Bias

I just finished a book that was published almost 8 years ago, Bias by Bernard Goldstein.  I thought it was interesting that 8 years later, it is accepted that all media is biased.  MSNBC and CNN are liberal, FOX is conservative.  In fact, Jon Stewart noted in a recent Daily Show broadcast that White House complaints about FOX were silly as everyone knows that there isn’t any unbiased news anymore.  He also suggested that news without biased commentary is boring.  Jon Stewart may be right, but I like to think I would enjoy a program that actually tries to present the news without loaded language and allows all sides to be represented by thoughtful, articulate people.  Am I alone in thinking that a choice between Sean Hannity and Keith Olbermann isn’t really much of a choice?  Am I the only person that rolls his eyes at the name calling and hyperbole that is passed off as news and/or commentary?

Forcing insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions is immoral

Those that know my story know that my family has been hammered financially by insurance companies for “pre-existing conditions”, aka pregnancy.  I would have personally benefitted from a law that prohibited insurance companies from charging me more because of those medical issues. I would have benefitted from a law that forced my former employer’s insurance company to continue my coverage after I went independent.  However, just because something benefits me personally, I know it doesn’t make it right.  Forcing insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions is immoral.

This first several paragraphs of this recent article states things quite well:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0910/p09s02-coop.html

The truth is I could benefit from a lot of laws that take money from others and give it to me or my family.  Heck, I even think I am a pretty deserving guy.  Excepting my lead foot, I’m a law-biding citizen.  I pay my taxes.  I teach my kids to obey the rules, do well in school, and participate in community service.  I not only don’t litter, I pick up trash when I’m out on walks.  I’m a Red Cross volunteer.  I pay my bills on time. I try to walk or ride my bike instead of drive a car whenever possible.  I give a percentage of my earnings to both my church and several charities.  I know many wealthy people who aren’t nearly as “virtuous” as me.  Why not take their excess and give it to me or others who could certainly use it more?  I’m pretty sure the way that I would use it would benefit society much more than the extra luxuries it would afford them!

The reason is principle.  I was taught as a child that taking others’ property is STEALING.  I believe that strongly.  Morality is about adhering to principle even if ignoring or abandoning it could result in personal gain.  Abandoning principle in face of difficulty, fear, or for personal benefit may be understandable, but it is still wrong.

The means used to expropriate others’ property only changes the term, not the principle.  Taking things when the owner is not present is called looting.  Taking things at gun-point or knife-point is called robbing.  Taking things by deception or misrepresentation is called swindling.  Taking things while the owner is sleeping is called theiving.  Taking things unfarly or illegally is called graft.  Taking things by threat of imprisonment is called taxing.  We should try to reduce or eliminate all of the above.

That said, it is difficult to see wealth in the hands of some uncaring, greedy people.  However, greed and materialism do not only exist among the upper classes.  While we like to think greed is the other guy’s problem- it just isn’t true.  I think an honest definition of greed and materialism among the non-rich is “envy” or “covetousness”.  In fact, if greed is about wanting more- then envy is not only about wanting more (greed), but wanting more but wanting more of what someone already has and it implies social comparison at some level.  Envy is a powerful emotion.  But envy doesn’t make stealing justifable.

I don’t want to suggest that only liberal social policies amount to stealing.  We also need to hold our business leaders accountable for their stealing- wheather that be in the way they are able to externalize the costs of business (eg not providing health care benefits to employees or polluting the environment), robbing shareholders with exhorbitant executive pay, or stealing from open markets by mis-stating their financials. We need to hold our politicians accountable for how they steal from taxpayers to benefit a few in their districts with federally funded “pork” programs.  These programs buy the votes of their constituents at our expense.

