Friday, November 23, 2007

Michael Gerson, Christian? Idolator!

The libertarian-minded Cato blog endorses Kara Hopkins' swipe at Michael Gerson's new book, Heroic Conservatism:

[None of this is] to say that social justice isn’t a Christian concern. But Gerson is more stirred by abolitionists and activists like William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King Jr., and the sweeping social change they wrought, than he is by Christ’s own model, which was conspicuously short on political impact and long on individual acts of mercy. He implies that his giants—--poverty, AIDS, illiteracy, genocide—are too big for hand-to-hand combat. Thus the Biblical call to “do unto the least of these”—--the hallmark of which is personal sacrifice—--must be replaced by government programs—the wellspring of which is coercion. If this constitutes an act of worship, it honors a failed god.


Now hold on here. Me, I like Gerson. He speaks to a void in the GOP that many in the party feel. It’s important to know who Gerson’s target audience is.

Quite so that it’s impolite to invoke God to someone who doesn’t believe in Him. [Which is why arguing from “natural law” is becoming a favored method by believers: both Suarez and Grotius submit that the natural law exists independently of deity.]

The fact remains that a certain acceptance of the New Deal and even the Great Society is entirely within the center, the mainstream, of American politics, and to ignore that fact is to lose elections. So too, we’ll find enough in Adam Smith himself to justify concern for the poor. It’s a human thing, not just religious, not to mention prudent for the cohesion of a society:


How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it…That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane…the greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.
—--Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments


Now it’s true that Jesus didn’t order his minions to go rip off the rich man’s house and give the goods to the downtrodden. But as citizen-rulers in this here republic, just rule requires we look out for the little guy. One need not be a Christian to embrace that duty.

Gerson is simply speaking the language of many Republicans, the language of God, and that seems entirely proper since that’s where the Godites tend to hang out these days. It may be so that he makes the libertarian wing uncomfortable with such talk, but they should heed Gerson if only for practical reasons, and in response to him, perhaps should try natural law arguments themselves.

But compassion is part of the natural law, of man’s nature, so there’s a structural problem here, and the libertarian-minded must tread lightly in making their practical [and sound] arguments. As Smith notes elsewhere about how man is wired, unless we admire the other fellow’s motives, we cannot hear his arguments or respect his deeds, no matter how much they accrue to the unfortunate man’s good.

Or as GK Chesterton put it, "Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it."

Easy with that libertarian bludgeon, Ms. Hopkins. People vote with their hearts and not their heads. It's in our nature, and it's not an entirely bad thing.


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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Health, Justice, Mercy, & The Beast

Our Benjamin Zycher [on loan from God] writes judiciously about a recent Los Angeles Times article: Cancer survivors Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Fred Thompson all note that the current US health system gave them a better chance of beating the Big C than the socialized medicine found in most of the developed Western world. True fact.

Also true is Dr. Zycher's identification of Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar's "news" story as an op-ed. The "reporter's" sympathies are clear. We've learned to expect that from the newspapers, but it should always be noted.

However, Alonso-Zaldivar is correct when he states:

All three have offered proposals with the stated aim of helping the 47 million people in the U.S. who have no health insurance, including those with preexisting medical conditions. But under the plans all three have put forward, cancer survivors such as themselves could not be sure of getting coverage — especially if they were not already covered by a government or job-related plan and had to seek insurance as individuals.
“Unless it’s in a state that has very strong consumer protections, they would likely be denied coverage,” said economist Paul Fronstin of the Employee Benefit Research Institute, who has reviewed the candidates’ proposals. “People with preexisting conditions would not be able to get coverage or would not be able to afford it.”


Dr. Zycher responds:

Perhaps [uninsurable cancer victims and survivors] are worthy of compassion and even subsidies; but that is not a very powerful argument for socialism in health insurance.


Quite so, but the GOP ignores the unfortunate reality of such folks at its own peril, and leaves the door open to the progressivists.

Better a bad system where all suffer equally than leaving the unfortunates to die. Them's the rules of the lifeboat, and they are fair.

