Could HillaryCare Lead to Lifestyle Legislation?

Mrs. Clinton’s universal healthcare plan would require every citizen to have health insurance. Those with lower incomes (how low?) would get taxpayer-funded subsidies, but most people would still have to pay for it. How will those who choose not to purchase health insurance today feel about the government dictating how they should spend their paychecks? In a free society, shouldn’t that be left to their own discretion? And what will the penalty be for those who don’t comply, and choose to remain uninsured?

Mrs. Clinton would have us believe that her  healthcare plan will reduce overall health care costs because more people will be able to get preventive care, which will reduce the occurence of critical conditions that require expensive treatment. However, there’s a fundamental flaw in this premise. The single most effective means of preventive health care is getting annual check-ups, because they disclose serious underlying conditions. But, among people who already have health insurance coverage, the majority don’t bother with annual check-ups. To ensure the cost-effectiveness of her universal healthcare, would everybody be required to get an annual check-up?

Many of the most expensive preventable medical conditions are related to unhealthy lifestyles (drug/alcohol/tobacco abuse, obesity, laziness, an affinity for high cholesterol foods). Many people who have unhealthy lifestyles avoid going to doctors because they don’t want to be told they need to change their lifestyle. Once the government is in the health care business, will they require people to take their doctor’s advice because, if they don’t, they’ll end up incurring unnecessary health care costs?

Suppose, at your required annual checkup, the doctor discovers you have high cholesterol and you’re overweight. Could you be legally required to adjust your diet and/or take cholesterol medication? What if you refused? Under Mrs. Clinton’s plan, you couldn’t be denied coverage, nor could your rates be raised to compensate for the higher risks you incur. Could you be fined or imprisoned? That just seems like too much government intrusion into one’s private life. But, if the government doesn’t enforce preventive health care, we won’t reap the cost benefits promised by the universal healthcare system, and it will end up costing the taxpayers even more to subsidize those who choose unhealthy lifestyles.

I predict that a great many people will not be willing to change their lifestyles to save the taxpayers money. Many aren’t willing to do so to save their own lives. And, until and unless we have universal healthcare, subsidized by taxpayers, that’s nobody’s business but their own.

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Published in: on December 30, 2007 at 5:20 pm  Comments (7)  
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Crime and Punishment

What is the role of the criminal justice system? Deterrence? Rehabilitation? Revenge?

If maximizing pubic safety is the ultimate goal, rehabilitation is the most desirable result. Realistically, though, it isn’t always possible. Many career criminals are sociopaths, and not amenable to rehabilitation. Where rehabilitation isn’t feasible, deterrence may still be effective. Most sociopaths are rational; they just have no empathy or conscience.

To be an effective deterrent, the consequences of a crime must far outweigh the benefits, and the odds of incurring the consequences must be high. Today, that isn’t always the case, due to insufficient law enforcement and criminal justice resources.

If a criminal is not amenable to rehabilitation or deterrence, they must be permanently removed from society to prevent further opportunities for them to prey on others. That means either execution or permanent incarceration.

I support the death penalty only for murderers or sadistic serial sex offenders. The death penaly is important for the very reason that it deters people from killing their victims when they commit other serious crimes. Once they’ve crossed the line that makes them eligible for execution, they have nothing more to lose and a great deal to gain by eliminating the only person who can testify against them.

Maintaining criminals in prison is expensive, but we could both offset the expense and promote rehabilitation by requiring all prisoners who are capable of working to work. I see no reason why those who have already been convicted of preying on society should live at the taxpayers’ expense while contributing nothing in return.

Working an eight hour day is a good habit to get into for anybody who’s expected to become a productive member of society after they’re released. Prisoners who are rehabilitatable should be given jobs where they can develop a marketable skill, if possible. For those who should never be released, it would at least help defray the cost of keeping them incarcerated. Prisoners who refuse to work should have their priveleges cut and their rations reduced to subsistence level.

Some people might contend that such treatment would be inhumane. I cannot agree. Citizens who don’t commit crimes have to work to earn their living. Why should criminals be exempt?

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Published in: on December 29, 2007 at 2:26 pm  Comments (4)  
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There Ought to be a Law! — Or Ought There?

Our prisons are full to overflowing. We don’t have enough prison space to lock up people who prey on society, so criminals get plea bargains, probation, suspended sentences, or serve a fraction of the time to which they’re sentenced. Yet, we waste law enforcement, court, and prison resources on arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating people for crimes that are not predatory, and only present a danger to the perpetrators themselves.

