Memo to documentary filmmaker Michael Moore: Free markets didn’t cause the financial crisis. The biggest culprits were government planners meddling with the market. That’s the message of Acton’s newest video short.
So why on earth is Michael Moore (Capitalism: A Love Story, Sicko) so eager to route even more power and money through Washington? Centralized planning is economic poison. Doubling down isn’t the cure.
(Also, Acton’s resource page on the economic crisis is here.)
[UPDATE BELOW] I discussed the creepy side of President Obama’s “science czar” here. But there are more creepy things in the cabinet. The Wall Street Journal reports that the president’s health policy adviser, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, wants to implement an Orwellian-sounding “complete lives system,” which “produces a priority curve on which individuals aged roughly 15 and 40 years get the most substantial chance, whereas the youngest and oldest people get chances that are attenuated.”
The WSJ piece continues:
Dr. Emanuel says that health reform will not be pain free, and that the usual recommendations for cutting medical spending (often urged by the president) are mere window dressing. As he wrote in the Feb. 27, 2008, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA): “Vague promises of savings from cutting waste, enhancing prevention and wellness, installing electronic medical records and improving quality of care are merely ‘lipstick’ cost control, more for show and public relations than for true change.”
True reform, he argues, must include redefining doctors’ ethical obligations. In the June 18, 2008, issue of JAMA, Dr. Emanuel blames the Hippocratic Oath for the “overuse” of medical care.
Now a freer healthcare market could take care of rationing much more simply, while providing increased incentives for healthcare providers to provide better value to choosey consumers. The problem is, a freer healthcare market wouldn’t route power through Washington.
And yes, it is more about power than about wanting to spread scarce healthcare services around more equally. Otherwise, the government would pursue something like healthcare tax credits for lower and middle income Americans. And they would pursue meaningful tort reform to curtail wasteful defensive medicine and the regressive transfer of wealth from consumers (who pay higher medical costs) to wealthy trial lawyers.
And no, I’m not proposing that these power-hungry politicians are monsters. Most are probably sincerely convinced that their increased power will help them pursue the greater good down the road. It’s just that others have been down this road before, and it isn’t pretty.
UPDATE: Longtime medical ethicist Wesley J. Smith has a nuanced look at Dr. Emanuel here. The post concludes:
[H]e explicitly advocates rationing based on what appears to be a quality of life measurement. From the piece [in the Hastings Center Report]:
This civic republican or deliberative democratic conception of the good provides both procedural and substantive insights for developing a just allocation of health care resources. Procedurally, it suggests the need for public forums to deliberate about which health services should be considered basic and should be socially guaranteed. Substantively, it suggests services that promote the continuation of the polity-those that ensure healthy future generations, ensure development of practical reasoning skills, and ensure full and active participation by citizens in public deliberations-are to be socially guaranteed as basic. Conversely, services provided to individuals who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens are not basic and should not be guaranteed. An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia.
A lot of people are frightened that someone who thinks like Emanuel is at the center of an administration seeking to remake the entire health care system. Having read these two articles, I think there is very real cause for concern.
The Bible Answer Man is in the middle of an extended, two day interview of Jay Richards, about Jay’s new book, Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem. It’s the most in-depth discussion of the book I’ve encountered on the internet, and Hank Hanegraaff’s introduction alone makes it worth a listen. Yesterday’s interview is here. Today’s interview will stream here.
Everybody realizes that the current healthcare system in the United States has problems. Unfortunately, much of the discussion about what to do rests on a false premise. The argument goes something like this: Our current free market system is not working: health care costs are astronomically high, and close to 50 million people aren’t insured. Maybe it’s time to let the government try its hand.
But we don’t have a free market health system; we have a highly managed, bureaucratic system that lowers the level of health care and increases costs.
As Acton’s Michael Miller argues in a new video short, the government is already involved in healthcare, and this is part of the problem. Getting the government more involved will only make the situation worse.
“I vote for Democrats for one primary reason. They raise taxes on the rich.”
So says Michael Sean Winters at In All Things, the blog of the contributors to America Magazine. Of course, most Americans, perhaps even Mr. Winter, generally need excuses to raise taxes on the rich. The hottest reason at the moment is to pay for universal health care coverage. Winter likes this reason. If passed, he says that it will be the “first outstanding example of a policy that reflects Benedict’s call for a more just society,” a slight departure from his predictions at In All Things back on November 25, when he said that the now-accomplished bailouts of the Big Three automakers and the passage of an economic “stimulus” bill would help “strike a more just balance in society.”
But I digress.
Winter believes that the way to promote “social justice” includes taxing the super-rich, which he defines as “families making more than $350,000 per annum” in order to establish a new federally-controlled health care system. The good news for medical students is that you, too, can be super-rich. The bad news for Winter is that there are far more reasons to oppose universal health care and cranking up taxes on well-off Americans than just the need to “put off buying that bigger boat for a month, or doing the repairs on the Condo in the mountains” and the desire to “keep the abortion funding out of the (health care) bill.”
For example, Winter acknowledges that some on the Right will “rant that the proposal will stifle investment,” before he dismisses it as “an argument that only an academic can make.” Right he is. Only an academic would argue that Winter is wrong in saying that higher taxes could not possibly reduce investment because “whatever happens between you and the tax man, you will make investments that will earn you more income to begin with.” An academic, or someone with money in the stock market who has ever been forced to make choices after Tax Day. Regardless of their merit in any given case, higher taxes reduce investment. That is not some partisan talking point. It is the fact that people cannot put as much money in bank accounts or the stock market when the government takes money away from them. If Winter really wants to take up to $54,000 more in taxes out of the hands of as many as 6 million Americans, he better expect less investment. (more…)
The belief that the essence of capitalism is greed is perhaps the biggest myth Jay W. Richards tackles in his new book, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and not the Problem. One reason for confronting this challenge is that many free market advocates subscribe to the thought that capitalism produces greed, and for them that’s not necessarily a negative. But for those with a faith perspective, greed and covetousness are of course serious moral flaws.
