Dutch Should Keep Health Care System They Have

Leiden Netherlands hospital
Leiden University Medical Center, the Netherlands (LUMC)

Nearly all political parties in the Netherlands call for more government in health care.

The far-left Socialists and Greens would replace private health insurers with public health funds. Labor would keep the insurance companies but take away their power to negotiate prices with health providers. The Christian Democrats and far-right Freedom Party want to end competition between hospitals. Even the center-right VVD believes liberalization has gone too far.

I’m a member of the VVD, but on this point I disagree. (So I’m glad there are few concrete proposals to reverse liberalizations in the VVD’s manifesto.) The Dutch health-care system is one of the best in the world. In a column for Trouw, I challenge the parties that want to uproot it to point to a better example. If there isn’t one, let’s keep the system we have. Read more “Dutch Should Keep Health Care System They Have”

Be Wary of the Return of Big Government

Union Station Washington DC
South Front Entrance of Union Station in Washington DC, July 4, 2019 (Unsplash/Caleb Fisher)

Big government is back.

Massive rescue programs have prevented business failures and unemployment on the scale of the Great Depression, even though last year’s economic contraction was nearly as bad. The European Union agreed a €750 billion recovery fund, financed, for the first time, by EU-issued bonds. The money comes on top of national efforts. The United States Congress passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus, worth 10 percent of GDP, in March and added $484 billion in April. An additional $900 billion in relief was included in this year’s budget.

Joe Biden, the incoming American president, wants to spend $2 trillion more over the next four years to transition the United States to a greener economy and create a public health insurance program. Corporate tax would go up from 21 to 28 percent.

In Spain, a socialist government has introduced the biggest budget in Spanish history — partly to cope with the impact of coronavirus, but also to finance digitalization, electric cars, infrastructure, renewable energy and rural development. Taxes on income, sales and wealth are due to increase.

In the United Kingdom, the ruling Conservative Party is building more social housing and it might renationalize rail. Unlike during the last economic crisis, it does not propose to cut spending even though tax revenues are down.

Same in the Netherlands, where all the major parties agree the government needs to do more to reduce pollution and prevent people at the bottom of the social ladder from falling through the cracks.

I’m not opposed to more government per se. I’ve argued the United States should imitate policies in Northern Europe to improve child care, health care and housing.

But let’s be careful not to throw “more government” at every problem. Sometimes government is the problem. Read more “Be Wary of the Return of Big Government”

Trump Bans TikTok. Where Is the Party of Free Enterprise?

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump makes an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 24, 2017 (Michael Vadon)

As if we needed more proof the Republican Party has surrendered all its principles to Donald Trump, the president is trying to ban a private company by executive fiat and the party of free enterprise is silent.

Trump may have a point on the merits. The Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok has a lot of problems, not in the least its vulnerability to state interference.

But I don’t doubt the only reason Trump cares is that teenagers used TikTok to disrupt one of his rallies in June. They organized a campaign via the app to buy tickets to Trump’s event in Tulsa and never showed up, humiliating the president, who faced a half-empty arena. Read more “Trump Bans TikTok. Where Is the Party of Free Enterprise?”

Berlin Shows How Not to Do Housing Policy

Berlin Germany
The sun sets on the Saint Nicholas’ Church and town hall of Berlin, Germany, January 26, 2010 (Mika Meskanen)

If you’re trying to control housing costs in your city, don’t look to Berlin for inspiration.

The German capital is due to implement a five-year, across-the-board rent freeze in March. The measure is expected to save around 340,000 tenants money during that period, but it will come at the expense of housing affordability in the long term.

The German Economic Institute in Cologne estimates that Berlin’s policy will reduce the value of some properties by more than 40 percent.

A consequence of that will be underinvestment. The BBU, a trade association of developers in the Berlin and Brandenburg region, says its members expect to reduce investments by €5.5 billion and construction by a quarter.

Germany needs 350,000 new homes each year to keep up with demand. Only 286,000 were built in 2018. If the BBU is to be believed, that number will fall — driving up housing costs across Germany. Read more “Berlin Shows How Not to Do Housing Policy”

Renationalizing British Utilities and Rail Would Be a Mistake

British post box
A Royal Mail post box in London, England, July 26, 2011 (Tim Miller)

Rising energy rates and railway fares in the United Kingdom are lending credence to the argument that privatization was a mistake.

YouGov last year found majorities in favor of taking energy, water and railways back into state ownership.

