You Cry Out Archives

A Criticism of the Current Administration

In the nineteenth century in California a housing bubble popped. Californians promised themselves that never again would they come to believe that could depend on housing prices would rise indefinitely.

In the nineteenth century scientists consistently and continued to deny the possibility that rocks (so-called meteorites) could fall from the sky (via Personal Knowledge), evidence be damned.

Today we too believe ourselves immune to this failing. We insist that our epistemic armor has no chinks. We think that our understanding of man, society, and our surroundings is improving and in the main correct.

Epistemic humility, to know that we do not know, is as was noted just a few (countable number of) weeks back by that Socrates fellow that knowing the actual extent of our expertise and knowledge is the first step to wisdom.

One of the consistent features of the political left and specifically our Administration today is a distinct lack of epistemic humility. They are the “smart” ones who have the answers. They will avoid the sins and faults of other side committed because they are far more clever, because their epistemic skin has been dipped in the Styx and is invulnerable to the slings and arrows and mortal failings unlike the clueless other guys. How long will it take then for Paris, aka reality, to slide the poisoned arrow into their ankle?

Single Payer? Them’s Fighting Words … Or
Liberty or Death — Pick One

Today’s links started a short discussion on healthcare. The Liberal/Progressive left see universal health insurance (one insurance provider) as a way to ensure the “right” that they believe every American has to good healthcare. Now, I don’t think healthcare is a “right” but then again I’m admittedly quite shaky when it comes what the word “right” (with or without scare quotes) might mean and think that by and large think that we don’t have what is meant commonly by that word, especially for healthcare. But I digress, for the point of this essay is to establish a few “talking points” regarding healthcare from a policy standpoint.

I’ll begin with noting a few flaws with universal coverage.

  • One of the primary problems with universal coverage/one provider for insurance is structural. Representational government, involving elected officials, is particularly poorly suited to handle actuarial matters. Politicians like to promise, and very often promise short term gains ignoring long term costs, e.g., flood insurance rates set by the State is traditionally far below what reasonable actuarial calculations will provide. The representitive banks on the “payback” or disaster which is being insured against will not occur in his/her lifetime.
  • Good actuarial calculations demand an eye to the cost, to the bottom line. That future cost is the future of the company and cannot be overlooked, unlike it can in a politician’s rhetoric.
  • Insurance-as-business has a short term interest in cutting costs, but a long term interest in them going up. That is to say, in the short term a medical insurance provider benefits from cutting health care costs. If a medical procedure costs less, it costs them less and they don’t have to pay as much to provide a given benefit. On the other hand in the long term, their rates and profit are based on a percentage of average costs … which if they go up, then aggregate profits go up as well. One might suspect that the cost/benefit analysis works differently for a government run agency, but this is not likely the case as power as well as profit goes into the government’s payback.

Now some thoughts on healthcare in general.

  • Why is healthcare expensive today? The reason shirts, food, shoes, and toasters are cheap today is because of two factors. Mechanization allows for multiplication of human labor involved in their production and the availability of cheap power. If a skilled or unskilled laborer can produce 10,000 widgets a day with a machine where he can only make one per day by hand, then the price of the widget being sold can drop by orders of magnitude. Unless we increase greatly the number of health care workers and pay them slave wages the price of healthcare is going to stay prohibitively high. Humans, especially skilled humans, cost money (they need to get paid). Ultimately the only way to make healthcare available and cheap for everyone is to get the humans efforts multiplied by technological means. If a doctor today sees 40 patients a day, the only way to reduce health care costs by orders of magnitude is to increase the number of patients he can minister to in a day the same orders of magnitude. This is not as impossible as it sounds. The average village pediatrician sees childhood diseases in waves. When a flu sweeps through the town, he gets hit with hundreds of kids with identical symptoms. Does he need to give the same diagnostic care to all? Couldn’t some intelligent automation and cheap intelligent diagnostic tools multiply his effectiveness?
  • Another reason is regulation. FDA regulation is very expensive, and largely useless from the point of view of the manufacturer. FDA approval does not indemnify a manufacturer from fault. After going through extensive and expensive tests a drug is approved. If later it is found harmful, the manufacturer is still liable even though they got certification. FDA approval is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has cost. That cost should be an option not a requirement and should indemnify the manufacturer from fault. If the FDA approves thalidomide for pre-natal maternal care then there should be no way to bring suit in case harmful effects are discovered later unless the manufacturer fudged or falsified the certification procedure. Requiring FDA approval is likely the single biggest roadblock to innovation in the healthcare industry in the US today. I’m not suggesting it be eliminated, in fact by indemnifying a manufacturer upon gaining FDA certification it is instead strengthened. The other side of that coin is that FDA approval for drugs and health care products should be optional.
  • Univeral/single payer plans miss out on the goal. The goal for government policy should not be to bring equal health care to everyone but to provide a path to better, cheaper, and more effective future health care for all of us. Government driven policy and insurance is not the way to innovate.

