Monday, November 30, 2009

Is Income Equality Moral?

During a recent conversation, income differences between the rich and the poor was mentioned as a problem. Looking at the US Census Bureau data (table F-1 at this link), from 1947 to 2008 the income of the poorest quintile in the US has increased 108% vs. the income of the richest quintile, which increased 194%. So the questions I ask is: if my income doubles, what does it matter if my neighbors' income triples? Is it really important that everyone’s quality of life rises at the same rate?

Personally, I think Steve Jobs or the Google Guys should make a ton of money for their amazing innovations – as they benefit a lot of people, and those people freely give their money to them in exchange for the benefit they see for their own life. But why do so many of those same people (the ones benefiting from iPods and Google) then want to take a significant percentage of that money back in the form of taxes? What do you think is the moral justification for taking back money that was freely given to someone else that benefited your life?

No one I've spoken to seems comfortable with the idea of directly taking money from another person just because that person has more money than they do. Yet most people seem comfortable with the idea of electing an official, who then takes that money (in the form of taxes) and spends it on their behalf (in the form of public services). Many will argue that it's for "the public good" and that everyone has a vote, but then I think of all the horrific acts (e.g. the Inquisition, Stalin's or Mao's purges, the Holocaust, etc) that were often perpetrated by parties voted into power and most often carried out under the guise of the "public good". It seems to me that the "morality of a society" is just the morality of its participants - which can be reflected in the officials they elect and the acts they condone, either by active participation or silence...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Justice, not Grace

Last year around this time I also posted a link to Craig Biddle's excellent article, "Don't Say Grace, Say Justice". This is a great, positive description of why we should be thankful for those who truly bring a benefit to our lives, rather than a fictional god who deserves no credit. Highly recommended.

Happy Turkey-day everyone. Eat, drink, be merry, and thank those who make your life great.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hooray for Wayne!

Well, my wonderful hubby finally made his first post on Life On Marrs (see below). I was beginning to think I should change the URL to He's awfully smart, well-spoken and funny too (of course I'm biased), so here's to many more!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Everyday Questions on Health Care

A friend recently asked for my thoughts on health care reform - and here is my casual response:

overall - the overriding moral issue is whether or not health care is a "right" - you know I'm a huge fan of individual rights (the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness (i.e. the right to take actions for your own life) and the right to property (i.e. the right to keep the fruits of your own labor). To claim goods and services as a "right" is immoral, as you have to take away the true rights of some (property) in order for others to make a claim to the goods and services of other (e.g. to say that everyone has a right to cheap health care is to say that doctors and nurses do not have the right to charge what people are willing to pay for their services)

now that we've got the big moral question out of the way, let's move on to some of the politic issues and analysis. to my mind, some key/relevant questions (numbered) with their respective points (lettered) would be:

1) why is health insurance so much more expensive then other insurance (e.g. car or home insurance?)

a) during the Great Depression, hospitals and doctors organized their own insurance groups to promote/sell their services - they pitched it to the government as a "non-profit" that would cover entire communities and charge the same rate for each person - the lobbying paid off and the govt granted them special privileges (tax exempt status and a greatly reduced reserve requirement (i.e. how much money the insurance company must keep available to pay for claims - and this reserve capital is the largest factor for the viability of an insurance company) - who were these dastardly companies using government influence for unfair competitive advantage? The answer: Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Needless to say, the Blues dominated the market within just over a decade. Nothing like government-awarded monopolies to skew pricing! The Blues are only listed as the 44th largest political donor - after bankers, real estate and unions - so is there any mystery why we had the bank bailout, the home buyers credit and the GM bailout before health care?

b) another important factor in health insurance is that during WWII - the govt put a freeze on wage increases but health insurance was exempted (i.e. any health insurance offered by an employer did not count toward the "maximum wage allowance") - so one way that businesses were able to lure workers was to offer the highest wage possible and good health insurance as well. With the dearth of labor available during the war, you can imagine businessmen doing whatever they could to hire good people. This policy led to the "social norm" of employers providing health insurance - but how screwed up is that? Your employer wants to pay as little as possible for your health insurance, but it is to your benefit to use it as much as possible - and you have no motivation to price shop services. Your only concern is co-pay, which for many policies is minimal, so why wouldn't people "use & abuse" such a policy? Imagine if your home owners insurance would cover maintenance items (e.g. mowing your lawn and cleaning your gutters) for a $20 co-pay. Wouldn't you use it all the time? Wouldn't the insurance company need to cover the cost of all the gardeners and maintenance men? Of course - but this is not the role of insurance. It is supposed to be for extreme/rare incidents - but in the case of health care it's been twisted into everyday use, and the person using it has no incentive to even consider the price of the service. Is it any wonder that such a system dysfunctional? Luckily, home owners insurance has not been as heavily manipulated by the government and doesn't cover "little things" - and therefore it is reasonably priced and relatively reliable. I don't understand why more people don't question why other insurance is so good and health insurance so bad...

