Category: Business and Society

Sicko poster
This image haunts my darkest nightmares.

Time sure does fly. It’s been almost two years since I called Canada’s government-run health care system “The Sick Man of the Great White North” and wrote:

Canada’s system may be the gold standard for government-run health care, but only if you’re looking for a system that can’t provide essential medical services in a timely manner.

Sadly, nothing much has changed in the interceding time between that post and now. In fact, things are very much the same: Canadians still have a system that has an undeserved good reputation, and those on the left in America still hope to implement a Canadian-style system here in the United States. It was to that end that Michael Moore released his latest “documentary,” Sicko, which essentially serves as public relations for the pro-socialized health care camp.

The idea of “free,” government-provided health care is easy to like, because who doesn’t want everyone to have free health care? Unfortunately, it also seems that many people find that the major problems with socialized health care are easy to dismiss, because, well… who doesn’t want everyone to have free health care?

So it’s important for those of us who see this idea for what it is – a very bad one – continue to remind Americans that while socialized health care is no doubt well intentioned, good intentions are not enough:

Sickoholds the Canadian system out as a model for proponents of universal coverage where health care costs are lower and everyone has free care at the point of service. “While many proclaim Canada’s Medicare program to be one of the best in the world, or suggest it should be the model for reform in the United States,” says one of the Fraser Institute’s study authors, “the reality is that health spending in Canada outpaces that in most other developed nations that, like Canada, guarantee access to care regardless of ability to pay, and yet access to health care in this country lags that available in most of these other nations.”

Because health care is largely free in Canada, demand is likely to exceed supply. It’s just human nature. Thus, waiting lists become the principal way of rationing medical care and holding down spending. And after 16 years of tracking growing waiting lists, the Fraser Institute observes that the problem is probably not a temporary one that can be fixed with a little more money or time. They note that provinces with higher spending per capita do not experience shorter wait times.

Just as we saw in the old Soviet system with its long lines for food and basic services, government central planning does not efficiently match supply with demand. And human beings will always seek more of something that is free. As one free market advocate states, “Long waits and widespread denial of needed care are a permanent and necessary part of government-run systems.”

That link comes via Hugh Hewitt.

Incidentally, how do you think Sicko is doing? Perhaps I’m just out of the movie loop at the moment, but it seems to me to have been as close as Moore has come to an outright flop, at least in terms of media chatter generated for his pet issue.

More: Jordan Ballor passes along a link to the Scriptorium, which provides a solid analysis of what a proper Biblical position on universal health care would be:

Jesus was angered at moral teaching that emphasized outward conformity to rules without moral action flowing from a heart of compassion and virtue, even if such conformity produced good results. Now the state cannot show compassion in the arena of economic justice, because a necessary condition for compassion is that it is freely given and not coerced. The state forces people to conform to rules. It takes their money and gives it to others. But this is not the sort of compassion of which Jesus taught.

Well worth a read in full.

No doubt feeding the fears of those who believe that global corporations pose the greatest threat to the future flourishing of humanity, such multi-nationals are beginning to hire their own economists, much like governments have their own financial and economic experts.

See, for instance, this interview on the WSJ Economics Blog with UC-Berkeley economist Hal Varian, who has taken a position as chief economist with Google, Inc.

Where will Varian be focusing his attention? In his words, “I think marketing is the new finance.”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, August 3, 2007
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Chuck Colson locates the perennial problem of human unhappiness with the inability to perceive where happiness truly comes from. There’s the economic argument that while “increased prosperity can’t make you happy, it can, ironically, contribute to unhappiness,” an argument which Colson says, “doesn’t tell us anything about what makes people happy in the first place. Thus, it can’t tell us why increased prosperity doesn’t translate into increased happiness.”

As I’ve noted before, the economic argument is helpful for locating a source of our unhappiness: our fallen, selfish nature. Colson is addressing the ontological question of where happiness comes from. The economic argument is addressing the epistemological question of where humans think happiness comes from. The two answers are related and complementary.

And Colson is ultimately right. As long as humans look only to material concerns for the questions of happiness, we’re doomed to miss the mark. A new monograph from the IEA, Happiness, Economics and Public Policy, underscores this, concluding that “measured happiness does not appear to be related to public spending, violent crime, property crime, sexual equality, disability, life expectancy or unemployment.”

“The stark fact is that, as Helen Johns and Paul Ormerod demonstrate, the difficulties in measuring society’s happiness are insurmountable, and policymakers should not claim that they can control and increase happiness through public policy decisions.”

For more on happiness (subjective well-being) research, check out the World Database of Happiness (HT: the evangelical outpost).