Look at an example noted in Monday’s highlight’s comments:

A down to earth example might be the law student whose letter Andrew Sullivan published recently. He has asthma but no coverage since he is in school. He has to basically get his friends mom to swipe samples of the drug he needs. He was jogging on a treadmill and got a sudden pain in his foot. He stayed off of it for several months. In the meantime someone with good coverage will get regular checkups for a $20 co-pay and maybe spend $100 for an emergancy x-ray if they got that mysterious pain in their foot. This type of ‘rationing’ does not seem very efficient or fair.

How might this end up in a “mechanized” health care environment? Today we have many categories of “prescription” drugs and over the counter drug and as well we have protected and generic drugs. My suggestions would severely limit the first category opening up the number of drugs available over the counter, which would almost certainly include asthma inhalants. And as well to the “protected” and “generic” classifications of drugs, other approval schemes would be available besides FDA approved medications. Other independent certifications (or no certification at all) would be available to drug manufacturers. That would leave a larger array of price points for the albuterol this young student needs. In the second case, the student could go to a semi-automated (think Kinko’s) medical diagnostic clinic, rent some scan time with a automated scanner (x-ray or ultra-sound likely) and have the pain in his foot examined. He could have an automated result from an expert system tell him what therapeutic options would be best in his case and the an estimate of accuracy of diagnoses which he could use to decide if he needed his pictures to be examined by a human expert. The clinic would be making money by providing this machine for likely less than that $20 co-pay. Note that in my “plan” anti-plan no insurance is needed. In fact, the existence of insurance would mean that the things needed to give control back to the patient and provide for more health care “product” to be consumed by the population would not be occuring. Single payer or universal health care is exactly the wrong way to get to where we need to go. It is moving to a more covered, more controlled and less effective health care industry, which gets it exactly backwards.

Consider 400 years ago, I’d bet that over 60% of the population farmed. Consider food as analogous to health care. Single payer is a plan to provide “fairer distribution” (an arguable point) and redistribute and control what food is produced. That sounds like a move to the collective farming of peasants who stay with non-mechanized labor for production. But history has shown, a more effective way to provide inexpensive food is to bring in harvesters, trucks, fertilizer, refrigeration, super-markets, and other (farmers, ethnic, health) markets into the equation. Single payer supporters are the ones fighting for staying with the horse drawn solutions on collectivized farms at the same time as a better solution. Today a small fraction of the population farms … and obesity because, in part, of cheap available food is the problem.

So essentially the single-payer supporter is campaigning for the five-year plans of the Soviet era and the failed farm collectivization projects of Lenin and Stalin which caused mass starvation and shortages. So when looked at from a practical standpoint, single-payer healthcare might have pretty poetic stories and market jingles to push its agenda forward. But to put it bluntly, one might ask the supporters single payer, “So which is it are you stupid or evil?” ‘Cause it seems like those are only the two alternatives that remain.

Separation and Culture

The phrase “In but not of” is heard in Christian circles, entreating and encouraging the Christian community to live and love their neighbors but to remember that many of the concerns of the secular community affect the faithful differently than the secular. Catholic Saint and Jewish philosopher Edith Stein had a sea change in her life. She went from being from one of the preeminent German philosophers and an atheistic Jew and converted to Christianity, becoming a Carmelite monastic and ultimately perishing in Auschwitz. According to the intellectual biography of her life by Alasdair McIntyre, her conversion was in a large part driven by the surprising (for her) reaction of her Christian friends to the deaths of family and friends during the trials of the Great War.

Apparently today we are undergoing great global economic trials. Our response to stressful times is an opportunity for martyrdom (which means witness). And it will be witness to our beliefs … or lack thereof. And, I suggest that if our reactions and our actions are indistinguishable from our secular neighbor … then our faith is indistinguishable as well.

A Quote

From the book on Father Arseny, a Russian priest who suffered decades of inhumane treatment in the Stalinist gulags and “special camps” for being an active member of a subversive organization (the Christian church).

I remember the visit of Bishop N. in 1962. He was a serious theologian, a philosopher, and many said, a good confessor. He came to have Father Arseny hear his confession. Many spiritual children of Father Arseny were going to the church where Bishop N. served.

