Monday, March 22, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Obamacare

I see a lot of despair among those on the right, and it's hard not to join in.  Despair can feel good, it's optimism that requires hard work.  But unfounded optimism is just stupid.  That said, I'm optimistic on the whole about this whole thing.  To save a lot of space and time, here's a link to a great NRO editorial that sums up a lot of what I've been saying since last year about Obamacare.

Let me add some things that NRO did not say.

This isn't full Obamacare, this is the preliminary.  While the subsidies create a de facto socialized medical system, a genuine socialized system a la the NHS in the UK has not yet been created.  It's no secret that what the Democrats are trying to do is bankrupt the insurance industry in this country, leaving the government to step in and take its place.  Despite the sound bites Obama and Pelosi create saying that there is no government takeover of health care, you can keep your doctor and health plan if you like it, won't cost a dime, etc., they know very well that isn't true.  That is the BS that it intended to fool the great unwashed, nobody seriously believes it.  When you see somebody bringing luggage out to the driveway, and getting all of the junk out of their car, it's not hard to see that somebody is about to take a trip.

So we haven't reached the alleged point of no return.  This is all still very fixable.

Which brings me to my next point, the common complaint that this will create a welfare state we will never be able to get rid of.

First, we already have a welfare state.  Don't know if you knew that.  Well, we do.  Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, about a jillion other programs, most of which you've never heard of, at the Federal, State, County, and City level.  It's a Frankenstein's monster of a welfare state, and nobody would purposefully design the welfare state from scratch that we have in this country.  Other countries have a much more unified, rigidly cost-contained welfare system.

Second, of course this is fixable.  This isn't like the New Deal, or the Great Society of the LBJ era, or the Civil Rights Act, all of which were quite popular at the time and won handily in the House and Senate by large margins.  Even the invasion of Iraq had broader support, both among voters and among politicians, than this.  This was a back-room, bribe-filled, passed-by-the-skin-of-their-teeth, hodge-podge of things that nobody really wants except for the far left who want to bankrupt the insurance industry so the government can take over as middle-man between consumers and health care providers.

Even on the far-left message boards they are complaining about this bill, saying nobody really wants it.  It has a two-fold purpose:  So Obama can say he won his historic fight to get health care reform, and so that the insurance industry can be quickly bankrupted and then nationalized.

It is not unprecedented for major new government programs to flop badly and be repealed.  Nixon's wage and price controls scheme is a good example.  This will be another one.  This bill IN NO WAY addresses the real problems that are driving health care costs higher every year, in fact it exacerbates them.  The NRO article summarizes pretty well what's going to happen over the next five or so years, assuming all of this passes into law and survives the numerous court challenges it will face from day one.  To say nothing of the devastation this will do to the job market.

My only worry is that we will have to wait until 2012 for a full repeal, and things could truly get nasty by then.  Depression-era unemployment levels would not surprise me.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Screwl "Reform"

Here's the brochure, sorry, I mean the article, from the AP on Obama's education proposals.  As always, I suggest you read the whole article.

And here are my comments on some bullet points:

"A plan to overhaul the 2002 education law championed by President George W. Bush was unveiled by the Obama administration Saturday in hopes of replacing a system that in the last decade has tagged more than a third of schools as failing and created a hodgepodge of sometimes weak academic standards among states."

Only a third of our schools are failing?  I can see why the law needs to be changed, it's understating the problem.  Basically, the teacher's unions (NEVER forget the awesome importance of the labor cartels to the Democrats, they are even more important than Hollywood money) don't like having their failings pointed out.  So the focus must be on schools that are "improving," according to some phony standard.  That way the only headlines we'll ever see will be about this or that school improving, rather than the headlines we see about schools failing.

"The proposed changes call for states to adopt standards that ensure students are ready for college or a career rather than grade-level proficiency — the focus of the current law."

Okay, testing whether kids are "ready for college" depends on a universal definition of what "ready for college" means.  And with the record number of remedial English and math classes colleges have, that bar is pretty low these days.  As for testing whether kids are prepared for a career, well, the government is not qualified to do that.  Most employers have a hard enough time telling whether somebody is ready to work for them, some bureaucrat in an office in DC sure as heck ain't going to devise a scheme to tell when people are ready for a career.

Ah, but what am I thinking, this is just a pretext to add more classes like shop, woodwork, computer repair, etc.  Thus providing more employment for teachers and more money for the teachers unions (and for the Democrats).  Remember, the US public education system is NOT, repeat NOT, designed to educate.  Its purpose is to provide employment to teachers so they can hand over money to the unions in the form of dues, who can then give a cut to the Democrats.  Any actual education that happens is incidental.

"Give more rewards — money and flexibility — to high-poverty schools that are seeing big gains in student achievement and use them as a model for other schools in low-income neighborhoods that struggle with performance."

