Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Is Socialized Healthcare the answer?

Health Insurance Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be

Oct. 16, 2006

I'm appalled reading the results of the ABC News poll on health care:

"Nearly eight in 10 favor a federal requirement that all employers offer insurance to their full-time workers. Nearly two-thirds favor such a requirement for part-time employees as well."

ABC News and USA Today are offering solutions to the health care problems in America during our weeklong series "Prescription for Change." Watch for special reports all week on "Good Morning America," "World News" and "Nightline."

Why on earth would we want mandated insurance from employers?! Do our employers pay for our food, clothing or shelter? If they did, why would that be good? Having my health care tied to my boss invites him to snoop into my private health issues, and if I change jobs I lose coverage. Employer paid health insurance isn't free. It just means we get insurance instead of higher salaries. Companies only provide it because of a World War II-era tax break that never went away.

Anyway, insurance is a terrible way to pay for things. It burdens us with paperwork, invites cheating and, worst of all, creates a moral hazard that distorts incentives. It raises costs by insulating consumers from medicine's real prices.

Suppose you had grocery insurance. With your employer paying 80 percent of the bill, you would fill the cart with lobster and filet mignon. Everything would cost more because supermarkets would stop running sales. Why should they, when their customers barely care about the price?

Suppose everyone had transportation insurance. The roads would be crowded with Mercedes. Why buy a Chevy if your employer pays?

People have gotten so used to having "other" people pay for most of our health care that we routinely ask for insurance with low or no deductibles. This is another bad idea.

Suppose car insurance worked that way. Every time you got a little dent or the paint faded, or every time you buy gas or change the oil, you'd fill out endless forms and wait for reimbursement from your insurance company. Gas prices would quickly rise because service stations would know that you no longer care about the price. You'd become more wasteful: jackrabbit starts, speeding, wasting gas. Who cares? You are only paying 20 percent or less of the bill.

Insurance invites waste. That's a reason health care costs so much, and is often so consumer-unfriendly. In the few areas where there are free markets in health care -- such as cosmetic medicine and Lasik eye surgery -- customer service is great, and prices continue to drop.

The ABC News poll suggests that people understand that. When asked about "consumer directed plans," "nearly eight in 10 Americans think that allowing people to shop around for their own medical care would be an effective way to control costs." But many people still want a free lunch: "Consumer-driven care looks less popular if it's accompanied by the risk of higher out-of-pocket expenses."

Somehow people seem to believe "insured" means free.

This is not to say that we don't need insurance. We need it to protect us against financial catastrophes that could result from a stroke or heart attack. That's why health savings accounts, which cover smaller out-of-pocket health expenditures, are paired with high-deductible catastrophic insurance. That's a good thing. But today's demand from people that insurance cover everything from pets to dental work puts us on a slide toward bankruptcy.

In other terrifying news from the poll: "Three-quarters like the idea of expanding Medicare, the government program that covers retirees."

Great, let's bankrupt America even faster! Medicare already has an unfunded liability of $32.1 trillion -- that's how much more money the politicians have promised versus the amount the Treasury has to pay for it. The Medicare Trust Funds report says expenditures "are expected to increase … at a faster pace than either workers' earnings or the economy overall."

Do you think Social Security is going bankrupt? Well, yes, it is. But the Medicare liability is far greater. As more of us live longer, it will get even bigger. Yet the public wants more, and the politicians will probably vote to give it. As P.J. O'Rourke says, "Think medical care is expensive now? Watch how expensive it gets once it's free."

More bad news from the poll: "As far as the cause of higher health costs, the public's biggest suspicion is profiteering by drug and insurance companies -- 50 percent call this one of the single biggest factors. Fraud and waste, the cost of medical malpractice suits and doctors and hospitals making too much money also come in for substantial concern."

Fraud and waste are a concern. When third parties pay, regardless of whether it's government or private insurance, people find it easier and more tempting to cheat. No one spends other people's money as carefully as he spends his own. But "profiteering?" What the heck does that mean? Every company wants to make as much profit as it can. If an insurance company makes "excess" profit, other insurance companies will rush to compete in those areas; therefore prices will fall quickly.