Telecom is the exception. Only 30 percent believe it should be run by the government.

The reason may be that the benefits of telecom privatization have been obvious whereas those of other privatizations are harder to discern.

Compared to the 1970s, however, utilities and railways provide a far better service today. Read more “Renationalizing British Utilities and Rail Would Be a Mistake”

Both Left- and Right-Wing Critics of Britain’s NHS Have a Point

A hospital in London, England, February 21, 2010
A hospital in London, England, February 21, 2010 (Lars Plougmann)

Crises in Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) tend to provoke the same ideological debate: the right blames “socialized medicine”, the left calls for more money.

Neither side is completely wrong.

The Financial Times argues there are too many administrators and not enough frontline medical staff in English hospitals.

Repeated government reforms have spurred fragmentation and only added more layers of bureaucracy.

But “cuts” (really: restraint in the growth of health spending) haven’t helped, especially when the population is aging and requiring more services. Read more “Both Left- and Right-Wing Critics of Britain’s NHS Have a Point”

Macron’s Liberalization Has Made Travel More Affordable in France

View of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France
View of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France (Unsplash/Rodrigo Kugnharski)

Emmanuel Macron’s liberalization of intercity public transport in France is paying off.

Until 2015, railroads had a monopoly on domestic ground routes of 100 kilometers or more. Macron — then economy minister, now president — wrote legislation that allowed buses to compete.

Bloomberg reports that 6.2 million passengers took a long-distance bus in 2016 and bookings are up another 25 percent this year.

That’s still a fraction of the more than 100 million annual high-speed train passengers, but competition from buses is forcing the state-owned railway to cut rates. Read more “Macron’s Liberalization Has Made Travel More Affordable in France”

Repression Is the Wrong Approach to America’s Opioid Epidemic

Donald Trump
Businessman Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, September 9, 2015 (Joshua M. Hoover)

One of the few silver linings to last year’s presidential election in the United States was that candidates from both major parties recognized that opioid addiction should be treated as a public-health, rather than a law-enforcement, problem.

Which makes it all the more disheartening that Donald Trump is taking exactly the wrong approach to this crisis.

Politico reports that the new president believes in a “tough law-and-order approach” to arrest the rise in drug overdose deaths.

142 Americans die from opioid abuse every day. That is more than die in car accidents or from guns.

The crisis is concentrated in postindustrial states like Kentucky and West Virginia: the heart of Trumpland. Read more “Repression Is the Wrong Approach to America’s Opioid Epidemic”

May Adopts Energy Policy Her Predecessor Called “Nuts”

Prime Ministers Theresa May of the United Kingdom and Lars Løkke Rasmussen of Denmark answer questions from reporters in Copenhagen, October 10, 2016
Prime Ministers Theresa May of the United Kingdom and Lars Løkke Rasmussen of Denmark answer questions from reporters in Copenhagen, October 10, 2016 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Tom Evans)

British prime minister Theresa May has adopted a policy her Conservative predecessor, David Cameron, once described as “nuts”.

When the opposition Labour Party proposed to freeze electricity rates in 2013, Cameron, then the Conservative Party leader, ridiculed it.

Now May has taken it over. Read more “May Adopts Energy Policy Her Predecessor Called “Nuts””

Clinton’s Plan to Control Drug Prices Seems Like an Overreach

Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton gives a speech in Iowa, January 23
Former American secretary of state Hillary Clinton gives a speech in Iowa, January 23 (Hillary for America/Barbara Kinney)

Hillary Clinton has a new plan to stop what she considers “unjustified” increases in drug prices.

Slate reports that her plan comes down to European-style price control.

As president, Clinton would create a task force of regulators with the power to decide whether price increases on old, essential medicines and devices were reasonable given product improvements and the amount of competition in the market. If not, the task force would have the power to mete out punishments to companies that were trying to profiteer, potentially with fines.

Fines would still require an act of Congress, where market-friendly Republicans are likely to retain their majority in the House of Representatives and block such penalties.

Nonetheless, as Slate puts it, “Clinton is subtly sending the message that she’s comfortable moving toward a more European system in which regulators have a direct say not just in what drug companies can charge the government, but what they can charge the rest of the public, too.”

It may not happen in the first four years of a Hillary Clinton presidency, but price controls are becoming Democratic Party policy — which means they could happen eventually. Read more “Clinton’s Plan to Control Drug Prices Seems Like an Overreach”