Accountability, Equality, and Partial Fairness

Seal of the Handicapper General - Harrison Bergeron

Seal of the Handicapper General – Harrison Bergeron

One of the bigger problems with the ACA or any health insurance system which outlaws medical rating is its removal of the financial consequences of bad health habits. Progressives believe heavy taxes on cigarettes will reduce smoking and thereby reduce lung cancer and early death; a financial penalty on a self-destructive habit justified by the social welfare state’s future payment of medical expenses. (One issue is whether this is even true — it turns out most actuarial calculations show those who die early as a result of lung cancer have less spent on their medical care in old age and forego social security payments, so they save the welfare state money.)

But if you equalize the cost of medical insurance regardless of health habits, you are reducing the consequences of unhealthy habits and thus encouraging them. Accountability — having to be responsible for one’s actions — suffers under equalizing systems. Drivers with many accidents and drunk-driving convictions on their record will pay much more for (and find it difficult to even obtain) car insurance, and that’s normally considered a Good Thing because we want there to be financial penalties for habits that endanger others, like driving recklessly or under the influence.

The reasonable objection to charging for health insurance based on health record is that health status is only partly controlled by previous habits and behavior; a big chunk is genetics and chance. So it seems unfair to those who are sick because of bad luck in the genetic lottery — or even by accident, as cancers, for example, are thought in some cases to be created by accidental mutations, and only some cancers are caused by avoidable environmental exposures like smoking.

And many children begin life behind the eight-ball, having inherited problematic genes that make them more likely to suffer from conditions that cost a great deal to treat. Should insurance companies be able to use the results of genetic tests to offer low-cost policies to some, and much higher-cost policies to the unlucky?

In a laissez-faire world, insurance is an adversarial game with customers trying to hide any damaging information from the insurer as the policy is being sought, and the insurer doing their best to deny claims afterward. As a result, governments set up insurance commissions and regulators since it was impractical to adjudicate disputes over every consumer’s insurance policy in an expensive court of law. Arbitration and insurance commissions have done a fairly good job in the past of managing this conflict of interest, with some states being more pro-consumer than others.

One partial workaround for the medical rating problems is the idea of “continuous coverage.” The initial risk pool is assumed equal, and anyone who keeps paying for coverage continuously is allowed to stay in that average-risk category because some small part of their earlier premiums is true insurance — covering the risk that a health issue will turn up which makes them a bad risk in the future. Insurance contracts typically cover one year, and so if there is no requirement to continue coverage beyond that contract, rates could adjust upward or renewal could be denied based on negative events that happened during that year. Requiring renewal at the same rate as the rest of the risk pool makes the contract insurance against the long-term costs of treating any illness acquired during the period, not just that year’s costs.

What happens to people who allow their insurance coverage to lapse because they can’t afford the premiums or simply forget to pay? Most states had a high-risk pool with required must-issue, but rates were very high (of course — since the people seeking insurance under it were far more likely to need expensive care in the short term.) Some hybrids, like exclusions for pre-existing conditions for six months or a year, helped get people coverage at in-between prices.

The PPACA (“Obamacare”) tried to eliminate the problem with must-issue (no one could be refused insurance) combined with narrow time windows for seeking coverage and penalties for going uninsured. These were intended to force everyone to get insurance and to keep them paying for their insurance even if they were being charged much more than they were likely to receive in benefits. Younger, healthy people were expected to pay more to cover the costs of older, sicker people. In practice this did not work — even the subsidized rates were too high to get healthy young people to join up, and the penalties of going without insurance were small compared to the inflated new prices for insurance. So individual insurance coverage pools shrank and were dominated by new customers needing a lot of expensive, deferred care, and rates rose further as doctor networks were narrowed and more healthy people stopped paying.

The Supreme Court’s ruling deeming the ACA constitutional was only partial — the attempt to force states to increase Medicaid enrollments was deemed unconstitutional, so many states did not expand Medicaid. This left a bizarre hole in coverage in those states where a person could make too much to get Medicaid coverage, but too little to get private insurance subsidized through the exchanges. And the expansion greatly increased Medicaid enrollments in those states that participated, accounting for nearly all of the decrease in the uninsured in the US, but Medicaid itself has never been shown to improve medical outcomes or decrease mortality, and many people complained that they were forced to join Medicaid when they would have preferred to buy private insurance.

Also, the Supreme Court’s swing voter on the case, Chief Justice John Roberts, specifically warned that the fine for not having approved insurance was only constitutional if it was viewed as a tax, and an increase to the fine to an amount sufficient to force compliance would make it unconstitutional. This cuts off the ACA proponents’ attempt to raise fines to try to force more enrollment.

Which brings us to the subject of this essay — how do we decide what is fair when consequences of simple bad luck and genetics are mixed with the downside of behavior under a person’s control? Suppose a well-off person (let’s say the son from a wealthy family who left him a trust fund) drinks, smokes, and plays video games all day throughout his life. In his 40s now, he’s obese and unhealthy, with emphysema and cardiac problems imminent. Should his expensive future healthcare be subsidized by middle-class families who have worked hard, exercised, and been careful to avoid bad habits? That is the way ACA policies are now set up. Even unsubsidized, policies for wealthy people in poor health are much cheaper under the ACA than they would be in a free market, and those who have restrained their appetites and sacrificed to maintain their health pay more than they otherwise would to make up for those costs.

But there’s no easy way to separate those “bad unhealthy” people whose illness is due to their own choices from those “deserving unhealthy” people who are ill because of chance or genetic inheritance.

The ACA plan tried to compel more equality of premiums regardless of actual risk or likely use of medical services, which removed some of the incentive for healthier behavior and burdened those who made the effort and sacrifice to keep themselves healthy. This tried to protect those who were simply unlucky, but many of those people are worse off than they were under previous high risk pool plans provided by the states, and have had their care disrupted or cut off by the high prices and narrow networks.

