Donald Andrew Henson II

Archive for the ‘American Economy’ Category

Healthcare Hypocrisy

In American Economy, American Society, Current events, The Trump Administration on May 5, 2017 at 11:44 pm
Botticelli's Canto XVIII

Botticelli’s depiction of the 8th circle of Hell – place of punishment for hypocrites

If you are a reader of this blog, and have not been off the grid for some reason, then you already know that the House GOP have finally passed a bill meant to repeal and replace the Affordable Healthcare Act, aka Obamacare. While it is considered a win for Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and GOP Congressmen, it is unlikely, in its current form, to ever become law. So I’m not going to cry wolf or tell you that the sky is falling just yet, because it isn’t. In a political season of big surprises, it’s best not to make predictions; however, I would be very surprised if anything similar to this bill ever becomes the law of the land.

What I would like to address is the astounding level of hypocrisy that surrounds any discussion of healthcare in the US these days. Even as a person accustomed to Beltway doublespeak, alternative facts, and FOX News hyperbole, I often find myself speechless at the audacity of the claims politicians are willing to make about ACA, AHCA, high-risk pools, deductibles, and anything else having to do with the role and provision of healthcare in America.

Before I address a few of the major hypocrisies (for there is not time enough to address them all), I think it’s important that I share with you my own healthcare status – this site proclaims the importance governing by the most rational course, meaning that pre-conceived ideas, creeds, religion, political viewpoints, etc., should have little bearing on the nature and construct of the laws of our great nation. If I had a heart condition that made me a huge beneficiary of ACA, for example, and would cost me thousands more under AHCA – that would of course color my view of the entire discourse. To be clear, I do not.

I have never benefited from Obamacare in any way, shape, or form. I have lived abroad for 14 of the last 18 years. Many of you may not know this, but Americans working abroad for a non-US entity do not face the same mandatory healthcare requirement that other Americans do – we are NOT required to have healthcare, and there is NO tax penalty for failing to acquire it. In fact, even if I wanted to enroll in Obamacare, I would not be allowed to do so. Assuming that AHCA does not add a requirement for expatriates – and I have seen no language to suggest that it will – whatever healthcare law is in force in the US effects no change in my status whatsoever. Whether I am subject to the healthcare mandates of my current country of residence depends completely on which country I live in.

Therefore, I feel I am in a unique position to look at healthcare objectively; I have no dog in the race, at least while I live abroad. I do, however, hope to return to the US at some point – and I’d certainly like to see something fair and affordable in place there when I return.

Now – on to the loathsome hypocrisy.

Before Obamacare, healthcare hypocrisy was already very much alive. When healthcare costs began increasing exponentially in the 1990s, conservative politicians explained that there was nothing that could be done – market forces. This of course, was BS. Government often steps in to re-direct market forces, subsidizing everything from farm products to big oil – and conservative politicians often vote in favor of these moves. The GOP has said for decades that we can’t afford government-sponsored healthcare, can’t afford to give ‘free stuff’ to everyone. This again is disingenuous. There are dozens of countries poorer than the US – using a variety of measurements of wealth – that provide universal healthcare to their citizens. So, it’s not a matter of whether or not we can afford it so much as it is whether it is a priority. Those countries that do provide healthcare don’t spend money on out-sized military commitments, corporate subsidies, or corporate bailouts. Most of them also have much more progressive individual tax rates – the citizenry of those countries have agreed that the general welfare of the nation is more important than producing or enriching a few more billionaires.

This is the classic conservative hypocritical argument, and it’s used for education, healthcare, climate change – anything that provides no benefit to the super-rich. First, say there’s not a problem. When that becomes untenable, say there’s a problem, but there’s really nothing that can be done about it. When sound solutions are offered, showing that something can indeed be done, claim that it would be wildly expensive, lower salaries, slow job growth – whatever. Finally, if necessary, proclaim that it’s too late, that it’s the new normal, the new status quo – grow up and stop being a snowflake. Repeat ad nauseum on FOX News and other conservative outlets.