And frankly, I want drug companies to make lots of money. The more they make, the more they invest in drug development that may someday cure my disease or ease my pain.

Finally, the worst news on the poll is that "56 percent support a shift to universal coverage."

Universal coverage sounds so nice -- no worries, no paperwork. Mommy and Daddy, usually in the form of government as single payer and manager, just take care of everything. Universal coverage in Canada and Europe is popular because no one has to worry about paying directly or filling out forms. But like all well-intended schemes of collectivists, it is becoming a cold, bureaucratized machine that does not serve people well.

It takes time for this to happen. At first, the eager government workers are the best and brightest -- they hire medical elites to guide people to the best care. But then civil service arteriolosclerosis sets in. It happens gradually, so people don't immediately notice what they are missing, (it took 70 years for the Soviet Union to fall).

A first sign: the waiting lines. Already, some people in England pull their own teeth because they can't stand the pain while waiting to see a dentist. "The problem is, I cannot suddenly just produce more dentists," said Prime Minister Tony Blair, when he was confronted by an elderly lady who'd pulled out seven of her teeth herself. In Canada, says David Gratzer, author of "The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care," "1.2 million Canadians are actively looking for a family doctor but can't get one because of the chronic shortages. A couple of towns hold annual lotteries with the winners getting to see doctors."

The American public seems to understand that care deteriorates under government control. The ABC poll says that while most people want universal coverage, "far fewer, ranging from 15 to 26 percent, think such coverage would actually improve the quality or cost of their own care, the availability of treatment, or their choice of doctors or hospitals. Indeed by 2-1, people think universal coverage would make the quality of their own care worse, and by better than 2-1 think it would worsen their choice of doctors or hospitals."

It would! It would! The poll writers call the public's attitudes "altruistic." "In a show of altruism, universal coverage is supported by a quarter of those who think the quality of their care and the availability of treatments would worsen."

Is that altruism? I call it an irrational and self-destructive fear of markets and competition.

For-profit medicine has given us vaccines and antibiotics that have extended our lives by decades. I want more! More pills to ease pain, more metal joints to keep me playing sports, more treatments for cancer and cures for heart disease. Socialized medicine slows heath care innovation to a crawl.

Capitalism isn't perfect. It allows inequalities, many of which seem unfair. And capitalism's uncertainties create anxiety. But universal care " creates its own anxieties and inequalities. Perfect isn't one of the choices. Foolish pursuit of free care is the enemy of good care.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Why I'm building Bridges Academy

The Public School Nightmare:
Why fix a system designed to destroy individual thought?
by John Taylor Gatto

I want you to consider the frightening possibility that we are spending far too much money on schooling, not too little. I want you to consider that we have too many people employed in interfering with the way children grow up--and that all this money and all these people, all the time we take out of children's lives and away from their homes and families and neighborhoods and private explorations--gets in the way of education.

That seems radical, I know. Surely in modern technological society it is the quantity of schooling and the amount of money you spend on it that buys value. And yet last year in St. Louis, I heard a vice-president of IBM tell an audience of people assembled to redesign the process of teacher certification that in his opinion this country became computer-literate by self-teaching, not through any action of schools. He said 45 million people were comfortable with computers who had learned through dozens of non-systematic strategies, none of them very formal; if schools had pre-empted the right to teach computer use we would be in a horrible mess right now instead of leading the world in this literacy. Now think about Sweden, a beautiful, healthy, prosperous and up-to-date country with a spectacular reputation for quality in everything it produces. It makes sense to think their schools must have something to do with that.

Then what do you make of the fact that you can't go to school in Sweden until you are 7 years old? The reason the unsentimental Swedes have wiped out what would be first and seconds grades here is that they don't want to pay the large social bill that quickly comes due when boys and girls are ripped away from their best teachers at home too early.

