Friday, January 15, 2010

How To Solve Society’s Problems and TANSTAAFL

My last couple of posts have generated some comment exchanges which, in hindsight, I would have liked to have been included in the original posts. So, there’s only one thing to be done about that, of course. Write a new post centered around those comments.

One might ponder why these topics didn’t make it into the original posts. One who engages in such pondering would immediately be branded as someone needing something much better to do with their time. I wish I could claim that I had contemplated these gems and decided against their inclusion out of some high minded, philosophical statement about something or other. However, the truth is so much more mundane. Specifically, there’s only so much time I have to commit to writing at any one time between my other commitments, and I have to make executive decisions declaring something “good enough” from time to time. On the other hand, had I incorporated these thoughts and threads into the originals, the posts would have gone close to 5000 words each which is a little more than most blog reading people want to digest in one sitting.

Let’s get started, then, fixing my earlier oversights and omissions.

In response to “A Modest Proposal”, Nathanael Rey of the blog “This is How It Feels” commented, in part:
Now here is my general consensus. I agree with these ideologies in theory, and as a general guideline for the government. However, I think one point that could sway this theory is the whole, "what if?" factor. As I said I think as a general guideline, this is a good political theory, but i think an important thing to remember is the fact that not everything is so cut and dry. There are countless extenuating circumstances where I think there are exceptions to the rules laid down here. However, I do agree with the overall theory... especially about military action being the exception, not the rule.

Also, i don't think this necessarily solves the problems that we are facing today... but I do think they would have served us very well as preventative measures to those problems.

Now, Nathanael and I are about as different as night and day in terms of lifestyle and experience; however, he honorably served his country in the army even though the army didn’t treat him honorably in return. For that service, I believe his opinions are worthy of respect. In response to him, I said, in part:
I agree with you that theory and reality rarely coincide in the real world. We've got a complex society with very complex problems. The point I am trying to get at is that, just as an individual has to set priorities (like your post about getting the apartment and the affect it would have on your lifestyle), we as a nation have to set some basic priorities through which we attempt to address those more complex problems. Just like you have to make a choice between paying rent and getting the pedicure, America has to learn to make the hard choices between necessities and luxuries. At some point, we have to collectively say "no, we can't afford that."
It’s an undeniable fact we live in a complex society with complex problems, and Nathanael is right: not everything is so cut and dry. There are exceptions to every rule expect for the rule about exceptions for every rule to which there is no exception. The danger is when we start making the exceptions INTO the rules. When you start down that slippery slope, it becomes easy to say “just this once” or “we’ll deal with it later” or something equally intelligent. We’ve been saying that pretty consistently since the Civil War, and we are now standing in a cesspool of debt up to our collective eyeballs to prove it.

So, do we throw out the baby with the bath water because we can’t solve all of society’s problems? Do we give up trying to make a collective effort to live by a set of basic principles and priorities because they are unworkable and do not address or solve all the problems we face? If that’s the case, riddle me this Batman: when was the last time the United States’ byzantine and labyrinthine “progressive” tax code solved any of our nation’s problems. When has ANY of the 2000 plus page, tree killing, indecipherable, pork barrel project stuffed monstrosities enacted by Congress EVER done anything other than increase the size of government and line the pockets of the politically connected?

Further, in my opinion, it is BECAUSE we have tried to solve all our societal problems through creative legislation that we are broke as a nation. The point here is that any legislation not based on sound principles and priorities will CREATE more problems than it ever solves. We wanted cleaner air and water and safer food and drugs which are fantastic, laudable goals. So, Congress created the EPA and the FDA. Go read Philip K. Howard’s 1994 book, The Death of Common Sense, to see how well that’s worked out for us. I’ll summarize for you in two words: it hasn’t.

Better living through legislation and regulation is not the answer any more than better living through chemistry is. At least, not through the legislation and regulation coming out of our current system which lacks any kind of principle or priority not involving kickbacks, payoffs and outright larceny.

The founding fathers were wise to include language in the constitution limiting the power of the federal government. They understood the danger of an out of control government. They understood that most issues can and should be dealt with at a local level. Does your community have a homeless problem or a gang violence problem? Do those problems take precedence over your communities other priorities? That’s for the citizens closest to the problem to decide not for a distant federal bureaucracy to dictate. Should I, as a Texan, be forced to pay for California’s budget problems through my federal income taxes because they are too stupid to realize you can’t do everything your heart desires when I had no input into the decisions which led to those problems? What about my federal income taxes going to fund pork barrel projects in another state? I think not. That is the very essence of taxation without representation which led to the first American Revolution. Local problems require local solutions paid for by local funding.

