Monthly Archives: June 2017

Can’t we all just get along?

This post – “Why libertarians should read Marx” – by Chris Dillow (h/t to Mark Thoma) is a good read. Every “tribe” has its totems, and supposedly the left has Marx, which automatically means that the right must dismiss him out of hand. But that’s ridiculous, as Dillow points out.

I’ve encountered this on the left, too. If you don’t condemn Adam Smith, then you’re not a real leftist. But when you actually learn about Smith and his writing, you find that he worried just as much as Marx about the impact of markets and capitalism. He advocated for universal education to counteract the dehumanizing effects of working on a mass production line. He advocated for public infrastructure projects. And he warned that you can always count on businesspeople to collude together to maximize their profits and screw consumers.

In my view, there is no ideological spectrum between Marx and Smith. Instead, it’s an ongoing discussion on how best to organize modern economic life. But the instant you say “best”, you are choosing goals, and people’s goals vary widely.

If there is a spectrum, it’s between people who want to find ways to maximize everyone’s freedom so that we meet together as close to equals as possible (both economically and politically) and those who advocate for hierarchy, deference, and power over others. Autocrats vs. democrats, is a way to put it.

If human rights is the standard, then the West’s long-standing China policy is a dismal failure

From the Straits Times this morning:

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Twenty years after the U.K. handed Hong Kong back to the People’s Republic of China, the city is on its way to becoming just another Chinese city, with all of the same level of freedoms – or lack thereof. While this might seem to be mostly of interest to the people living in Hong Kong, it’s actually the latest indication that the West’s nearly four-decade-long policy toward China has been a miserable failure.

When Nixon went to China, the primary goal was to open a new front in the Cold War by co-opting the world’s other leading Communist state as an ally against the Soviet Union. But once Deng Xioping began his economic reforms in 1978, China became the hot potential market for Western business. It had almost a billion people at the time (1.3 billion now) and the possibility of fast growth since it was a developing country. China played its hand well. It continued to tightly control its economy and managed its integration into the world economy, using a mercantilist approach that allowed it to become the low-cost manufacturer for the world. Back in Hong Kong, once the lease was up in 1997, the UK handed it back to China with the promise that many British-style freedoms would be preserved, but not all Hong Kongers see that happening.

Now China is an ascendant economic – and increasingly military – world power. Those facts are not necessarily cause for concern. I don’t believe the U.S. has some divine right to be a global hegemon. Also, regarding Hong Kong, it was proper that the UK surrender it. After all, it was carved out China as part of its so-called Century of Humiliation, when Western powers took advantage of China’s internal weakness to exploit it, including acting as drug pushers. (And let’s be honest, who was going to stop China from re-taking Hong Kong? Was the UK or the US going to go to war?)

So, again, the issue is not that China is rising. It’s the fact that its record of individual human rights is terrible. I’m all for criticizing the West when it deserves it (and for sure it does, many times over), but I also believe that the development of individual rights and freedoms pioneered in the West is a gift to humanity. Many policymakers in the West claim to believe this, too. And if fact, much of the West’s engagement with China was sold to Western citizens as an attempt to persuade the Chinese government to agree that human rights mattered.

But now we see what’s happening in Hong Kong. Whatever freedoms did exist there are surely to be mostly lost. Hong Kong was supposed to help China learn the value of human rights. Seemingly not. Western investment in China was supposed to do the trick. Not so far. Encouraging Chinese participation in the world economy would surely work. Nope. So many failed theories. And now, if trend lines continue, it’s on track to be the pre-eminent world power. The power of the 21st century. And without a commitment to Western-style human rights. We all get to see how that plays out for human history.

Illinois’ political leaders are squabbling over 2 cents

Illinois is the state where I have spent more of my adult life than any other. I went to grad school there. We’re still connected to there through my wife’s employment. My children’s first memories of “home” are there. We’re bound to return there someday.

And it’s a complete mess.

From the Wall Street Journal:

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$14.6 billion. Sounds like a lot, right?

But Illinois has a huge Gross Domestic Product. It’s $791 billion. That’s the fifth largest in the U.S. That’s larger than 182 other COUNTRIES.

$14.6 billion is just 1.8% of the state’s GDP. That’s less than 2 cents for every dollar of income.

To pay back years of unpaid bills and to get the state back on track.

(At least in the short-term. Underfunded pensions are a way bigger problem.)

And yet the political leadership in Illinois can’t figure out how to get it done.

What a mess.

A bit of truth in a health care lie

This article in the American Prospect is correct:

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Republicans do lie about health care reform for the most part.

Let me expand on one item, though. He uses Palin’s “death panels” as an example of a lie. For sure, as she and other Republicans spun it, it was. I won’t repeat the lie here, but you see the full quote in this Politifact article.

In that quote, though, she started off by talking about rationing care. In this small bit, and it kills me to say this, she was right. The amount of health care will get rationed. Period. There is not an unlimited amount of money we can spend on everything people see as necessary to their health. A line will be drawn. But who will draw it?

Republicans seem perfectly comfortable with so-called “death panels” as long as it’s private companies making the call. They also seem perfectly comfortable with labor markets making that call – that is, if you can’t get a job with health insurance or can’t afford it, well, then no care for you.

For me, a far better system is to have a universal (everyone in), government-administered health insurance program that covers basic, scientifically proven health care treatments. From there, if people want additional or unproven treatments, we can have private out-of-pocket spending or a thriving private insurance market.

In fact, this private health care spending sphere could even tap the power of markets. Entrepreneurs and inventors would have the incentive to develop safe, effective new treatments that could be folded into the wider-spread government program.

Yes, in the end, a government panel would have to decide what is included in the basic insurance. In other words, it would have to ration precious health care dollars. But again, that already happens! At least a government panel would be publicly accountable for its decisions, and everyone would receive basic needed care.

Oh, and Republicans would likely lie about it.

By the way, I am well aware of Democratic counter-examples here. Pres. Obama got tagged with a “Lie of the Year” for saying that, under the ACA, you could keep your health current health insurance. Also, famously, ACA architect Jonathan Gruber dubbed Americans as too stupid to have the full ramifications of the ACA explained to them. No one is innocent. But on balance, the Republicans take the cake.

Single-payer is just too popular

Interesting read from Vox:

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Even though they are both parts of the Affordable Care Act, people seem to be drawing a distinction between the Medicaid expansion and “Obamacare”. Medicaid is popular, while “Obamacare” is not. As the article points out, that’s leading Republicans to try to focus on “Obamacare”, while trying to distract from the fact that their health care bills mainly will cut Medicaid (in order to fund tax cuts for the wealthy).

I keep putting “Obamacare” in quotes because that term means different things to different people. In this case, it seems to mean two things: the ACA insurance marketplaces for uninsured middle-class and higher-income earners, and the requirement that these folks buy private insurance industry products or pay a penalty (the so-called individual mandate). Other parts of “Obamacare” are more popular, like the requirement that insurers cover everyone regardless of pre-existing conditions (so-called guaranteed issue). 

So, the Medicaid expansion – which more-or-less was an expansion of a single-payer option for the poor, complete with guaranteed issue – is proving to be a winner. Seems like something a political party looking to be successful in the U.S. could learn from.