I have argued for many years now that free markets are intrinsically good. I have tried to engage this issue with Christians but many are either not interested or do not see any importance in the pursuit. I know markets can become bad masters when people lack virtue. I also know that the alternatives to free markets have littered the twentieth century with more death than any single cause in human history. (Think socialism, fascism and Marxism.) And representative democracy, a republic of just laws, is not perfect either but it sure beats the alternatives. Shared power is always better than control by the one or the few. Social engineering and economic planning by an elite and powerful few strips us of both human dignity and true freedom.

Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, is the author of a new book, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Politics, that has a significant bearing on how we should think about the political side of economic concerns in America. Professor Caplan concludes, in words that are not at all comforting to me personally, that most Americans cast their votes on the basis of irrational biases about economics. This, he reasons, is why candidates who oppose free markets, free trade, profits and immigration win. Sadly, I am quite sure that he is right about this point.

Creators Syndicate writer John Stossel, in reviewing the professor’s new book, says: "People tend to acquire wrong opinions about economic policy packaged in worldviews they inherited while growing up." Since people resist, and often strongly, having their own worldview challenged or changed they will vote for those candidates who make them feel good. Stossel concludes that this means "They will vote irrationally." I have long sensed that this was true on an intuitive level but the professor’s argument tends to fortify what I had only sensed but not quite had a handle on how to argue my case well. Simply put, most voters see no compelling reason to vote otherwise since their choices in elections bear no direct consequence on their lives, at least as they understand their lives. Gloomily Stossel concludes, "When irrationality is free, people will indulge their biases." (more…)

Acton’s Sam Gregg looks at the plight of Middle Eastern Christians in ‘Business flight will hurt Arabs,’ a commentary published today in The Australian. Their plight is also the Middle East’s loss as the continuing out migration of Christians saps the economic vitality and entrepreneurial spirit of the region. Sam asks:

So where are these Christian migrants going? The vast majority are migrating to commercially oriented, business-friendly countries such as the US and Australia. In 2002, 63 per cent of Arab-Americans identified themselves as Christian. Given their entrepreneurial history and culture, they quickly start businesses, build their wealth, create jobs and are invariably successful. Welfare dependency is scarce in these communities.

The National Urban League forgot to invite me to be one of the keynote speakers at their annual conference meeting in St. Louis this week, July 25-28. I’m not mad. I’m sure it was just an oversight. I would have been much cheaper than Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. But, if had a platform at the conference I would make the case that black America will self-destruct if we don’t address the following issues immediately:

(1) The marriage and family crisis–nearly 70 percent of all black kids are born to single parents; 43 percent of black women and nearly 53 percent of black men will never marry

(2) Abortion–over 43 percent of all black pregnancies end in abortion

(3) Education–almost half of the black kids in urban schools don’t graduate and of those who do they are primarily female.

(4) Nearly all black colleges and universities have become women’s colleges–most black colleges average 60-67 percent female populations

(5) The declining significance of the black church among the hip hop generation (those 40-years-old and under).

(6) HIV/AIDS–Black women make up almost 70 percent (7,586 out of 11,859) of all new AIDS cases among women.

(7) Ghetto culture and misogyny in some segments of hip hop culture.

(8) Rhetoric vs. Reality–Do massive government programs help poor blacks in the long run?

(9) The need for promotion of Black Enterprise Magazine’s “Declaration of Financial Empowerment“–A wonderful savings and investing tool!!

(10) Saving Black Men–Black men in America are in trouble. Low high-school graduation rates, fatherlessness, high incarceration rates, lack of moral and spiritual formation, and, worst of all, black men have no venue to discuss personal pain and heal from deep woundedness (physical or psychological). The League has a “Women of Power” workshop and that’s part of the problem. What is needed is a “Men of Power” workshop. There’s been such an emphasis on developing black women that black men are being left behind.

There are wonderful workshops this year as well ranging from entrepreneurial activities, to professional development, to health. Maybe I’ll get to speak there next year.

Blog author: jspalink
Friday, July 20, 2007
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Lemonade EntrepreneurActon continues its award winning ad campaign by looking at how the entrepreneurial calling begins at an early age. A child who sets up a lemonade stand outside of his house is an entrepreneur, assuming a certain amount of risk and responsibility and providing a product that will increase the happiness of passers by. Adults often praise the hard work of children, especially children who find ways to earn something through their hard work, but often this attitude changes as the child becomes a successful business person or entrepreneur.

By shouldering the risks, entrepreneurs make the future a little more secure, and a whole lot easier for the rest of us. So, the next time you run into Johnny, don’t resent him. Thank him for a job well done.