Every complex system is adaptive, and human systems especially so, with people quite capable of understanding the rules and seeking out every loophole to their advantage. The ACA has failed because people aren’t easily herded by programs designed by committees, and by finding the loopholes (paying for one month and using it for three, staying off until actually ill then signing up under the many loopholes in enrollment windows to get expensive care then dropping out again), the ornery people have ensured the ACA cannot be sustained in its current form.

The ACA, which was promoted as saving everyone money, has ended up being much more costly for most than the old system. It has helped a few, but cost far more tax and premium dollars to help those few than a direct subsidy to the existing high-risk pools would have. The redistributionists have again discovered that unintended consequences will make nonsense of their social engineering schemes.

Philosopher John Rawls is usually cited by progressives intent on redistribution; his thought experiment suggested we view a system as just if we would choose it willingly, not knowing in advance what advantages or disadvantages we would be born with. You can argue that much behavior is also dictated by fate — our example of the obese videogamer may well have been doomed by being born into his particular family with parents who could not guide him toward a better way of living. But under that view, no one is responsible for anything, and we know that people can change to overcome even the worst background and genetic inheritance. Removing rewards for modifying one’s behavior toward the socially-valuable means a society which is less civilized and poorer in every way.

The classic Vonnegut story “Harrison Bergeron” takes equality to the extreme. The government has decreed that all must have equal abilities and outcomes, and so those who are more intelligent or talented are handicapped to bring them down to average. Of course, this becomes a nightmare with tragic outcomes as society grinds to a totalitarian halt.

But suppose we already have a little bit of this deadening effect introduced by the government’s emphasis on hiring by ethnicity or sex rather than ability. Would we even realize that the but-for world where only merit is considered would be wealthier, happier, and more fulfilling for most if not all people? If one has never seen a ballet performed to perfection by the most talented dancers on Earth, would we notice that the dancers are being dragged down by lead weights they have been forced to carry — or selected for political reasons rather than talent — making their performance less satisfying?

Socialists and redistributionists tend to think diversity and choice and product improvement are not as important as providing the poorest an equal quantity of goods, and the central planners of the USSR counted quantities of production, not quality; the stories of great quantities of useless, poor-quality, ugly products available from state stores while people schemed and bribed to get better-quality goods from abroad show how central planners failed to understand what mattered to the people. Even Bernie Sanders, who should know better, suggested there was too much choice in deodorant and shoes, and restricting choice would somehow allow more poor people to be fed, clearly missing a lesson or two of the socialist past.

So if you had never seen a perfect ballet or operatic performance, you might not notice how the ones you have seen have been compromised for the sake of political goals. Similarly, if you’ve never seen a world of free enterprise without identitarian politics or Party corruption, you will never realize how much freer and more productive your society might have been. The US overcame a history of race and sex discrimination to more closely approach the standard of merit alone — then has been backsliding incrementally as race- and sex-conscious employment policies took hold. While it appears the US is now limiting progressive overreach by not electing Hillary Clinton president, there has been a lot of damage already, with government agencies especially dysfunctional. It will take a lot of work battling entrenched special interests to reverse the educational system’s failure to teach children civics, history, and economics.

For more reading goodness:

Materialism vs Purposeful Life: Trump, Bannon, and Teilhard de Chardin
Sekrit Reform Agenda: Untangling Government: Medical Deregulation
No More Elections or Campaigns: Liquid Democracy
“Death by HR” – High Tech Threatened by Social Justice Activists

Seal of the Handicapper General - Harrison Bergeron

Seal of the Handicapper General – Harrison Bergeron

Followup: Materialism vs Purposeful Life

Crony Capitalism - Prager U

Crony Capitalism – Prager U

Thanks to Instapundit for the link to yesterday’s post, Materialism vs Purposeful Life: Trump, Bannon, and Teilhard de Chardin. I want to expand on some parts and add some new links for completeness.

First, “Lie Swarms,” which discusses how the atomization of media has created copied and mutated lies which swarm the victim from so many directions that the repetition establishes truth for many news consumers:

Spengler said that the attacks on Bannon are an example of the Big Lie. I take issue with that. What we are seeing with Bannon, and have seen and are seeing with Trump, is something different: it is the Lie Swarm.

The Big Lie is an effective propaganda tactic in a centralized, vertical media system dominated by a small number–and in totalitarian systems, basically one–of information channels. Radio or television with a small number of national stations either directly controlled by the state, or subject to substantial state pressure (e.g., the US in the days of the Fairness Doctrine). To oversimplify only a little: one message, one medium.

In the modern fractured information environment, with a proliferation of outlets and social media that allows free access to millions, coordinating on a single message is far more difficult in such a diffuse and fragmented system. But this technology is perfectly suited for unleashing a swarm of half-truths and lies that forms what can best be described as an emergent order. It is not consciously designed by anyone, but without central coordination design it does exhibit order and synergistic behaviors.

One swarm tactic that is becoming increasingly common is Six Degrees of Hitler/Putin/The KKK/etc. Target A has some connection to B who has some connection to C who has a connection with D who said something that could be interpreted as being vaguely fascist . . . so Hitler!

In some respects, it is harder to fight the Lie Swarm than it is the Big Lie in a society where there the media is not rigidly controlled. A single lie can be rebutted if the target of the lie has the ability to make the case and the access to enough eyeballs and ears to do so. It is almost impossible to swat every lie in the swarm, especially since the lies change and mutate from day to day, and since whenever you are in a position of rebutting a lie you tend to draw attention to it. But unrebutted lies are often as treated as facts, so if you don’t kill them all some damage is done.

Bannon, and especially Trump, are primary targets of the Lie Swarm, especially since Trump had the temerity to actually prevail in the election. Don’t get me wrong–there is much about Trump to criticize. But there has been a kind of Gresham’s Law at work here: the bad criticism has driven out the good. Screeching “racist!” “Anti-Semite!” “Fascist!” on the basis of the most twisted and biased interpretation of the flimsiest evidence has overwhelmed substantive argument.

