10 November 2009

things that aggro

and cause head-slapping motions

I've been trying to follow the process on these various bills throughout the year.

1) During the "stimulus" bill, rather than raise cogent economic questions, things like "what evidence has been produced in 50 years that fiscal stimulus works?" or "what evidence is there that giving big banks that failed the money over a more general monetary stimulus through an actual expansionary monetary policy will work to spur growth or avoid recession?", we instead got this belligerent backlash to a little amendment that would have subsidized birth control for people who were going on unemployment rolls. This in fact was a cost savings measure for the simple reason that people on unemployment probably aren't the best candidates for reproduction, and may be apt to add other strains to social welfare spending. The media backlash at the time was more or less framing the issue as some sort of one child policy. And it wasn't from "conservatives". In the sense that sure the usual windbags were harping about this, but putatively sane commentators working for mainstream news organs were also. I didn't follow why this became some sort of draconian population control method, but then, my brain actually follows normal logic. Not bizarro world logic. People would have to actually want to use birth control, something they do by choice, in order to qualify for the subsidy. It wasn't a blanket assessment that if you have the audacity go on unemployment or welfare we're going to sterilize you so you can't reproduce. It was defeated and tossed out. I'm still wondering why

2) Fast forward a few months. We have screaming villagers talking about some frankenstein monster they're calling "death panels". I'm rather fond of living, so that does sound scary and evil. But then you start asking for proof, for descriptions of how this would actually work? There wasn't any. Anything imaginary can work exactly as it is described. But I sort of like to see that the thing we're discussing remotely resembles the imaginary world we're afraid before I start to get concerned. I also don't concern myself with random dragon attacks on a daily basis either. Or demons or zombies or a host of other creepy crawling things that go bump in the night. This is because I live in a world that shines lights on things to try to see what they are as they are and only when they are genuinely scary things should one start to panic and scream. Not when the 2012 shows go on the history channel. So naturally, the thing they were associated with: living will consultations being funded by federal services already in existence for the purposes of voluntary cost reductions, died.

3) Meanwhile, throughout all this time we were being bombarded by a cavalcade of commentary on the liberal agenda and the socialism/fascism of such ideas and how they were being enacted. Naturally as a libertarian, I'm rather opposed to many federal operations. Certainly in the present forms. There were a few things enacted, such as protectionist trade measures, that I ardently opposed on principle. But when a big bill comes along to waste money and resources and it's pretty obvious that something like it will be passed, it seems sensible to ask first what can be done to pass the least harmful bill possible. For whatever reason, on health care it was decided that having individuals purchase insurance and health care themselves was too complicated for our idiotic public. Upon reflection of the above issues, perhaps this determination was correct. I am never quite sure if I am properly underestimating the intelligence quotient of my fellow citizens or not, but I tend to have a bit more faith in the collective wisdom of actual free markets (something we do not have on health insurance, health care or many other industries, such as cars and homes and banks) as a consequence of this routine underestimation. Rather than submit a plan or even amending the existing plan to introduce some level of market interventions into a market failure, we got "tort reform" as a major cost reductions issue that would somehow save the American consumer and the health care system. I am not a trained economist, but this does not pass the bullshit test. And it seems the CBO agreed (50B over 10 years is chickenfeed relative to the 2T per annum). I suppose you have to start somewhere, but if you wanted to be serious about cost savings, you should have started with "hey, Singapore spends 4% of its GDP on health care, I wonder how they do it..." or even "hey most of Europe covers its entire population for what we spend on old people and poor people....". Now the answers to those two questions vary wildly, but they don't get us anywhere near where the present bills winding their way toward passage are. I might find that something like EFCA was a scummy bill with some sort of non-governmental fascist overtones, but I'm looking at the health care bill, even versions with the so-called public option, and things like the climate bills, and wondering what exactly is supposedly so liberal and socialist about them. I think they're bad bills that won't amount to much. But they're no Karl Marx.

What sorts of things ARE in the bills are in fact more suggestive of conservative viewpoints over liberal ones. For example, the destruction of the employer benefits system of health care and coverage seems like the core need to fix that system. You can go about it one of two ways: universal coverage for everybody for pretty much everything, like much of Europe does, or universal coverage for catastrophic things, over some trigger income amount or cost point and forced savings accounts for everything else, like Singapore does. One of the "high points" of conservatism is that it says that the way things are shouldn't be changed because that's basically the way people want it. Health care provided by employers is basically what people want, even though its completely without logic. So that's what the people are getting: a system that more or less entrenches corporate business advantages over small businesses and keeps the health care where it "belongs". Broken.