It just isn't worth the price, say the Swedes, to provide jobs for teachers and therapists if the result is sick, incomplete kids who can't be put back together again very easily. The entire Swedish school sequence isn't 12 years, either--it's nine. Less schooling, not more. The direct savings of such a step in the US would be $75-100 billion, a lot of unforeclosed home mortgages, a lot of time freed up with which to seek an education.

Who was it that decided to force your attention onto Japan instead of Sweden? Japan with its long school year and state compulsion, instead of Sweden with its short school year, short school sequence, and free choice where your kid is schooled? Who decided you should know about Japan and not Hong Kong, an Asian neighbor with a short school year that outperforms Japan across the board in math and science? Whose interests are served by hiding that from you?

One of the principal reasons we got into the mess we're in is that we allowed schooling to become a very profitable monopoly, guaranteed its customers by the police power of the state. Systematic schooling attracts increased investment only when it does poorly, and since there are no penalties at all for such performance, the temptation not to do well is overwhelming. That's because school staffs, both line and management, are involved in a guild system; in that ancient form of association no single member is allowed to outperform any other member, is allowed to advertise or is allowed to introduce new technology or improvise without the advance consent of the guild. Violation of these precepts is severely sanctioned--as Marva Collins, Jaime Escalante and a large number of once-brilliant teachers found out.

The guild reality cannot be broken without returning primary decision-making to parents, letting them buy what they want to buy in schooling, and encouraging the entrepreneurial reality that existed until 1852. That is why I urge any business to think twice before entering a cooperative relationship with the schools we currently have. Cooperating with these places will only make them worse.

The structure of American schooling, 20th century style, began in 1806 when Napoleon's amateur soldiers beat the professional soldiers of Prussia at the battle of Jena. When your business is selling soldiers, losing a battle like that is serious. Almost immediately afterwards a German philosopher named Fichte delivered his famous "Address to the German Nation" which became one of the most influential documents in modern history. In effect he told the Prussian people that the party was over, that the nation would have to shape up through a new Utopian institution of forced schooling in which everyone would learn to take orders.

So the world got compulsion schooling at the end of a state bayonet for the first time in human history; modern forced schooling started in Prussia in 1819 with a clear vision of what centralized schools could deliver:

  1. Obedient soldiers to the army;
  2. Obedient workers to the mines;
  3. Well subordinated civil servants to government;
  4. Well subordinated clerks to industry
  5. Citizens who thought alike about major issues.

Schools should create an artificial national consensus on matters that had been worked out in advance by leading German families and the head of institutions. Schools should create unity among all the German states, eventually unifying them into Greater Prussia.

Prussian industry boomed from the beginning. She was successful in warfare and her reputation in international affairs was very high. Twenty-six years after this form of schooling began, the King of Prussia was invited to North America to determine the boundary between the United States and Canada. Thirty-three years after that fateful invention of the central school institution, as the behest of Horace Mann and many other leading citizens, we borrowed the style of Prussian schooling as our own.

You need to know this because over the first 50 years of our school institution Prussian purpose--which was to create a form of state socialism--gradually forced out traditional American purpose, which in most minds was to prepare the individual to be self-reliant.

In Prussia the purpose of the Volksshule, which educated 92 percent of the children, was not intellectual development at all, but socialization in obedience and subordination. Thinking was left to the Real Schulen, in which 8 percent of the kids participated. But for the great mass, intellectual development was regarded with managerial horror, as something that caused armies to lose battles.

Prussia concocted a method based on complex fragmentations to ensure that its school products would fit the grand social design. Some of this method involved dividing whole ideas into school subjects, each further divisible, some of it involved short periods punctuated by a horn so that self-motivation in study would be muted by ceaseless interruptions.

There were many more techniques of training, but all were built around the premise that isolation from first-hand information, and fragmentation of the abstract information presented by teachers, would result in obedient and subordinate graduates, properly respectful of arbitrary orders. "Lesser" men would be unable to interfere with policy makers because, while they could still complain, they could not manage sustained or comprehensive thought. Well-schooled children cannot think critically, cannot argue effectively.