National problems are, in my opinion, few and far between. National defense? Most definitely. Foreign diplomacy? Yep. International trade? Uh-huh. Interstate commerce. Yes. Immigration? Si, senor. Education? That’s a tough one. If the people of a certain city, county or state want to be so stupid they couldn’t pour piss out of a boot with instructions on the heel, they should have the right to be morons. We need a source of cheap labor to compete against China anyway. On the other hand, allowing a certain area to be fools hurts the rest of us. Is “No Child Left Behind” the answer? Not according to the teachers I’ve talked with. Ultimately, I think education should fall under the “promoting the general welfare” national priority. Just to be clear, I said PROMOTE, not DICTATE or PROVIDE.

Moving along now to another comment thread, in response to “Bad Bills and Basics”, GunDiva of the blog “Just Another Perfect Day…: commented as follows:
And another AMEN for Brother K! I've worked in medicine a long time. Medicine is not broken; we give great care to everyone. Insurance is broken. There are a lot of people out there who believe that Health Care Reform will result in "free" health care. Are you kidding? We'll be paying for it in the form of increased taxes. There ain't nothin' free about it. As Americans, we already bitch about how much of our paycheck goes to taxes. How 'bout when we start losing 50% of our paychecks to fund our "free" health care like they do in France? Or what about the "free" health care in Canada, whose government for a time shut down all emergency rooms and urgent care clinics from 7:00 pm until 7:00 am because of budget cuts. No thank you. I'll figure out how to pay my own medical bills, thankyouverymuch. I don't want some [abbreviated expletive deleted] Senator or Congressman deciding who, how, or when I seek medical care. [a derogatory reference to parentage deleted].
In response, I said: “GunDiva, you obviously get it where many do not. To quote from the late, great Robert Heinlein "TANSTAAFL" - there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.”

TANSTAAFL is really at the heart of what I am talking about here. Here’s another quick history lesson. The originator of the phrase TANSTAAFL is unknown; however, its first known usage was an El Paso, TX newspaper article in the 1930s. It is thought to relate back to a practice of American saloons in the 1800s of offering a “free lunch” with the purchase of drinks. Common sense dictates the lunch is really not free if you have to purchase something else to get it. A modern day equivalent of the “free lunch” concept would be the “free drinks” offered by casinos to gamblers. The bottom line is: You cain’t get somethin’ for nothin’. TANSTAAFL.

Everything has a cost whether it is monetary, personal, societal, moral, spiritual, temporal, etc. You/we have to pay, give up or do something in order to receive or do something else. Do you really want “universal health care”? Because that is what the ultra liberals in Congress would love to be able to enact. But, guess what? Doctors and nurses don’t work for free. MRI machines aren’t cheap and need electricity which isn’t free. Drugs? Definitely not free. Even those cheap little tongue depressors and extra long Qtips don’t miraculously pop into existence.

It’s been reported that the health care industry is approximately 1/5 of our total economy. If the GDP is $14.2 trillion dollars, that means health care accounts for about $2.84 trillion dollars worth of “free lunches”.

Oh, but wait, we’re supposed to realize huge cost savings by “reforming” health care which is a government euphemism for “we’re going to tell you what you have to do and fine you into oblivion if you don’t”. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that health care “reform” reduces costs by 50% across the board assuming that’s even possible. I know 50% is an arbitrary number picked out of thin air simply because our elected horse thieves are too slippery to commit to an estimate of potential cost savings when they have a hard time putting a price tag on how much their special deals and kickbacks are going to cost. Either way, I think most people would agree that a 50% cost savings represents a fair definition of “huge” savings. 50% of $2.84 trillion is still $1.42 trillion. How much does the IRS collect in taxes each year? Oh yeah, that’d be about $1.4 trillion. Now there’s a pill we can’t afford to swallow.

While we’re on the subject of cutting costs and budgets, I challenge anyone to try cutting your household expenses by 50% and tell me how that works out for you. Unless you are super wealthy, you cannot cut your expenses in half and maintain the same lifestyle. It can’t be done without making hard choices about who gets paid and who doesn’t or what things are necessities and which are luxuries. The same applies to our nation.

Now, last time I checked, America was supposed to be more or less a capitalist, free market economy. I know you can easily argue that any government regulation on the marketplace or economy moves us away from a truly free market economy, but that’s a whole ‘nother other can of worms (as mom would say) which I don’t have time to get into right now. So, in theory, goods and services as well as wages are determined in the marketplace. How is it possible to achieve 50%, or any percentage for that matter, health care cost savings without government interfering with the marketplace? You cain’t make a race horse out of that jack ass (I apologize. I spent some time in east Texas earlier this week. I promise I’ll be back to normal soon).

Do you want the government telling you how much you can charge for your goods or services? The pharmaceutical industry certainly doesn’t which is why they “helped” write the health care reform legislation. Do you want to invest a significant portion of your life educating yourself to be a doctor and have the government dictate that you can only charge $1 for your services (I know it’s not that extreme, but I am exaggerating on purpose)?

The constitution does not guarantee any person or company a “free lunch”. Nor does it provide any guarantees that future success will match past performance. The government has no business providing bailouts to any individual, group or company. We have to learn to stand or fall on our own two feet and live within our means. TANSTAAFL.

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