The problem with "high-poverty schools" is, and never has been, a lack of money.  All sorts of money is spent on these dumps, you would truly be shocked.  But so much of it is absorbed in administrative and labor costs and red tape, that very little of it trickles down to help the students.  Not that you need oodles of cash to provide a basic education in English, math, science, history, etc.  Many textbooks from thirty years ago are perfectly usable for a great many topics, and these schools typically wind up spending money on totally unnecessary facilities and services.

Many other countries have proven that a voucher-based system (where actual choice is involved, and you can attend a traditional public school, private school,  or some type of home-based alternative) is the way to go, but since this scares the teachers unions to death, the left is 100% opposed to it.  It would mean that they'd actually have to shape up and trim the fat from their ranks.

"Punish the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools using aggressive measures, such as having the state take over federal funding for poor students, replacing the principal and half the teaching staff or closing the school altogether."

This was put on their so they can create the impression they are being tough on failing schools.  Fear not, teacher's unions, you are well-protected.  For this "nuclear option" to be unleashed, there will undoubtedly be an insurmountable wall of hoops to jump through, i's to dot, appeals to be heard, red tape to be cut, etc.  In the same way that it's theoretically possible for a teacher to be fired, they pretty much have to murder a student on videotape for it to actually happen.

"It was criticized by educators for focusing too much on testing and not enough on learning. Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said he is glad to see No Child Left Behind go away.

"We're delighted over that," he said. "We have not been a fan of No Child Left Behind."

Says all you need to know.  Of course, as any REAL educator could tell you, testing is the only means by which it can be verified that actual learning has occurred.  It is not something separate from learning, it is what CONFIRMS learning.  By setting standards for tests, you are in effect setting standards for what must be learned, and thus what must be taught.

But unionized employees are terrified of an honest day's work.

A few last points to make.  First, I'm not defending the No Child Left Behind act, which I don't know much about except that it's part of the status quo.  As I said, we need radical reform, not more vote-buying stuff that helps the unions out.

Second, yes, I'm well aware that many people employed by the public education system take education seriously (I'm not counting the people who take indoctrination seriously, I mean the actual educators who want to teach math, science, reading, etc.).  These also happen to be the same people who are fed up with the politics that gets in the way of education.  Many of them have their hearts in the right place but they may not have realized the true cause of their problems or what really needs to be done about them.  Many of these people may even see a larger role for the government, in spite of it being the government in the first place that is creating these problems.

Third, yes I know Republican politicians are also beholden to their own lobbyists, whether they be agricultural firms, insurance firms, defense contractors, or whatever.  That's one of the many reasons why I do not belong to a political party and don't want to.  I'm also aware that few, if any, lobbyists (and this includes unions) are truly partisan; defense contractors will donate to Democrats, and you'll see unions donating to Republicans, etc.  Lobbyists donate to whoever they believe will be most receptive to pulling strings for them.  Some categories of lobbyists just tend to find more receptivity in one party or the other.  I have a lot to say about lobbyists but that will have to wait.

Lastly, a brief word on what I believe is the government's proper role in education.  I believe it is more limited than most people do, but nor am I a doctrinaire libertarian.  I believe that having a citizenry that is competent in English, math, and basic science and basic history and basic economics is a boon to everybody and that there is a role for the government in supplying it.  I do not believe that government needs to be involved in college education, or any kind of vocational education (I'm counting everything from welding school to medical school), as those are private goods and best provided by the free market.  I also believe that it is not up to the government to require that everybody get an education, or to define what form that education should take.  I believe that standards should be set in math, history, etc., and that competence in those areas should be confirmed with testing.  I believe it should be flexible.  If a ten-year-old can take the tests meant for 12th graders and pass, then that student should be confirmed as a 12th grader.  If a seventeen year old can only pass as high as the tests meant for fifth-graders, then that student should be confirmed as a fifth-grader.  Of course, different subjects could have different grades.  I believe that vouchers should provide for this system, and the vouchers can be spent at a private school, on home study materials, or whatever, and that parents should receive a tax credit on any voucher money they do not spend so as to give them the incentive to get the most with the least.

I do not believe in forcing education on people, I do not believe that what we now call a school system is really about education or even that education should take the prison-like form that it does now.  I think compulsory education is the second-worst environment to grow up in after prison, and no kid should be forced to attend a school where he or she is bullied, and I believe that bullies should be kicked out of school the same way they'd get kicked out of a restaurant or grocery store.

Lastly, I don't think my ideas are the be-all, end-all, in fact I could see the system evolving over time as our society adapts to the new system, but they are my suggestions for changes that could be made.  They are heavily inspired by the writings of Milton Friedman.