One of the most interesting by-products of Prussian schooling turned out to be the two most devastating wars of modern history. Erich Maria Ramarque, in his classic "All Quiet on the Wester Front" tells us that the First World War was caused by the tricks of schoolmasters, and the famous Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the Second World War was the inevitable product of good schooling.

It's important to underline that Bonhoeffer meant that literally, not metaphorically--schooling after the Prussian fashion removes the ability of the mind to think for itself. It teaches people to wait for a teacher to tell them what to do and if what they have done is good or bad. Prussian teaching paralyses the moral will as well as the intellect. It's true that sometimes well-schooled students sound smart, because they memorize many opinions of great thinkers, but they actually are badly damaged because their own ability to think is left rudimentary and undeveloped.

We got from the United States to Prussia and back because a small number of very passionate ideological leaders visited Prussia in the first half of the 19th century, and fell in love with the order, obedience and efficiency of its system and relentlessly proselytized for a translation of Prussian vision onto these shores. If Prussia's ultimate goal was the unification of Germany, our major goal, so these men thought, was the unification of hordes of immigrant Catholics into a national consensus based on a northern European cultural model. To do that children would have to be removed from their parents and from inappropriate cultural influence.

In this fashion, compulsion schooling, a bad idea that had been around at least since Plato's "Republic", a bad idea that New England had tried to enforce in 1650 without any success, was finally rammed through the Massachusetts legislature in 1852. It was, of course, the famous "Know-Nothing" legislature that passed this law, a legislature that was the leading edge of a famous secret society which flourished at that time known as "The Order of the Star Spangled Banner," whose password was the simple sentence, "I know nothing"--hence the popular label attached to the secret society's political arm, "The American Party."

Over the next 50 years state after state followed suit, ending schools of choice and ceding the field to a new government monopoly. There was one powerful exception to this--the children who could afford to be privately educated.

It's important to note that the underlying premise of Prussian schooling is that the government is the true parent of children--the State is sovereign over the family. At the most extreme pole of this notion is the idea that biological parents are really the enemies of their own children, not to be trusted.

How did a Prussian system of dumbing children down take hold in American schools? Thousands and thousands of young men from prominent American families journeyed to Prussia and other parts of Germany during the 19th century and brought home the Ph. D. degree to a nation in which such a credential was unknown. These men pre-empted the top positions in the academic world, in corporate research, and in government, to the point where opportunity was almost closed to those who had not studied in Germany, or who were not the direct disciples of a German PhD, as John Dewey was the disciple of G. Stanley Hall at Johns Hopkins.

Virtually every single one of the founders of American schooling had made the pilgrimage to Germany, and many of these men wrote widely circulated reports praising the Teutonic methods. Horace Mann's famous "7th Report" of 1844, still available in large libraries, was perhaps the most important of these.

By 1889, a little more than 100 years ago, the crop was ready for harvest. It that year the US Commissioner of Education, William Torrey Harris, assured a railroad magnate, Collis Huntington, that American schools were "scientifically designed" to prevent "over-education" from happening. The average American would be content with his humble role in life, said the commissioner, because he would not be tempted to think about any other role. My guess is that Harris meant he would not be able to think about any other role.

In 1896 the famous John Dewey, then at the University of Chicago, said that independent, self-reliant people were a counter-productive anachronism in the collective society of the future. In modern society, said Dewey, people would be defined by their associations--not by their own individual accomplishments. It such a world people who read too well or too early are dangerous because they become privately empowered, they know too much, and know how to find out what they don't know by themselves, without consulting experts.

Dewey said the great mistake of traditional pedagogy was to make reading and writing constitute the bulk of early schoolwork. He advocated that the phonics method of teaching reading be abandoned and replaced by the whole word method, not because the latter was more efficient (he admitted that it was less efficient) but because independent thinkers were produced by hard books, thinkers who cannot be socialized very easily. By socialization Dewey meant a program of social objectives administered by the best social thinkers in government. This was a giant step on the road to state socialism, the form pioneered in Prussia, and it is a vision radically disconnected with the American past, its historic hopes and dreams.