It’s also the kind of myth that less articulate writers would rather not challenge, especially in this troubling economic climate. Richards does however have a skill for tightly honed logical arguments, and he not only is able to defend free markets but tear lethal holes into many of the economic ramblings of the religious left. He even takes on holy of holies like fair trade and Third World debt relief. Richards argues that the free market is moral, something that may come as a surprise to many people of faith. This book provides a crushing blow to those involved in the ministry of class warfare or those who wish to usher in the Kingdom of God through “nanny state” policies.
The book divides into eight chapters, with each chapter discussing a common held economic myth like the “piety myth” or “nirvana myth.” Richards says the piety myth pertains to “focusing on our good intentions rather than on the unintended consequences of our actions.” The nirvana myth characterizes the act of “contrasting capitalism with an unrealizable ideal rather than with its live alternatives.” Richards himself states, “The question isn’t whether capitalism measures up to the kingdom of God. The question is whether there’s a better alternative in this life.”
The influence of libertarian economist Henry Hazlitt and Wealth and Poverty author George Gilder are evident through out this book. But the overarching strength of Richards work is how he places the free market message into the context of Christian discussions and debate. Unfortunately before this response, many of the economic arguments by the Christian left weren’t properly countered in popular mediums. Furthermore, the wanton excess of prosperity gospel advocates only fueled or provided ammunition for the religious left’s rebuke of the free market. (more…)
Update: The Michael Medved Show streams here.
Former Acton research fellow Jay W. Richards will be on the Michael Medved Show today talking about his new book, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem. He will be on during the show’s third hour. If your station carries it live, that’s 2-3 p.m. Pacific, 4-5 p.m. Central, and 5-6 p.m. Eastern.
Go here to see if a station in your area carries the show.
Jay is also scheduled to appear on The Dennis Prager Show Wednesday morning.
I had the chance to read an early copy of the book. Richards distills the core arguments for a free and virtuous society superbly. Money, Greed, and God is highly readable and yet more incisive than many academic books on the subject. Disciples of the nanny state and a naked public square beware.
In response to the question, “What are the moral lessons of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)?”
Perhaps the most effective historical trope in pushing through the massive stimulus package on Capitol Hill has been the notion that if only the New Deal of the 1930s hadn’t had to wait more than three years for the election of FDR, the Great Depression might have been avoided.
But have you ever wondered why the Great Depression persisted for so long? Why didn’t we bounce out of it after two, three, or four years as we did from previous economic downturns? Hillsdale’s Burt Folsom suggests an answer. Whether it was paying farmers not to farm until we had to import millions of bushels of grain, or throttling job-creating enterprise by raising the highest marginal tax rate to 90 percent, the many tentacles of the New Deal stimulus package choked rather than stimulated the American economy.
The common theme of all of the New Deal’s misguided policies was to remove decision-making power and cash from the free market and move it to Washington. As Folsom goes on to note, such policies not only extended the economic downturn, they set interest groups against each other, stimulating rather than alleviating human envy: “The New Deal divided and politicized the country in tragic ways. Those who lobbied most effectively won subsidies and bailouts even if their cause was weak. Others, who had greater needs, received nothing.”
There is a cure for human envy, of course, but it lies with a civil rather than a government institution, and with a power higher than Capitol Hill.
In my Winter 2007 article on economic globalization for AGAIN Magazine, I quoted economist Wilhelm Roepke. (AGAIN is published by Conciliar Media Ministries, a department of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church of North America). Roepke:
Economically ignorant moralism is as objectionable as morally callous economism. Ethics and economics are two equally difficult subjects, and while the former needs discerning and expert reason, the latter cannot do without humane values.
In light of all that has happened with the U.S. economic meltdown in the last few months, I continue to subscribe to the following statement from the same article:
… there is no real understanding of “social justice” without an understanding of basic economic principles. These principles explain how Orthodox Christians work, earn, invest, and give to philanthropic causes in a market-oriented economy. Economic questions are at the root of many of the problems that on their face seem to be more about something else — poverty, immigration, the environment, technology, politics, humanitarian assistance.
I remain a convinced believer in the market economy, which is a different thing than saying that I believe in the “free market” (a misnomer for industrialized economies that have always been subject to heavy regulation) or laissez faire economics (not a good idea and, again, a term that refers to something that doesn’t exist).
The climate of fear and panic that has been raised first by the Bush administration and now President Obama (we’re in a “crisis that could become a catastrophe” he claims) should have us all screaming not “help!” but “stop!” The alarm we raise should be about the fantastic expansion of government control — in some cases outright nationalization — over what was one of the freer markets in the world. And let’s recall that most Orthodox Christian immigrants came to this country for economic opportunity — in many cases a chance to put their entrepreneurial gifts to work in a growing and prosperous country. How much opportunity will be left once Washington gets finished with its top down central planning project? If this current crisis has taught us anything, it is the importance of economic growth and sustaining that growth in a humane way over the long haul.
So, I go back to Roepke for guidance on what’s being proposed in Washington. In particular, I turn to his 1957 book, “A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of a Free Market” (ISI, 1998). Page numbers in brackets:
On the necessity for economic liberty : “Since liberty was indivisible, we could not have political and spiritual liberty without also choosing liberty in the economic field and rejecting the necessarily unfree collectivist economic order; conversely, we had to be clear in our minds that a collectivist economic order meant the destruction of political and spiritual liberty. Therefore, the economy was the front line of the defense of liberty and of all its consequences for the moral and humane pattern of our civilization.” (more…)