“Things in our country run in spite of government, not by aid of it.” — Will Rogers
Down in Concord, the big news last month, i.e. February 12, was the defeat of yet another gun control bill. The NH House killed HB 1589 by the overwhelming vote of 242 – 118. The battle is over, but could always reappear.
How would you have voted? Do you think we should require a background check for every gun buyer except for criminals? Okay, that isn’t exactly what the bill said but that would have been its effect. Common sense tells you that criminals would not have obeyed this new law any more than they obey existing laws.
Some months ago I came upon some people holding signs for “universal background checks”. I asked one of them, “How are you going to get the criminals to submit to a check?” His answer was, “We probably won’t. So what?” His side apparently wants to do background checks on all the law-abiding people who would pass a background check, but not do checks on any of the criminals who would fail a check.
Supporters admit that the bill would have had no affect on criminals, and they admitted at a hearing that it would not have stopped the Newtown tragedy or any of the other terrible shootings. But what if the bill could save just one life? Sadly, all such bills are more likely to cost a life than save a life.
One simple fact that the gun controllers don’t understand is that guns are used in America far more to STOP crime than to cause crime. A wheel-chair bound grandfather uses his gun to stop an armed robbery in a restaurant. A mother saves herself and her two kids by shooting a home invader. There are hundreds of thousands, even millions, of episodes every year where a law-abiding citizen stops a crime, usually without even firing a shot.
Gun haters often say that guns are designed for one thing – to kill people. But that is nonsense. By most estimates, there are about 300 million guns in America. 299.99 million of those guns never killed anyone. Did they not work as designed? Or could it be that their owners never had any intentions of killing anyone?
No, guns are not designed to kill people. They are designed to DEFEND against people who would kill or rob or rape others. Throughout history there have been thugs who used knives, baseball bats, or simply their fists to victimize the weaker, the aged, the infirm, the women. Very few of us are martial-arts experts able to defend ourselves without a weapon. Firearms make it possible for a little old woman to defend herself against a big strong man.
The fastest-growing group of gun owners is women. They are buying guns to defend themselves and their families. Many are carrying their guns concealed. That gives thugs something to think about. Criminals are lazy; they go where the pickings are easy. If they think a woman might be carrying a gun, they will go looking for easier prey.
There is a photo going ’round the web of a woman shooting an assault rifle. The caption says, “You are not for women’s rights when you want to strip them of their right of self-defense.”
The right of self-defense is the most fundamental of all rights. Every living creature has the right of self-defense – not just defend self, but defend family and community. Just picture a mother bear defending her cubs. A bear has natural built-in weapons but a human mother needs artificial weapons to defend her children.
For self-defense, a firearm is the most useful tool yet invented. Just showing a gun can scare a criminal away. Nothing else can do that, not a Taser, not pepper spray, not a knife, definitely not calling 911. If a criminal continues to threaten, a gun can stop him before he can hurt or kill the victim. Virtually every would-be victim is capable of using a gun. It does not require special strength, agility, or training.
Guns have been called the great equalizer because even the weak, infirm, or untrained can be the equal of the criminal. Without guns the weak are at the mercy of the strong, the ordinary person at the mercy of an attacker who is well trained in fighting or knife work.
In his excellent “Opinion on Gun Control”, Larry Correia reports that “The average number of people shot in a mass shooting event when the shooter is stopped by law enforcement: 14. The average number of people shot in a mass shooting event when the shooter is stopped by civilians: 2.5.” Armed civilians save lives. The other side tries to dispute that fact by defining mass shootings as only those shootings in which 4 or more people are killed. They throw away the shootings that would have killed dozens or even hundreds but an armed citizen stopped the criminal early.
The many gun control laws have no effect on the criminals. But for law-abiding citizens, these laws cost time and money. In effect, they tilt the balance in favor of the criminal. One or two victims won’t have guns. That is why these misguided laws are more likely to COST lives than save lives.
“Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” — Will Rogers
Statisticians say the recession ended mid-2009, four and a half years ago. But what do you think? Does it feel like the recession ended or does it feel like we are still in a recession? In a recent poll, 74% said we are still in a recession.
It’s no wonder most people feel that the recession never ended. Employment is miserable. GDP growth is pathetic. Median family income is down for four straight years. Almost 50 million Americans live below the federal poverty line. A record 47 million people are on food stamps. One pundit declared that “More people in the United States are poor, unemployed, underemployed, looking for work, disgusted and quit looking for work, on food stamps, and on disability than anytime in our history.”
But the December jobs report says that unemployment dropped from 7.0% down to 6.7%. Doesn’t that show that the economy is improving? Well, no. Almost all of the reaction, other than from hopelessly partisan hacks, says that the report is bad news. E.g. CNN described it as “weakest job growth in years”, USAToday referred to it as “unexpectedly weak jobs report”. Many reported that there were “only” or “just” 74,000 new jobs, the worst in almost a year. (UPDATE: The January Jobs Report is better but “is another disappointing jobs report”. “Job growth remains weak,” “disappoints again”.)
Not so well known is that jobs have to increase by about 150,000 every month just to keep up with the increase in population. Since 2009, when the recession supposedly ended, the civilian population age 16 and above has grown from 236 million to 246 million. Meanwhile, the number who were employed grew from 140 million to 144 million. In other words, of the 10 million who entered the working age population, only 4 million found a job.
Compare the current “recovery” with two others. From 1983 to 1987, population grew by almost 9 million; jobs by almost 12 million. From 1993 to 1997, population grew by a bit over 8 million, jobs a bit over 9 million. Those were strong recoveries – employment grew even faster than population. In the eleven recoveries since they started collecting statistics in 1948, the current recovery is by far the weakest and slowest.
US News magazine has a fascinating chart from the Federal Reserve of St. Louis. It shows both the unemployment rate and the EMployment rate from 1948 through 2013. They show the data for employment and unemployment separately because the two are calculated differently. But for more than 60 years, covering 10 recessions, employment and unemployment are mirror images of each other. When employment goes up, unemployment goes down and vice versa.
This time is different. For the first time in the history of these employment statistics, employment is NOT moving up. By the government calculations, unemployment has improved but employment as a percentage of the population has held steady for four years at a level much worse than we have seen for 30 years.
But how can unemployment go down without employment going up? If you stop being unemployed doesn’t that mean you are employed? Well, no. Many people are not counted as either employed or unemployed; they are counted as “Not in labor force”. If you have been unemployed for so long that you give up looking, then you stop being counted as unemployed, and are instead counted as no longer in the labor force.
A record high 92 million people are counted as no longer in the labor force, an increase of 10 million in just 4 years. Some people will say that it is because baby boomers are retiring. That’s a nice theory but the numbers say otherwise. Those aged 55 and above have actually seen their employment numbers grow by 6 million people. It is the younger workers from 16-54 who have lost jobs – 8 million jobs.
In the four years of the current “recovery” the number of Millennials working full-time has decreased every year. The number living at home with their parents has grown every year. This is a human tragedy.
On top of all the ongoing poor employment numbers, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently estimated that ObamaCare will cost 2.3 million jobs by 2021. Apologists quickly countered that it would not be because people lost their jobs; rather it would be because people decided not to work. “When Americans quit looking for work because they conclude not working beats working, America faces a significant problem” says a white paper from Express Employment Professionals.
Some say that were are in a “New normal”. Many of us – I hope most of us – do not believe in a “fate that will fall on us no matter what we do.” For most of its existence, the United States has been the freest, most prosperous nation on earth. It is long established that freedom and prosperity go hand in hand; more freedom produces greater prosperity.