Unfortunately, the Demos fought hypocrisy with hypocrisy when they finally got their chance to make what they felt were positive changes to healthcare. (And I do believe, unlike the alt-right, that progressives and liberals are trying to make peoples’ lives better. Agree or disagree with how they go about it, to say the end goal is more government control of our lives is just detached from reality. Do you really think Michelle Obama wants to grab the family-sized bag of Doritos out of your hands and replace it with a kale salad? Your own wife can’t be bothered.) Nancy Pelosi told us we’d have to approve it before we could see it. Barack Obama swore we’d be able to keep the doctors and coverage we had if that’s what we liked. We were told ACA would drive costs down. These were all lies – and if the politicians who told them knew they weren’t true, then they truly belong in the Hypocrite Hall of Infamy – illustrated above.

Yet, the GOP weren’t content to sit on the hypocrisy sidelines from 2008 to 2010. There was talk of ACA bankrupting us, crashing the economy (quite ironic actually), of national debts that would leave us a lackey to the Chinese. There were ‘death panel’ scares, cries of socialism. All of this was hyperbole at best, hypocrisy at worst. The truth is that the entire, top estimate for Obamacare, for a decade, is lower than the bottom estimate for the 2008 bailout.

Let that sink in for a moment. The estimates for the 2008 Wall Street bailout range from 1.7 trillion USD to in excess of 29 trillion USD. A one-time bailout. The total cost of Obamacare – for a decade – ranges from a low of actually saving 143 billion USD, through the Obama administration estimate of costing 940 billion, to a CBO cost estimate of 1.7 trillion.

Do you think your average FOX News-watching, Trump-voting American knows that the highest estimate we have for a decade of ACA healthcare coverage is equal to the lowest estimated cost of the bailout? Which would you choose – giving Wall Street a 2 trillion dollar, one-time Christmas present? Or spending the same amount for a decade of healthcare for everyone?

March 21-23, 2010 was the beginning of the GOP’s 7-year-long healthcare hypocrisy extravaganza – the astounding orgy of partisan posturing, fear-mongering, grand-standing, and outright misrepresentation of the facts that have occurred since ACA was passed is unparalleled in our legislative history. The final reconciliation bill cleared the House on March 21, and then-President Obama signed it into law on March 23. The first GOP push to repeal was March 22. GOP Republicans voted more than 60 times to shut down Obamacare – pure political posturing, as they knew they’d never get the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. At least one smug, equivocating GOP face has appeared on FOX News to spread healthcare misinformation every single day for the past decade.

What is it that Republicans don’t like about it? Well, of course the rich don’t like paying extra taxes to fund it – big surprise. But why do lower and middle class Americans dislike it? Is it the fact that people with existing conditions can get insurance? That poor people are subsidized? The under-25s can stay on their parents’ insurance? No – these are aspects of the plan that a majority of all Americans clearly support.

It seems that the individual mandate bothers the libertarian wing (and I have a few problems with that as well), but for the vast majority of Republicans, what they hate most about Obamacare is – Obama.

Jerry Seinfeld once joked about how we go to a baseball game and cheer for a uniform. We don’t cheer for the individuals on the team, or cheer because our guys are better than the other guys – we cheer for the uniform. If Jose Conseco is wearing a Yankees uniform, I cheer him, because I’m a Yankees fan. If he’s wearing an Oakland uniform, I boo – I hate the A’s. This is a perfect description of American politics today – as it applies to us plebes, at least – the rich always support lower taxes and de-regulation, even if the Clintons are wearing the uniform.

If you are for the current House legislation simply because it’s a win for your team, a loss for the Demos, a slap in the face for Obama – welcome to the Hypocrite Hall of Infamy.