He stayed for two days, during which time he confessed to Father Arseny and also heard his confession. They talked about the fate and the future of the Church in the Soviet Union and about what was important for the believers. Looking at Father Arseny’s library he pronounced, “The faithful one needs only the Gospel, the Bible, and the works of the Holy Fathers. All the rest isn’t worthy of attention.”

Father Arseny remained silent for a few moments and answered, “You are right, Your Holiness, the most important things are in those books, but we must remember that man as he develops nowadays is very different from man in the fourth century. The horizon of knowledge has become wider and science can now explain what couldn’t be understood then. The priests today must know a great deal in order to be able to help believers make sense of the contradictions he sees. A priest has to understand the theory of relativity, passionate atheism, the newest discoveries in biology, medicine and most of all modern philosophy. He gets visited by students of medicine, chemistry, physics, as well as by blue collar workers, and each one of them has to be given an answer to his or her questions such that religion doesn’t sound anachronistic or just a half-answer.”

The Light of Christ

One book, which is treasured today by the modern Orthodox community derives from the experiences of an extraordinary man who survived the gulag experience in Russia. This book, Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father : Being the Narratives Compiled by the Servant of God Alexander Concerning His Spiritual Father, I recently acquired. I’ve read about half of it, and I’d like to share a little from what I’ve read. The first part of the book are stories and fragments collected from prisoners who remembered Fr Arseny during their imprisonment. From a fragment entitled, O Mother of God! Do not Abandon Them! we find a recounting of a time in which Fr Arseny became very very ill. He was expected by all around him to die. During this time he recalled having out of body experience. At the first part of this, he recalled viewing the following:

As he prayed, he cried, begging God, the Mother of God, and all the Saints to have mercy on them all. But his prayer was wordless. And now the barracks and the entire camp appeared before his spiritual eyes in a very different way. He saw the whole camp with all its prisoners and its prison guards as if from inside. Each person carried within himself a soul which was now directly visible to Father Arseny. The souls of some were afire with faith which kindled the people around them; the souls of others, like Szikov and Avsenkov, burned with a smaller yet ever growing flame; others had only small sparks of faith and only needed the arrival of a shepherd to fan these sparks into a real flame. There were also people whose souls were dark and sad, without even a spark of Light. Now, looking into the souls of the people which God had allowed him to see, Father Arseny was extremely moved. “O, Lord! I lived among these people and did not even notice them. How much beauty they carry within them. So many are true ascetics in the faith. Although they are surrounded by such spiritual darkness and unbearable human suffering, they not only save themselves, but give their life and their love to the people around them, helping others by word and by dead.

“Lord! Where was I? I was blinded by pride and mistook my own small deeds for something grand.”

Father Arseny saw that the Light burned not only in the prisoners, but also in some of the guards and administrators, who, within the limits of what they could do, performed good deeds. For them this was extremely difficult, because it was very dangerous.

This image, of those around us, burning with varied lights some stronger some weaker and the need for us to encourage the sparks and growing or lessening flames of faith in those around us. This is a powerful metaphor, one which could spur us to find a way to put our faith in action. To listen, to love and to encourage that spark in our neighbor, in our family, and in all those with whom we come in contact. Even, or perhaps especially, those to whom, like the guards in Fr Arseny’s camp, we would normally see as those who are working against us.

On the Stimulus

Apparently on the so-called stimulus bill all that remains is for Mr Obama to sign it. It remains to see if he will put the bill for public examination for five days before signing as he promised in his campaign. The democrats controlling Congress certainly didn’t give much time for reflection after it was assembled in order to vote. I doubt it was humanly possible for anyone to even skim through it before a vote needed to be cast. Read the rest of this entry

A Minor Pet Peeve

A pet peeve. I saw somewhere a Holocaust Remembrance day is coming up. I also just saw A Boy in Striped Pajamas with my wife and youngest daughter. How is it that in the extermination camps 12 million were killed, of which over 6 million were Jews … yet in all the portrayals of the camps … they are populated by 100% Jewish populations?

That bugs me.

Diseases and Cures

The cure is going to be far worse than the disease ever would have been. On our behalf our government has promised to repay debts which seem to exceed our worth and their printing (virtual) money fast enough give it away, 0% interest rates indeed. Our President is promoting a “2nd Bill of Rights” which, calling them rights, is insanity. Entitlements aren’t rights. The “right to recreation?” I’m speechless.

Rome fell. Northern Europe and much else fell to pre-Iron age levels of technology. Nonsense like we’re seeing these days might bring us down too. If it does happen there is a problem. For … an essential problem lies between here and there. How many people do you think live at today’s population densities today? And how many can subsist at bronze age subsistence. Between here and there lie a lot of pain and suffering.