Dewey's former professor and close friend, G. Stanley Hall, said this at about the same time, "Reading should no longer be a fetish. Little attention should be paid to reading." Hall was one of the three men most responsible for building a gigantic administrative infrastructure over the classroom. How enormous that structure really became can only be understood by comparisons: New York State, for instance, employs more school administrators than all of the European Economic Community nations combined.

Once you think that the control of conduct is what schools are about, the word "reform" takes on a very particular meaning. It means making adjustments to the machine so that young subjects will not twist and turn so, while their minds and bodies are being scientifically controlled. Helping kids to use their minds better is beside the point.

Bertrand Russell once observed that American schooling was among the most radical experiments in human history, that America was deliberately denying its children the tools of critical thinking. When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That's if you want to teach them to think. There is no evidence that this has been a State purpose since the start of compulsion schooling.

When Frederich Froebel, the inventor of kindergarten in 19th century Germany, fashioned his idea he did not have a "garden for children" in mind, but a metaphor of teachers as gardeners and children as the vegetables. Kindergarten was created to be a way to break the influence of mothers on their children. I note with interest the growth of daycare in the US and the repeated urgings to extend school downward to include 4-year-olds. The movement toward state socialism is not some historical curiosity but a powerful dynamic force in the world around us. It is fighting for its life against those forces which would, through vouchers or tax credits, deprive it of financial lifeblood, and it has countered this thrust with a demand for even more control over children's lives, and even more money to pay for the extended school day and year that this control requires.

A movement as visibly destructive to individuality, family and community as government-system schooling has been might be expected to collapse in the face of its dismal record, coupled with an increasingly aggressive shake down of the taxpayer, but this has not happened. The explanation is largely found in the transformation of schooling from a simple service to families and towns to an enormous, centralized corporate enterprise.

While this development has had a markedly adverse effect on people and on our democratic traditions, it has made schooling the single largest employer in the United States, and the largest grantor of contracts next to the Defence Department. Both of these low-visibility phenomena provide monopoly schooling with powerful political friends, publicists, advocates and other useful allies. This is a large part of the explanation why no amount of failure ever changes things in schools, or changes them for very long. School people are in a position to outlast any storm and to keep short-attention-span public scrutiny thoroughly confused.

An overview of the short history of this institution reveals a pattern marked by intervals of public outrage, followed by enlargement of the monopoly in every case.

After nearly 30 years spent inside a number of public schools, some considered good, some bad, I feel certain that management cannot clean its own house. It relentlessly marginalizes all significant change. There are no incentives for the "owners" of the structure to reform it, nor can there be without outside competition.

What is needed for several decades is the kind of wildly-swinging free market we had at the beginning of our national history. It cannot be overemphasized that no body of theory exists to accurately define the way children learn, or which learning is of most worth. By pretending the existence of such we have cut ourselves off from the information and innovation that only a real market can provide. Fortunately our national situation has been so favorable, so dominant through most of our history, that the margin of error afforded has been vast.

But the future is not so clear. Violence, narcotic addictions, divorce, alcoholism, loneliness...all these are but tangible measures of a poverty in education. Surely schools, as the institutions monopolizing the daytimes of childhood, can be called to account for this. In a democratic republic the final judges cannot be experts, but only the people.

Trust the people, give them choices, and the school nightmare will vanish in a generation.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Constitution Hangs by a thread

“Now, these are the commandments of God, the principles contained in these commandments of the great Eternal are the principles that underly the Constitution of our country and all just laws. Joseph Smith, the prophet, was inspired to affirm and ratify this truth, and he further predicted that the time would come, when the Constitution of our country would hang as it were by a thread (Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, October 1912, p. 11)

How long will it be before the words of the prophet Joseph will be fulfilled? He said if the Constitution of the United States were saved at all it must be done by this people. It will not be many years before these words come to pass. (Brigham Young ,Journal of Discourses 12:204.)

