07 June 2012

He Who Pays The Bills Makes The Rules

Fox News, the bastion of modern neo-conservatism, is knee-deep in stupid:

Soft drinks have unfairly become the whipping boy of most anti-obesity campaigns. Maybe friends shouldn’t give friends Big Gulps, but to my knowledge, no one’s ever been forced to buy and drink one. People who want sweet drinks will find and consume them, regardless.
There’s an element of personal responsibility and control that this law and others like it don’t even attempt to address. At the end of the day you end up with a well-intentioned law that oversimplifies the problem and provides a correspondingly oversimplified solution.
No one’s denying that that we’re in the middle of an epidemic. Twenty-five percent of applicants are deemed too fat to serve in the Armed Forces. The implications for the defense of the country as well as for the future competitiveness of the American workforce are catastrophic.
But taxing, limiting and legislating soft drinks will not solve this crisis. Our history of isolating, demonizing and replacing ingredients in a quest for health proves that.

Here’s the thing:  the government pays for health care* and as a natural consequence is the one who gets to create ways to keep down the cost of paying for said health care.  Most people understand this when it comes to families:  daddy pays the doctor bills, and so daddy makes little Tommy eat spinach and beets instead of Snickers and Butterfingers because daddy doesn’t want to pay for diabetes meds for little Tommy for six, ten, or fifteen years.  No one has a problem with this because everyone understand that whoever pays the bills makes the rules.

Of course, the government is the one paying the doctor bills.  If it assumed that legislators actually represent the people who elect them, the government is paying the doctors’ bills at its citizens’ request.  Thus, it is well within the right of the government to limit what people consume because the government is stuck paying for the consequences of people’s consumption.  When fatties decide to load up on sugary soft drinks, it’s the government that pays for diabetes medicine and cavity fillings.

It would be irresponsible for the government to let costs get out of control, and there are only two ways to prevent it: the government can stop paying for health care or the government can try to prevent people from needing health care in the first place.  My personal preference is that the government simply does not pay for health care at all.  However, if people demand that the government pays for health care, then I’m going to demand that the government find some way to limit costs.

The problem, ultimately is that conservatives, like liberals, have unreasonable expectations.  We cannot have everything we want.  There are limits.  These limits can be self-imposed voluntarily in the market, or they can be imposed coercively by the state.  But make no mistake, these will be imposed at some point.  Thus, it is foolish and unrealistic to demand a system that has no limits.  And yet, this is exactly what conservatives want.

* And don’t give me any nonsense about Obamacare.  The government has been paying for health care on a large scale in some form since the advent of Medicaid and Medicare, both of which receive strong support from conservatives.

10 comments:

  1. There is a kernel of truth to what you're saying, but the problem with it is that there is no sense of scale or moderation in it. Whether the government 'pays for' something is not a binary on-off switch that suddenly (if it's 'on') deprives all individuals of rights and liberties and justifies infinite further government intervention.

    If it were, taken seriously this argument demonstrates that the government should just go ahead dictate everything right now. Why? Because the government pays [some amount] for [at least some people/things] in every single facet of life. There is no aspect of modern life completely untouched by government subsidy. In fact, that notion is absurd (if nothing else, government protects the borders..)

    Just as an example, all housing of everyone everywhere is subsidized to at least some extent by the government, if only through the mortgage interest deduction, as well as 'government-sponsored enterprises' that artificially guarantee loans. Or even if you own a house in full and have no mortgage, the *value* of your house is affected (upward) by those things' existence, since they inflate the price at which you'd be able to sell it. So does the neighborhood public school, if it's good. Etc.

    Therefore - at least, by the above logic - the government would be justified in making any diktats whatsoever about where people live, if that could be said to 'control costs'**, and no conservative should ever complain or oppose it?

    I don't think so.

    **You also gloss over whether something like a large-soft-drink ban *actually would* control health care costs. But this is an assertion, not a fact. I am skeptical and dispute this. Where is the analysis proving it? Simply asserting it and waving one's hands isn't an argument. So, the political argument remains in play; telling conservatives not to argue is no answer.

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  2. Maybe the government needs to stop promoting this:

    http://cygne-gris.blogspot.com/2012/04/future-is-not-pretty-for-women.html

    There's your healthcare cost. And it starts on a micro level, not a macro. Funny how you don't mention that a welfare society subsidized by said government is obese as hell, yet want the rest of us to pay for it. Until they get their own house in order, and by that I mean controlling those that directly live off of it, then you have no argument.

    What's to stop someone from getting 2 smaller cups? Or as is the case these days with self service fountain drinks in restaurants, refilling multiple times? You cannot stop it unless, and this is the insanity of it all, ban access to them.

    Government intrusion in all aspects of life are why society is regressing. And keeping the free market away is why cost are rising as well.

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  3. Any analysis which purports to reduce health care costs oh... by say... requiring restaurants to post calorie counts, or to add no salt, or to tax "junk" food up the wazoo, or to ban large soft drinks would have to explain why, for so much of human history health care costs were far lower without such restrictions.

    It seems to me if we could just get back to eating meat and potatoes and having a smoke afterwards we'd all (on average) be much healthier.

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  4. It would be just as easy for the government to cut costs by telling fat people, "no insulin for you, you did this to yourself".

    And motorcycle riders with head injuries: Tough break dude.

    And Homersexuals with the AIDS: 100% preventable. Live it up while you can, cause it ain't going to last.