Things might not get that bad. But I do think our freedom from government intrusion in our lives is about to increase by orders of magnitude. Loss of freedoms like this have always been accompanied by violence and bloodshed. How will the American gulag manifest itself? We shall see.

And Her Army of Flying Monkeys

This video sequence is making the rounds. You know, prior to seeing this I opposed prop 8 on the principles of government I’ve espoused on this blog. However, seeing this gives me pause. If that is the opposition to prop 8, I might have voted for it just to oppose that sort of behavior.

Making A Stand Against “Stupid or Evil”

If we are to honestly engage and discover the “other” side, political, economic, religious, or one of the other measures by which our society is divided one thing has to be set aside, which alas is hard to do. It is easy to decide that the “other” side are stupid or evil, and they are by and large no more stupid nor evil than any other side of the fray, with of course a few obvious exceptions. From my comments yesterday,

I believe that the truest measure of a society is how they treat those who are least able to defend and to speak for themselves.

How a Republican could say that with a straight face is beyond me.

“Bravely fighting for tax cuts for the rich” would be a little more… true.

The Democrats, the progressives, and the GOP all share concern for the poor and “those who are least able to defend and speak for themselves”. It is true, on both sides, there are stupid people and there are evil people. And one can likely argue endlessly about which side has a smidgen more of which and which particular individuals are stupid or evil. Read the rest of this entry

You Cry Out

The Palen-Biden debate is now behind us.  Early polls seem to show that Sarah seems to be the winner, if such a thing can be determined.  On Fox News Channel, Frank Lunz’s focus group (undecideds who voted 50% Bush and 50% Kerry in the last election) overwhemingly thought Palin did a better job, and 3 out of 4 who decided their vote tonight said they’d vote McCain/Palin.

Let’s hear your thoughts.  Did Biden have a better command of the issues?  Did Palen’s informality bring you in or turn you off?  You cry out.

Community and Babylon

In the book (and eponymous essay) Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community: Eight Essays Wendell Barry writes an final impassioned essay pushing the importance of community. Mr Barry notes the inability of public discourse to deal with sex and other issues is due to the failure of community. Writing:

Once it [a society or culture] has shrugged off the interests and claims of the community, the public language of sexuality comes directly under the influence of private lust, ambition, and greed and becomes inadequate to deal with the real issues and problems of sexuality. The public dialogue degenerates into a stupefying and useless contest between so-called liberation and so-called morality. The real issues and problems, as they are experienced and suffered in people’s lives, cannot be talked about. The public language can deal, however awkwardly and perhaps uselessly, with pornography, sexual harassment, rape, and so on. But it cannot talk about respect, responsibility, sexual discipline, fidelity, or the practice of love. “Sexual education” carried on in this public language, is and can only be, a dispirited description of the working of a sort of anatomical machinery — and this is a sexuality that is neither erotic nor social nor sacramental but rather a cold-blooded, abstract procedure which is finally not even imaginable.


The public discussion of sexual issues has thus degenerated into a poor attempt to equivocate between private lusts and public emergencies. Nowhere in public life (that is, in the public life that counts: the discussions of political and corporate leaders) is there an attempt to respond to community needs in the language of community interest.

Bertrand de Jouvenel as summarized in Mahoney’s little book Bertrand De Jouvenel: Conservative Liberal & Illusions Of Modernity (Library of Modern Thinkers) also notes that the discourse between liberal and conservative is an intramural struggle between two parties which share a largely common set of (erroneous) assumptions. Modern political discussion is straight-jacketed by the Hobbesian/Lockean assumptions which are largely fraught with error, yet remain dominant. For example, Locke proposes notions of natural rights to protect from the obvious dictatorship of Hobbes social contracts ability to subsume any and all parts of the private into the public realm. Rousseau, critiqued this by noting that the notion of rights does not in any way hinder the government from taking. Observe the last weeks dialogs on the banking crises. Nowhere in the discussions do we find asked if it is the “right” of government to decide whether the proposed takings (the $700 billion) was right. So often there is talk about the barriers between politics and religion. Barriers between the partisan political and the financial seem, if anything, more important. But no fundamentals needed discussion here. The assumption is, that whatever is needed, can be extracted by fiat by those in the beltway.

I have on a number of occasions argued for pushing our political members to assign powers and responsibilities to the local level. There are many good reasons for this. Above, Mr Berry notes eloquently yet another of them. Community in this country is dying. In part this is due to the very low price of energy in our petroleum driven economy. High mobility and ease of travel makes anonymity and disconnect from our neighbor easy and in part natural. This may be a temporary adjustment as it may be likely that in a half-century the petroleum engine driving the modern 20th and 21st century economy may in fact wind down. Mr Berry points as well to other structural elements in our society that keep our alienation from community intact. Mr Jouvenel also isolates and notes the peculiar yearnings that citizen of Babylon (as he terms our multifarious multicultural society) possess. For the citizen of Babylon is a repellent and attractive nature to the smaller more unified societies of old. The unity that a small society could have is at the same time exciting in that it is a thing one can strongly believe in, can join, and participate fully … but at the same time that giving up of self to one particular thing is repellent.

