Thursday, August 27, 2009

Send in the Big Dog

Ted Kennedy's passing leaves Massachusetts without full representation in the US Senate, and the nation without our greatest champion for Universal Health Care right when we need him the most.

With respect to the probability that Massachusetts will change it's law to appoint a temporary Senator until a new Senator can be chosen in a Special Election in February - most of those suggested in the media as replacements are not going to be interested in a temporary position from which they will be barred (as seems likely) from running in the special election

What Massachusetts, and the nation, needs is an strong interim Senator with no interest in a permanent position, but who has the stature, ability and connections to step into Kennedy's very large shoes and push Ted's health care reform through. Even better if that is someone with a long commitment to universal health care, who would find this temporary role as a chance to fulfill one of his own greatest goals.

I can think of one person who perfectly fits those needs:

Bill Clinton

He'd have to change his address, yet again, but he can afford it. He's been vetted - both as a former president and most recently during Hillary's confirmation.

The Big Dog can carry Kennedy's water for 5 months, working to get Universal Health Care passed, while Massachusetts works out who they want to elect for the permanent position. Then he can retire with his greatest legislative failure as president redeemed, and Ted Kennedy's legacy fulfilled.

Monday, August 24, 2009

SOCIALISM! Booga Booga Boo!

I think conservatives are confused. They see government spending money on social services and think social services ... hmmmm ... socialism. They see the name of the old USSR - the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and think ... hmmm ... communism ... is socialism. They look at the name of the Nazi Party - The National Socialist German Worker's Party ... hmmm ... fascism is socialism. Thus in the conservative mind, every form of political-economic system is socialism. Communism is socialism, Fascism is socialism, Capitalism is socialism. EVERYTHING is socialism!

OK.... let's clear a few things up.

Government paying for things is not socialism. Government providing social services is not socialism. Those are both normal functions of a capitalist state - recognized as such since Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations and drove a stake through the heart of mercantilism and defined what would come to be known as the modern Capitalist state. Specifically Smith outlined 3 broad areas of government responsibility; national defense, administration of justice, and providing those public goods which are essential to a free and prosperous society. Those public goods which Smith identified were infrastructure and education - which are essential to both the public weal and commerce. In today's more complex world social safety nets are also essential to commerce. The example of the cost of private healthcare crippling our industries points toward the utility of providing social services within a capitalist system - they are part of the human infrastructure that supports private enterprise and makes it more competitive.

The Nazi Party - formally The National Socialist German Worker's Party, was originally a Worker's party (pro union party) until taken over by Adolf Hitler, he added the word "socialist" to the name in a gambit to attract more working class members, but from the beginning of Hitler's involvement the party was firmly (even homicidally) anti-union and anti-socialist and anti-communist. They finessed the inclusion of "socialism" in their name by saying they were against "liberal" socialism, their "version" of socialism had nothing to do with actual socialism, and consisted instead of a form of social Darwinism.

So what is socialism? It is an economic system where the means of production of goods is owned by the people.

Government buying goods - or services - is not socialism. As an economic system socialism can exist in either democratic or authoritarian political systems.

Authoritarian Socialism is Communism.

Liberal Socialism (not neoliberal) or Social Democracies are democratic states with free enterprise market systems and extensive social welfare systems in which certain key industries may have been nationalized, but those states maintain private ownership of capital. Recently this has been referred to as EuroSocialism. Both modern Capitalist states and EuroSocialist states have mixed economies with both private enterprise and government sector industry, the difference being the relative balance between the two.

Conservatives will accuse progressives of trying to move the balance of the mixed economy in the United States closer to that of European States. And they have a point. But the point is not quite the indictment they make it out to be. To attribute any perceived policy as "socialism" doesn't make it anti-capitalist. Social Welfare programs - which are common to Capitalist and Socialist systems - are not socialist in and of themselves - they are not the means of production of industrial goods. But they do help support the industrial system - social welfare programs ultimately buttress capitalist enterprise. The social welfare system exists to support capitalist industry as much as any other intended benefit.

Perhaps EuroSocialism should be called Democratic Social Capitalism. It's benefit to capitalist enterprise has been well demonstrated in the aftermath of the 2008 economic meltdown and the quick recovery of the EuroSocialist sector while we still flounder here in America. With their stronger safety nets many European citizens suffered no loss of health care, less deprivation from high unemployment rates, and were able to keep buying goods at a great enough level to revive industry and return their economies to positive growth. The 2008 recession ended quickly in Germany, France and much of Scandinavia.

I'm not afraid of the "S" word, I just don't think it is used properly. Mostly it is used as an epithet - and grossly incorrectly at that.

Modern progressives believe in private enterprise and private ownership of property and commerce. They don't want government or public ownership of the means of production, they don't want government factories making shoes, or cars, or consumer goods. They think there are things that government does better to the benefit of the public and of private enterprise, and there are things that government funds better but lets private enterprise provide. That's not really Socialism, so lets call it Social Capitalism.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The High Cost of Doing Nothing

"ObamaCare", the opposition name for the health care reform effort now proceeding through 4 or 5 bills in Congress is rather short on true reform since its number one goal seems to be to preserve the astronomical profits of the industry. But ... is it worse than doing nothing?

The Congressional Budget Office recently scored one of the Democratic proposals, and concluded that it would cost $1 trillion over 10 years, or even $1.5 trillion in the worse case.

My God - how can we afford that! That's like 1/7th of what we spent in a little over a year bailing out Wall Street!

Well, not exactly. The CBO scored an early version without a public option or employer mandate, it now says that plan would "only" cost $600 billion over 10 years and that doesn't include all the savings that would be achieved from such things as new cost controls and far fewer of the very high costs from uninsured people avoiding early care and waiting for expensive publicly funded emergency care. $600 billion - over 10 years - is about a third of what we'll spend on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still - an extra $60 billion a year is a lot of money. Can we afford it?

Better question: can we afford doing nothing?

America has the most expensive health care system in the world - and for that we provide the best health care industry profits in the world, but not anywhere near the best health care outcomes for our population - we are solidly in the second tier of emerging nations in overall quality of health care, no where near the rest of the industrialized world - we are bested by such industrial powerhouses as Costa Rica, Dominica, Chile, Cyprus and Columbia.

For that we are paying nearly twice as much as any other nation - 17.6% of our GDP - over $2.5 trillion this year. Costs are increasing at a rate of over 6% every year, in 10 years time we'll by spending over $4.6 trillion per year, about 21% of GDP.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services actuarial center (in the Dept of HHS) calculates that 47.4% of the total expenditures on health care in the United States will come directly from government sources this year - and by 2019 that will increase to 51.7%.

With National Health Expenditures increasing from $2.51 trillion this year to $4.67 trillion in 2019, and the public paying 47.4% today increasing to 51.7% in 10 years, the extra cost to taxpayers of doing nothing will be $5.66 trillion dollars.

And on top of that the average taxpayer can expect to be paying twice as much for their private health insurance.

Kinda makes $600 billion look like chump change.