Sadly, the U.S. has moved away from freedom to a more and more intrusive government. The Index of Economic Freedom reported just last month that “The U.S. is the only country to have recorded a loss of economic freedom each of the past seven years.” Hmm, could that explain the awful employment?
“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” — Mark Twain
The great French economist Frederic Bastiat observed that “In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.
“There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.”
The same is true in the sphere of public policy. The bad economist or the thoughtless politician (but I repeat myself) sees only the direct effect of a law; he doesn’t foresee the indirect effects. In many cases the politician may consider only the short-term effects that might help him win the next election; he may not consider at all the long-term effects.
Bastiat noted that “it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa.” So when a politician urges a great new solution to some problem – or typically, the same old ineffective solution to a problem – the long-term result very often is more harm than good.
One such example was alcohol Prohibition almost 100 years ago. The problem of alcohol may have been bad, but Prohibition made the problem much worse, to the point that Prohibition was later repealed. Another example was a luxury tax on yachts to “soak the rich”. Even a mediocre economist or a slightly thoughtful politician could have foreseen the disaster it turned out to be. The tax collected virtually nothing from the rich but did send many blue collar boat builders to the unemployment line. Two years later Congress repealed the law.
With the greatest intentions of reducing poverty, politicians have enacted policies that, in the short-term, help people survive one month until the next government check, but the unseen long-term effect is to trap people in poverty, sometimes for generations. If we truly care about helping people – and I think most of us do – then wouldn’t it be better to find long-term solutions that help people escape poverty?
As long ago as the 1980s, better economists and more thoughtful politicians saw the indirect effects of the welfare system – it “fostered a permanent underclass dependent on government handouts.” In 1996, a Republican Congress and Democrat President Clinton passed welfare reform with the goal of reducing the dependency trap and helping people escape poverty. Ten years later, The New Republic, a liberal magazine, looked back and editorialized that the reform “worked much as its designers had hoped [foreseen].” Since then, less thoughtful politicians seeing only the easily visible effects of welfare, and not seeing the long-term consequences, have undone most of the successful reform.
Our disability system likewise helps disabled people survive month-to-month but traps them in poverty. Wouldn’t it be better to find long-term solutions, using some amazing modern technology to help them overcome their disabilities, become productive, and no longer trapped in poverty?
Some short-sighted politicians want to extend the length of unemployment benefits beyond 26 months, but the long-term effect can be permanent unemployment. Studies have found that someone unemployed for more than six months has very little chance of ever getting a job.
Other bad economists and thoughtless politicians suggest raising the minimum wage. The immediate effect would be to slightly raise the pay for a small number of people – but cause others to lose their jobs. The long-term consequence would be to destroy many more entry-level jobs, making it harder and harder for teenagers to enter the work force.
When was the last time you saw a full-service gas station? That used to be a good first job for many young kids. Washing dishes was another good first job. Kids learned the self-discipline of showing up on time every time. While on the job they often picked up skills from the auto mechanics or cooks around them. But as the minimum wage rose, machines replaced those jobs. If it continues to rise, we will see machines taking orders for fast food, flipping burgers, and delivering the goods. The long-term effect of raising the minimum wage is disastrous for millions of young people.
Some politicians saw ObamaCare as a good idea; they did not foresee the terrible consequences. Today, some people think we will see good effects if we adopt the ObamaCare expansion of Medicaid. Not only do they fail to see the indirect, long-term terrible effects, they don’t even see the bad effects that have already occurred elsewhere. To put it simply, Medicaid is an inefficient, incredibly expensive program that provides even worse health outcomes than for people who are uninsured. Expanding it would cost even more than now predicted and would lead to much higher taxes.
To achieve better results – better economy, more good jobs, higher pay, less poverty, lower cost health care – we need to see not just the immediate effects of a policy, but to foresee the long-term effects.
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.” — Groucho Marx
It’s no laughing matter – well, actually it is. The late night comedians have found lots to laugh about in what otherwise would be a tragedy. ObamaCare that is.
