Thanksgiving

As I get older, I find Thanksgiving to be my favorite holiday.  It seems to be the one time of year everyone puts family ahead of their other pursuits.  That Thursday doesn’t feel like a Thursday.  It has a different feel.  It’s its own day.

But, that’s not the only reason I like it so much.  I like it because it gives us a chance to pause and consider what we’re thankful for.  It’s easy to forget those things the rest of the year.

I’m thankful for so much.  I’ll start a list.  I’m sure I’ll forget a few things, but I can always add to it later or next year.  I’m thankful for:

  • My family and friends
  • The universe
  • The Sun that gives us energy and the Earth that has so many things to make life hospitable for us.
    • The moon that keeps our spin stable.
    • Earth’s magnetic field that shields us from dangerous radiation.
    • Gravity, for keeping us planted on Earth and the relatively thin layer of atmosphere around Earth.
    • The atmosphere for trapping enough of Sun’s energy to warm us up from the near absolute zero temperature of space.
    • All the things that put the basic essentials for breathing and growing plant life into the atmosphere.
    • Water
    • I could keep going here
  • Life and making it
  • Being born in a time and place where human freedom is a very high priority
  • Being born into a loving family
  • Having been raised to think for myself and be skeptical of conventional wisdom
  • Having my faculties to enjoy what’s around me
  • Having met the people I have in my life so far
  • Learning the lessons I’ve learned
  • Being helped by the people who’ve helped me
  • Having been able to help others
  • Having coordinated my efforts for the betterment of society anonymously through the free market
  • The things I enjoy doing
  • Having been well cared for in times of need
  • The men and women who have died for my freedom
  • Overall, being able to lead a more comfortable life than generations before
  • Having possibly contributed to those to come to do even better
  • The four known forces in the universe
  • LOST
  • Libraries
  • Authors
  • Ice cream
  • Coffee
  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Specific kinds of wine
  • Computers and all of its devices
  • DVRs, digital cameras, wireless networks
  • Starbucks and Starbucks founder who never felt it necessary to treat others disrespectfully
  • Bicycles
  • Roads
  • Vehicles
  • Crunchy onion rings
  • The beauty of nature – the sights, sounds and smells
  • Sunsets and sunrises
  • Beaches
  • Planes
  • Doctors and hospitals
  • Parks
  • Monopoly
  • Freeze tag

I’ll stop there for now.

But Everybody's Doing It

Raoul Lufberry sends this link, Global Warming With the Lid Off from the Wall Street Journal.  He knows one of my pet peeves is the poor reasoning and fake science (some call it statistical or mathematical modeling) that runs rampant in the global warming debates.

It seems to be turning out that scientists have a lot in common with some bankers, those applying for home loans over the last few years, Enron executives, some economists and all politicians – they peddle fiction.  Some call it lying.

It doesn’t surprise me.  After all, scientist are human and not any less susceptible to corruption and believing their own made up bull cocky.

Why Health Care Reform May Not be a Bad Idea

Free markets take an undue blame for many of today’s top problems, when the problems are rooted in government interference.  This is true for health care.  The cost of health care has risen faster than inflation for decades and is hitting that level where affordability is becoming a growing concern.

Many people reflexively blame free markets for the problem.  They think insurance companies and health care providers are just out to fleece us while the guys that run these businesses smoke their fat stogies in their posh boardrooms and spend all our money.

They neglect to consider the impact government interference has on the health care market.    Health care costs have climbed right along with the percent of medical paid by government programs.  Costs have also climbed along with the percent medical paid by third parties, driven by the tax advantage of employer paid health insurance and sate mandates on what treatments health insurance policies cover.  These alone cause enough trouble.  That doesn’t get to the supply constraints placed on the market by state and local governments  that regulate hospital beds or the AMA’s soft influence on the quantity of medical providers in the market or cost constraints placed on hospitals for not being allowed to turn away someone based on their ability to pay (someone has to pay those costs).

In fact, rarely are these things ever discussed.  The fact is the U.S. health care market is about as far from a free market as you can get.

Few people understand what a free market is.  Many people define a free market as one that has the presence of for-profit companies.  That’s wrong.  A free market is one that’s free from government intervention and regulation.  Our health care market is far from that.

I’ll take the definition of free market further.  I consider a free market to be one where a reasonable percentage of the costs are paid by first parties (i.e. the people using the service) through voluntary transactions.

Which brings us to another misconception about the health care market.  Some people argue that many medical procedures are not voluntary.  In other words, a person must get a life saving treatment or die, which puts health care providers in a more powerful bargaining position.

That argument seems sounds, but ignores the evidence that has piled up from markets in other goods and services that are relatively more of a free market than health care, that is  free markets are eventually great for everyone.  The innovation and competitiveness bring more choices and quality for all levels of budgets than less free markets.   How vital is food?  Very.  You need it to live.  Yet the percent of income we spend on food has fallen dramatically over the past century as our food processes have become more productive through innovation and competition.

That reduction in food costs gives us more income to spend on other things like cell phones, iPods and maids.  People in my family have maids that clean their homes twice a month.  Only the wealthy could afford anything like that when I was a kid.