And the Swarm really hasn’t figured out that their attack will do little to get Trump supporters to change their minds. If anything, it will do the opposite, because the “deplorables” know that they are being attacked and smeared as much as Bannon and Trump. Furthermore, the Swarm seems hell-bent on living out Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. Hillary’s whole campaign was based on personal attacks on Trump and his supporters, and she enlisted the Swarm in this endeavor.

And it backfired stupendously. Why should they expect that doubling down on it will work any better?

Behind-the-scenes coordination a la Journolist isn’t even required. The clickbait factories read each other’s output and copy the talking points almost immediately, so a Huff Post article is usually just a simplified and more hysterical version of Daily Beast, which in turn comes from a WaPo writer. See the hype progression on today’s news:

WaPo: Trump picks Sessions for attorney general, Pompeo for CIA. Sen. Jeff Sessions is known for his hard-line views on immigration.

Daily Beast: Donald Trump Puts the White Back in White House, Taps Jeff Sessions For Attorney General. With Jeff Sessions, Mike Flynn, and Steve Bannon, Trump’s early picks suggest he’s doubling down on his ugliest instincts.

HuffPo: DARK AGE A.G. – Civil Rights Groups Condemn Sessions… An ‘Extreme Anti-Immigrant’ Voice… Will ‘Erase 50 Years Of Progress’… Warren: Senate Has ‘Moral’ Obligation To Nix Nomination… FLASHBACK: Too Racist To Be a Judge… Said The Only Issue With KKK Is Their Drug Use… Suggested White Lawyer With Black Clients Was A Race Traitor… Denounced Civil Rights Groups: ‘Un-American’…

We’ve always had yellow journalism, but the clickbait farms are influencing the mainstream sites, making them compete to be more alarmist.

More thoughts on the forms of capitalism and the two forms Steve Bannon decried at the 2014 conference:

But there’s a strand of capitalism today — two strands of it, that are very disturbing.

One is state-sponsored capitalism. And that’s the capitalism you see in China and Russia. I believe it’s what Holy Father [Pope Francis] has seen for most of his life in places like Argentina, where you have this kind of crony capitalism of people that are involved with these military powers-that-be in the government, and it forms a brutal form of capitalism that is really about creating wealth and creating value for a very small subset of people. And it doesn’t spread the tremendous value creation throughout broader distribution patterns that were seen really in the 20th century.

The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing, is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism. And, look, I’m a big believer in a lot of libertarianism. I have many many friends that’s a very big part of the conservative movement — whether it’s the UKIP movement in England, it’s many of the underpinnings of the populist movement in Europe, and particularly in the United States.

However, that form of capitalism is quite different when you really look at it to what I call the “enlightened capitalism” of the Judeo-Christian West. It is a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost — as many of the precepts of Marx — and that is a form of capitalism, particularly to a younger generation [that] they’re really finding quite attractive. And if they don’t see another alternative, it’s going to be an alternative that they gravitate to under this kind of rubric of “personal freedom.”

He correctly calls out crony capitalism, and the fascist capitalism you see in China and Russia to a great extent today, where enterprise is heavily controlled by the state and the corrupt entanglements enrich the connected in both state and enterprise. There’s way too much of that in Obama’s America as well.

His mention of Ayn Rand and Objectivism is interesting. Ms. Rand’s followers have tended to the cultish, with a romantic emphasis that is anachronistic sixty years after she wrote her seminal works. While explicitly atheist, Rand replaced the element of religious purpose with the aggrandizement of the creative individual. As Bannon says, in a time of collectivist thought-police expropriating the fruits of labor and denying any individual credit for achievement (“You didn’t build that,”) her creed can be very attractive to the young rebelling against stifling conformity.

What’s left out of Ayn Rand’s heroic vision is room for the personal altruism of the family and friendship. She railed against mindless altruism and self-sacrifice, but that was aimed at those who glorify sacrifice to the state and abstract others like “public opinion.” She had built her heroes without dependents or those boring long-term attachments that aren’t glamorous or transgressive, so the real underlying motivation for most people, making a better life for not only themselves but their children, family, and friends, was left out. Attachments would have spoiled her superhuman heroes and heroines, and her villains were often relatives — social-climbing wives, clingy brothers and the like.

Libertarian-ish thinking today has evolved to include more nuance and understanding of economics, game theory, and evolutionary psychology. While there is a definite “drive to create” that motivates many artists and business founders, the more important drives are for status (for the esteem of others and attracting better mates) and the obvious fulfillment of basic needs for food, shelter, and security for oneself and attached others.

Capitalism works best conducted in a neutral setting with a predictable legal backing. It is also dependent on trust — the willingness to put some money or effort out despite the risk that the supplier you are contracting with will stiff you or turn in shoddy work. You trust initially because your commitment is small and you’ve checked out the reputation of the supplier, and you trust more later after completing numerous satisfactory transactions with that supplier. You share your good experience with others despite the fact your supplier may gain new customers and raise prices or have less capacity to do your work, because you are also building a reputation and credit for being a good cooperator. This trust is what really makes capitalism efficient and more capable of producing what is satisfactory for others than any other system.

So community on small and large scales is necessary to success. This isn’t “You didn’t build that,” which is intended to imply that government supplied you with the environment critical to your success; the legal system, the roads, the communications nets, and your network of suppliers all use the framework of law and government in the background, but it was the private elements that created the trust and incentives to produce. Law and government are necessary as backstops, but not sufficient, and no one who is productive owes the proceeds of their success to government. Taxes to pay for government need to be neutral, too: extracted as much as possible in proportion to services demanded, kept as low as possible to provide those critical services.