Christian Economics 101: Starve the Poor

In American Economy, American Society, Religion and Money on March 21, 2017 at 11:56 pm

I started university a bit later than most, only after I had already tried my hand at a couple of different careers. Retail management was my first full-time foray into the workplace, car sales my second. With that background, it made sense to me that I should be a business major, so I signed up for all of the usual courses required of the freshman BBA, confident that my experience in the real world would put me a step or two ahead of my classmates.

Only problem was – I found that business, as it’s taught at university, has very little connection to the real world.

Consider my first day in Economics 101. I’ll never forget the professor building up the fact that there were ten basic principles that formed the theoretical basis upon which everything else we were to study that semester would rely. After several minutes of stressing to us how important it was for us to know these principles, he presented a slide with the first one:

Number 1 – People always make rational and logical decisions.

Needless to say, I began to have my doubts almost immediately. Of course people make irrational and deluded decisions all the time, especially with money. A lot of what I heard in the classroom didn’t match up with my personal experience in the workplace. I mean, the business model for selling new Dodge cars in the late 80s pretty much depended on the fact that the customer wouldn’t make a logical decision.

Another professor fancied himself a Marxist; yet another was a supply-side disciple. About half of my classmates lacked the ability to write a coherent paragraph, or to support an opinion with facts (which must be common even at Wharton).

I learned that there are a lot of really dumb and dangerous ideas floating around, even at the top business schools. Some of these, like the aforementioned supply-side or ‘trickle-down’ economic theory have so infected conservative political thought that all the facts in the world can’t seem to cure them – Nobel prize-winners like Paul Krugman are just considered partisan.

But if you want to hear some really horrible economic ideas, instead of going to business school, you might want to visit your local church. In fact, I believe that ‘Christian Economics’ is the main reason the GOP is able to continue persuading working class voters to vote against their own economic interests.

Jesus and the money changers

Jesus beating up the bankers – not the poor.

Listen to pretty much any radio preacher or TV evangelist, or google ‘Bible economics’ and you’ll find that the church has a lot to say about what the American economy should look like – and it ain’t pretty. I’ve chosen sections from a website called Let God Be True as a good (bad?) example, not only because the site has a lot to say about work, taxes, and economics, but also because the views espoused would be pretty typical of what you’d hear Sunday morning if you attended church in a Red State. The view doesn’t so much seem to be that work proves us to be the elect of God – not pure Calvinism – but it’s clear that a ‘sluggard’ isn’t fulfilling his Christian duty.

You’ll really want to read quite a few pages of this site if you truly want to understand where GOP/Red State economic ideas come from – no, they do NOT actually come from economics classes or the study of economic data (more on that in my next post).

Take for example the commentary for Proverbs 6. Jesus Christ is presented as the “ultimate self-starter”. Good men save their money “by the conviction of the truth God revealed to them”. “Sluggards and spendthrifts” should be starved. That’s right, people who won’t work or who waste money should be starved.

But the writer really gets going at Proverbs 13. Here’s an excerpt, scriptural references omitted for ease of reading:

Lazy people want stuff. They envy and resent the things of workers. They have many excuses why others have more than they have. They will not put in the work to get things. Instead, they whine about discrimination, luck, favoritism, etc.!

They covet much, but they cannot get their lazy backsides out of bed to get those things. They will not even unfold their arms to put food in their mouths! Work frustrates them, and they cannot figure out simple means of getting ahead. When success falls in their laps, they cannot get it in the bank!

They need a bigger house, but they turn down offered overtime. They want a nicer car, but it is more fun to play basketball than take that side job.

Basketball?!? Why not playing golf or going to NASCAR races? Am I wrong to think there’s a bit of racism here? The writer continues (this time, without even bothering to reference particular scriptures):

A sluggard is a lazy person. A sluggard goes to bed late, uses the snooze button, sleeps in late, is grouchy until noon, complains about his job, dresses sloppily, arrives late, moves slowly, slouches, is often still with hands in pockets or arms folded, would rather talk than work, takes frequent breaks, complains about difficult tasks, stands around unless forced to action, never asks for the next assignment, looks for shortcuts, leaves early, makes fun of hard workers, and is always talking about his last or next vacation.