Most of us have heard the horror stories about the so-called “Affordable” Care Act. The least of the problems is the web site that doesn’t work. Much worse is the huge increase, sometimes even doubling or tripling, of premiums and deductibles for many people. Perhaps worst are the millions of people who have suffered cancellation of the health plans they liked.
ObamaCare is a disaster. This year when the employer mandate takes effect, tens of millions more people are likely to find that the plans they like are canceled to comply with the dictates of big government. But there is hope. Real health care reform is coming – not from politicians, but from doctors.
One surgeon wrote in the Wall Street Journal about a patient who needed a fairly simple operation. His bare-bones insurance would easily cover the cost of the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, and, they thought, for the operating room, nurses, etc. But when the patient went to check in, the hospital wanted an additional $20,000 from him above and beyond what the insurance would pay.
The patient canceled the operation and returned to the surgeon. Dr. Singer told his patient an open secret: that hospitals and other providers will usually negotiate a much lower cash price for people who don’t use insurance. The doctors are happy to take a lower fee now instead of paying office staff to wade through the insurance paperwork for reimbursement much later.
Dr. Singer made a few phone calls; the anesthesiologist accepted an upfront cash price, a different hospital charged a reasonable fee for its services. The patient had the operation the next day with a total out-of-pocket charge of a bit over $3,000. He saved $17,000 by not using his insurance.
Most people don’t shop around like this because they have no incentive to do so – their insurance picks up almost all of the bill. But with insurance deductibles becoming higher and higher, more people are beginning to shop around. That’s not easy to do because most hospitals keep their prices a secret.
One hospital that is very public about its prices is the Surgery Center of Oklahoma, a for-profit facility that offers first-rate care at low prices. About five years ago, they posted their price list for more than 100 common procedures. And those prices can be as low as one-tenth the prices at other hospitals.
Compare the cost of a “complex bilateral sinus procedure” performed at a nearby non-profit hospital, to the cost performed by the same surgeon at the Surgery Center. The other hospital charged $33,505, not including the surgeon’s or anesthesiologist’s fees. The Surgery Center charged just $5,885 total for the entire procedure.
The other hospital delivered a four-page bill with detailed cost items for such things as $360 for a steroid that wholesales for 75 cents, and a total of $630 for three pills that cost about $1.50. The Center’s bill was a single line with every cost item included in the published fixed price.
The Surgery Center is able to keep its prices so low partly because it takes cash upfront; it does not accept insurance. But what about people who can’t afford several thousand dollars for an operation? In many cases, the Center’s total price is less than just the co-pay and deductible would be at another hospital.
The Surgery Center pays “tons of attention” to making systems more efficient. One surgeon reports that he can perform twice as many surgeries per day at the Center because it operates so efficiently. At the other hospital, he spends half of his time waiting around for the patient to arrive and then for the equipment to arrive.
As one measure of efficiency, the Center has no administrative employees. At the other hospital, the eighteen top administrators are paid an average of $413,000. At the Center, all of the staff except a small clerical staff are involved with patient care. The head nurse does double duty as chief of human resources and building maintenance.
The Surgery Center of Oklahoma might have been the first to provide transparent pricing but they are far from the only ones. One commentator described the movement toward transparent pricing as a “fever pitch … pretty soon [all providers] will be fully transparent.”
The effect of published cash-upfront pricing is nationwide and even international. Canadians who could get “free” treatment at home are flying to Oklahoma to save months or even years on waiting lists. Other patients are taking a firm price quote from the Surgery Center along with an airline ticket for Oklahoma City, and are challenging the local hospital to charge a competitive price.
Much lower prices, higher quality, whether it is Direct Primary Care or surgery, physicians are producing real reform, effective reform. Politicians think reform means forcing more people to buy insurance they don’t like. Doctors know that real reform is to get insurance out of the way, to let nothing come between doctor and patient. My money is on the doctors.