All that said, there are real needs out there that need to be addressed.  I propose that CHARITY is the proper solution, not stealing.  Let’s all use our time and resources to help those in need and encourage others to do the same.  Let’s stop restricting freedom and using the government to steal, even if the intentions are noble.  Let’s stop spending our resources lobbying government to steal from one group of citizens to benefit another.  Let’s instead use those resources to actually pay for the medical costs of those without insurance.  This principle applies to other needs beyond medical costs.  I think we will find many wealthy individuals willing to contribute generously.  Those who decide not to participate will simply miss out on the joy of giving.

I firmly believe that our country’s problem isn’t “too much freedom” or “not enough regulations”.   What we have witnessed in recent years is the symptom of growing morality problems- less integrity, less charity, and less trust combined with a concentration of power.  These are problems that must be solved by living more honestly, charitably, and neighborly while diffusing power.  If you want to make things worse, decrease freedom, hoard your resources, concentrate power, and assume your neighbor will take advantage of you if you don’t get him first.

Healthcare

I still remember it well…on September 4, 2009, I woke up at 4am with horrible lower abdomen pain.  I crawled out of bed and went downstairs wondering what could be the problem.  I suspected appendicitis and knew that if it was, I would need to get to the hospital soon or a rupture could mean death.  Unfortunately, my affordable health insurance was only affordable due to a high deductible.  As I was between consulting projects, I was living on savings and knew that a trip to the emergency room and appendix removal would obliterate the savings that I needed for the coming weeks.  I decided to pray that it wasn’t appendicitis and got on the computer to research other possible causes of the symptoms.  Before completing my self-diagnosis, I literally had to stop due to the pain.  I found myself on the floor in fetal position trying to deal with the pain that was nauseatingly intense.  Though I was getting more concerned and anxious, I wasn’t going to dissapate the family savings for a non-critical emergency.  After 30 minutes I identified a more probable cause of the pain: kidney stones.  I drank about a half gallon of water and lucked out that the pain subsided fairly quickly and I passed the stone shortly thereafter.

I made up my mind to do 2 things that morning:  1) Either contribute to and promote a charitable organization that helps people deal with unexpected medical expenses OR found one that does.  I didn’t want anyone to have to make a decision between death and bankruptcy.  2) Determine why in nearly every industry except healthcare, the quality and price of products and services has gone down with innovation (eg computers, automobiles, travel).  Once I discovered the reason, I would make a meaningful attempt at promoting the necessary changes so that the healthcare industry can provide better healthcare at a cheaper price.

Luckily, I found out an old acquaintance had already undertaken a decade long project to determine the answer to the fundamental question of my second pledge, how can we make healthcare affordable?  Clayton Christensen was doing research at Harvard on the hard disk market while I was at MIT.  He discovered a remarkable phenonema that explained how the capabilities of many products increased so dramatically while their costs simultaneously went down.  It also explained why many existing businesses failed to adopt the changes that innovative companies in the same space used to create the value.  It wasn’t an isolated occurance either!  It happened in many industries- computers, telecommunications and even earth moving equipment.  As he explained this discovery to me one day in a one-on-one meeting, I thought it was an interesting bit of research, but didn’t appreciate it for the monumental discovery that it was.  18 months later he published the final results in a book The Innovators Dilemma.  The concepts were recongnized as brilliant by those with more foresight than me and Dr. Christensen became a recognized guru on innovation. 

His recent book, The Innovators Prescription suggests some innovative restructuring that can make healthcare more affordable.  The book identifies the real issues and suggests how they can be addressed.  I appreciate his approach that makes few assumptions about what the solution should look like before the root cause is even identified.  Researched cooperatively with over a hundred healthcare industry experts and stress tested with them, I am a believer in its conclusions.

I have been dismayed in recently months by the bickering over healthcare.  The political scene has focused on WHO should PAY for healthcare and HOW the money should move from patients to providers.  Shouldn’t the real question be, “How do we make healthcare more affordable?”  Without any changes to the current system, Medicaid and Medicare will consume 80% of the Federal budget in 20 years.  If proposed health care plans are enacted, that day will come much sooner.  Creating a beaucracy unaccountable to market forces, fewer incentives to health care professionals to provide quality care, and little motive for citizens to limit unnecessary services, the problem will accelerate.  I see a classic economics problem on the horizon- increasing demand with new regulations and government subsidies while simultaneously decreasing the supply by limiting the financial incentives available to providers.  Expect acute shortages in short order.

So how do you USE regulation and market forces to create affordable healthcare?  You’ve got to read the book, but I’ll post his prescription in the next posts.

Police State

This morning I had an opportunity to see our justice system at work. It left me feeling that life could be a little unjust.

In August of this year, after I dropped my daughters off at school, I drove away through the residental area at 25 miles per hour.  I failed to remember that the flashing yellow school lights not only warn drivers to be alert of school children crossing the street, but also decreased the speed limit to 20 mph.  As I passed a police car parked near the blinking sign, my gratitude for the peace officer changed to concern has his lights turned on and I was pulled over.  He explained that my speed would warrant a ticket AND due to special circumstances (the school zone), I must appear in court.

I was confident that a reasonable judge would see the absurdity of the ticket and that traffic school, or a small/reduced fine would be the punishment.  Unfortunately with a lastname of Roberts, I was forced to watch the procedings of the other defendants whose last name started with letters A to Q.  What I saw led me to believe that my case would not end well.

The Judge had a kind and wise manner as he called the speeders, illegal left turners, and underage drinkers to the front of the courtroom.  Without losing his dignity, he explained how the minimum punishments decided by the law makers of the state required minimum sentences.  Sentences that included:  A $500 dollar fine for a Mexican lawn care worker for not securing his riding mower on a trailer with a 2 foot high safety fence, a one year loss of driver’s license for a 20 year old caught drinking in a private residence, and 11 hours of community service for a hispanic teenager who made an illegal left turn and could not afford the $90 fine.  Almost without exception, the “crimes” appeared to be an example of minorities being singled out (Hispanics, non-Mormons, non-residents) and citations being issued for petty items that suggested an abuse of power.  The sentencing seemed to be an arbitrary requirement that made a mockery of justice with punishments that far outwieghed the crime.  The judge’s hands were tied.  While he tried his best to maintain his objectivity and not provide legal advice to the victims of this selective enforcement and excessive minimum sentencing, I was grateful for his advice and counsel during pleas and sentencing that included how to appeal the decision.

As a strong supporter of our police, rule of law, and respect for our country’s legal institutions, this was a kick in the stomach.  I was forced to see how others could view our country as less than “liberty and justice for all”.  While my experience is just a single data point, it has led me to believe that we need to remove a few laws from the books, eliminate minimum sentencing requirements, and give judges more discretion.

I was advised to plea not guilty and call the prosecutor.  That was not what I had intended to do, but realized it was the best option to obtain a fair outcome.  Who would have thought that libertarians could become so compassionate?

Escape from Freedom

I just read Escape From Freedom by Erich Fromm.  Though I don’t recommend it to anyone but those with a deep biding interest in psychoanalysis, it has helped me to understand the near reverential treatment of certain recent players and movements, which aim to restrict personal liberties.  The book is not a modern political treatise in response to recent events, it was penned and published in 1941.

Erich was deeply disturbed by modern man’s willingness to revert to Medevial World norms of slavery and adopt Fascism and Totalitarian regimes in the middle part of the last century.  He highlights how the culture of the modern world creates anxiety with regards to safety and security.  To deal with this insecurity, man is willing to submit to all forms of dictators in hopes of becoming a well fed, well clothed cog in the machine.  If becoming an automoton also provides some sense of serving a larger purpose and creates of feeling of connectedness, his emotional needs are also met with the surrender of his freedoms to the state.

Erich sums it up nicely in the foreward in the 1965 edition, “It becomes ever increasingly clear to many students of man and of the contemporary scene that the crucial difficulty with to which we are confronted lies in the fact that the development of man’s intellectual capacities has far outstripped the development of his emotions.  Man’s brain lives in the twentieth century; the heart of most men lives still in the Stone Age.  The majority of men have not yet acquired the maturity to be independent, rational, and objective.”

Understanding the mind of the man willing to give up his rights, has created in me a greater compassion for him and a realization that the means of engaging him cannot be “fighting”.  His insecurities and fears will be only heightened in such a battle and the ability for rational thought is diminished.  The “freedom fighter” becomes yet another object of fear, a personification of the anxiety the movement has suggested he be vigilant against.  In order to be successful, freedom loving people must address the emotional state of the ultra liberal or ultra conservative and offer a path with more connectedness, security, power and sense of purpose than the authoritarian alternative.  That is a tough sell when examples of crime, graft, and hypocrisy abound and one of the inherent dangers of freedom is the uncertainty that comes from personal responsibility.

We also cannot assume that as supporters of limited state power we are uniquely evolved emotionally and free from the same psychology of fascists.  Many of us who oppose the authoritarian state are ourselves adherents to an alternative means of satisfying our own anxieties and feeling connected at the expense of freedom. Simply offering another form of authoritarism- be it relgious, corporate, or tribal (ethnic) in exchange for a politically oriented one only puts the power in a different group of elites.

In the end, it appears once again that the only way freedom can be maintained is if we deal with one another fairly and act neighborly.

“One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation.”  – Thomas B. Reed

Government Controlled Economies’ Troubled Legacy

If you read the headlines you will find no shortage of articles on why capitalism is a failed system.  They also propose that more regulation and federal planning is the solution to the economic crises.   A short list of proposed controls includes: limits to executive pay and price controls on health care and commodities, and limits on the trading of certain financial instruments.

The only trouble with limiting peoples’ ability to freely engage in what they believe will be mutually benefitting transactions (even if the participants sometimes don’t benefit), is you must limit their other freedoms in order to be successful.  Inevitably some “greedy capitalists” and other resistors who drag their feet must be killed. Some advocate that this is a small price to pay given the positive social outcomes.  Unfortunately the historical examples of successful highly regulated or centrally planned economies are hard to find. 

However, the failures are almost limitless (most links are all to Wikipedia in an attempt to avoid any media bias on either side):

Asia

Europe  (Eastern Bloc)

  • Soviet Union
  • East Germany
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Czechoslavakia
  • Bulgaria
  • Hungary
  • Albania

Latin America

Africa and the Middle East

When we look at the overall wealth (GDP), freedom of movement, freedom of religion, freedom of press, and even the distribution of wealth (perhaps the biggest single motivator of these political movements), it is obvious to any mediocre student of history that government controls on the economy help no one, but the ruling elite.

An Introduction

I have seen some troubling developments in recent years with regards to people’s understanding of, and commitment to, the principles of freedom.  Fear mongers on all sides of the political landscape have insisted that freedoms should be limited to prevent bad people like terrorists, CEOs, Evangelicals, Liberals, and politicians from doing irreprable harm to our society.  Quite frankly, the fact that people are buying into this logic has me scared enough to think we need to limit these people’s ability to vote, speak, or post to the Internet armed with so little knowledge. 😉

Is there really a NEED to limit information and the freedoms of speech, religion, and commerce here in the USA?  Or is this just another chapter in humanity’s long history of enticing people to willingly give up their liberties?  Will we as Americans realize too late that in order to release ourselves from the grasp of tyrrany and fascism, we must once again offer brave men up on the alter of freedom?  I pray that will not be the case.

I’ve decided to arm myself with a solid understanding of the historical precedents and current data that exposes these freedom limiting actions for what they are.  In the coming days…I’ll make my case for a return to the principles that made this country the shining light it has been for so many of the past 233 years.  While I expect to find fellow freedom lovers along the way and I hope to convert some of the many who have been deceived by the vain promises of those who want to “protect” us from ourselves, if this blog is nothing more than an opportunity to refine my point of view and give me a cathartic release, then it will have served its purpose.

-Christopher Roberts