The Polluted Health Care Debate

The United States Senate sets to vote on a health-care bill over Christmas this Tuesday after what have been months of fierce political debate. As the opposition warned of “socialized medicine” and “death panels”, public support for “Obamacare” and the president himself understandably plummeted.

Although America’s health care is among the most expensive yet one of the most restricted systems in the world, people began to fear that under the Democrats’ plans, they would face a further decline in quality against ever rising costs. Strangely enough, people also indicated that by majority that health care today is too costly on the whole and that it placed a serious burden on the already fragile American economy. President Obama repeatedly stressed that America’s health care is in desperate need of reform but critics seem to have a point when they say that the Democrats will only make it more expensive.

Unfortunately, Republicans prefer instead to devise little doomsday scenarios and warn people that their elderly will soon be put to death if the Democrats have their way. They point at countries as Canada and the United Kingdom and say, “look how bad things are over there.” In fact, health care in these both countries is far from terrible.

In spite of the rather communist qualities of the British National Health Service, it operates at a lower cost per capita ($2,560, compared to $6,096 for the United States in 2007) while providing better care (PDF). Canada on the other hand, while much cheaper per capita than the American system, provides an approximately similar quality of care. It would appear then that a collectivization of health care doesn’t necessarily make things better or worse. A lot of other factors are in play.

Rather than denouncing “socialized medicine” as being impractical therefore, opponents should point out that it is immoral.

The NHS in Britain was established after the end of World War II, in 1948, with the express purpose of providing health care to all, “regardless of wealth.” Its principles were that the service should “meet the needs of everyone,” “be free at the point of delivery” and “be based on clinical need, not ability to pay.” This gave all Britons a right to proper care, no matter whether they were able to afford it or not. Need, not ability became the standard according to which care would henceforth be distributed.

This is a strange twist of ethics. Imagine that the law were to give people a right to much more basic needs than health care such as food and shelter. No such laws exist of course, for if people indeed are entitled to such rights, others must inevitably provide for them at their own expense.

Granting people a right to health-care demands that others provide such care, for free if necessary. Only a government can allocate care under such conditions for few individual doctors and nurses would go about their work unpaid any more than a supermarket would remain in business for long if it is to meet peoples’ “right to food”.

Even the Republicans, supposedly the champions of the free market, dare not question the alleged right to health care in the United States. Probably because they know how most people would respond to such criticism: “Should we just stand by then and let people die?” they’ll ask

Perhaps proponents of collectivization are only more than willing to pay so that others need not insure themselves but as long as they can’t answer the simple question, “Why shouldn’t we?” to their own charge without speaking of non-existent rights and undeserved charity, no man should be held responsible for the health and care of others against his own choice.

That is what opponents of “Obamacare” should have argued. Because they didn’t, collectivized health care is now likely to become a reality in the United States.

Brown Bashing the Rich

It’s not good to be rich in Britain. One is properly punished there for making too much money as becomes a welfare state. From every Briton that earns over £150,000 (or $243,000) a year, the government takes half of that in income tax. The well-off now face a further cut to tax relief on their pension contributions. An announced increase in the inheritance tax threshold has been put on hold but the taxman is still going after those with offshore bank accounts for it seems that in Britain today no crime is worse than the outrageous practice of tax evasion.

Even The Economist is upset and it calls Gordon Brown’s bashing of the rich “bad politics and rotten economics.” With elections arriving in a little over six months, Labour is doing everything it can to prove that it is still the “party of the many” whereas the Conservatives are branded as the “protectors of privilege and gleeful spending slashers.”

An extra tax on bankers’ bonuses this year is meant to smooth over voters but it does little to aid Britain’s ailing economy. The last of the G20 countries to be mired in recession, all the Labour government can think of doing is spending more money in the hope that such Keynesian methods will save Britain from further stagnation.

Now, with what will probably turn out to be a dreadful election ahead, Gordon Brown and his party are throwing themselves up as defenders of the common man again. Bashing the rich isn’t all about class politics though. As The Economist points out, the government needs the additional funds badly to keep its social services running, the imperfectly reformed National Health Service first among them. These are “disproportionately used by the poor” while “their employees tend to vote Labour.” By looking after the state, the party is looking after its core vote. The paper doesn’t like it one bit:

Britain has much experience of class politics, and none of it has been good. Class politics makes for bad economics: the state swells, public money gets wasted and entrepreneurs grow nervous. And it makes for a sad country, too: divisions deepen, suspicion flourishes and the social contract frays. When the time comes to judge the parties’ electoral strategies, voters should remember that.

Ayn Rand and the Christian Right

Politico announced it last month: “Ayn Rand is having a mainstream moment.” The fountainhead of Objectivism, the philosophy that holds man as an heroic being and values life as an end in itself, died in 1982 but two recent biographies, rumors of an Atlas Shrugged (1957) film adaption and her embrace by the popular right have reinvigorated interest in Ayn Rand’s work. Reason Magazine summed it up on their December cover: “She’s back!”

As Politico notes, this revived popularity “comes at a time of renewed government intervention in the private sector. […] It’s an era of big government all too similar to the dystopia described in Atlas Shrugged.” Not surprisingly therefore Congressmen and media personalities that are skeptical of this comeback of big government are more prone than ever to come out as Objectivists.