The Pope’s view of capitalism is colored by his Argentinian background; Argentina has been in the grips of crony capitalist-fascist demagogues for decades. But the notion that values are critical to capitalist functioning is reasonable; no business does well to neglect the health and security of its customers and employees, and individual transactions are about more than money and goods exchanged.

Materialism forgets about the human background, and its various flavors are damaging in different ways. Communism purports to replace the profit element and private ownership with central planning and state ownership, which destroys the incentives that make society run. Democratic socialism similarly reduces the rewards of effort and transfers to strangers the fruit of one’s effort, which weakens the strength of community bonds as the state replaces voluntary association. These flawed ideas are based on redistribution of material goods as if they were far more important than human relationships of cooperation and reliance which are critical to happiness and productivity.

Ayn Rand’s ideal society has never been tried, for the obvious reason that human beings are almost never like her characters. It is probably best to view her work as intended to counter the collectivist central planners of her youth in the USSR and later in America; she emulated the romantic socialist propaganda but to promote individualism, which was denigrated at the time. Her vision lacked the bonds between people that make them more than homo economicus, the model of man as cold calculator of transactional benefit.

So Bannon has a point here, even if he oversimplifies the views of today’s libertarian thinkers. Some overarching purpose to life and work is required to make an economy grow, and the Obama era’s stifling correctness and overregulation has been sapping the will to open new businesses and to invest in new employees. Vanquishing religious thought damages the motivation of those who rely on it, and some of the other streams of purpose — emphasis on competition and production — have been deprecated in favor of inclusion and identity politics in staffing (see my book Death by HR below.)

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. 

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


For more reading goodness:

Materialism vs Purposeful Life: Trump, Bannon, and Teilhard de Chardin
Sekrit Reform Agenda: Untangling Government: Medical Deregulation
No More Elections or Campaigns: Liquid Democracy
“Death by HR” – High Tech Threatened by Social Justice Activists

Crony Capitalism - Prager U

Crony Capitalism – Prager U

Materialism vs Purposeful Life: Trump, Bannon, and Teilhard de Chardin

Lots of interesting reading today as Trump’s victory has focused attention on the assumptions that led to underestimating his chances.

The media spin is working toward delegitimizing him further by casting his advisor Steve Bannon as an alt-right, antisemitic, neo-Nazi éminence grise. This isn’t backed up by much evidence other than guilt-by-association, with Breitbart the junkyard dog of new media flouting the rules of political correctness. But having rabid commenters and hosting some incorrect writers like David Horowitz does not make a media conglomerate or its managers antisemitic, antigay, misogynist, or otherwise the spawn of the Devil, which is what is being implied.

Alan Dershowitz went on MSNBC to decry the antisemitism charge:

The reliably rational Scott Alexander marshals the evidence that Trump is racist-sexist-etc and finds it wanting in his post, “You Are Still Crying Wolf.”

Bannon spoke and answered questions in 2014 at a conference hosted by the Human Dignity Institute at the Vatican. It’s a worthwhile read which dispels much of the simplistic narrative being spun by the New York Times and others. Here are some good bits:

I want to talk about wealth creation and what wealth creation really can achieve and maybe take it in a slightly different direction, because I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian west, is in a crisis…. It’s ironic, I think, that we’re talking today at exactly, tomorrow, 100 years ago, at the exact moment we’re talking, the assassination took place in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that led to the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the bloodiest century in mankind’s history. Just to put it in perspective, with the assassination that took place 100 years ago tomorrow in Sarajevo, the world was at total peace. There was trade, there was globalization, there was technological transfer… Seven weeks later, I think there were 5 million men in uniform and within 30 days there were over a million casualties.

…180 to 200 million people were killed in the 20th century, and I believe that, you know, hundreds of years from now when they look back, we’re children of that: We’re children of that barbarity. This will be looked at almost as a new Dark Age.

But the thing that got us out of it, the organizing principle that met this, was not just the heroism of our people — whether it was French resistance fighters, whether it was the Polish resistance fighters, or it’s the young men from Kansas City or the Midwest who stormed the beaches of Normandy, commandos in England that fought with the Royal Air Force, that fought this great war… capitalism really generated tremendous wealth. And that wealth was really distributed among a middle class, a rising middle class, people who come from really working-class environments and created what we really call a Pax Americana. It was many, many years and decades of peace. And I believe we’ve come partly offtrack in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union and we’re starting now in the 21st century, which I believe, strongly, is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism….

I’m a very practical, pragmatic capitalist. I was trained at Goldman Sachs, I went to Harvard Business School, I was as hard-nosed a capitalist as you get. I specialized in media, in investing in media companies, and it’s a very, very tough environment. And you’ve had a fairly good track record. So I don’t want this to kinda sound namby-pamby, “Let’s all hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ around capitalism.”

But there’s a strand of capitalism today — two strands of it, that are very disturbing.

One is state-sponsored capitalism. And that’s the capitalism you see in China and Russia. I believe it’s what Holy Father [Pope Francis] has seen for most of his life in places like Argentina, where you have this kind of crony capitalism of people that are involved with these military powers-that-be in the government, and it forms a brutal form of capitalism that is really about creating wealth and creating value for a very small subset of people. And it doesn’t spread the tremendous value creation throughout broader distribution patterns that were seen really in the 20th century.

The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing, is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism. And, look, I’m a big believer in a lot of libertarianism. I have many many friends that’s a very big part of the conservative movement — whether it’s the UKIP movement in England, it’s many of the underpinnings of the populist movement in Europe, and particularly in the United States.

Bannon is clearly a Catholic and is defending the value of his religious feeling in a world of brutal materialists. The entire discussion is worth your time, but I’m going to take off from there to connect some dots on materialism vs. purpose in life, and why the current danger to human progress is thoughtless Progressive emphasis on collectivist social services and expanding the number of government employees and clients.

