’s not eying 2016.  Meanwhile, he and the defund (defeat) caucus are daring to doom vulnerable House Republicans by renewing the party’s image as overzealous shutters-down of government.  Democrats have been salivating for months.

As Michael Medved reminds us from time to time, there is no secret army of conservatives who will turn out in mass when the GOP takes its principled, suicidal stand.  That army doesn’t reside in swing districts; if anywhere, it would reside where the GOP will win by more than 20 points anyway.

Medved has posed this challenge on air over the past few weeks: what is the winning scenario for the defund campaign?  How do America or the Republican Party gain anything real out of this, whether in 2014 or for the foreseeable future?  President Obama has the bully pulpit, and the traction to outlast the GOP.  Even after the embarrassing Syrian escapade, the media’s irrational infatuation with the president is as recalcitrant as ever.

I’m firmly in the live-to-fight-another-day caucus.  I know the trite cries of “RINO” and admonitions to take a “principled stand” fly thick through the air these days.  So I take succor in the WSJ editorial’s biting claim to street cred:

These columns opposed ObamaCare before it was known by that name, and we may have even been the first to call it by that name. We also don’t need any lectures about principle from the Heritage Foundation that promoted RomneyCare and the individual mandate that is part of ObamaCare. Or from cable TV pundits who sold Republicans on Mitt Romney despite RomneyCare.

I’m not especially aware of Heritage’s transgression, but I feel the Journal on this one.

It’s refreshing to see cartoonist Robert Ariail’s no non-sense take on the situation.  The cliff image is all too prevalent these days, because we’ve been bouncing from cliff to cliff every few months.  It will be refreshing when posturing politicians stop clowning around, posing for “principle,” and actually get smart about saving the country.  Suck it up.  Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Robert Ariail, Townhall.com

 

 

 

 

Constitutional curve ball

For politicos, the Obamacare decision was something of a “Where were you when . . . ?” moment.  Surprisingly, Chief Justice John Roberts–not Justice Anthony Kennedy–was among the upholding majority.  And the mischievous wording of Robert’s majority opinion memorably made the breakneck news cycle stop for just a couple minutes as reporters rushed to divine the arcane document on live television.   CNN even embarrassed itself (and FOX less so) with a Dewey defeats Truman blunder, but I doubt it will be remembered as long as the original.

Throughout the day I caught a few whiffs of this idea that Roberts’s institutionalist inclination was coming through.  That is, he voted the way he did to spare the Supreme Court from allegations it had succumbed to an intractable polarization along party lines .  It was batted around on NBC’s live coverage, and resurfaced for the evening’s All Things Considered.  Hard liberal Robert Reich presciently cited this institutional loyalty a day in advance.  Supposedly, John Roberts is not even the first chief justice to spike his vote in the hope of saving the court’s influence.

If this protective phenomenon of institutionalism is real, isn’t it self-defeating in practice?  It would seem the court is compromising its deliberative process in order to not appear compromised.

Yet, short of Justice Roberts being interrogated with truth serum, the institutional motive will probably remain just speculation.  There’s been profuse coverage and the decision’s dissection will only become more detailed and complete over time.  I cannot pretend to be an expert on jurisprudence, so I trust those who say Roberts had good reason for pegging the mandate as a tax.  Indeed, it may have been more a pebble in Democrats’ shoes than a charitable move.

It seems at this point that the GOP has been invigorated considerably by the shock that for some is also accompanied by a sense of betrayal.  I’m surprised that there are still holdouts coming out of the woodwork to support Governor Romney.  It’s like those Japanese soldiers who only surrendered to American forces in the age of disco.  What a trauma that must have been.

The response on the Right, including over one million spontaneous dollars taken in by Romney’s campaign today, is encouraging for those who hope to roll back the collectivist tide.  It seems conservatives have their own way of going “Forward.”

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