September 1, 2004

THE SECOND WAY'S MASADA:

Bush And The 'Vision Thing' (Roger Hickey, TomPaine.com)

Bush and the Republicans don’t believe in government—and they have systematically slashed public revenues. So they need an agenda that promises to address the problems, while continuing their crusade to cut taxes for the wealthy and downsize government. [...]

At the convention President Bush will unveil, not for the first time, an overarching theme designed to convince voters he has a vision for a second term: the Ownership Society. The Bush team has tried out this phrase sporadically over the last year or so— in a few unnoticed speeches, press releases, fact sheets and interviews by White House staffers like Mary Matlin. And the cover story of the latest Business Week , obviously informed by White House spinners, gives us a preview of what to expect. Bush’s ”ownership society” is an attempt to repackage a set of proposals that mainly benefit the wealthy and the corporations under the pretense of addressing real “kitchen table” concerns of the middle class and the poor. Virtually all the specific proposals, when presented and explained to average voters in polling or focus groups, are very unpopular. And there is considerable evidence that most already overwhelmed and overworked Americans reject the “big idea” that individuals must take greater responsibility for designing and “owning” their health care, retirement plans, education and work time. [...]

The costs of health care premiums are skyrocketing, and the Census Bureau has just issued a report showing that 45 million Americans have no health insurance at all— a 3.2 percent increase over the 43.6 million who had no coverage a year ago. (Among people under 65, almost 18 percent of all Americans were uninsured.) In the face of this certified crisis, what is George W. Bush’s proposed solution? Tax credits for people who purchase their own health care premiums (which many experts believe will give employers and excuse to bail out of paying for health care altogether). And tax deductions for the wealthiest Americans who have enough income to shelter some of it—tax free—in Health Savings Accounts to pay for catastrophic health care costs. Many observers have noted the only way these proposals would reduce health care costs would be by placing the burden of payment on individuals, encouraging them to avoid the doctor even for crucial preventative health care. And experts have already questioned Bush’s relatively modest projections about how many Americans his plan would cover. Bush’s Ownership Society forces individuals to own responsibility for their own health care themselves— and, as usual, provides help in the way of tax subsidies only to those who are rich enough to take advantage of the subsidies. [...]

Amazingly, the Bush Ownership Society agenda would undermine the one reliable and guaranteed leg of the three-legged retirement stool: the Social Security system. Americans are increasingly insecure about their retirement. Gone are the days when most employers provided their employees with real “defined benefit” pensions. Instead, most workers are lucky if their employer contributes to an IRA or 401K account which the employee is responsible for investing in the stock market, win or lose. Most workers have little of their income left over for retirement savings after living costs are covered— and many are in debt to make ends meet. In this environment, what is the Bush Ownership Society program for retirement? They want to privatize Social Security by cutting guaranteed benefits in order to create risky private accounts invested in the stock market. Experts have shown that privatization would require more than $1 trillion in transition costs, far less than the costs of protecting Social Security’s guaranteed benefits for the next 80 years.


We see here the danger of one party politics. Were there still a Democratic Party with ideas, instead of the reactionary death cult that met in Boston recently, they could seize these ideas too and work to make them truly bipartisan. They might, for instance, advocate universal Health Savings Accounts but with mandated employer contributions and federal contributions for the poor--replacing Medicaid with a program that would empower recipients and help them build savings. Likewise, they could ride herd and make sure that the privatized Social Security systems retains the current level of employer contribution as well as making sure that the investment options available were low enough risk that accounts were not just "risky schemes" that would mainly enrich Republican stock brokers. Most of all, were they still a responsible and forward-looking party these reforms would have been put in place as much as a decade ago. Their reflexive nay-saying and refusal to accept economic and political reality has only delayed the inevitable, made it less likely that we'll arrive at a well-balanced new system, and hurt their own constituency--the poorest Americans, who could have been banking significant savings and been well on their way out of poverty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 1, 2004 12:35 PM
Comments

The Democrats are frozen from any serious discussion of health care. Much as the GOP is limited by its connection to the parasites of the insurance industry and the looters from the pharmaceutical companies when they approach the matter, the Democrats are wholly owned by the plaintiffs' bar. The way to reduce the cost of medical care is to reduce the cost of medical care. The litigation bonanza has created a need for defensive medicine which creates the need for armies of ancillary personnel simply not required in Europe or East Asia. Americans pay a much higher amount for health care than do other people, and doctors ain't getting that money. If they were, people wouldn't be leaving the profession in droves. The big bucks are instead going to gaggles of lawyers, administrators, insurers and other bureaucrats.