That is not to say that the right has embraced Rand entirely. Writing for the National Review Peter Wehner, a former Bush Administration official, describes Objectivism as “deeply problematic and morally indefensible.” Rand herself, he believes, was “a nut”. Her small-government philosophies have “very little to do with authentic conservatism,” according to Wehner, “at least the kind embodied by Edmund Burke, Adam Smith […] and James Madison. […] What Rand was peddling is a brittle, arid, mean, and ultimately hollow philosophy.” Why? Because Rand was an atheist and therefore represented “the antithesis of a humane and proper worldview.”

Bill Greeley, a blogger at the New Clarion is not impressed. “Authentic conservatism was the first enemy of capitalism,” he counters. Wehner has not to fear Ayn Rand so much — “it’s capitalism, human nature and ultimately the facts of reality” that are religion’s foremost enemies.

The Christian Science Monitor is rather more pragmatic in its assessment of Rand’s newfound popularity and gives the floor to Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (2009). “Though she’s not religious,” writes Burns, “Rand brings a strong sense of good and evil to the debates over economic policy.” The Christian Right, she opines, “is being swept to the side by the rush of events.” That might be overly optimistic though considering how brain-dead the GOP has become in recent years, it wouldn’t be a bad development at all.

Spanish Socialism is Hampering Europe

Most of the economies of the European Union are slowly moving out of recession. Both Germany and France are boasting modest growth rates and they are pulling other countries, like Italy, on the road to recovery. There is one country that seems utterly incapable of keeping pace however and that is Spain.

Government stimuli have been of some help but the Spanish national bank warns that early signs of recovery are misleading: because imports have fallen even more dramatically than exports have, BNP-figures might appear optimistic but in truth, the country lacks a solid foundation for economic growth.

During the ten years between 1997 and 2007 the Spanish economy was almost exclusively driven by a rapidly expanding real estate market, producing a stable growth rate of 4 percent annually. In the same period the country attracted almost four million immigrants. Now that construction has come to a standstill many of these people are moving away while millions of Spaniards are left unemployed with so much as two million living off unemployment benefits.

Spain’s prime minister Rodríguez Zapatero came to power in 2004 promising to diversify the country’s economy. He intended to invest in renewable energies, bioengineering, high-speed infrastructure, construction and logistics to encourage innovation and the emergence of a solid services economy. Now, five years later, the prime minister continues to repeat his promise will little progress made in the meantime.

“My government’s ambition is to make this an innovative, creative, entrepreneurial country while upholding the social welfare state,” said Zapatero last July. He foresaw no trouble combining the two at the time. “Some people will say that a social welfare state and a competitive economy are incompatible, that innovation is incompatible with workers’ rights. They want to deregulate workers rights, deregulate social rights. That is exactly the same tune as people who say we have to deregulate the financial markets and I do not dance to that tune.”

As a result, Spain faces both an enormous trade deficit and a deficit on the state’s budget of almost 10 percent with the public debt, of course, mounting fast. Zapatero nevertheless counts on foreign investments to carry his country out of recession although no one in their right mind would entertain the notion of investing in Spain nowadays.

It’s not just money from abroad that is lacking however. Spanish banks are hesitant to borrow which is hurting small businesses and the whole of the real estate market because people can’t a mortgage.

Today, finally, the Spanish government announced long awaited labor market reform after unemployment reached a staggering 19.3 percent in October this year. Zapatero proposes to provide for greater flexibility, reducing high dismissal costs but also reducing working hours to preserve employment: a controversial step that seems unwise considering how little it did to once ail Britain’s economy during the 1970s.

Spain’s lack of recovery left the European Central Bank with a difficult choice to make. As the French economy grows once more it is expected to see inflation go up above the European average next year. France has proposed to temper it by increasing the interest rate (a step Australia and Norway have already taken) although this would hurt the Spanish economy terribly by further depriving it of credit. The Bank had to chose between serving France, whose recovery is helping other European economies also, and supporting wearisome Spain because its own government lacks the political will to do so. For the time being, it elects do to the latter, maintaining the interest rate at 1 percent.

Dean Rehabilitates Socialism

In a speech delivered in Paris, France on May 4, 2009, Howard Dean, until January of this year the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, declared that the debate about whether to “have” capitalism or socialism is over. “We are going to have both,” said Dean.

After comparing President Obama with John F. Kennedy and taking pride in the multiculturalism of modern-day America, Dean claimed that both capitalism and something he calls “communitarianism” are part of “human nature.” According to Dean, all people feel the urge to care for others besides themselves or, as he puts it, all want to be “part of a community.”

Apparently Dean sees no contradictions between capitalism and socialism for he innocently suggests that America ought to figure out “which proportion of each” it is going to have “in order to make this all work.” In Dean’s words, this is the “sensible” thing to do.

In fact, there is nothing sensible about it. Capitalism and socialism are almost perfect opposites of each other and cannot coexist. Where the first depends on the individual, the second is concerned only with the wellbeing of the collective; where the first promotes ingenuity, the second demands conformity; where the first favors freedom, the second relies on cohesion because altruism, regardless of what Dean might say, is not part of human nature. Rather altruism, although the foundation of any collectivist ideology, goes against it; it goes against the most primal human will: the will to live.

Socialism has held so many nations under oppression; it has condemned so many people to self-destruction and death that is almost unimaginable that an American of all people, a citizen of the very country that resisted socialism with reason and with force for half a century, should now champion it in blissful ignorance of its cruelties and hardships.

Whether you hold capitalism as a system responsible for the current recession or not, socialism is most certainly not an alternative. No socialist state has ever prospered economically for it denies the very human qualities that drive progress. Denying that is inexcusable.