Why do we strive? The biological and evolutionary imperative is to reproduce, and underlying all of our humanity are the behaviors encoded by the DNA of ancestors who survived and reproduced. Humans were bred to cooperate and compete for resources, love and fight for a place in the tribe, and war on other tribes. The addition of language and culture to humanity’s animal heritage meant additional threads of evolution of memes, religions, and cultures were added to the mix.

We have big brains and consciousness — what for? Some provocative theorists suggest it’s entirely a fitness display to attract better mates. But our brains help us survive in a competitive social environment by manipulating it to our advantage just as our motor skills let us defend ourselves from predators and hunt and gather food from the physical environment.

Our evolutionary heritage explains why humans will generally strive to give their children the best chance of success. But the culture component gives even the childless a secondary motivation: one can contribute to the cultural heritage of mankind and thereby do everyone’s children a service. Your seed may not survive, but your intellectual children — your books, plays, art, contributions to the body of knowledge of science and technology — may carry on doing good for others long after you are gone. And we are all cousins, in the end, and every human is carrying our genetic heritage.

So survival comes first, and when your and your children’s survival is threatened you will be entirely focused on escaping the threat. Which is why the first technique used in propaganda is to paint a picture of threat — to make you afraid, and to point you toward taking action which suits the propagandist’s purpose. This can be anything from the small — swaying your vote toward candidate A instead of B — to the murderous, getting you to cut your neighbor’s throat because of his tribe.

Fear is the enemy of rational thought. Threats overrule reason, and since good decisions come from a mix of feeling and logic, fear leads to irrational actions.

Religions are an attempt to explain the world and create a framework for deciding what is moral behavior. Early religions mixed science with moral guidance — what made the world, what do we need to do to placate the gods who determine what happens in it? The gods could be cruel and demand sacrifice, as when Aztecs tore the beating hearts out of living victims, or the Carthaginians (apparently) sacrificed children to the fires of Baal.

Religions, too, evolve. Temporal power mixed with spiritual authority corrupted the universal (Catholic) church which continued the heritage of the Western Roman Empire. Catholic dogma retreated from explanations of the physical world as the competing explanations of science expanded and discredited some early Catholic writers — Christ himself said very little in the Bible about science, so this was not fatal to the corpus of Christian doctrine. Jesuits in particular were able to reconcile science and faith by viewing God’s hand as visible in the workings of Nature; the micromanaging God who would intervene by changing the workings of the laws of nature to produce miraculous outcomes was deprecated, but the sense of His power in arranging the universe as a demonstration and test of faith remained.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit priest and scientist who eventually got into trouble with the Church for his attempts to transcend Catholic teachings to grasp a broader purpose — to explain what God was about, in other words. As a paleontologist and priest, he tried to reconcile evolution with his faith and introduced the concept of the noösphere, the body of all knowledge and culture created by humanity. He went on to hypothesize that God intended humanity to evolve and grow so that the noosphere would merge with the mind of God at the end of time. This led to a lot of serious science fiction like Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 The Star Maker and parodies like The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide series. De Chardin imagined a mystical union with God that would be a sort of Rapture and second coming of Christ as reconciled with the cosmology of scientists.

The Catholic Church now honors him as a thinker ahead of his time, though wrong on many details. His “heresy” was another attempt to outline a religious purpose for life — with the search for knowledge and understanding elevated to a calling of his faith. And this search for meaning and truth is at the heart of both science and faith.

I was brought up to be Southern Baptist and enjoyed the history lessons of Vacation Bible School. But my father was literally a crazy Bible-thumping Pentecostal preacher, and his irrational fervor (he heard from God directly!) caused me to react against all religious doctrines. He spent the rest of his life in and out of mental institutions after he left us when I was five, and I refused baptism when I was eight. Today I am neither religious nor denying the value of religion; I think personal religion can be a valuable guide to good behavior and useful habits of thought. All religious communities have good and bad people in them, and the good generally outweighs the bad, as in most human communities. My religious training, stripped of its specific doctrines, serves me well in helping me find my way to the Golden Rule and empathy for others.

Jews in America have tended to support a completely secular government, remembering the scars of European pogroms and antisemitism as the tribal impulse to use government to suppress and expel them. The Founders were quite supportive of a secular framework for governance, with the Bill of Rights prohibiting direct support for any single religion. This did not mean religious values were to be ignored — but law was not to be based on any sect’s singular view of morality, and the rights and liberty of individuals trumped all religious proscriptions. Many states retained established churches for years after 1787, but the live-and-let-live ideal won out, tying the different founding nations together and allowing free settlement between the regions. Americans learned to get along with their neighbors regardless of religion, and that made us a world leader in tolerance and freedom of belief.

There are still poisoned, prejudiced hearts that retain the hatred of people solely for their race or religion, but far fewer of them, and they are not in power — even under President-Elect Donald Trump. Bannon is no simple hater, but Breitbart’s tolerance for ugly commenters and attacks on political correctness can easily be seen by the paranoid as tarring both Bannon and Trump by association. Feeding this contamination theory of morality where failing to condemn the bad actors often enough makes you guilty by association suits the propagandists of the crony capitalist machine, which has gained nearly complete control of public education and the media in the West. The populist movements that have sprung up are indeed reactionary — reacting to the suppression of dissenting thought and speech. While some of the people supporting them are “deplorable,” the majority are not — and half the US voted for Mr. Trump despite all his flaws, wanting a change from the business-as-usual machine which systematically loots the middle class to support its credentialed nomenklatura and increases the fortunes of the financial industry and the 1% while pretending to care about income inequality.

What those voters want is an end to the condescension and being told what to do by people who think their education entitles them to direct the lives and even the simplest behavior (plastic shopping bag and lightbulb use, for example) of other less enlightened people. We now know from Wikileaks that Obama’s first cabinet was almost literally dictated by a Citibank employee, that Clinton campaign operatives hired people to disrupt Trump rallies then blamed Trump for inspiring violence, and that nearly all media broke journalistic ethics to try to elect Hillary Clinton after they had given Trump so much exposure that he won the Republican nomination. This story quoting a long-time New York Times editor gets at their behavior: the Times wrote to promote a narrative, selectively choosing facts to support it. Stories which did not support their desired narrative weren’t reported at all or were consigned to back pages.