Until one or both of the parties is willing to turn its back on a core contributor or constituency, nothing will change.

Posted by: Bart at September 1, 2004 2:50 PM

Bart:

Why should medical care be cheaper? It's mostly discretionary at this point and if a rich nation's wealthy citizenry chooses to waste money on drugs and other medical boondoggles who cares?

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 3:08 PM

The problem is what kind of society we want. People, who can't afford medical care and watch their children die as a result, cease having any interest in preserving social order. Something like 60 million Americans have no health coverage. That's a lot of people and whole lot more potential for violence than I think we need.

Both extremes irritate me. The Socialists don't understand that if I can't keep the fruits of my labors, I can just cut off the soles of my shoes, climb a tree and learn to play the flute. Nothing of value gets produced. As they used to say in the DDR,'They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.'

Libertarians don't understand that large numbers of starving, homeless people will refuse to accept their lot in life, will riot and will be perfectly happy to kill their more prosperous co-citizens if it will relieve their suffering for a few minutes.

Posted by: Bart at September 1, 2004 3:30 PM

Bart:

Only a fraction of them can't afford it--for most it just makes no sense. And the masses never revolt.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 3:39 PM

Russia, China, the French Commune, 1848, the French Revolution all didn't happen, eh?

Posted by: Bart at September 1, 2004 3:46 PM

Those are the intellectuals, not the masses.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 4:11 PM

Intellectuals generally avoid getting shot at and lots of people got shot at in all those revolutions.

Posted by: Bart at September 1, 2004 5:56 PM

Kings, tsars, aristos, agitators. Not many commoners. They get killed once the intellectuals take power.

Posted by: oj at September 1, 2004 6:29 PM

"Bushs Ownership Society forces individuals to own responsibility for their own health care themselves"

Why is health-care the responsibility of the government because it's "necessary", but yet individuals are expected to be responsible for paying for their own food? Food is certainly more necessary to life than healthcare, so why isn't it more important for the gov't to provide food than health insurance?

Posted by: ray at September 1, 2004 9:28 PM

OJ:

Nice analysis.

If I were, well, OK, I can't use G-d, but some Head Dude What's in Charge, I would make the Democrat's Libertarian-Conservative.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at September 1, 2004 10:09 PM

Of the 44 million who have no health insurance: that figure counts people who are not insured at any point during a given year. The true figure for the long-term uninsured is probably about 23 million, and included in that number are large numbers of young workers who decline insurance.

As a percentage of society, 10% is probably too high. But people get medical care (insured or not) - it's just that they don't get preventive care and someone else has to pay for it. Dealing with diabetes in the emergency room is not smart, but is there any socialist so full of Hillary that he would blame the healthy for the foolishness of that 10%? Ummm, let me retract that question....

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 1, 2004 10:39 PM

The cost of medical care is an impediment to economic growth in the US. Try creating a start-up without maintaining a decent medical plan for yourself. If you have a family, you are looking at $700-$1000/month for medical care as base overhead.

The cost issues result primarily from the litigation industry which is solely the creation of the courts. Drop the litigation, drop the costs it's just that simple. Set up arbitration panels of physicians and surgeons to cover malpractice issues, rather than letting lawyers and jurors(12 people too dumb to get off jury duty) decide. If the decisions involved in proper medical care were merely left to doctors, we'd be better off.

The medical care issue is a real problem and needs to be addressed. Recognizing that fact is not the same as endorsing Hilarycare.

Posted by: Bart at September 2, 2004 7:59 AM

Bart:

If you're ignorant. Otherwise you can just use HSAs.

Posted by: oj at September 2, 2004 8:21 AM
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