What is the ultimate purpose of the criminal justice system? Is it to protect society from predators? Is it to protect people from themselves? Is it to punish immoral or irresponsible behavior? If the purpose is to protect society from those who prey on others, that is where we should focus our law enforcement efforts. We do not have sufficient resources to prosecute every crime or lock up every criminal. So lets make sure we spend our limited resources where we get the highest return on investment.

It isn’t that I don’t care if people who are weak, ignorant, irresponsible, or naive play havoc with their own lives. I just don’t believe it’s the role of government to protect them from their own bad judgement. The role of government is to protect me from you, or vice versa, and to protect both of us from a common enemy. Any law that does not serve that purpose not only goes beyond the legitimate authority of the government, it’s a waste of the taxpayers’ money.

The arguments supporting laws against “victimless crimes” are that drugs, gambling, and prostitution do have victims, indirectly, because they fund organized crime and because people commit crimes to support their habits. Some people also believe that decriminalizing these activities would encourage more people to engage in them. I’ll address these points in order.

If drugs, gambling, and prositution weren’t illegal, they wouldn’t fund organized crime. Instead, they would be taxed to help fund law enforcement and criminal justice. Decriminalizing victimless crimes would also reduce the burden on our criminal justice system and free up more law enforcement resources to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate real criminals who do prey on society. Reducing funding for organized crime, increasing funding for law enforcement, and freeing up resources in the criminal justice system would significantly increase our capacity to effectively deal with real criminals.

Addicts resort to crime to support their habits because illegal drugs are so expensive. The cost of producing these drugs is no greater than the cost of producing tobacco or alcohol. If they were legal, they would be no more expensive than cigarettes or booze. Nicotine is as addictive as any known substance, but how many people commit crimes to support their cigarette habits? If drugs were legalized, addicts who are not otherwise criminally inclined would not be driven to crime. This would have an immediate impact on increasing public safety. 

The final argument is that, if drugs, gambling, and prostitution were legal, more people would engage in those activities. I personally don’t believe that to be true. Most people who want to take drugs, gamble, or frequent prostitutes do so in spite of prohibition. Most people who don’t indulge, don’t refrain only because it’s illegal. There might be a few who would try it out of curiosity if it were legal, but that’s a question of personal accountability and individual choice.

It isn’t the role of the government to intervene in any individual’s pursuit of happiness, no matter how misdirected it may be, unless it violates the rights of other people.

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Published in: on December 28, 2007 at 3:43 pm  Comments (6)  
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Will or Happenstance?

In the age old question of nature vs. nurture, where does free will come into play? Clearly, we can’t choose our genetic, biologocal, or physiological characterisitics. Nor do we choose our early childhood experiences. But we choose our jobs, spouses, friends, and how we spend our time. Our choices are not unlimited, but conditioned, among other things, by other choices we’ve made.

Some people would blame a person’s moral shortcomings on an unfortunate childhood or a miserable job or an unhappy marriage. However, regardless of what experiences may have influenced one’s present state, every individual is ultimately responsible for their own life. That’s what it means to be a human being.

If only we could fashion ourselves out of pure will, we could be whatever we want. But we don’t create ourselves in a vacuum. Like water running over rock, every day of our lives, every experience we have, contributes to shaping who we are. When we allow ourselves to be molded by experiences that are not of our own choosing, in ways not conditioned by our own will, we end up becoming someone we never intended to be.

We can’t choose every experience that happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to it, and what we learn from it. Sometimes it isn’t possible to walk away, and an experience must be endured. Enduring a devastating experience can make a person either stronger or weaker, depending on how they deal with it. But it’s our everyday lives that shape us the most, and make us who we are.

Humans are very good at adapting to our environment. Too good, in fact. We do it instinctively, unconsciously allowing our environment to redefine us. The danger is, if we aren’t conscious of the environment in which we spend most of our time, and what behaviors it rewards and punishes, we may adapt in ways we never foresaw, and become someone we didn’t anticipate.

How does one become one’s self, rather than some random person defined by happenstance? By exercising our will. — Not by exerting our will over others, but over ourselves.