My suggestion to this is strengthening of the small community by giving it responsibility and authority. Babylon might perhaps co-exist with a multiplicity of small cohesive micro-societies joining together in a larger whole.

Banks and Genesis (and Exodus)

In the latter chapters of Genesis we are told a tale of Joseph and the Pharaoh. I should note, in the interest of honest disclosure I am no fan of Joseph bar Israel. However, for this little tale the important thing to note is that Joseph found himself in a position of control with regard to his government and in a financial crises used that opportunity to centralize the Coptic economy.

Today we find ourselves in a banking crises and it seems one of the results is that the central bank is now no longer an independent government entity. Centralization is occurring. It is likely that this process will continue until the currency and bank are fully under control of the (elected) nitwits on the Hill.

Some generations later, it is unclear how many, the Israelites found themselves due to Joseph’s centralization … to be slaves.

If F.A Hayek is right, we too will discover to our dismay that we too are slaves.

How then will we find our Exodus from that slavery I wonder?

Personally I think a recession would be preferable to acceding government control of the Bank. They should not allow some of the collapse as they don’t hold the paper to take on the debt they plan to assume. A little pain now, will be far better than the bloody revolution our children will be required to shed in order to win our freedom back from slavery.

A Bleg

On fault I have with many progressive/liberals blogs. By and large they fence with the wrong parties. They comment on and discuss conservatism by arguing with the current proxies, such as Mr Bush, Mr McCain and the host of pundits. Who they don’t attack or discuss are the ideas and arguments of the actual conservative foundational thinkers, that is economists like Friedman, Mises, and Hayek, or the social theories of Nisbet or Solzhenitsyn or the political ideas of Jouvenel and so on. On this part, I’d like to make it a more general plea. Liberals (Progressives) and Conservatives alike mourn the fact that the “other side” is bereft of “ideas”. If any of you out there know of a liberal or progressive blog offering counter arguments to those like Friedman, Hayek, Solzhenitsyn and so on, please let know. I’m starving for that sort of encounter in the ’sphere.

What the Fairness Doctrine Should Really Be About

Commenter JA recently alluded to “arguments” made by the pro-life movement in which he allued to the pro-life movement arguing that a fundamental argument against contraception is as a “tool” punish those having pre-marital sex with babies. One might also note some similar allusions, that people oppose equal wage legislation because they “hate women” (or that that “hatred” of women is the basis of pro-life arguments). Another example is to point that the GOP in general don’t care for the plight of the poor.

Look, I could argue that the real reason atheists deny God is because they are afraid of what God’s existence implies for their moral choices and especially their rejection of repentance in general. I too could argue that the Progressives/Democrats don’t care for the poor, for the policies (such as their ecological movement) they push so often are directly harmful to the poor (for example, carbon reduction policies will cost money … especially impacting rising energy costs. Who will be impacted more, Mr Gore and his cronies … or the poor).

The point is, none of the actual arguments used by either party devolve to the argument used by those parties. Atheists do not claim that the reason they deny God is the implications for their eschatological future if He did exist. Catholics (for example) never use in their arguments for contraception that they oppose contraception for utilitarian reasons related to reducing pre-marital sexual activity.

As I noted once before, I had an extended discussion with a gentleman (email exchange) about SSM. I broke it off when he admitted that it was his view that the “only argument ever used against SSM was based on bigotry.” That is, any argument presented was just protective coloration and dishonest dialog to conceal one’s ingrained prejudices against gays. This is both essentially in itself bigotry of a different sort and a dishonest (uncharitable) violation of the unwritten agreement one enters into when one begins discussion.

I think in general people address or try to attribute motives behind arguments which may or may not exist. Unless you have the powers attributed to the Shadow (who “knows” bwahahahaha) then you don’t know what the motives behind the argument used by those whom you are addressing. You should (being charitable) allow your interlocutor the benefit of the doubt and assume he is honest. That is, that the arguments he gives for his policies are in point of fact, the actual reasons for holding the said position.

Honest dialog insists that you take as honestly believed the arguments your interlocutor presents.

It would be interesting if the “fairness doctrine” in media instead of “giving equal time” to opposing points of view in media instead was aimed instead at making sure our dialog was honest.

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