Now I tell you it is time the people of the United States were waking up with the understanding that if they don't save the Constitution from the dangers that threaten it, we will have a change of government. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1950, p. 159)

“Our government is an organization which was to, and since has, enacted, judged and enforced law through and by legislative, judicial and executive departments. It is encumbent on the American people to steadfastly maintain the historic balance of power by the three branches of government if our political system is to be preserved.
“We, the American people, must not become so internationally minded as to sell our birthright for a spurious promise of world peace. The most nationally-minded people are our enemies. We must remain faithful to our pledge, regardless of charges of chauvinism, to preserve America ‘with our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.’ ” (Judge Joseph E. Nelson, BYU Speeches, April 24, 1963, p. 3 )

“We cannot brook the thought of it being torn into shreds, or destroyed, or trampled under foot and ignored by men. We cannot tolerate the sentiment, at one time expressed, by a man high in authority in the nation. He said: "The constitution be damned; the popular sentiment of the people is the constitution!" That is the sentiment of anarchism, and has spread to a certain extent, and is spreading over "the land of liberty and the home of the brave." We do not tolerate it. Latter-day Saints cannot tolerate such a spirit as this. It is anarchy. It means destruction. It is the spirit of mobocracy, and the Lord knows we have suffered enough from mobocracy, and we do not want any more of it. We cannot afford to yield to that spirit or contribute to it in the least degree. We should stand with a front like flint against every spirit or species of contempt or disrespect for the constitution of our country and the constitutional laws of our land.— (Joseph F. Smith Oct. C. R., 1912, pp. 8-11.)

“I believe that it is the destiny of the Latter-day Saints to support the Constitution of the United States. [T]he Latter-day Saints would become a balance of power, with others, to preserve that Constitution. If there is—and there is one part of the Constitution hanging as by a thread today—where do the Latter-day Saints belong? Their place is to rally to the support of that Constitution, and maintain it and defend it and support it by their lives and by their vote. Let us not disappoint God nor his prophet. Our place is fixed. (Melvin J. Ballard, Conference Report, April 1933, p. 127)

“It is my conviction that the elders of Israel, widely spread over the nation, will at that crucial time successfully rally the righteous of our country and provide the necessary balance of strength to save the institutions of constitutional government.” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 618-619)

“As we spread abroad in this land, bearers of this priesthood, men and women with high ideals and standards, our influence will spread as we take positions of leadership in the community, in the state, in the nation, in the world. We will be able to sit in counsel with others and we will be able to influence others in paths of righteousness. We will help to save this nation, because this nation can only be preserved on the basis of righteous living.” (Ezra Taft Benson "The Greatest Leadership," BYU Student Leadership Conference, Sun Valley, Idaho, September 1959.)

“[T]here will be enough of good people, many who may not belong to our Church at all, people who have respect for law and for order, and for Constitutional rights, who will rally around with us and save the Constitution. I have never read that that thread would be cut. It will hang; the Constitution will abide and this civilization, that the Lord has caused to be built up, will stand fortified through the power of God, by putting from our hearts all that is evil, or that is wrong in the sight of God, by our living as we should live, acceptable to him.” (Charles W. Nibley, Conference Report, October 1922, p. 40)

“Will there be some of us who won't care about saving the Constitution, others who will be blinded by the craftiness of men, and some who will knowingly be working to destroy it? He that has ears to hear and eyes to see can discern by the Spirit and through the words of God's mouthpiece that our liberties are being taken.” (Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1963, p. 113)

God has given America to be free. He has, in times past, wrought upon the hearts and minds of men we now revere for greatness. In weakness they were made mighty and today we reverence them in paternal tones; America’s founders. We are, once again at a crossroads. The leaders at our nation’s birth have left us their legacy. With us still is the One who made them great. It is He…the source of truth, light, inspiration and author of our prosperity. God yet has the capacity to shape hearts and minds...inspiring men beyond themselves into the halls of our revered greatness. The path upon which God’s greatest influence is felt in the world is made treacherous by the adversary. Not all have been able to walk it. Should he choose to remain faithful and walk God’s path, the day will come when the name Beck will be synonymous with Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison. May God guide and direct him through the fiery darts in leading the charge to save our Constitution.