4) There's a host of foreign policy things that I'll get into later, pretty much all of which are the "liberal" version of neo-conservatism with a slightly more sane person at the helm of it (though still, I'm not sure it's better to be bombed by a belligerent buffoon and his party stooges or a non-confrontational intellectual and his party stooges). But since our foreign policy was, for the most part, known to be not undergoing huge substantive changes in advance, I'll save that for another time. What these horrible liberals did manage to get into play are things like this instead: abstinence only education and what amounts to a continued ban on abortion, excepting extreme circumstances (and there's some for whom even that is unlikely to be legally acceptable) for low income people and families.

5) Whatever people might think of libertarians, one reason I come to the ideology is the idea that it offers the most potential freedoms for people who would otherwise be oppressed, and the maximum ability and flexibility of a society to help its downtrodden and suffering, even if it still requires public means to do so (because of externality and free rider problems). In every one of these instances, I may have been opposed on some general terms to the overall bills being discussed. I wasn't opposed to these specific ideas, and aside from the more general "federalism" objections, I haven't seen any libertarian blogger who was. I think birth control and abortion and living wills are and should be voluntary decisions that individuals can make. If we are to consider them as issues of conscience, then individuals should be free to exercise that conscience themselves through whatever means they see fit (be that reason, faith, some amalgamation of the two, whether it rains or not the day they make up their minds, whatever). For example, if it is someone's belief that they would be killing a human being to have an abortion, they don't have to get one and no state agency should require it of them or compel a woman carrying a fetus to get an abortion at the request of someone else. Baring some contract law issue that I've overlooked, I'm pretty sure that nobody can legally obligate someone to have a child or an abortion. But we do have legal challenges which make it near to impossible for a woman who wants or in some cases even needs to have an abortion to get one. This decision is not respected and given equal legal treatment despite abortion bans being thrown out in court over a generation ago.

One thing that should be considered however is the costs of not having this option as an exercise for people who would not make the same choices. If one is too poor to afford adequate insurance to cover an abortion (along with the various prenatal care expense), then that's likely a person who is probably too poor to afford a child relative to the costs that raising children impose. Along with being too poor for that, they're probably living in an area with broken schools and neighborhoods, making it an already adverse environment in which to bring up children successfully in the first place and this has all sorts of secondary effects (crime, substance abuse, unproductive labor/welfare, urban blight, name a social ill and it can be traced back to poverty). That all conspires to make it our costs publicly to care for the children that are produced when we restrict access to people making the choices themselves on when to have children, how best to raise them, and so on. People may look at the situation and say "well they made a decision and have to live with the consequences", and getting pregnant is a possible consequence of having sex. Though, since birth control is being restricted too, I'm still trying to figure out why mitigation of consequence isn't considered as a reasonable compromise to the problems and fervent debate surrounding abortion (I suspect in part this objection is religious, in which case I don't understand but I can respect it as a personal belief. But I also suspect that for some in this debate "poor people" is merely being used as a euphemism for "non-white"). The consequences of a pregnancy brought to term are not just paid by the mother, and father if present or paying some pittance to support the child. They are paid by people around them and by society at large. So if one is following this argument of "actions have consequences" to its logical conclusion, one would conclude that "not giving a shit about poor people's decisions and presuming that they should make the same ones as we who are more fortunate to have quality health insurance, a decent education paid for by others, and even basic access to these decisions, if we wish to exercise them or not" has consequences. That we need to start acknowledging.

I cannot compel people to do something like "we're going to take your tax dollars and use them to pay for abortions for poor people". But I can also sniff out that we can already take our tax dollars and use them to pay for the concerns of people who are opposed to doing so, with minimal public benefits. Such as to subsidize parochial school supplies. In any case, I'm just finding it hard to square this notion that we're passing into a new age of hegemonic socialism with the things that are getting passed into law. They seem pretty much like the way things have always been done from my little outlier position in the political spectrum. Businesses still win. Markets still lose. Rich people still win. Poor people still screwed. And so on.
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