Why I Skim The Daily Dish

I still have Andrew Sullivan’s blog in my RSS reader, but only as a way to stay informed on what’s happening. Most days I only skim it, not carefully. Where he used to be open to questions, however scattered he may have bounced around on his emotional responses, now he usually exhibits a single with-me-or-against-me attitude. In anticipation of Brown’s victory in yesterday’s special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat previously held by Ted Kennedy, Sullivan wrote (emphasis in original):

The second explanation is the Brooks/Noonan theory that somehow everything feels wrong to the Independent or conservative-leaning voters. They have an instinctual fear of more government and, even though the Senate bill couldn’t be more minimalist within the confines of expanding access and controlling costs, this gnaws at them. I think this is a legitimate feeling (I have it too) – but an illegitimate argument.

Look: the markets conservatives have believed in have failed.

As the more honest conservatives (Greenspan, Posner, Bartlett) have noted, the financial crisis was a clear indicator that we need a more active and vigilant government in regulating the financial sector. And when you look at the results of America’s hybrid and dysfunctional healthcare system, it is more than clear that the status quo is unsustainable. Yes, this system has pioneered amazing breakthroughs and a pharmaceutical revolution that has transformed lives. But the cost and inefficiency of this is simply staggering. Look at the graph above. If you think it’s great, support the GOP. They don’t want to change anything, but a few tweaks.

Which part of America’s hybrid and dysfunctional health care system proves that the market has failed? It’s an interesting claim, but it’s not an argument. It’s a silly analysis of what the market should provide and how much it should cost. There’s nothing objective here. There’s only the expectation that we all agree that the government is the only way to fix the market failure of our hybrid health care system. As he writes later in his post:

At least Obama seems interested in government. The GOP seems interested only in politics and rhetoric that can sustain the bubble of deep denial they live in.

Obama and the rest of the Democrats are interested in government as the solution, which is the wrong approach. It’s easy to suggest that government will be reformed in the process, but that’s a rather nonsensical assurance when the problem is systemic in our interest-driven political system. Wishful thinking will not stop the flow of special handouts and exemptions that result with government involvement.

There’s a complex case to be debated, which hasn’t happened because it’s easier to spew anecdotes as universal fact. It’s easier to write “…Tea Partiers are just opposing the working poor having a chance to buy health insurance,” as Sullivan wrote in November, than it is to confront a group’s objections. In fairness, Sullivan has questioned what Republicans would do instead. But assuming indifference and malice in the face of silence is unhelpful speculation.

This is not to endorse the Republican approach. I find the party to be devoid of any value, which is to say I hold Democrats and Republicans in equal esteem. Nor am I endorsing Senator-elect Brown as a beacon of principled leadership newly arrived in Washington. From the little I’ve read, he’s more of the same, defending torture by the American government, for example. But him not having a coherent or satisfactory answer on the current Senate and House health care bills does not equate with there being no coherent or satisfactory rebuttals to the current bills. As Mark at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen wrote:

It is increasingly frustrating to me that, for many supporters of Obama, any belief that the existing health care reform bills will do more harm than good is automatically written off as being in bad faith or, as it were, “nihilistic.”

I believe I’ve advocated here that any health care reform aimed at reducing costs must start with untangling health care from employment. An individual’s employer is no more responsible for her health than it is for insuring her automobile or home. It’s a holdover from the ridiculous tax rates of the World War II-era, where offering health insurance as an employment benefit was economically wise. Rather than fix the rates, government enshrined the concept in tax law. That was stupid, but it worked when people worked at a single company for life. Today it’s uncommon to have had only a single employer by age 30. If we don’t fix that broken government-provided incentive, we’ll continue to have people lose their health insurance when they lose their jobs.

The current legislation keeps that tie, but punishes indiscriminately for receiving “too much” of a benefit. That’s just doubling down on the madness of the past, thinking that government can fix what government broke by adding more government. It’s the nonsensical thinking of the central planner, the kind who believes that anything that isn’t what it should be in a hybrid market is clear proof that the market has failed, requiring more of the planner’s expertise.

To show that other ideas exist, Megan McArdle offers her suggestion:

Raise the Medicare tax by half a percentage point, and eliminate the tax-deductibiity of health insurance benefits for people making more than $150K a year in household income, $100K for singles. Then make the federal government the insurer of last resort. Any medical expenses more than 15% or 20% of household income, get picked up by Uncle Sam.

I’m not a fan of this because it still messes with the tax code, encouraging employers and employees to tinker with non-cash compensation for borderline salaries. Other people may want that approach, but I’d rather have cash and make my own decisions. Social engineering is not good. For example, a $100k threshold means different realities in D.C. versus Omaha. It’s a lot of money either way, but that punishes people unfairly in areas with a higher cost of living. The tax code would need to be more complicated to rectify this problem, which proves the need to simplify away from government trying to influence “correct” decisions.

That said, I’m willing to consider it as an opening to ridding the tax code of the health insurance exemption.

So, alternative ideas clearly exist. But it’s easier for Sullivan to vent, lumping everyone who disagrees with him into a tidy, immature opposition. In a later post yesterday, he wrote in a post titled “A Libertarian Revolt?” (emphasis in original):

Since so much of the energy behind the Brown candidacy seems to be driven by anti-government sentiment, why is someone like me – who actually criticized Bush for being big government long before these late-comers – so dismayed?

Here’s why. The rage is adolescent. It did not exist when the Republicans were in power and exploded government during years of economic growth. Fox News backed Bush to the hilt through it all, as he added mounds of unfunded entitlements to the next generation’s debt, and then brought Beck in as soon as Obama inherited the mess. Scott Brown, moreover, has no plans to cut the debt or control government: none. He is running in d
efense of every cent in Medicare. He wants to increase the deficit by more tax cuts. He favors an all-powerful executive branch that can suspend habeas corpus and torture people. He has no intention of cutting defense. His position on the uninsured is: get your own states to help. His position on soaring healthcare costs is: stop the first attempt to control them.

We hear Karl Rove lamenting big government! We hear Dick Cheney worrying about deficits! The cynicism here is gob-smacking. And the libertarian right is just happy to go along.

Like I said, I don’t endorse Brown for these reasons. If I lived in Massachusetts, I wouldn’t have voted for him or Coakley in yesterday’s election. So why am I lumped into the nihilist group because I’m a libertarian who thinks the current health care bills would cause harm to the nation? Sullivan is aware enough to understand that Libertarians ≠ Republicans, yet he pretends they’re synonymous without looking at what libertarians offer because both groups oppose the solution he wants. It’s unfair to rant incomprehensibly against something that is clearly untrue. One might say it’s adolescent, which is why The Daily Dish is no longer must reading for me.