Sunday, September 20, 2009


The correct answer to a lot of questions is "no, we can't."

For instance, say your car gets totaled. You get maybe $3,000 when the insurance is all done. You say to yourself "I'd like a new car." And you are feeling good about your own personal economic stimulus, in the form of a $3,000 check. You say to yourself


You find out new cars are way more than $3,000. You find out with $3,000, you can put a down payment on a new car, and spend $4,000 a year for 5 years paying it off.

Every American has a moral right to a new car.

The next morning your wife says "we can't afford a new car." You say


You say "I need a new car because they are so reliable and safe and environmentally friendly! I should get a new car because it is better stewardship of my money, of the lives of the people who ride with me, and of the earth itself!" You feel even better about yourself now, because not only are you going to get a new car, but you are going to be a much better person!

Maybe a moral right to a cheaper car.

On morning number three you wake up and it is raining outside. Your head hurts a little. You say to yourself, "NO WE CAN'T."

Just like that, without the comma or exclamation point.

Because you support 5 people, you have to pay a $1,900 mortgage every month, and buy food, clothes, electric, heat, telephone, water, sewer, car insurance, gasoline, health insurance,


pay social security taxes, medicare taxes, federal income taxes, state income taxes, real estate taxes, personal property taxes, city wage taxes, state sales taxes.

I work until May 10 for the government. Then I support my family.

It would be great to have a new car, and maybe there are superb justifications for it. But see, you don't have the money right now. So you say "no we can't."

And your wife just looks at you and says "d'uh." Silently, to herself, because she loves you.

I'm sorry, but right now we are going to have to pass on the vast new government run universal health care system. We just can't afford it, what with the recession and all. The existing government health care system (Medicare/Medicaid) has had a four decade history of mammoth cost overruns, and is teetering on the edge of not only bankrupting itself, but our entire economy. It would be good to fix it, but that means stopping the bleeding, not slitting new arteries.

So I say tripling or quintupling or googleplexing this system is a bad idea. And the explanations for how the new system is going to control and reduce expenses while simultaneously covering 47 million more people are unconvincing.

Every time Obama or Nancy Pelosi get around to the nettlesome detail of cost control - which is not very often - it gives me cold sweats. It reminds me that this part of the grand equation is pure afterthought, something for the accountants, not for the "big picture people."

Any time you subsidize something, you increase demand for it. If I give you a $200 gift certificate for a cell phone, you will go spend $200 on a cell phone. The $200 is found money, and what else can you spend the gift card on, anyway? Doesn't matter if a cell phone is a good idea, or if it is worth it. Put out enough cell phone gift certificates and the price of cell phones goes up, because the supply of money for cell phones has ballooned.

If I give a one trillion dollar gift certificate to America to buy health care, the price of health care is going way up.

Medicare and Medicaid have been pumping huge tax subsidies into health care "gift cards" for 40 years. During those 40 years, the price of health care has been spiraling up faster than the rate of inflation. This is not a coincidence.

We have not coped with this hyper-inflationary aspect of Medicare/Medicaid in 40 years. The system will be insolvent in just a few years if we don't change it. Insolvent means upside down - we are paying more money in claims than we are receiving in taxes.

Bankruptcy leaves us all with an empty feeling.

This insolvency problem, by the way, is not something newly discovered by Obama or Bill Clinton. Before Clinton-care, in the early 1990s, conservatives were routinely demonized as selfish, cynical pigs for saying things like "Medicare/Medicaid will bankrupt us." The Democratic party line was that Medicare/Medicaid was fine, all it needed was the occasional tweak. Now, the insolvency thought has become stylish, and the rhetoric apocalyptic on the left. That is progress, of a sort.

To say that you can push a trillion more in health care subsidies through the system and also bring down costs is magical thinking. If the levees are cracking under the current storm surge, what happens if you triple the load? Right.

If the chosen instrument for bringing down costs - government control - has not brought them down these last 40 years, why is it selfish and unpatriotic to disbelieve that it will suddenly acquire the fiscal discipline and political pain threshold to do it now?

Some liberals frankly acknowledge that this legislation will not control, but will worsen, health care inflation. The hope is that by bankrupting the system, "fundamental change," i.e., a government controlled health care system a la the UK, will simply have to emerge. There will be no other choice. This is viewed as a good thing. Interesting perspective. At least this argument is honest. At least it does not lie and say the system as proposed will control costs.

I am not ready to say it is impossible to construct a system that takes care of very basic health care needs for the entire society without bankrupting us. I am, after all, Eternally Optimistic.

But I have complete faith, of a very special kind, in the present health care thingie wending its way through Washington. I am sure that it will not work and it will bankrupt the government.


  1. My personally satisfying response to "Yes we Can", especially in the context of "cash for clunkers" car buying stimulus is "no, I don't have to", since, I am very satisfied with my current "clunker" at 225000 plus miles. I can and intend to keep it running till it falls apart, unproven global warming and Al Gore be damned..........

  2. What I like best about EO are the pictures.The muscle car is how I picture my 10 year old Buick.