The administrative state has malfunctioned and produced a bureaucracy that cannot build anything at a reasonable cost, or provide the best standard of healthcare for veterans or anyone else. There is little accountability, with even criminal and negligent employees shielded by government employee unions and Civil Service rules. The union of administrative state apparatchiks and the media elite has controlled what the people are allowed to see, but social media now reveal the lies and inconsistencies.

Which is the source of the anger that fed Breitbart’s growth. Citizens who strive to make a living for themselves and their families find themselves denigrated and blocked by bureaucrats. They want to see a return to rewards for the intelligent application of labor and an end to bailouts for losing bankers, subsidies for connected businessmen, and government-enforced monopolists charging too much and limiting their choices.

To quote Douglas Adams:

The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.

To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.

Donald Trump may end up being a terrible president. But what’s clear from the hysterical reaction to his victory is that the media-academic-bureaucratic forces will sacrifice their credibility to demonize him and try to erode his legitimacy even before he takes office. The new administration would be doing the citizens of the country a great favor if they help Congress take back much of the rule-making and enforcement authority delegated over the years to the executive branch agencies, staffed largely by partisans and entitled hacks. Reforms to Civil Service and government employee unions are necessary to reduce their corrupt and deadening influence on government productivity. Citizens are not getting their money’s worth and are getting tired of the agencies ruling against growth and business, which has created the stagnation that has half of our youth underemployed and the lowest rate of new business formation in post-Depression history. The return of accountability and popular control of government means some incompetent bureaucrats, teachers, and law enforcement personnel will have to find other things to do.

As for me, I retired from running a family office for a wealthy high-tech friend around 2003, when I realized none of the extra money I was making for his family by clever investment was going to do the world any good. Quite the opposite — his wife began donating large sums to causes like the National Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Democratic politicians. More than likely they gave a large sum to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Emily’s List. These organizations actively harm the people and the future of humanity through promotion of anti-free-market and anti-limited-government propaganda, and are staffed by lawyers living well by doing good, if good is defined as blocking other people’s projects and regulating some businesses to death while awarding others that support their agenda monopolies and subsidies. Because the core support for the Progressive bulldozer is elite, educated people who work in academia and government jobs, where business is seen as a threat likely to lift the Wrong People up to threaten their comfortably class-ordered existence. The ultimate conservative is the cloistered academic or bureaucrat, who sees danger in the freedom of others to act out of their control, and whose income is secure no matter how slowly the economy grows.

And to connect this to my attachment theory works, I should point out how many of the those so shocked by the election result appear to be substituting belief in progressive government for religion and personal attachments. The failure to get what they want — be it election results or attention from attractive others — makes them angry or despairing, as if they were personally insulted. About 20% of the adult population — and closing on 40% of the unmarried population — is anxious-preoccupied, tending to be insecure in their relationships and demanding reassurance from partners.

Followup post expanding on the crony capitalism-libertarian comment: Followup: Materialism vs Purposeful Life

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. 

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


For more reading goodness:

The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Unrealistic Expectations: Liberal Arts Woman and Amazon Men



Sekrit Reform Agenda: Untangling Government: Medical Deregulation

I have been researching issues of dysfunctional government and over-regulation for the next book, which won’t be done for months. But now is a good time to discuss some of the results that bear on the new administration’s agenda.

Trump rode a popular wave of anger at being lied to and cheated by the DC pols and bureaucrats who have been in the pockets of special interests — oligopolic corporations, unions, and regulated industries — for several decades now. The fog of disinformation funded by government PR and interlocking media conglomerates obscured how regular people were being shafted to fund ever-increasing costs for medical care, education, housing, and cable TV, special interests that had captured their regulators to increase profits at the expense of middle-class families. Proximate causes of voter anger: the lies of Obamacare and the intentional subversion of the law and welfare systems to support a large population of illegal immigrants intended to tip the electoral balance against citizens who were born in the US or entered legally. The government cheerleaders denigrated blue-collar and less degreed workers, while promising and failing to deliver good jobs. “College for everyone” policies meant college degrees came to be required for all good jobs, and meanwhile failed public schools graduated students unprepared for even low-level college work, then stuck the dropouts with nondischargeable student loan debts. College tuitions rose far faster than inflation while an elite class of academics and administrators took home fat paychecks and enjoyed job security and benefits unavailable to most taxpayers — meanwhile abusing nontenured adjuncts to do the actual teaching for poverty-level pay. Lives have been destroyed by the promises of the social engineers, and the people finally stopped buying the propaganda.

Trump is not beholden to the usual billionaire donors and subsidy-seeking industries. His administration is the first opportunity in decades to seriously overhaul the regulatory structure that has crippled US competitiveness. Real structural reform could unleash a wave of growth and new jobs and lower costs of housing, allowing people to move to where the jobs are and start rebuilding families and lives that have stagnated since 2008’s Great Recession began.

I’m going to propose an agenda of radical reform that not only would create a business boom, but a freedom dividend. The elitists have tried micromanaging normal people by regulating the most trivial details of daily life (for example, incandescent bulb and plastic shopping bag bans) and opposing all new housing, pipelines, and industrial development. They should be told to mind their own business.

