Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let’s go for broke!

After winning over the last few remaining holdouts in the Senate, it appears that President Obama and Harry Reid have the necessary votes to take over one-sixth of the economy with their healthcare bill. It has long been the holy grail of the left, and it is finally within their reach.

The arguments for government run and/or heavily regulated healthcare, when repeated long and loud enough, sooner or later start to stick. The ones I have heard most often are summarized below:

  1. Healthcare is a basic human right that should be denied to no one. All Americans have an inalienable right to medical insurance and health care.
  2. Healthcare should therefore not be left in the hands of profit driven medical care providers, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers or insurance companies.
  3. Too much money is being spent on healthcare for unnecessary tests and procedures.
  4. The only way to equitably address these issues is to leave healthcare up to the government.
The arguments have even had their intended effect on me, and my initial opposition has softened. In fact, now that government run healthcare seems inevitable, I suggest we go for broke. Why stop at healthcare? There are other major sectors of our lives and of the economy for which the same arguments are equally if not more applicable.

The Auto Industry

Transportation is a basic human right, and perhaps I should broaden this category to include the transportation industry in general. After all, we over-consuming Americans spend way too much time in cars, boats and airplanes. We should be spending much more time using public transportation, bicycles, or even hoofing it.

The government should follow the healthcare model and pass major legislation that would ensure the following:

  1. Anyone who truly needs an automobile has a right to own one. But the government should determine not only who truly needs an automobile, but what kind of automobile they should drive. SUV’s, Hummers, and F250’s need not apply. They are much too wasteful and cause global warming.
  2. Government regulation should determine not only the nature of the automobiles to be manufactured and sold, but also the price and the profit margin. Instead of an MSRP, we should have a Federally Mandated Retail Price or FMRP.
  3. In order to keep the auto companies honest, government owned and operated auto companies (such as GM and Chrysler) should serve as a “public option” for those who are unable to afford the vehicles sold by those money-grubbing, union-busting price gougers at Ford, Toyota, Honda, etc. Ford in particular should be singled out for punishment, for having the audacity to refuse government bailout money.
  4. Serious reform and regulation are desperately needed in two subsectors of the auto industry:
  • Auto insurance: I got this idea from my oldest brother, an ardent supporter of Obamacare, who recently told me: “The auto-insurance industry is next.” He is right, of course. After all, the auto-insurers are just as evil as their brethren in the healthcare industry, and they need to be regulated or be subject to government takeover accordingly. The auto insurance industry mercilessly calculates rates and claims based on outdated and unfair factors such as driving records and risk factors. We need the government to keep them straight.
  • Auto repair: I have another brother who has been cheering for Obamacare, and I understand why. His small auto-repair business pays the insurance premiums for himself, his partners and employees, and he has complained bitterly about increases in premiums. I am sure he will now happily pay the higher premiums and tolerate the fewer heath care choices that will be part of the Obamacare package, because at least the insurance company won’t be profiting. But I digress. My main point is that the government should take over or at least heavily regulate the auto repair industry as well. How many of us have taken it on the chin from shysters trying to sell us an engine-overhaul when all we needed was new spark plugs? I can personally vouch that my brother is scrupulously honest, but it is the rest of those money-grubbing scoundrels in the industry that I cannot trust.
5. Finally, transportation and the auto industry would not be an issue if not for all the unnecessary travel. Any travel outside a 50 mile radius should be subject to government approval.

