The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Friday, March 17, 2006

How To Make War on Science

There has been a lot of attention paid, in the left blogosphere, to Chris Mooney's provocatively titled The Republican War on Science -- allegedly an expose of the Bush administration's hostility to stem-cell research and pliancy to global-warming contrarians. If this is a war on science, it is a mighty poor one.

If you are serious about making war on science, you would not want to focus on the diffuse and hard-to-control streams of federal funding. Instead, several more efficacious tools offer themselves.

First, decrease the rewards to innovation. The obvious mechanism for this is high marginal tax rates on large earnings, to discourage people from seeking innovations that will make them rich, and on capital gains, to discourage the greedy from funding them. But this is a very broad-spectrum tool, not really focused on the opponent. It would be better to foster a culture of entitlement and litigiousness, so that any benefits to society could be diverted into the pockets of plaintiffs and their lawyers.

Second, subsidize ignorance. Since scientific and technical education is more difficult to achieve than the ill-defined expertise offered in fuzzy fields like "media studies" and "managerial studies" and "women's studies", it is not even necessary to explicitly penalize it; simply subsidizing alternatives which lead to no real knowledge, as all State universities do, will suffice. Paying for bad teachers at lower levels, thus helping to ensure that university students will be unfit for scientific education, is a bonus.

Third, ration progress. A single-payer health system like Germany's, which is increasingly forced to ration or forbid modern drugs due to their high cost, militates against progress by removing the incentives which propel it. Implementing such a system in the world's largest healthcare market would have a far larger impact.

Finally, reward backwardness. If people fearful of progress and unwilling to innovate find themselves in jobs which no longer have any value to society, protect their earning power and insulate them from the consequences of their decisions.

Show me the party that does these things, and I will show you the real enemy of science.

[Cross-posted to Chequer-Board.]

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

More NHS Jollies

After the previous post, I suppose it's time to gather 24 hours of NHS news again:
  • NHS Director resigns "as he acknowledged responsibility for the financial disarray facing the NHS".
  • NHS waiting times for urgent cancer treatment may be decreasing. Only 23% of urgent lung cancer patients now have to wait over two months.
  • Doctors in Manchester don't wash their hands.
  • "Just two out of 45 dentists in Huddersfield are taking on new patients - with a minimum of a two month wait."
  • Free heroin proposed in Scotland.
  • An online system for assigning new doctors to hospitals has been botched.
  • The elderly don't know how good they have it.
  • Nurses may refuse to work unpaid overtime: "It is now vital that the Government gives nurses a pay award which reflects their skill and dedication."

Be Very Afraid

Kevin Drum has found the key to the destruction of the Democratic Party: a war of ideas centered on single-payer nationalized healthcare. Mr. Drum writes:
Let me be clear: I don't underestimate the political difficulty of getting universal healthcare enacted. I don't underestimate how long it will take. But if there's anything the Democratic Party ought to be united on, it's the principle of loudly and enthusiastically endorsing universal healthcare as a goal.
An own goal, perhaps. In the comments section, Steve White responds with a good summary of nationalized healthcare in the real world.

Note that in Britain's last election, all three major parties agreed that the NHS was broken and required major reforms, which were going to cost billions of pounds to fix. Check the pages of the Guardian, and you'll see that problems continue with waste, with under-funded, bankrupt health care units, and with timely treatment.

France has similar problems: don't get heat stroke in August. The French health care workers are frequently on strike protesting various problems (of course, they're French so a strike is like a lunch-break -- and they still get their pay when on strike).

The Scandinavian countries have decent health care, and that's consuming their national budgets. Ditto the Low Countries. Germany's government is becoming increasingly constrained by health care costs. They can't do the many other things they need to do.

The point is simple: point to a single-payer NHS system in the world that provides first-class care without breaking the national budget. There isn't one. You can have second-class care (Britain), you have have a bankrupt system, you can have increasing delays (Canada), but you can't have everything you're trying to promise people.

... In no way is the current American system perfect, or close to it. I work in it and I can point out plenty that is just plain stupid. But I wouldn't trade it for any NHS system I've seen anywhere in the world.

I can hardly improve on that.

Monday, March 06, 2006

That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Via Kevin Drum, we find that Barack Obama has proposed a new use of government's "soft power":

The federal government would pay 10 percent of the $6.7 billion in annual health costs for retirees that are weighing down General Motors, Ford and Chrysler if they'll commit to building more fuel-efficient cars, Obama proposed in a speech Tuesday before a panel at the National Governors Association conference. He called it a "win-win proposal for the industry."

This sort of deal, where a few industry champions negotiate a deal with the government, should remind every supporter of the equitable rule of law of its spiritual predecessor, the Tobacco Trust Treaty.

Here, the signs of the coming abuse are between the lines, in the details absent from Mr. Obama's proposal: what exactly would "commit" mean? How would the auto industries use the vagueness of this phrase in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage? And, given their willingness to bargain away the rule of law for a tactical gain, how much of the coercive power of government would lawmakers put at their disposal?

That alarm bells are not ringing across the country at this sort of give-and-take between the federal government and a de facto oligopoly only illustrates how low our standards of governance have become.

Mr. Drum also provides a link to Mr. Obama's speech, which is long on manly rhetoric, but whose only specific proposals are in support of ethanol. [Mr. Drum seems to think this is the good kind of pork, since it serves a cause he supports. Has it not occurred to him that almost any cause has some supporters?] Mr. Obama's speech also demonstrates an understanding of the virtues of recycling, as he repeats the phrase "national commitment" or "commitment to energy independence" half a dozen times.

However, one thing is conspicuously absent: to wit, any mention of nuclear power. If we wish to decrease use of fossil fuels, nuclear power is the only tried option; the only economically viable option; and the only technologically feasible option. To favor energy independence is to favor nuclear power, just as to favor reduced emissions is to favor nuclear power.

But Mr. Obama cannot bring himself to state the obvious, presumably for fear of offending the fake-green constituency. The "love that dare not speak its name" is our own need, if we are to preserve both economy and environment, or if we are to avoid endlessly empowering our mortal enemies, for the one thing that we have perversely denied ourselves: fission.

[Cross-posted to Chequer-Board.]

[Update 18 April: Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore makes the true green case.]