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Consider notes on three policy areas we have had on our minds recently: school safety, health care, and international trade. All three areas present us with common sense ideas.

School safety

March for Our Lives demonstrations took place east of the Mississippi recently. I’m curious how many might have occurred between St. Louis and Santa Barbara. Before we go for people’s firearms, let’s think about four obvious measures that I have not seen anyone in the mainstream press suggest.

Reduce the size of schools. I went to a high school with 1,400 other students. That was too many. Many schools are twice that large. School districts go for economies of scale. It does not work, either for education, or for safety. If you plotted school shootings against size of school, the results would be predictable: small schools are safer than large schools.

Get rid of mandatory public education. A blanket requirement that commits every youth to thirteen years of enforced obedience to state institutions qualifies as one of the worst intrusions ever imagined into family life. I don’t have space here to explain what this mandate does to our schools, with terrible consequences for both safety and well-being. Schools are meant for people who want to be there. They are not meant to serve as soft lockups. If you want a compromise on this matter, let young people twelve and up decide how they want to educate themselves. In the age of the smart phone, you do not have to worry about basic literacy for citizens, at any age.

Third, find school leadership that does not tolerate ostracism. For years the focus has been on bullying. Bullies insult you, distract you, and try to assert their dominance. Given status hierarchies everywhere you look, you could say it is a part of normal life. Our president shows you how it’s done. Ostracism is not part of normal life. It is far more serious, and far more deadly. Ostracism is exile unto death for the victim: the alternatives become revenge, suicide, or both. Good leaders in a small school can prevent ostracism. It easy to see, and easy to obstruct. Any good leader understands how to stop it.

Lastly, practice effective safety, rather than security theater. Are schools inherently less safe than shopping malls, trains, local playgrounds, office buildings, and so on? Of course not. Violent acts occasionally occur in all of these places, and they will continue to occur no matter what restrictions we place on ownership or use of firearms.

Right now, we have SROs who throw female students to the floor when they refuse to comply with an order about school policy, and another SRO who scratches his balls in the Parkland parking lot, while a gunman roams blood spattered hallways for four minutes with a semi-automatic weapon.

To take a simple example for school security, how hard would it be to find qualified school resource officers, if we want to have security people inside the school building? Right now, we have SROs who throw female students to the floor when they refuse to comply with an order about school policy, and another SRO who scratches his balls in the Parkland parking lot, while a gunman roams blood spattered hallways for four minutes with a semi-automatic weapon. An ostracized student turned gunman returns to the school, to massacre students who depend on the officer for their safety. Talk about security theater. SROs have made students less safe, not more so.

I know we must have plenty of school resource officers who are qualified, but honestly, since the advent of D.A.R.E. for drug education, loss of authority and responsibility among school leaders, the new relationship between schools and the criminal justice system, can anyone say having police officers in schools has fulfilled hopes for school safety? Imagine a smallish Catholic school where the nuns are in charge. Would a police officer not look a little out of place there? Which school is safer – and less subject to revenge killing – the smallish Catholic school, or a large public school where police officers act like uniformed bouncers with arrest warrants in their back pockets?

Health care

Let’s go to our second policy area. I have a friend who favors a single-payer health care system. I oppose that change, for reasons I have outlined in several other posts. My friend may be wearing me down a bit, without knowing it. The current system is so dysfunctional, you could say single-payer could not possibly be worse. My partisan reason for resistance is unwillingness to grant victory to the Obama-Pelosi-Reid scheme enacted eight years ago. They and their allies created a coercive system that moved the entire system a big step toward single-payer – reform that turned out so badly, they might acknowledge, we have to take the next step toward even more coercion.

Another problem is that a move to single-payer would be irrevocable. We could not go back. Let’s leave that issue alone for the moment, though. Opponents should imagine themselves in a negotiation with progressives who want single-payer passionately, and at last see it within their grasp. What would progressives be willing to concede to obtain it? Would they consider some concessions as acceptable, or would they consider them as corruptions of pure single-payer, so much so they would walk away from the negotiations?

Before we look at these concessions, we should define single-payer in simple economic terms. Single-payer means the state purchases all health care services. That does not mean all health care service providers are state employees, although that system could extend to employment contracts. It does mean that compensation for all health care service providers – and purchase of all health care supplies, equipment, and space – depend on public decisions about allocation of health care resources. As sole decider, all decisions about how to allocate health care resources would fall to state agencies. The state would have to ration scarce resources.