The Housing Industry
Just as healthcare is a basic human right, who can argue that housing is not? We therefore need the government to ensure affordable housing for all, and the only efficient way to do it is for the federal bureaucracy to control the housing industry. And there is way too much of a disparity between working class, low-end housing and the mega-mansions that only the rich can afford. Our government previously attempted to right this wrong with the Community Reinvestment Act, which mandated that banks offer mortgages to people who cannot otherwise afford them, but that had a few unintended consequences, such as the economic meltdown of 2008. No matter. There is still much the government can do. For starters, they can charge a hefty -surtax on any house costing more than $500,000. If this causes a decline and job losses in the construction industry, so be it. Those fat-cats deserve it.
To curb any potential losses in the construction industry, the government can sponsor public housing projects, an area where they already have significant experience and expertise. Cabrini Green of Chicago provides an excellent model. And publicly subsidized and regulated housing can also go a long way toward downsizing and normalizing the extravagant mega-mansions that are littering our landscape. What the public needs is basic housing, not thousands of square feet of unnecessary living space. We might have to look overseas for a good example to follow. Before his untimely death, Romania’s Nicolae Ceauşescu provided some lovely apartment buildings for his loyal subjects and was able to steer clear of wastefully extravagant housing. By contrast, U.S. expenditures on housing--like healthcare expenditures--continue to increase at an alarming and unsustainable rate. Something needs to be done now!

The Food Industry
The factors that have necessitated regulation and/or nationalization of the healthcare industry are closely related if not identical to parallel factors in the food industry. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has argued convincingly that what we are eating is killing us, and they have been quite successful in lobbying for local ordinances against restaurants serving trans-fats and over-sized portions. But why stop there? Restaurant offerings and portion sizes should be subject to federal—not local—control, and this can be achieved by taxation and regulation of certain restaurant offerings.
Furthermore, we should not limit ourselves to restaurants. After all, who can afford to eat out anymore? The authority of the Food and Drug Administration should be expanded to control the processing and distribution of food items to grocery stores, which should themselves be nationalized in order to increase equity and efficiency. Basic human needs such as food should not be left in the hands of a few profit-driven capitalists!
The model I suggest has already been tried and has worked effectively in the former Soviet Union. Do you remember the scene from Moscow on the Hudson, where the Russian émigré played by Robin Williams is sent to a grocery store to buy coffee, and he literally goes berserk when he goes into the coffee aisle and sees shelves chock full of about 50 different brands? Why all the extravagance and waste? Why not just stick with Maxwellhouse? Like the character played by Robin Williams, we would be much better off if our choices were limited to those offered on the otherwise sparse shelves of a government run food store. And just think of it: our decreased intake would likely result in a proportional decrease in obesity and other maladies.
Similarly, the government should also expand the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to more heavily regulate and even take over the means of food production. Why leave such an important commodity in the hands of profit-driven farmers --or worse still-- in the hands of evil agricultural conglomerates such as Continental Grain and Monsanto? Successful models abound. Government regulation, takeover or confiscation has proven very effective in leveling the playing field of other countries such as Soviet Russia and Zimbabwe. It is not quite clear why these former breadbaskets became food importers, but we should study and learn from their example nonetheless.
The News Media
Finally, the press is an institution that is desperately crying out for a government takeover, de jure as well as de facto. The mainstream media have seen some tough times lately, as they have been inexplicably losing market share to talk radio, internet communications, as well as to a money-grubbing, profit-driven, rogue network called Fox News. In addition to providing some much needed regulation and oversight to these latter entities, the government must do something to prop up great American institutions such as the broadcast news organizations within the three major networks and CNN, as well as major print media such as the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Times provides a perfect case in point, as its diminished readership and other factors have put it on the verge of bankruptcy. Some politicians such as Maryland’s Senator Ben Cardin have astutely suggested that such major urban newspapers are “too big to fail” and are therefore in need of a government bailout. Of course, some small minded reactionaries have suggested that this would compromise the independence of the news media, but all indications suggest that an infusion of government money would have no discernible effect on the Times’ editorial policy, at least in the short term. Perhaps it is a little premature to consider a government takeover of the media, but the idea has merit and should be given some serious thought.
You know what’s really scary? It is becoming increasingly difficult to write parody these days. Some people who are so drunk with the idea of government control might read this and say, “Hey, where have you been? That is exactly what we have in mind!” Others who are not too far behind them are thinking, “Hey, great idea! Why didn’t I think of that?” Scariest of all are the masses of Americans who have become so used to government control and entitlements (the new opiate of the masses) and the corresponding loss of freedoms, that these ideas do not seem altogether foreign or unacceptable.

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