    Of course, private insurers would still be allowed to sell policies to such people wiht pre-existing conditions and i am guessing that the policy premiums would be equal to the exact cost of expected treatments to be gained, plus some expected value/probability of other diseases and injuries unknowable.

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  5. "Whether the government 'pays for' something is not a binary on-off switch that suddenly (if it's 'on') deprives all individuals of rights and liberties and justifies infinite further government intervention."

    The second the government takes money from one person to give to another person is the second that rights and liberties are deprived. Once it's turned on, the only options are to turn it back off (which is my preference) or correct the injustice caused by the initial deprivation of rights.

    "If it were, taken seriously this argument demonstrates that the government should just go ahead dictate everything right now."

    Or, alternatively, the government could cease its involvement in private matters. Again, this is my preferred course of action.

    "Therefore - at least, by the above logic - the government would be justified in making any diktats whatsoever about where people live, if that could be said to 'control costs'**, and no conservative should ever complain or oppose it?"

    Of course conservatives can complain. They're just hypocrites if they complain about the natural consequences of policies that the support, like government-sponsored health care. Or they can be mocked if their response to a minor piece of legislation is to complain about the absence of liberties all the while remaining silent on the initial intrusion of liberties that led to this point. In essence, the problem that conservatives have is they want to complain about soda being banned but not about the government subsidizing health care without apparently understanding that the latter quite naturally begets the former.

    "You also gloss over whether something like a large-soft-drink ban *actually would* control health care costs."

    I'd at least like to run this experiment to see what the empirical evidence would show. Personally, if the government is going to a) subsidize health care and b) refuse to cease from subsidizing health care, then I have no problem with a complete ban of junk food in general. By now, the negative health effects of junk food have been pretty clearly delineated (though if you need proof, Google "health effects of junk food"), so it would stand to reason that if people ceased to consume junk food, they would generally cease to suffer from the effects of consuming junk food, at least on a long enough time horizon.

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  6. "Funny how you don't mention that a welfare society subsidized by said government is obese as hell, yet want the rest of us to pay for it."

    @Jim- I've written before on the subject of government subsidies and the welfare state. I've also written on consequentialism. I will recommend that you take some time to dig through my archives and read some of the things I have written before, to see if I have already addressed your accusations. This is mentioned in the rules, btw.

    @Steve- I'm not convinced that most attempts to reduce obesity and its attendant health concerns are effective. I view the current regulatory regime as more of a way to get people to be open to the idea of the government regulating personal diets than to actually be effective. Think of it as the first couple of steps on the journey of a thousand miles.

    @Prof. Hale- That would be my preference. I see no reason for the government to pay for all this stuff. Personally, I'd like to see the government take a page out of the market's playbook and simply levy taxes proportionate to usage. Thus, fatties with poor diets who refuse to exercise would be taxed more than those who take care of themselves. But if the government were to do this, it may as well go ahead and revert back to the market.

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  7. "The second the government takes money from one person to give to another person is the second that rights and liberties are deprived."

    This happens (to at least some nonzero extent) the moment you set up a thing called a 'government'. The question is not whether, but how much. If failure to oppose this, while at the same time opposing the soft drink thing makes one a 'hypocrite', then there is no way to resist any government intrusion whatsoever without being one. If that's the case I'll wear the hypocrite hat proudly.

    "I'd at least like to run this experiment to see what the empirical evidence would show."

    Thinking of stupid, unjustified policies that are advanced by ignorami (like Bloomberg) via hand-waving and no evidence whatsoever as natural experiments is one way to salvage some value out of them, sure. It's still better to simply oppose them and stave them off if at all possible.

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  8. @rwcg- Sorry about my comments earlier. I was in an incredibly cynical mood when I wrote them. Don't take them too seriously.

    Regarding government, it would be hypothetically possible to set up a government wherein taxes were voluntary (I envision a sort of "pay what you want" system). I'd imagine this government would be rather limited in scope, and probably wouldn't extend much beyond a judiciary and emergency army. Under this system, liberty would remain intact since the government would not act coercively. Of course, this is but a pipe dream, but it does prove that government need not be inherently coercive.

    Regarding my earlier comment of desiring to see the government ban junk foods in response to paying for health care, let me simply say that this is born mostly of schadenfreude. I abhor people who constantly clamor for statist action in correcting some perceived ill, like people not having unlimited access to health care. Sometimes I simply wish that these people receive the full brunt of statist oppression, which is the logical outcome of their desire for statist intervention in the first place. In essence, I want people to have to live with the extreme, logical consequences of their actions.

    One thing that irks me to no end is how each generation enacts policies that lead naturally to enslavement by the state. Of course, this enslavement is not visited upon the generations that enact the policies, but upon future generations. My wish is that those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind swiftly and unmistakably, so that we may shake ourselves of our utopic dreams.

    Anyhow, don't read too much into my post. Sometimes I just get fed up with people who buy in to the notion that the state should provide with all material blessings. I just want people to see that the cost of these blessings from the state is slavery, and that you can never have one without the other.

    I hope this clarifies things.

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  9. It does, & understood. Didn't want to be too argumentative as I do understand the point you're trying to make. I do think that grouping all 'conservatives' together as 'clamoring for statist action' is overkill; some do, but mostly conservatives fight rearguard action and seek lesser-evils.

    That approach doesn't always seem terribly effective, of course, but it does mean the shoe doesn't quite fit here....

    best

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  10. @rwcg- Yeah, I should have clarified that I was mostly criticizing neo-cons. TradCons and Paleos tend to be alright, but their neo brethren are the worst. They might as well be liberals.

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