In monopolistic systems – where one entity both purchases and provides – rationing decisions are a lot more visible, since they emanate from a central authority. Options to change state decisions about allocation generally do not exist. You have to accept what you are given.

In market-based systems, rationing occurs via prices that depend on supply and demand. In monopolistic systems – where one entity both purchases and provides – rationing decisions are a lot more visible, since they emanate from a central authority. Options to change state decisions about allocation generally do not exist. You have to accept what you are given.

In the battle to prevent a single-payer system in the United States, yet find a way out of the mess we’re currently in, let’s have a look at concessions to condition a transformation away from a market-based system.

First, deregulate the current health care system. That includes drug approval and distribution, medical devices, business processes, software, categorization of procedures and services, all external requirements designed to regulate health care. If the state makes all purchasing decisions, let all regulatory decisions be embedded in the purchase orders, employment and supply contracts, leases, and other business arrangements the state negotiates. Take all existing regulations off the books.

Second, do not increase taxes to pay for the new monopolistic system. Pay for it with savings elsewhere. Force government to pare back in areas that are suddenly less important, now that it has entered the health care trade for at least the next decade. Government can’t do everything, right? If it wants to manage the health care chunk of the economy – standard calculation places it at twenty percent of the total – let it back off some of its other so-called responsibilities, and reallocate a portion of its revenues to its new project. If majorities want tax increases down the line to reduce unacceptable rationing, let revenue enhancement come, incrementally.

Third, permit private coverage for people who still want to purchase health insurance from private companies. Let these health insurance contracts be entirely up to the purchaser and the insurer. That is, do not regulate the health insurance market at all, so consumers of health care services can make whatever arrangements they like. Of course that means the state is no longer a single-payer, but all arrangements outside the state monopoly are voluntary. Consumers can participate in the private market, the state monopoly, or both.

Lastly, make the new arrangement revocable in principle. Even though, in our system, a state benefit once given is never taken away, make reversibility part of the new law anyway. If public health care becomes a new article in the social contract, show how to modify the social contract in the future. If necessary, give it an expiration date, though obviously transition to a non-monopolistic system would be gradual. Health care should not become an entitlement in perpetuity. We made social security and medicare that kind of entitlement. We have seen the results. We should not make the same mistakes again.

International trade

A third significant policy area currently in the news is international trade. In this case, I will not set out conditions, proposals, or concessions related to this issue. I merely want to make a few comments about a headline I ran across in the Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago. The headline states China started the trade war with the United States: therefore, Trump’s moves to retaliate are justified.

If you see international trade as a matter of national competition, as in the eighteenth-century days of the East India Trading Company, I suppose you can find yourself asking an absurd question like, “Who started it?” Or, if you see Chinese assembly line workers as “taking American jobs” – if we shut down Chinese assembly lines, we can open more of them here – you can convince yourself that international trade on the supply side is zero sum. What we make, they do not. What they make, we do not. In a war of all nations against all nations, you do what you have to do to stay on top.

Suppose you go to the Super Bowl to see two teams compete, Patriots vs. the Falcons, and who should take the field but the New Zealand and Australian rugby teams. WTF?

International trade does not pit nation against nation. In international trade, business firms interact, not nations or governments. Suppose you go to the Super Bowl to see two teams compete, Patriots vs. the Falcons, and who should take the field but the New Zealand and Australian rugby teams. WTF? Why are we watching non-football teams compete here? Whose rule book will the referees use? For this comparison, business firms are in the NFL. Governments and nations, like rugby teams, are not.

For a more fanciful comparison, look to neighborhood disputes. One man dislikes his neighbor so much, he bulldozes his own property, house and all, to deprive his neighbor’s family of their leafy suburban view. Then the neighbor retaliates in kind, and bulldozes his property. Now the guy who started the feud won’t have a good view, either. That’s what a trade war is like. You aim to harm your adversary when you start one, or when you retaliate, but you harm yourself far more. When you trade freely, you always do better than groups who restrict trade.

To return to the Super Bowl example, where we expect teams or organizations to compete in their own arenas, how is it government’s business to make trade between two parties more difficult, or to think about questions of competition in this field at all? Flows of goods, services, and cash between China and the United States result from contracts among thousands and thousands of business firms. Why should government tax these contracts to adjust trade flows and payments to its own ideas about balance? After all, we are not a mercantile nation. We are a free nation.


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