There are pages of this stuff. Again, the clear, scriptural antidote to this behavior is – you guessed it – starve the bastards! Note that this all assumes that there is indeed work to be had – an assumption that may already be untrue for some groups of workers, and will certainly be untrue for many more in the future.

But notice how this feeds into our current political debates – even as I write this, the GOP has inserted language into their healthcare bill meant to appease conservatives, such as stipulations that the able-bodied must work to qualify, and that the poor receive tax deductions instead of tax credits (to keep from giving anyone a hand-out).

And remember when Tea-Partiers cheered at the hypothetical 30 year old dying because he didn’t have healthcare?

Make no mistake about it – conservative Christians aren’t really worried about deficits, or that healthcare will cost too much, or that taxing the wealthy will hurt job creation. No, not at all. They think that when government takes care of the poor by taxing the rich a bit more that it frustrates the divine will. God has rewarded the rich (contrary to just about everything Jesus ever said) and to take even a small amount from them is to interfere with God’s laws of economics. This is what made President Obama the devil in their eyes – because of course we all know who works to destroy God’s plan – Satan!

The rich of course just don’t want to pay more in taxes – politicians are expensive, don’t you know, and you’ve got to buy a lot of them if you want to keep the working man in his place. Don’t believe it when you hear conservative politicians say, “we’d like to do it – we just can’t as a country afford it”.

The GOP are philosophically opposed to helping the poor, and believe they are doing God’s work. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.

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Enter the Shaman

In American Economy, American Society, Religion and Money on March 17, 2017 at 6:01 pm

Григорий_Распутин_(1914-1916)b
I’m spending a lot of time talking about economics in these recent posts – partly due to the fact that this is the topic of much of my current reading. But partly because it is one of the most pertinent questions we face in the US and around the world today – should economic policy be progressive, giving more to those who have the least (the liberal view), should it be based on Biblical or traditional principles (the conservative view), or should economic policy be set by closely examining hard economic data (the rational/secular view)? In short, how we gear our economy says a lot about us as a nation. And due to what I see as an undeniable influence of ‘theology’ over at least one party’s economic philosophy, it is certainly a topic within the scope of this blog.

Is hard work its own reward? From the very beginning of the Reformation through today, this is the economic message promoted by the Church – a message which is a key part of the economic agenda of today’s GOP conservatives, at least so far as it applies to those of us who work for a living. The ‘tough love’ doctrine we hear repeatedly from Republicans is that liberal policies de-incentivize work; if you don’t give someone a welfare check, they must go out and work at the local Wal-Mart or McDonald’s, no matter how lousy the work or pay. This eliminates slackers, and is not only good for them, but for society as a whole. Bible principles make it clear that people who don’t work shouldn’t eat (or have healthcare, education for their children, etc.)

Now let’s set aside my original question – what happens when technology eliminates even the low-level jobs like this (which, by the way, is already happening in Seoul. My last visit there, December 2016, McD’s have already replaced cashiers with computer terminals – just the beginning, I’m sure) – we’ll come back to it in a post or two. Notice again how scriptural interpretations of a ‘Biblical economy’ fit hand-in-glove with what benefits most the owners of the economy, which is employees working as hard as they can for as little pay and few benefits as possible. I agree with a comment on my earlier post, that it’s difficult to decide what’s the chicken and what’s the egg here – who influences whom the most, plutocrats or theocrats – but there’s little doubt that there is a mutual benefit to the relationship between the two, and the loser is you and me.

