From crisis to catastrophe, and (hopefully) back out again

Regarding the economy, in one of the most reasoned pieces that I have read in the last few days, Robert Stacy McCain (“The Other McCain”) writes:

The first Baby Boomers turn 65 in 2011, and every year after that will see more and more retirees going onto the Social Security and Medicare rolls. Even if we raise the retirement age, there is still the net drain of productive labor. The average 67-year-old can’t produce goods and services as efficiently as the average 38-year-old and (due to certain legal decisions circa 1973) after 2011, we’ll have a growing shortage of 38-year-olds and a growing surplus of 67-year-olds.

We are on the verge of a taxpayer shortage, you see, and what the Democrats want to do is take out a massive loan that will have to be repaid by a shrinking pool of taxpayers, who will be expected to support a burgeoning population of increasingly sickly Baby Boomer retirees.

So, even if all this deficit spending could purchase a dead-cat bounce — and I am on record as saying it won’t — it cannot fix the underlying problems of our economy, which have nothing to do with “green energy” or other such nonsense programs run by the Department of Unicorns and Rainbows.

What we need, really, is a strong dose of Schumpeterian “creative destruction,” and this neo-Keynesian approach is the exact opposite of that. No matter what government does, we may be doomed. But Obamanomics is like seeing a drowning man and tossing him a cinderblock instead of a life preserver.

Then he caps it off with this little gem:

Back in 2003-06, when the economy was going gangbusters, you leftist bastards were all whining about “the growing gap between rich and poor.” Well, congratulations: It’s stopped growing, hasn’t it?

What makes the Democrat plan even worse is the fear-mongering that the party is using to scare Americans into surrendering their freedom in exchange for flimsy promises of government salvation. Honestly, this is every bit as bad — or worse — than anything I ever saw growing up in a culture of Fundamentalist revivals and hellfire preaching. Liberals should be ashamed of themselves and their party for unscrupulously using the tactics of coercion that they pretend to find so primitive and offensive in order to advance their own misguided agenda.

At the heart of this matter, I believe, is the realization by liberals that the government can only do so much with finite resources. The older members of government are probably thanking their lucky stars that they will be dead and gone in 10 or 15 years, and will not have to suffer through the next 40+ years like the rest of us who are age 40 and under. But the younger members of government undoubtedly understand the argument that I quoted above, that there will be fewer Americans working harder and forking over an ever-increasing portion of their earnings in order to foot the retirement bill for a significant number of older, less productive Americans.

As people get older, as their productivity declines, their health declines as well. That’s just a simple fact, and there is nothing that we can do to change it. As people get older, they require more medical treatment. And as their bodies weaken, the cost of providing that medical care increases. This creates an interesting paradox. We normally consider “value” (which is directly related to cost) to be in direct proportion to productivity. As we grow older, our ability to be productive declines, yet our maintenance cost — particularly our medical cost — to the system continually increases, even reaching an exponential growth rate if we contract a disease like cancer or end up as a stroke victim, alive but completely unable to take care of ourselves. In other words, as we grow older and/or more ill, the justification for the money spent on health care becomes irrational, rather than pragmatic.

This creates an interesting moral dilemma. In attempting to rationalize health care expenses and streamline costs, we effectively put a dollar value on human life. We do this all the time, of course (see Schiavo, Terri) but no one likes to talk about it — except when we can use it to bludgeon an “evil corporation” (see Pinto, Ford) because they made the mistake of setting a dollar value for human life that is considered to be ridiculously or inexcusably low. In our attempt to rationalize costs, we are prone to make pragmatic yet immoral decisions.

That is what Ford Motor Company did when it decided that the cost of deaths and horrible burn injuries from the Pinto would be less than the cost of fixing the problems with the Pinto that made it catch fire easily in rear-end collisions. And that is what we are about to do to ourselves, if Congress passes the current Spendulus bill, which includes a deeply-buried item that authorizes a “National Coordinator of Health Information Technology.” The bureaucracy that this National Coordinator will build is charged primarily with establishing a national information-sharing system for health care providers. But it will also monitor nationwide trends in healthcare and medical treatment, and use the results of its studies to reduce health care costs by “guiding” medical practitioners into making better, more efficient treatment decisions. “Guide” is simply a polite way of saying, “do as we say, or you won’t get paid.”

How many Ford Pintos will the Federal Government build, figuratively speaking, as it “guides” doctors away from humane, moral, and, yes, irrationally expensive medical decisions that provide comfort and at least a glimmer of hope to the chronically ill and dying, and toward more efficient, cost-effective, pragmatic, and ultimately immoral medical decisions — decisions that will certainly include limiting or withholding treatment for the terminally ill, and perhaps even euthanasia?

Perhaps the reason that the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology provision is buried so deeply within the massive Spendulus bill is that our big government leaders hope to enslave us so thoroughly with other rules and regulations that we will eventually just accept an endless series of Ford Pintos as being the normal status quo, and resign ourselves to being burned whenever the nanny state collides with the immutable realities of life.

But there is a glimmer of hope. The ever-optimistic Milton Friedman believed that America enjoyed two distinct advantages over other nations with regard to its ability to escape from the worst effects of socialism. First, Americans have an uncanny ingenuity that has allowed them to continuously find loopholes in government regulations. And second, the US Federal government is incredibly wasteful. Friedman believed that government waste was good, because the resulting inefficiency that it caused effectively forestalled absolute tyranny, and the enormous scale of its waste would continually spur grassroots efforts aimed at at reform and change.

I think that Friedman is right; perhaps not in the details, but in his observation of the unique spirit of America that has kept us out of serious trouble time and time again. We, at least, have the dreadful examples of Japan, Western Europe, the former Soviet Bloc, and numerous other nations who have gone before us and tried to make centrally-planned economies and huge, debt-driven “stimulus programs” work. Let us pray that enough people recognize those mistakes before this nation makes them again on an even bigger, and more disastrous scale.

Alert: Nationalizaton of Health Care in Stimulus Bill
The Knucklehead of the Day award