2) why is health care itself so expensive? (i.e. does not seem to follow normal supply & demand cycles)
a) primarily, I think it's insurance debacle described above that has created the disconnect between the one providing the service, the one receiving the service and the one paying for the service that has skewed pricing so badly, but there are other important factors.
b) current tort law through a variety of precedent cases has made the onus of medical knowledge for medical professionals completely unreasonable. some of the cases that I've looked into seem to imply the standard as an ultra-genius doctor familiar with all aspects of medicine that also never makes a mistake. It's easy enough to imagine juror's that think they are serving justice by hitting insurance companies with outrageous settlements for patients that have had problems - but the cost is astronomical. And it is also true that doctors that make significant errors in judgment should pay - and that they should be insured for when they make errors - but there needs to be a reasonable expectation of what a doctor can know and how difficult medical diagnosis can be.
c) the law that requires ER's treat anyone, regardless of their ability to pay, is ridiculous. Combine that with the low reimbursement rates offered by Medicare and Medicaid and you have another recipe for disaster. These low reimb rates make it difficult for people on Medicare/caid to get a primary physician - but they know they can see a doctor if they go to the ER, so many do. In the eight years following EMTALA (the law that required ER's to see any patient, passed in 1985), ER visits went up 27%, and in that same time 14% of ER's closed down. Is it any wonder?
d) finally, the FDA is such a gigantic and unwieldy bureaucracy that only the largest pharmaceutical companies can have the apparatus required to negotiate the labyrinth to "approval". Because of that, competition is all but eliminated, and guess what...


so, with all those points, you can imagine my amazement that people are calling for more government involvement - when as far as I can tell, it is government involvement that screwed the whole thing up in the first place

kinda like everyone turning to the gov after the credit crash, but no one ever questioned the fed's role in handing out the cheap money that caused the housing bubble to begin with...

Monday, November 16, 2009

NYT headlines of the day

NYT Headline #1: "G.M., Citing Progress, Reports Loss of $1.15 Billion". Apparently this is a small loss compared to the past, and is allowing GM to begin paying back its government debt.

NYT Headline #2: "Drug Makers Raise Prices in Face of Health Care Reform". Basically, the new health care bill is going to limit price increases in the coming years, so everyone is trying to give themselves a buffer by raising their prices before the legislation becomes effective. Go buy your cheap drugs now!

Do people not look at these headlines and notice that something is fundamentally flawed? Amazing the world we live in...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Venn Jesus

Courtesy of Diana Hsieh at Noodlefood, from an unknown original source on Twitter, comes this amazing diagram. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Principles of a Free Society

Rational Jenn posted a link to this new site by the Ayn Rand institute, "Principles of a Free Society". I haven't perused in detail yet, but it looks like a simply layout of the basic principles for a society based on reason and individual rights. It lays out three main areas: Limited Government, Objective Laws, and Individual Rights. It also goes into detail about four important "separations", Separation of Church and State, Economics and State, Science and State, and Education and State. Good stuff and fairly simple to understand.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Democrats on Health Care

Doesn't it seem like the democrats are extremely self-righteous and self-congratulatory with this whole health-care thing (and every other issue for that matter)? I think if they could look outside their individual bubbles of political negotiations and deals and see what is really going on, they would have to say, "Oh shit - half of Americans don't want this! Something must be wrong!" But no... I think those individuals truly believe that they are somehow superior and therefore should have the ability to make decisions for everyone else. And of course it doesn't help that we have an apathetic populous in a society that often actively avoids reason. At this rate, we're totally screwed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hobbit Beach

I know I haven't been posting much of substance lately, but it will come! For now, here's a shot from our trip to the Oregon Coast this week...