Radical reform agendas affecting multiple sectors have a problem getting accepted. One can try to build a coalition to get people to accept the parts they don’t like for the sake of others they do, but you run the risk of notifying the entrenched interests that you’re threatening their monopoly profits. Those special interests will join together to fund propaganda to frighten the population into halting the reforms. This was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s downfall in California; he took on the entrenched power of public employee unions — nurses, prison guards, and civil servants — who funded a massive PR campaign against his reforms and halted them at the ballot box. Schwarzenegger gave up, convinced the interests he had challenged were too powerful to curb. So perhaps the reform agenda should be secret — picking off the interests one by one with as little fanfare as possible, so the people wake up one day to discover they are richer and more free than before. Announcing that you intend to fire millions of paper-pushers so they can go to work in real jobs that actually add value might possibly be a bad idea… even those paper-pushers might be better off in the long run working in more dynamic industries, but it is hard to convince someone to voluntarily undergo wrenching change for some long-term good.

So slow and steady change, with due regard for transitional measures to smooth the way. But smash the system, gently, and let people choose freely how to live and create. The status quo is no longer sustainable, and change rolled out before the inevitable collapse of the debt-based economy will perhaps forestall the worst scenarios.

One of the downfalls of the Democratic-Progressive machine was the failure of the Rube Goldberg ACA / Obamacare health insurance scheme they believed would cement their electoral dominance by creating more dependent citizens. Passed in a hurry when they were about to lose their lock on the Senate, the law was a Frankenstein monster of parts assembled by special interest groups and progressive policy wonks, famously cheered on by MIT Prof. Jonathan Gruber, who admitted the proponents had intentionally obscured its true nature: to greatly raise the cost of insurance for healthy middle-class families so that poorer, sicker people could get subsidies without revealing the huge hidden tax increase involved. Repeated lies were used to pass it, including Politifact’s Lie of the Year for 2013, Obama’s “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” plus the promise of $2500 per family yearly savings.

But the current death spiral of the ACA individual insurance market is far worse than the planned hidden tax and subsidy scheme. Through its poorly-designed rules of payment for coverage, the scheme allowed and encouraged gaming — clever consumers discovered they could sign up and pay for one month, then get lots of expensive healthcare services for three months before being cut off for nonpayment. And the loopholes allowing enrollment outside normal time windows were so easy to bypass that many people dropped coverage, returning to pay only when they had a major medical expense upcoming. Because of the high prices — which were barely affordable even with subsidies, and many times the cost of similar pre-ACA policies for those who were not subsidized — many or most of those eligible chose not to buy in, leaving the sickest and poorest to drive up average medical spending for the risk pool.

As a result, the trumpeted increase in coverage was entirely due to expanded Medicaid, which is free and worth every penny. The Oregon study which showed that Medicaid coverage did nothing to increase health or decrease death rates for newly-covered people was ignored, and the claims that new Medicaid coverage would save thousands of lives every year and decrease ER usage among the poor turned out to be false — ER usage rose as poor people continued to prefer no-appointments, no-payment access to ERs over Medicaid clinics with long waits for appointments. Meanwhile, the 20 million people who had paid for their own insurance before the ACA have been soaked, and there are now only 10 million people enrolled in the new individual ACA plans. So while proponents continually claim success in that more people are “insured,” the deteriorating quality of the coverage and the reduced participation by the young and healthy who were supposed to pay the bills mean that it is becoming both a financial and a healthcare disaster.

What happens when a significant number of voters have supposed facts drummed into them by political leaders, but discover they were all lies, and many middle-class voters are being soaked for insurance that covers less and costs much more, reduces choice in providers, and limits travel because they can’t get coverage outside their area of residence? They begin to doubt the word of the “experts” of the government propaganda machine on every other subject, and they yearn for honesty.

Passed to satisfy all major special interest groups, the ACA appeared likely to increase profits for health insurance and drug companies, which is why they supported it. It has not worked out that way, with the companies generally losing $billions on individual health insurance plans. Progressives are now calling for a public option which would somehow undercut the pricing of private insurance companies, many of which are nonprofits, while doing the same work the government way — we can see how well that might work by how patients are treated by the VA.

But the failure of the ACA has created a climate for real reform because the old mostly-functional system is now smashed to pieces and there is less to lose from drastic change. The ACA, ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court, established that the Federal government could regulate and interfere with the healthcare markets of every state. Under the expanded Commerce Clause powers now established as precedent, nothing stops Congress from seizing direct control of medical professional licensing. The balkanized 50-state regulation of care is part of the inefficiency of the system — it should go. In practice there is no evidence that doctors licensed by one state become hazards to care in a different state, and the complex schemes that restrict supply and raise costs for medical certifications need to be streamlined and unified. Irish doctors who go through a four-year program are just as good as doctors trained in the US’s standard eight-year program, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars more. Services which can be provided by technicians in cheap clinics like those popping up in drugstores nationwide should be expanded; for example, checking for suspicious skin growths to screen for cancer can now be done by AI-based optical scanners at very low cost. Standard tests and treatments for colds, flu, STDs, skin fungus, and impacted earwax don’t require a doctor’s knowledge. State laws requiring doctor supervision of even routine care do little to improve care but a lot to restrict availability and raise prices.

Medicaid is both expensive to taxpayers and provides delayed and substandard care. An expanded system of clinics for the poor is a much better way of spending public money on low-income patients. Hospital ERs need to be free of the requirement to treat non-emergency patients, and free to pass them off to public clinics who can more cost-effectively treat the less urgent problems they bring in.

Requiring prescriptions for drugs raises costs and reduces availability for everyone, even wealthy people — having to see your doctor several times a year to renew routine prescriptions for birth control, blood pressure, cholesterol, and other common medications adds to costs with minimal benefits. Doctors have to waste time jumping through insurance company hoops intentionally imposed to reduce drug costs, and vast amounts of time and money are spent needlessly.

There are some medications which need to be controlled to prevent overuse. Antibiotics, for example, gradually lose their effectiveness as organisms build up resistance, and so having some authority limit their use to cases of real need is cost-effective. But most standard medicines should be free for sale over the counter — only antibiotics and highly addictive drugs need to be controlled. This would cut out layers of cost and reduce prices and the cost in time and trouble to patients and doctors. OTC birth control costs the system much, much less than Obamacare’s “free” birth control pills.