Finally, that brings me back to my original thought.  Why health care reform may not be a bad idea.  If we eliminate all pretenses of a free market and health care blows up in our faces – along with the faces of other countries that depend on our innovations to keep their government medical systems serviceable – we will not be able to blame free markets any longer.

Slow News Day?

I just watched the video story that accompanied this article from a local TV news channel.

The news program used a young woman to personify the problem of bank overdraft fees.  A $0.50 pack of gum ended up costing the young woman $35.50 with the overdraft fees.  Ooops.   To her credit, she seemed to learn her lesson:

“It’s easy to just swipe your card and think it’s going to all work out,” Wabel said. “So, I’m tracking it, keeping my registry pretty tight, so I know exactly what I’m spending and when it’s going to come out.”  Wabel said she also signed up to receive a text message if her account drops below a certain point.

Had the story come from the angle of warning consumers against overdraft fees, I would have been fine with it.  The text version started out like that.  Here’s the lead-off:

Before you use your debit card to buy Christmas gifts, you might want to check your bank balance.  Banks are collecting a record $38.5 billion in overdraft fees this year, compared to $20 billion in 2000.

Avoiding overdraft fees is simple and can save you tons of money.  But, the angle in the on-air version was tilted more toward the bad banks taking advantage of poor consumers.  Here’s another quote from the article:

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are threatening federal legislation to rein in overdraft gouging.

“(There are) misleading overdraft programs that encourage consumers to overdraw accounts and then slam them with too high fees,” said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.

In my psychology classes they called this enabling behavior.  Folks like Chris Dodd never look the people in the eye and say, “Take responsibility.  Manage your finances.  Don’t spend money that you don’t have.”   Rather, they enable people to make dumb mistakes.  It’s not their fault It’s all so confusing.  What they’re really saying is, vote for me.  I’ll take care of you.

It would really be interesting if a news reporter like Dan Weinbaum (the reporter who delivered the story on the air) asked why folks like Sen. Dodd never ask the people to be culpable for their behavior.

Sarah Palin Lacks Spark

Writing in the Kansas City Star, E. Thomas McClanahan explains what Sarah Palin is missing.  I agree. Writes McClanahan:

What I found ran for a mere 13 pages, written in prose that was utterly dead. She believes in America and our free enterprise system. The market should be allowed to work. Our foreign policy should be peace through strength. Energy independence is critical. We need to get federal spending under control.

OK, agreed. But where’s the insight, the persuasive spark that might make a skeptical reader say, “I hadn’t thought of that”? What I read only reinforced the perceptions Palin created with her disastrous Katie Couric interview and the jarringly disjointed speech she gave this year when resigning as Alaska’s governor.

I wrote this e-mail to McClanahan in response to his column:

Good column today on Sarah Palin.

You articulated it well.  I think conservatives like Palin because we don’t have a Reagan, we desperately want one and nobody except for her seems even remotely interested in taking the charge. I think another reason we like her is that she doesn’t give the Left home field advantage by accepting their premise.  Many others make that mistake and end up looking like sell outs to conservatives.  John McCain and even George W Bush come to mind.  She keeps the conversation on her turf and takes a great deal of abuse for it (something Reagan did as well).

I think your key insight in today’s column was that her conservative-speak doesn’t have a spark.  It’s like she’s reading from something she doesn’t quite understand.  To give it that spark, she needs to take it a step further and explain why free markets work, why foreign policy is peace through strength and why Federal spending needs to be controlled.  She also needs to explain why conservatives want limited government. That’s what Reagan could do in a few short, easy sentences that made perfect sense to moderates.

Mind Changer of the Week

The recent recommendation from the United States Preventive Services Task Force, a government-appointed group, to reduce breast cancer screenings seemed to get a few people thinking about whether government health care is such a good idea.

While the Left trips over itself to keep us from sliding down the slippery slope with editorials like this one in the NY Times (amazing that they can’t seem to so the same calming, let’s look at the facts and think about this demeanor with stuff from the Right), they may have trained the consumers of their propaganda media to well to react to headlines and ignore facts. 

For many people, the words that register are “government appointed group” and “scale back on breast cancer screenings” and they’re off to the races imagining a world where the government rations necessary treatments because of what appears to be b.s. opinions from so-called experts, a world where it’ll be the people vs. the government.

Change

Turns out it worked in the 80s too.  Thanks to Raoul Lufberry for the link.  Obama: The Woody Boyd Candidate

Fraser masterminds Woody’s campaign as a social experiment: He is convinced that anyone, even a bumpkin, can get elected, simply by spouting vague cliches. His advice to Woody? Don’t be specific on the campaign trail – just repeat empty slogans like “change.”

When I saw this, I burst out laughing – perhaps this is where Axelrod & Co. received their inspiration for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign theme, I surmised.

But to Fraser, Indiana-born Woody was clearly an idiot. Fraser, being a Harvard educated, Eastern seaboard-dwelling intellectual, naturally shared the prejudices of his breed; that anyone from fly-over country must be mentally deficient.

For my own part, if we had a Woody Boyd for president, I would sleep soundly. It is men like Fraser Crane, with their smug airs of moral and intellectual superiority, who think they know all and think they especially know what is best for others, who frighten me. It is rulers like that who bring ruin and call it “reform.”

Here’s a YouTube clip from the episode.