Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ron Paul for President

It's nice to see that Ron Paul is at least getting some press. There was a nice column in today's Detroit Free Press about his campaign. I've also seen articles or columns talking about his candidacy in The Wall Street Journal, CNN and other places. With the exception of his thoughts on immigration, I agree with almost everything he says. I know he won't win, but I think it's a good thing that his ideas are at least being heard, even if in small quantities.

Earthquake in the Pacific

I just read about a series of earthquakes in a remote area of the Pacific Ocean. Officials said the quake was in an isolated part of the Pacific Ocean where they seldom occur. It seems that climate change is being blamed for just about every natural catastrophe these days, so how long will it be before someone claims that climate change is responsible for this?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I feel so much safer!

In today's Ann Arbor News there is a front page story about how the people of Ann Arbor were saved from unwrapped bread being sold at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. A vendor from Chelsea (a city near Ann Arbor) had brought some bread to sell at the market. A State of Michigan food inspector from the Department of Agriculture cited the vendor for keeping his bread in the open air. She ordered him to pour dish soap on the bread so it could not be sold.

This whole incident just seems like a complete waste of time and money. The vendor is selling unwrapped bread. Customers can clearly see that the bread is unwrapped. If a customer chooses to purchase the bread they do so with full knowledge of the circumstances. A similar situation arose a few months ago at a local food speciality store. The store sold unprocessed milk from a local organic dairy. The customers who purchased the product knew exactly what they were getting, yet inspectors told the store that it couldn't sell the product to willing customers.

The State of Michigan is currently undergoing a budget crises. Perhaps they could start saving money by cutting back on these sorts of inspections.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Creative Destruction

Sheldon Richman has a great Perspective piece in the current issue of The Freeman - Ideas on Liberty, the monthly publication of The Foundation for Economic Education. In it, Richman has some great quotes from Sudha Shenoy, an economist at the University of Newcastle, Australia. The piece is about how economic nationalism is senseless. For example he quotes Shenoy as saying:
When you read a label which says 'Made in China,' it is not made in China. It is made by the world economy as a whole.... It is impossible to make anything in one country.
However my favorite quote is one which answers the question about how we are going to compete with all these other countries, particularly ones with low wages:
You say, how are we going to compete with all these other countries? The answer is, of course, you compete by producing goods that were not produced before.
Americans have always been great at inventing new things and we should continue to do so. We shouldn't dwell on maintaining mature industries. We can take advantage of the cost savings afforded us by cheaper manufacturing elsewhere to invest in developing and building new things. That's the way to make the entire world richer.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Purchasing Health Care in a Market System

In today's Wall Street Journal there is a letter from a gentleman who was responding to a column by Karl Rove concerning market based health care. The writer's complaint was that purchasing health care isn't the same as purchasing something like a car. Patients, he states, are 'incapable' of making reasoned decisions when purchasing health care, they just want to be cured.

To some extent he is right, however he overlooks several things. First of all, how is it that people know what car to purchase? It might strictly be price, but quality enters the picture as well. How do we evaluate quality? My guess is that most people who purchase a car do so by relying on brand reputation, recommendation from other people or by reading the countless magazines (or web sites) which evaluate cars. The point is, most people don't know how to evaluate a car, they rely on those people who do know how to evaluate a car. The same would be true for health care if the system operated in a more transparent fashion.

There will always be people who will do the research necessary to determine the best places to buy a particular item, and the same will be true for medicine. Health care providers will try to attract these people. In addition, private organizations will form to do evaluations for their membership. Think something like Consumer Reports. Unions could provide this service to their members. The beauty of this is that people don't have to belong to a Union, or subscribe to Consumer Reports to benefit from their services. As care providers work to attract the knowledgeable patient (or those who have been advised), a shakeout of sorts will occur. There will likely be health care 'brands' that form. People will only need to look for the brand, compare prices with other branded providers and decide which they prefer. We already see this sort of thing with laser eye surgery, for example.

Medical providers like to think that they are somehow above the commercialism of other goods and services. What they don't realize (or maybe they do) is that the commercialism (i.e. marketing, branding, etc.) serves a very important function. This sort of commercialism promotes knowledge in a way that no longer requires people to be experts in order to buy a particular product. If lack of expertise is a problem in a market based health care economy, you can bet that entrepreneurs will find ways to fill the gap, earning income for themselves, but also providing a useful service at the same time. Adam Smith's invisible hand at work.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Hillary for Benevolent Dictator '08

In speaking with the Associated Press about her health care proposals, Hillary Clinton said:
I wish it were possible to just wave a magic wand and say from the White House, 'Here's what I want.' But that's not the way it works.
To me, this quote speaks volumes. Hillary (like most other politicians) believe that they know what's best for "the country". They believe that if they pull the right levers, pass the right laws, they will be able to fix all problems. Of course, this approach has been tried many times in the past, and the result is always tyranny. But a well meaning tyranny.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

From the Big Surprise File

This morning I read in the Wall Street Journal that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed sweeping labor reforms and social security system. Needless to say I wasn't surprised to see that French labor unions are planning strikes to protest these changes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Giving Back to the Community?

Much has been written about the 'social responsibility' of corporations and how they should 'give back' to the community. The company I work for is working on just such a plan. I don't have a problem with a company offering to do things which aid the 'community' but I do have a problem with the phrase 'Giving back to the community'. The phrase makes it sound as if companies improperly 'take' things from the community and therefore need to 'give back'. It perpetuates the notion that corporations are somehow evil. I believe this to be a false perception.

Companies typically sell goods and services to willing customers. Presumably if someone pays money for a good or service it's because they feel that they will be better off with the good or service than if they had the cash. The company benefits by receiving cash and customers benefit by receiving goods and services. Nothing is taken. The 'community' is not harmed. It could be argued that companies that pollute or engage in illegal or unethical activities are harming the community, but the reality is that most successful companies don't operate this way. Instead, by their very existence, they benefit the community by providing employment, purchasing goods and services from others, etc.

The simple truth is that for the vast majority of companies that operate on an ethical basis, there is no need to 'give back' to the community. It doesn't mean that companies can't do some additional good things for the community, but this should simply be thought of as 'Giving to the community' and not 'Giving back to the community'. It's only a one word change, but the change in meaning is enormous.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Honesty in a Presidential Candidate

At least John Edwards has the honesty to let people know that the government will own your body once single payer health insurance is inacted.  At a campaign stop in Iowa, Edwards said
'It requires that everybody be covered. It requires that everybody get preventive care [...] If you are going to be in the system, you can't choose not to go to the doctor for 20 years. You have to go in and be checked and make sure that you are OK.'

Somehow I'm not comforted by the notion that the government is going to require me to get preventative care.  I'm sure that's just the tip of the iceberg.  It follows that I will be required to take appropriate medications and to get appropriate treatment as recommended by my government paid physician.  No thanks.

HT to the Cato Institute