  1. We can choose the way we think and feel in response to external stimuli. For example, instead of thinking like a victim and feeling resentment, we can analyze how the situation came about and what options we have to alter or avoid it in the future.
  2. We can choose our behavior. Instead of acting/reacting in our habitual ways, we can consciously behave as the person we define ourselves to be.
  3. We can remove ourselves from a situation that cultivates the characteristics we want to overcome, and find or create a new situation where we can cultivate the traits we choose to hone.

Nietzche said “Become yourself.” Each of us can choose to be the author of our own life, or we can let our lives happen to us and live with whomever we happen to become.

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Published in: on December 25, 2007 at 2:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Competition for Natural Resources

When we talk about endangered species, we need to draw a distinction between species that are recklessly endangered through over-hunting, for sport or commercial purposes, and species that are endangered because of interspecies competition for resources, whether the competition is with man or with other species. There’s a clear difference between (a) protecting a species from being hunted to extinction and (b) seeking out any species that’s facing extinction due to its lack of fitness or adaptation to the ever-changing environment, and attempting to protect it from it’s natural fate.

We have laws that prohibit “taking” of endangered species. I fully support those laws. The recovery of the bald eagle is an excellent example of how those laws serve their intended purpose. The bald eagle was not facing extinction because it couldn’t adapt to a changing environment, but because people were hunting it out of existence. When the hunting of bald eagles was banned, the species recovered on its own. I have no problem with prohibiting the taking of spotted owls, snail darters, and short nosed suckerfish. But that’s not the issue with them.

When the environment changes, whether that change was impacted by man or not, if a species can’t adapt without intervention, then intervention is futile. It can do no more than postpone the inevitable. Attempting to keep a species that is not adapted to the existing environment on permanent life support is not sustainable. When the environment changes, however that change comes about, the natural law is adapt or die. Man didn’t make that law, and man cannot change it.

Some admonish that man should not change the environment. Unfortunately, that isn’t an option. Man isn’t the only species that changes its environment. Nature is all about adaptation. Environments adapt to the impacts of their inhabitants, just as species adapt to their changing environments. But one of the reasons the human species is so successful is because, when man cannot adapt to his environment, he has learned to intentionally adapt the environment to man. Sometimes that necessarily happens at the expense of other species who compete for the same resources within the environment. But interspecies competition for limited resources is all part of nature.

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t try to mitigate our impact. Responsible stewardship is in our own best interest. If we use up our resources with no thought to replenishment, and destroy the very resources on which we depend, we would end up sabotaging ourselves. There is no justification for gratuitous destruction, but all progress comes at some cost. The question is what is an acceptable cost? If we stopped all production and consumption, shut down all factories, stopped driving cars, flying in airplanes, transporting goods by boat or train, stopped heating our homes, and (above all) stopped breeding more human beings, all of these would lessen our impact on the environment. Does that mean it’s incumbent on us to do those things?

Every advance mankind has made throughout our rise to civilization has come at the expense of various natural environments. Every acre of land in this country that is productive or valuable today was once some natural wilderness of one sort or another, providing habitat for numerous species, some of which have successfully adapted, while others have not. The creatures who inhabited the land on which our cities and towns and suburbs and farms and industrial areas are laid out had to either adapt to the changes, migrate to new terrirories, or face extinction. And that will continue to happen for millennia to come.

Innumerable species have come and gone on this planet before man ever existed. Many more will come and go in the course of eternity. Our species’ impact on the environment will necessarily affect the evolution of other species, just as every species impacts every other species in its ecosystem. That’s the way of nature.

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How Do You Repeal a Law of Nature?

Most people take the natural order for granted. Physics just works. Nobody argues with it. Biology happens. Is it good? Is it bad? Whatever. It works. Evolution is actually a pretty neat idea. It takes a long time, but at least you can see progress. It’s implemented through natural selection. The strong survive, the weak are gradually weeded out, and the fitness of each species increases over time.

Without the process of natural selection, none of the species we know today would have evolved. The species they replaced along the way would have eventually died out because they couldn’t adapt to the changing environment. Looking at it from a scientific perspective, it’s a remarkably functional design.

From a personal perspective, though, it seems rather harsh. After all, the strong survive at the expense of the weak. Is that right? Is that socially acceptable? Wouldn’t it be more “equitable” to require the strong to sacrifice so the weak could be indefinitely sustained?

What would become of a species if you were to eliminate the process of natural selection because it seems unfair to those who don’t make the cut? Eliminating the natural mechanism by which a species adapts and improves would result in its eventual extinction, the entire species having been sacrificed for the sake of preserving its weakest specimens.

The free market is the socio-economic corollary of natural selection. Products that fill a need survive, those that don’t fail. Products and services are constantly adapting to better fill the needs of the marketplace. The law of supply and demand is not something economists invented; it’s an observation of the way a natural law applies to the principles of economics.

Just as competition among species drives evolution, and competition within species improves the fitness of the species, competition among goods and services drives constant improvement and innovation that benefits the overall population. Just as tampering with the process of natural selection would inevitably lead to a decline in the fitness and sustainability of a species, so tampering in the free market necessarily works to the detriment of society.

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Published in: on December 22, 2007 at 12:32 pm  Comments (11)  
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What’s So Great About America?

Above all else, what makes our nation great is that it was founded on the principle of individualism. The fundamental precept that every individual has the inalienable right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness ensures that each one of us has the freedom to live our own life however we see fit, with minimal government intervention except to prevent us from infringing on the rights of others. The natural corollary of individual freedom is individual responsibility.

A society that values individuality assumes that individuals are responsible for their own lives, their own actions, and the rewards or consequences of whatever choices they make. Nobody is guaranteed anything but the freedom to carve out their own life and succeed or fail on their own merits. A society that places a high value on individualism encourages entrepreneurship, invention, and advances in all fields of endeavor by allowing individuals who develop and enable valuable innovations to reap the natural benefits of their imagination, enterprise, insight, and skill.

In a collectivist society, the right of the collective supercedes any rights an individual may have. The purpose of government is to ensure that all resources are equally allocated, and that nobody gets a greater share than anybody else. (It never works out that way in reality, but that’s the principle.) Individuality is suppressed in the interest of levelling, and good citizens must always be willing to sacrifice their individuality for the greater good of the collective.

A society that values the collective over the individual assumes that people are not capable of taking responsibility for their own lives, and that the government must assume the responsibility of making sure everybody’s welfare is provided for. Individuals who create more value do not reap the natural rewards of their efforts, but their profits are redistributed to those who can’t or don’t contribute as much. Collectivist societies work best with homogenous populations where people are considered essentially interchangeable. Uniqueness and diversity are not valued, and independence of thought and action are considered a potential threat to the welfare of the masses and the stability of the government.

Most nations lie somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum. But our nation is the only nation that was explicitly founded on the principle of individual rights and dedicated to the preservation of individual freedoms. From my perspective, that’s what makes America the greatest nation on Earth.

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First, Teach Them to Think

How many parents would turn down a free scholarship to a well regarded private school because they honestly believe their kid can get a better education in public school? With a voucher system, the school that a child attends would be based on ability, interest, and parental values instead of what the family can afford.

I envision a school system in which each school is accountable for the end result, measured by standardized national test scores, but is free to implement whatever curriculum best achieves that result for its own particular student population. This would enable parents to have more say in what their children are taught. If parents feel that religion is an important part of their children’s education, they can send them to schools that incorporate religious discipline. If they want their kids to get the best preparation for college, they’d better make sure their kids can pass the competitive entrance requirements for the better college preparatory schools.

After elementary school, students would be assigned to classes based on their current skill level, rather than their grade level, with the flexibility to move into higher or lower level courses as necessary to maximize their own learning potential. No student should ever be impeded in his quest for education to accommodate the “least common denominator.”

This is my proposal for education reform:

  1. Continue to provide public elementary schools, but ensure that every child learns reading, writing, and arithmetic before graduating. Incorporate elementary logic into the curriculum to teach critical thinking from an early age. Formal logic should be reinforced in the teaching of all subjects. Basic economic principles should be introduced in first grade, with more advanced concepts being introduced at every grade level to prepare kids to function in the world beyond elementary school. No student should ever be promoted who has not mastered the basics at his grade level.
  2. Middle schools would be privately run, but would be required to accept all students within their district. All students would get vouchers to attend the middle school of their choice. Middle schools would continue to cover math and language skills, history, science, etc, but would be free to come up with their own curricula to keep their students engaged. For example, some schools could focus on hard-core math and science approaches for the kids who are truly excited about those areas, while other schools might focus on teaching through building things, taking things apart, and solving problems in a hands-on environment. Other schools might leverage art, music, theater, etc. in their approach to teaching the required disciplines, while yet others might emphasize community involvement. 
  3. High schools would be privately operated. They could be preparatory, vocational, or specialized. High school would be optional and students would have to qualify to enter the high school of their choice, based on their performance in middle school, extracurricular activities, or other criteria that demonstrates their aptitude and motivation to succeed in that particular program. Any student accepted into a qualified a high school would get a voucher. (Schools would qualify to be eligible for vouchers based on average student performance on standardized national tests.)

