Monday, November 1, 2010

The Lowest Common Denominator

Kenny Powers: Sure, I've been called a xenophobe, but the truth is I'm not. I honestly just feel that America is the best country and all the other countries aren't as good. That used to be called 'patriotism'

In my experience, one of the biggest differences between liberals and conservatives is their opinion of the abilities of their fellow man.  In debates ranging from health care to education to social security to warning labels to welfare and unemployment the conversation will follow a similar path

Me: "(insert name of giant inefficient government program here) should be slashed/privatized/criminalized/abolished."

Liberal friend: "Well yes that would be fine for you and me but what about all the stupid/uneducated/redneck people?  We cannot trust them to make the right decisions thus the government should make the decision for all of us."

This is the heart of the conflict in my eyes.  Some people are stupid so the government, with the wise technocrats from all the finest Ivy League schools, should make the decisions for us to save us from ourselves.  I find this incredibly insulting.  I believe that people across all walks of life are eminently able to act in their own self interest when empowered to do so.  I think that the solution to many of our problems can be found through increasing individual accountability and self reliance.

For instance

Health Care
High deductible HSA accounts to deal with catastrophic events and insurance plans that allow people to shop across state lines.  I have had one of these plans for years and call doctors offices to get pricing on everything I have done.  I get the tests I need at the best price because I have skin in the game.  It is in my interest to get the best price because I keep what I do not spend.  It benefits me to be informed about what I am having done and what I am paying for it.  If more people were so inclined, it would force price competition across the sector and ensure competitive rather than monopoly pricing.

Choice Choice Choice.  While health care is only on the way to a government imposed monopoly, we get a preview of how well such things function when we look at our public schools.  Dominated by bloated unions with ironclad job security whose response to any attempt at reform is to hide behind the children of the country as human shields, the system is a mess.  Whether the solution is choice through charter schools, vouchers, scholarship programs (good job killing the DC scholars program Obama!), the abolishment of the teachers unions and institution of merit/performance pay (yes!) or some combination of all of the above, anything would be an improvement over the status quo.

The conversation then follows this path

Liberal Friend: "You are a Darwinist! What about the people left behind, who takes care of them?!"

My response to this is twofold.

One, I completely agree, a modern society should take care of those that cannot take care of themselves.  No  reasonable person would disagree with that.  How do you define that?  What portion of the population falls under that definition?  I have no idea, but I do know that 47% of the country paying no income tax does not seem right.  I also know that 35% of the country receiving the majority of their income through government redistribution programs seems way too high also. If 1/3 of Americans are truly unable to support themselves without government cheese we are really in trouble.  It is another classic example of unintended consequences, when something is subsidized, you get more of it.

To me there is something fundamentally wrong in the fact that half of Americans pay nothing in taxes and not only that but 35% live only off of what is taken from others and given to them.

Ok, so we agree we need to help the people who truly need it, whoever they are.  Now the second part of the answer is how?  We live in the most charitable country in the history of the world ever.  Disasters domestic and foreign receive giant outpourings of support, both from private donors and from the government in the form of aircraft carries coordinating the relief efforts in Haiti or in the Pacific after the tsunami.  We give through public and private charities at rates that put the rest of the world to shame.  My question is, why do we give through public means at all?  Private charities are required to publish data on how much of the money they raised actually gets passed through to the intended recipients, while the public side just dumps billions after billions into bureaucratic systems that are incredibly inefficient and rife with fraud.  Transparency, accountability and efficiency are anathemas to government systems and should be required before we commit any of our money.

Basically what it boils down to is people adapt to the society in which they live.  If they are told that they are too dull to choose their own school or doctor and should just focus on choosing between their 1,000 channels of cable TV they will do so.  If the marginal increase in pay between government benefit programs and a real job is minimal they will do the cost benefit analysis and keep the free time and the easy money.  This is what needs to change.  This is why I think this is so important.  A society is at it's best when everyone is working hard in their self interest to provide a better life for themselves and their families.  Unlike liberals, I believe that the vast majority of people in this country are more than capable of succeeding in their endeavors.  I am optimistic for humanity.  I think people thrive when it is their responsibility to do so.  When their fate is in their own hands rather than that of a paternalistic, all powerful government that takes care of them from cradle to grave.  The same programs that take away risk and consequences from people at the same time rob them of dynamism and ambition.

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