Many newly-approved treatments are startlingly expensive. One reason for this is a hidebound FDA, which requires massive double-blind controlled studies for approval. For each drug that is approved, many more fail, so the billions spent have to come from somewhere, and that means very high list prices for patented treatments. The focus on approvals can make or break billion-dollar companies, and so the FDA deciders are subject to influence-peddling campaigns and barely-hidden bribery, making their decisions less transparent and more political than is decent. Meanwhile, foreign countries control prices and reap the benefits of new treatments while not footing much of the development cost. It’s only because the US government enforces this setup that the market works this way; removing bans on imports and equalizing world prices for medications would force the pharmacy companies to price more rationally and fight the price-controlling developed countries that are free-riding on US research costs.

So setting up a commission to investigate modernizing FDA approvals, freeing up provision of most medical services and licensing, and allowing US sales of any drug approved by reputable agencies abroad would be a good start. Drug companies will fight this since it means they have to find another way to charge the costs of research more broadly to the rest of the developed world while selling at marginal cost to poorer patients wherever located, but the current situation is not sustainable — just as the US no longer dominates the world economy and can no longer afford to pay the lion’s share of defense costs for its allies, medical research and drug approval costs have to be more widely shared. And the paternalistic control of what adult citizens choose to eat, drink, smoke, and take as drugs needs to end. It is vastly wasteful and costly to freedom.

All insurance is a bad deal in that it costs more than the services one might expect on average to get in return; the overhead of the insurance company, claims managers, and payment systems has to be built into the price. Thus insurance for small expenses one could easily afford to pay is a bad deal; extended warranties for appliances, phones, and travel insurance are overpriced. Most people who bought their own insurance pre-ACA had catastrophic coverage, which kept premiums down by having high deductibles. But these policies got them access to the insurance company-negotiated prices, which is important because hospital list prices have been set artificially high in response to the Medicare reimbursement system. Bare-bones policies covered the truly unaffordable costs of serious medical treatments, which is the correct use of insurance. Now many people who had catastrophic coverage can’t get it at the formerly reasonable prices since even unsubsidized policies must conform to ACA rules.

So the first relief for ACA problems is to end regulation of policy benefits so individuals can buy what they actually need in coverage. If medical screening is allowed, setting up a national subsidized high-risk pool for poorer people with pre-existing conditions can help solve that problem, or regulations could require anyone with continuous coverage to be accepted, as they did before the ACA in most states — only a few people would find themselves uncovered and needing a subsidized high-risk pool. Most of the damaging gaming of ACA policies comes from those who stop paying in until they have an expensive need, and requiring continuous coverage limits that problem.

Subsidies for lower-income people are problematic in many ways. One is the benefits cliff, which penalizes someone who increases their income many times the increase, punishing efforts to better their lives. Another is the high cost to taxpayers — the costs have been less in total than expected because ACA policies have been much less popular than expected, but higher per covered person. Getting medical costs down overall through deregulation and heightened interstate competition and economies of scale will help, and making any subsidy required be available through income-tax credits eliminates the need for the costly and mostly failed state and national marketplace web sites, easier dreamed of and promised than executed by government contractors. Those have cost $billions but have proven unsustainable even when they work. Let insurance companies sell directly, let any aggregator compete to sell policies, and get the government out of health insurance provision entirely.

The FDA was once focused on policing the marketplace for food and drugs — its predecessor started under the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, and the emphasis was on preventing fraud. Focused on dangerously adulterated food and false claims of efficacy for medical treatments, proper manufacturing and labeling were effective at reducing problems, with the Prohibition-like bans on some drugs and detailed regulation of what chemicals a citizen could buy coming later. Most of the damage caused by quacks and adulterated foods and drugs could be prevented by emphasizing consumer information and labeling instead of prohibition — making sure what is sold is what it is labeled as being and preventing unsupported claims of efficacy are really all that is required, and the growth of FDA regulation beyond that is retarding progress and increasing costs to consumers with very little benefit. Patients with their doctor’s guidance ultimately choose what is needed and useful in medical care, and the FDA has forced them to smuggle in lifesaving medications from abroad and set up a system that prices treatments far above affordable costs. No one who is facing a life-threatening illness to should be kept from trying promising treatments the FDA is too slow to approve. And advanced countries like Britain allow pharmacies to sell, for example, codeine (similar to heroin!!) with acetaminophen tablets for the asking — with little additional risk, though they have been criticized for not warning enough against the dangers of overuse of acetaminophen (Tylenol).

And the FDA is legally prevented from halting the advertisement of and wasted money on homeopathic medicines, which do nothing but can harm people by delaying treatment with real medication. They are also barred from halting supplement sales, and liver toxins like valerian root are still sold freely without appropriate warning labels. Consumers are lead to believe authorities have made the world safe for them, and do not investigate and are not sufficiently skeptical of claims made.

The Hoover Institution’s studies of medical reform are in line with what I’m suggesting, though less radical. I’m particularly bored by HSAs and schemes to jigger tax credits when the underlying problem is that costs are just too damn high, but those incremental improvements would be worthwhile.

[next installment: Sekrit Plan for media conglomerates and cable TV companies, now one and the same]


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. 

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


For more reading goodness:

Regulation Strangling Innovation: Planes, Trains, and Hyperloop
Who Killed Prince?: Update – Buprenorphine Implant Approved by FDA
FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
No More Elections or Campaigns: Liquid Democracy
Death by HR Introduction: HR Pushes Damaging Regulations Into the Enterprise
Death by HR: Thiel, Trump, Palantir: Regulation as Partisan Weapon
Update on: Who Killed Prince? Restrictions on Buprenorphine
California Dream Choo-Choo Lives On: Bay Bridge Lessons Ignored
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy