Header Main

Take 2 Aspirin guiding wisdom: The market is broken in health care

Take 2 Aspirin web

In our preparation for “Take 2 Aspirin, Fix Health Care & Call me in the Morning” we have spoken with experts, read many opinions and kept an open mind.

Here’s the first take-home lesson and this one practically screamed out at us… the free market is broken when it comes to health care. A left vs. right argument about free markets vs. government intervention misses the mark, since even if we all agree that we want a prototypical American market-driven solution, we’re left with the overwhelming evidence that the market has failed; the “patient” is positively hemorrhaging hundred dollar bills. So the question then becomes which idea can make the market work to drive down costs?

While there is some level of agreement on diagnosis, the agreement ends on prescription. Liberals tend to think we increase competition by having a public plan to keep the private insurance companies in line. Conservatives think government would have an unfair advantage and drive the private insurers out of business; some conservatives think this is the left’s ulterior motive. (It seems that to the extent that the goal is increased competition, it seems clear that the government should compete on a level playing field with private insurers.)

Another question we might ask is whether health care can ever be a commodity in a functional free market system. There isn’t a natural supply and demand curve, since health care is often not optional or something you shop around for. Additionally, there is always a person – the doctor – between the customer and the insurer, muddying any self-regulating forces we might hope to see at work.

Conservatives think we can increase competition by allowing companies to compete nationally instead of state by state (which usually includes only a handful of competitors). Conservative David Frum recommends regulating insurance federally, saving the bureaucratic complications of having 50 different insurance markets (exponentially more when you look at variations that currently exist between cities in the same state).

Might this been a problem screaming for The Village Square “power of AND?” What if we allowed insurers to compete nationally, streamlined insurance regulation by federalizing it AND added a public option than had no advantage over private insurers? Just wondering…

Fire, meet gasoline.

gasoline can and pork rindsApparently some liberals don’t think some conservatives have already made town halls quite shrill enough. Apparently they like a little combustion with their decision-making:

The right-wing nuts who cry that ObamaCare is introducing euthanasia for the elderly and infirm, or that it is socialism, are ignorant wackos, to be sure, but they are right about one thing: Americans are about to be royally screwed on health care reform by the president and the Democratic Congress, just as they’ve been screwed by them on financial system “reform.”

The appropriate response to this screw-job is the one the right has adopted: shut these sham “town meetings” down, and run the sell-out politicians out of town on a rail, preferably coated in tar and feathers they way the snake-oil salesmen of old used to be handled!

This is not about civil discourse. This is about propaganda… The only proper response at this point is obstruction, and the more militant and boisterous that obstruction, the better.

(Photo credit. Got to like the pork rinds and beer bottle with the gasoline for a little color.)

Obama: “Where we disagree, let’s disagree about what is real.”

Good idea. (That’s all.)

Walter Cronkite, the bowling league and us.

Walter CronkiteSoon we lay to rest Walter Cronkite, “the most trusted man in America.”

Its no use trying to separate Cronkite’s history from America’s history, him being right there with so many of us during the moments we’ve marked our lives by. The glowing eulogies are deserved and they are far more equipped than I to capture the measure of the man. In their remembrances there’s a melancholy that says we think Cronkite’s brand of journalism has forever died with him. Surely, he will not be at peace with that epitaph.

It is odd that Cronkite is still unmatched in our esteem, because since his heyday, we’ve experienced technology’s jaw-dropping explosion that beams images across the globe near instantaneously – surely a leg up for today’s press corps to achieve. We now have 24-hour cable news, which (if nothing else) provides journalists with many, many hours of practicing their trade. Yet in our estimation this man working with near stone-age tools, relatively speaking, beats our current crop of journalists hands-down.

Suppose that says far more about us than it does about Cronkite or journalists? More specifically, maybe it speaks to who we were as a society when we tuned into Walter Cronkite. And boy do we ever miss the old us.

Cronkite’s America found us sitting around one television set, watching one of two newscasts, distinguished from each other more by personal preference than by ideology. Things didn’t change as fast in the days we spent our evenings with Cronkite, so I suppose there really wasn’t as much to disagree about. But back then we still made lots of room in our lives for people who differed from us politically because they were our neighbors, they were in our bowling league or in our garden club. Heck, we even married them.

Today the bowling league is gone and we’ve got little tolerance for just how wrong we think other people are. Our every information wish is our command as we flit around the dial finding our tribe, and then settle into our favorite armchairs with our favorite beverage to sing an alleluia chorus, free from pesky facts that might soften our views. We have so much comfort in our lives; the discomfort inherent in the disagreement of good citizenship that keeps democracy’s marketplace of ideas alive is just so been-there-done-that. It is just so Walter Cronkite.

There’s always been fighting in democracy. But now when we do it, we fight as if we’ll never need each other.

Even as we step inevitably into smaller and smaller hermetically sealed echo chambers of complete agreement, at some intuitive level we know it was our better selves who showed up to sit down in the living room to watch Cronkite together.

Bill Bishop writes about this phenomenon in “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart,” documenting demographic trends that have found us increasingly segregated by ideology since the mid-sixties. “As the nation grows more politically segregated,” writes Bishop, “the benefit that ought to come with having a variety of opinions is lost to the righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups.”

And we are nothing if not self-righteous. A hundred years of social science research confirms that like-minded groups grow more extreme in the direction of the majority.

Witness where we are.

If we’re honest enough with ourselves to realize the mucky stall we’ve found ourselves in, the remedy is oddly simple, requiring only the mildest of human effort to reach out and remember how much we still have in common. While we’re at it, America is plunk in the middle of a world that really needs us to lead in the kind of civil citizenship that is wonderfully and uniquely in our very DNA as a country. One wonders what can be achieved without a single shot fired if we only steadfastly live up to our very own ideals, the kind of ideals that by their nature quietly shine a light into the darkest corners of the globe saying, “this is democracy, this is what free people can do together.”

We will miss Walter Cronkite badly. Maybe the most fitting eulogy to Cronkite might be to simply remember who it is we were when we were last with him.

Eboo Patel: The challenge of our century is religious pluralism vs. religious totalitarianism

In his book Acts of Faith, Eboo Patel describes his belief that the challenge of our century is whether religious extremism will prevail or whether religious pluralism with hang in. He has a unique observation of how extremism works:

Religious totalitarians have the unique advantage of being able to oppose each other and work together at the same time. Osama bin Laden says that Christians are out to destroy Muslims. Pat Robertson says that Muslims want only to dominate Christians. Bin Laden points to Pat Robertson as evidence of his case. But if you look from a certain angle, you see that they are not on opposite sides at all. They are right next to each other, standing shoulder to shoulder, a most unlikely pair, two totalitarians working collectively against the dream of a common life together.

Sunday at the Square: Two brothers, a sack of grain and us

jerusalemFrom the book Abraham by Bruce Feiler, describing his conversation with an American who came to Jerusalem after winning fourteen thousand dollars on Wheel of Fortune:

He decided to come to Israel for a year. Fifteen years later he hadn’t left. He tells a story to answer why.

Two brothers live on either side of a hill. One is wealthy and has no family; the other has a large family but limited wealth. The rich brother decides one night that he is blessed with goods and, taking a sack of grain from his silo, carries it to the silo of his brother. The other brother decides that he is blessed with many children, and since his brother should at least have wealth, he takes a sack of grain from his silo and carries it to that of his brother. Each night they go through this process, and every morning each brother is astounded that he has the same amount of grain as the day before. Finally one night they meet at the top of the hill and realize what’s been happening. They embrace and kiss each other.

And at that moment a heavenly voice declares, “This is the place where I can build my house on earth.”

“That story is shared by all three religions,” David said. “And our tradition says that this is that hill, long before the Temple, long before Abraham. And the point of the story is that this degree of brotherly love is necessary before God can be manifest in the world.”

“This is not only the spot where it is possible to connect with God, it’s the spot where you can connect with God only if you understand what it means to connect with one another.

“The relationship between a person and another human being is what creates and allows for a relationship with God. If you’re not capable of living with each other and getting along with each other, then you’re not capable of having a relationship with God.” He gestured up at the Wall, the Dome, the churches.

Then he turned back to me. “So the question is not whether God can bring peace into the world. The question is: Can we?”

C.S. Lewis: Wishing that black was a little blacker

leaFor this quote, hat tip to Lea*, who somehow seems to know when anyone discusses civility on any blog across America at the same time as she drives her kids around town in endless loops, takes beautiful pictures of everyone she knows and pursues her career as a thespian in Young Actors Theatre’s Celebrity Edition of High School Musical (tired just writing all this)…

From C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”

The liberal Washington Monthly blogger who brings us this quote continues:

If you give in to “the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible”, it’s easy to see how you could end up thinking things about them that it is implausible to think about any group of human beings.. Your opponents become cartoons in your mind, and the normal duty to be charitable and generous, or even realistic, in your views about other people seem not to apply to them. You stop thinking of them as fellow human beings, and start thinking of them as enemies…

No one — not liberals, not conservatives — should forget that their opponents are human beings. And no one can afford to start down the road Lewis describes, in which you allow yourself to be disappointed when your opponents aren’t as bad as you first thought, or want them to be as bad as possible. And no one should get so wrapped up in political fights that in focussing on the mote in someone else’s eye, they lose sight of the beam in their own.

Worth noting is that Lea originally saw this post echoed on a Christian blog Cranach: The Blog of Veith. An iconic Christian author quoted on the blog of a cornerstone left-leaning publication (that I should add my sister used to work for); the left-leaning blog subsequently quoted on a Christian blog.

If you really think about it, all of this makes black a lot less black, eh?

*In the vernacular of this ugly political war we’ve found ourselves in, Lea is my “enemy” and I hers. If you find it impossible to believe that we’re dear friends, you really need to get out more.

The Unlikely Disciple: A sinner’s semester at America’s holiest university

roose kevinI’m just going to toss this one to Meghan Greene, who did a Village Square-ish review of Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple. She liked the book because:

1. He made a bold move- lead by his own curiosity. Born into a liberal Quaker family- this free-spirited, fair-trade coffee drinking, anti-war protesting Brown student decided that after a visit to Thomas Road Baptist Church with A.J. Jacobs (while doing research for The Year of Living Biblically) that he wanted to see more. To understand what it really meant to “go to Liberty”, he decided to enroll.

2. He gave it a fair chance. When something seemed crazy or unsettling. He went deeper. He longed to know and to understand. He joined Bible studies, had regular meetings with professors, played intramurals, sang in the choir and dated Liberty gals. Above all, he was open to Liberty changing him. His way of thinking, his perspective. He was open. (Even to The Liberty Way…. a 46 page Code of Conduct that even makes me cringe. Enough said.)

3. He hasn’t abandoned ship. It would be easy to say that he is done. He, after all, has the last print interview with Jerry Falwell… who wouldn’t hang up their hat? And his book is now published (and it is no longer banned from Liberty’s bookstore). What more is there? But Kev is continually involved in understanding evangelical culture. Namely at Liberty. He is continually seeking the common ground.

John Stuart Mill: “Exchanging error for truth”


“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind…The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it…If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: If wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error…We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”

Photo credit.

Wall Street Journal: Divided We Stand

patrick-henryLast weekend, The Wall Street Journal hosted a serious look at just what America dividing apart might look like. In Divided We Stand, Paul Starobin (author of After America: Narratives for the Next Global Age) writes:

The philosophical tie that binds these otherwise odd bedfellows is belief in the birthright of Americans to run their own affairs, free from centralized control. Their hallowed parchment is Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, on behalf of the original 13 British colonies, penned in 1776, 11 years before the framers of the Constitution gathered for their convention in Philadelphia. “The right of secession precedes the Constitution the United States was born out of secession,” Daniel Miller, leader of the Texas Nationalist Movement, put it to me. Take that, King Obama.

Today’s devolutionists, of all stripes, can trace their pedigree to the “anti-federalists” who opposed the compact that came out of Philadelphia as a bad bargain that gave too much power to the center at the expense of the limbs. Some of America’s most vigorous and learned minds were in the anti-federalist camp; their ranks included Virginia’s Patrick Henry, of “give me liberty or give me death” renown. The sainted Jefferson, who was serving as a diplomat in Paris during the convention, is these days claimed by secessionists as a kindred anti-federal spirit, even if he did go on to serve two terms as president.

The anti-federalists lost their battle, but history, in certain respects, has redeemed their vision, for they anticipated how many Americans have come to feel about their nation’s seat of federal power. “This city, and the government of it, must indubitably take their tone from the character of the men, who from the nature of its situation and institution, must collect there,” the anti-federalist pamphleteer known only as the Federal Farmer wrote. “If we expect it will have any sincere attachments to simple and frugal republicanism, to that liberty and mild government, which is dear to the laborious part of a free people, we most assuredly deceive ourselves.”/blockquote>

Sunday at the Square: Two-fer


This morning, after the introduction of a church elder returning to visit, he was asked to say a word. Here it is:

“It’s better to be seen that viewed.”

Photo credit.

Bipartisanship mentioned on campaign trail; people pass out from shock

A debate between Representative Dan Lungren (R-CA) and his last challenger Dr. Bill Durst touched on the topic of bipartisanship:

“Let a thousand flowers of religion bloom, they will not hurt us.”

founding-fathers-handsFrom Bob Edwards Weekend, interview with historian Simon Schama, on his recent book The American Future: A History:

The bet that America’s founding fathers made about religion in the 1st amendment when they passed the provision that Congress shall make no establishment with respect to religion and when Jefferson and Madison got through one of the most amazing documents in all American history the “Statute of Religious Toleration” the bet was made was that religion would flourish, that it would prosper, that it would bloom on the strictest possible condition: That you never made heterodoxy, someone else’s religion, a crime. You couldn’t prosecute someone for infringing on what other people took to be religious orthodoxy, you couldn’t lock them up. And from that moment, the founding fathers who were mixed in their degrees of devotion. (Jefferson didn’t think that Jesus was the son of God (but he believed he was a great moral teacher, others were more conventional.) But from that moment on, America flew a flag in my view of very great moral grandeur. It committed itself to toleration as a source of civil union. Let a thousand flowers of religion bloom, they will not hurt us. As Jefferson said very movingly, another person’s religious beliefs “neither break my leg or pick my pocket.” That was a majestically brave thing to say. And the first amendment stands. I wish that our wars in places where they rub up against theocracies like with the Taliban weren’t simply viewed as a matter of pragmatic national security. I’m all for charging the ramparts waving on Jefferson’s statute on religious toleration. We should take comfort and a sense of moral decency from that.