If I can digress a bit – I’m sure this relationship between those with economic authority and those with spiritual authority has been around for as long as we humans have organized ourselves into groups larger than extended families. It’s easy to imagine that the first leaders of human tribes were those individuals with physical prowess. Being able to run faster, throw a spear with greater accuracy and force, and fight off competing tribes would undeniably be rewarded with greater status – along with a bigger share of the hunt, a higher quality hut or tent, and access to more desirable mating partners. His power (and leaders in this sort were/are always men) might be limited in some ways – tribal traditions, filial concerns, etc., but it is safe to say that the earliest warrior-chiefs would have been the mightiest members of their tribes.

This ‘might makes right’ way of doing things explains 90% or more of our recorded history – most all of our political boundaries exist as they do today because someone was able (or not) to kick someone else’s butt off of a particular piece of property. Angles and Saxons ended up in the British Isles because Huns and Mongols mostly ran them out of their German homelands. The Swiss and their ancestors have inhabited the Alps for centuries because it has been a fairly easy territory to defend. And the manifest destiny of European Americans was largely fulfilled through ugly force – not because of any claims of ‘superior culture’. Bringing that up to our current times – no one runs a Microsoft operating system or buys a General Motors automobile because they make the best product – both companies put a lot of effort into stabbing competitors in the back or buying them out to get to where they are today.

Enter the ‘shaman’ – this is the beloved Joseph Campbell’s term for a person with religious power in a society. He (or she in this instance, although men have predominated here too) goes by a variety of names – mystic, guru, yogi, pastor, father, priest, nun, monk, to name a few, depending on the culture. While warriors and chiefs were also sometimes mystics, in most cases, the power of the shaman was a separate claim to power apart from physical prowess. One imagines that a spiritual leader is a personality type that could only come along as humans developed psychologically. This individual does not excel at the hunt or physical contests. Often, according to Campbell, there is a physical or psychological calamity in a person’s life that causes him to turn inward to his dreams and thoughts – he is horribly injured in a hunt but miraculously survives, is marked or disfigured in some way – or is not for some reason as terrified by omens such as comets or eclipses as others are. While he cannot throw a spear, he has dreams that seem to predict the future. These dreams put him in contact with the dead – Campbell and others postulate that the first primitive religions were based on the fact that people we love continue to exist in our dreams after they die – leading us to believe that they must still exist on some other plane.

There are entire college courses if not major areas of studies that go into these ideas in depth – well beyond my area of expertise. It’s not hard to see, however, that the warrior and the shaman would do better working together than in opposition. A chief who attacks an enemy and fails might lose his clout within the tribe, as well as his fine hut, wife – or even head. How convenient if a shaman can place the blame elsewhere. A shaman can be easily out-muscled by a warrior, so of course it’s in his self-interest to interpret dreams that reflect favorably on the chief – and well, you can put two and two together from this point. Over time, resources are increasingly taken from the tribe to provide more for the princes and priests. You, the modern day Christian, are comparatively lucky that your church wants only ten percent and your employer pays you wages that keep your head just slightly above water. In the first cities, the vast majority of people were serfs, while the elite built palaces and temples of such grandiosity that some remain to this day.

In my opinion, it is the ideas of the Enlightenment alone that keep this from being true today.

I’ve said all that to say this: religion does not make for good economic policy, nor does a warrior-like survival of the fittest. Logic would dictate that if I work harder or longer hours, I should be compensated in greater measure. This is not happening in the US today. Many jobs that used to be hourly have been turned into ‘management’ jobs as to escape paying overtime. We are once again becoming serfs – powerful corporations and religious beliefs controlling how much work we do, what kind of work we do, how we are payed for it, and pretty much every other factor that makes up our working life. And our shamans, our clergy, twist their own scriptures around to oppress the lower classes for the benefit of the rich.

I do not prove myself as one of the ‘elect’ by working harder for less. Work is NOT its own reward – money, security, and personal fulfillment are just rewards for our labor. The sooner we get the plutocrats and theocrats out of economic policy, the better.

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