It may be that fewer teenagers would attend high school than do today, but whose who do would actually be there to get an education. Vocational schools would be a very viable option for students who aren’t academically inclined but want to prepare themselves for a better paying job than they could get otherwise.

Today, most parents can’t afford to send their kids to private schools, so they don’t have these options available to them. With a voucher system, they could send their kid to any school for which the kid can qualify. Kids themselves would have more freedom and more responsibility with respect to their own education, and would be more invested in their own success.

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Published in: on December 19, 2007 at 1:36 pm  Comments (14)  
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Poverty Is Increasing — And It’s Our Fault

The most significant reason the rate of poverty is increasing in our country is because we’ve established a poverty culture, where generation after generation grows up expecting the government to support them.

Some will shake their heads and point out that welfare pays barely enough to get by on. That may be true but, to some people, regardless of how little it is, getting something for nothing is more attractive than working.  And, if their standard of living is low, they resent the government for not giving them enough to support a higher standard of living. Many also subsidize their entitlements with “unreported income,” and feel justified in doing so because, if they reported it, the evil government would have the temerity to cut their benefits!

I’m not suggesting that this is true of all people receiving government aid. Some people use it the way it’s intended, as a short term safety net to get them through a catastrophic crisis (a role that has traditionally been filled by private charities). But many people make it a lifestlye. And the most insidious part of this culture of dependency is that they raise their children with the same expectations they have. As they have more children, and their children have more children, the number of people who live in a constant state of dependency grows greater with each successive generation. What’s more, the system actually rewards the poor for having more children. The more children you have, the more benefits you automatically get, whether you care properly for your children or not.

If we did not set people up with the expectation that, if they fail to provide for themselves, somebody else will always provide for them, a lot more people would figure out ways to provide for themselves. More significantly, they would be better off by doing so. And so would their children and their children’s children, because children learn by example from the people who raise them and the culture in which they grow up.

I agree with those who say our government is largely responsible for the rate of poverty in this country today. But it’s not because the government doesn’t redistribute enough wealth to the poor. It’s because the government sets up the expectation that people don’t have to take responsibility for their own lives or the welfare of their own families. And that is a great shame.

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Published in: on December 18, 2007 at 10:29 am  Comments (18)  
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Libertarian, No Chaser

When I was an idealist, I used to vote Libertarian. (Uh-oh, now I’ve confessed; I’m the spawn of Satan, — one of those evil libertarians who want to take the pork right out of the mouths of the poor and the wealthy and everybody in between.) I’m not a radical Libertarian. I believe it’s necessary to pay some taxes to support the truly legitimate functions of government (like protection of the people), and I believe it’s necessary to go to war when our country is attacked by an enemy. But, on just about everything else, I’m a straight up Libertarian, no chaser.

The trouble is, voting Libertarian is like mailing your ballot to Santa Claus. It makes you feel good, but has exactly the same impact as not voting at all. — Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to support a party you think is wrong (but not as wrong as the other one) in the vain hope that you can effect a change, while helping the machine grind on, or to take arms against a sea of politics and, by opposing, render your vote irrelevant?  (Apologies to Wm. Shakespeare.)

Of course, unless you live in a swing state, your presidential vote is irrelevant anyway. If you live in a blue state, your vote turns blue as soon as it hits the ballot box. If you live in a red state, your vote will be counted as red regardless of what you put on your ballot. Only if you live in a swing state does your vote mean anything at all. (As Ella Fitzgerald once said, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”) And, even then, it only counts if you vote Democrat or Republican.

I’m not entirely cynical. — About the presidential elections, perhaps. — But I’m still idealistic enough to believe it’s possible to make a difference at the local level. Your vote alone may not have much impact, but you can maximize your impact by influencing others, especially if they influence others in turn. So why do people get so excited about the presidential race? It’s like reality TV. You can’t affect the outcome; it’s just cheap entertainment. If you want to have an impact, focus on local elections. The more local the race, the more impact you can have.

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Published in: on December 17, 2007 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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