Conservatives have got to be creative and yes, compassionate, or they---we---do not deserve to govern. It's conservatism's position, and the correct one, that ordering a society under lifeboat rules guarantees only eternal misery and privation. The genius of the free market is that it creates plenty for all. The moral question becomes not if the rich have too much, but whether the poor have enough.

Now, the collectivists have seized on health insurance as the barometer of our society's well-being, and use some people's lack of it to propose a state takeover of health. But the question is one of health care.

My UK friends are surprised to learn, contrary to their news reports, that we Americans don't exactly let the indigent die in the streets. Our safety net of last resort is the county health care system. Dare I suggest the words that make the liberal heart go atwitter, and the conservative heart turn black---that we make sure the county systems are "fully funded?"

For if the right doesn't get health care to all Americans somehow some way, the left will give them health insurance, creating the great statist beast whose hunger can never be satisfied, and whose mercilessness in the name of the public good [as Dr. Zycher documents here] is not a whit more compassionate.

Or moral. As Ben notes, first, they came for the fat people. Soon, some cancers will be less moral than others. Next, each man and woman's body will stand in judgment of the state. Such a brave new world that "progress" offers us. Conservatism is all that stands in its way, and so far, it's doing a lousy job of it.
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The Future Is Now

In New Zealand anyway. A British man who moved to New Zealand has been told by officials that his wife is too fat to join him.---www.Telegraph.co.uk, 11/21/07.

Yes, you read that correctly. Mr. Richie Trezise "lost weight to gain entry to New Zealand after initially being rejected for being overweight and a potential burden on the health care system... [while] his wife... has so far been unable to overcome New Zealand's weight regulations."

Can anyone actually believe that the "burden on the health care system" criterion will be limited to aspiring immigrants? Or to New Zealand? No, my friends, with the expansion of government power comes the expansion of government control, and for health care it is inevitable that the politically unpopular will bear the brunt of rationing when demands exceed resources, as they inevitably must. The overweight. Smokers. The elderly. Those with conditions expensive and incurable. The unborn with, say, Downs syndrome.

Societies utterly humane and civilized can be driven toward perversity and worse in baby steps, and do not for a moment believe that it cannot happen here. As demands exceed resources under government health care, choices will have to be made, and there is no particular reason to believe that political processes will be constrained by a bias in favor of compassion, because more compassion for one must mean less for others. Such is the path toward which political appeals on behalf of "The Children" inexorably will lead.

[cross-posted from www.medicalprogresstoday.com/blog/]

The Silliness All Around Us

The august Los Angeles Times does it again: Yesterday's edition features a front-page op-ed by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in which the glaring gap in the Republican candidates' health-care plans is revealed. To wit: The reliance on private insurance yields no guarantee that those without coverage will be able to obtain it, particularly in the case of those with pre-existing conditions, since insurers purportedly have obvious incentives not to cover such individuals.

And so the utter ignorance of the journalists is revealed yet again. It is government policies---in particular, constraints or proscriptions on underwriting (allocation of premiums in accordance with expected costs)---that lead insurers to avoid those with pre-existing conditions. In the absence of such regulations, premiums would be driven by competitive pressures to reflect actuarial reality, and there would be no reason not to cover people whatever their health status, except in the case of those with conditions so expensive to treat that they would not be willing to pay the actuarily-fair premiums. Perhaps such individuals are worthy of compassion and even subsidies; but that is not a very powerful argument for socialism in health insurance.

Such regulations are exacerbated by legal/regulatory mandates for coverage of a broad set of medical services, the effect of which is higher costs for coverage, particularly given the absence of interstate competition in health insurance. And the tax subsidy for employer-provided insurance makes it easier for legislatures to pass such mandates, as the attendant costs are hidden from the employees buying the coverage indirectly.

And so Mr. Alonso-Zaldivar's central argument, in this waste of fine newsprint, is the need for government regulation to ensure the availability of coverage. That it is government regulation that has yielded this problem in the first place is a reality with respect to which Alonso-Zaldivar is utterly oblivious.

[cross-posted from www.medicalprogresstoday.com/blog/]

A Nash Wednesday

Though Ogden denies writing it:

One ought not to creye
With that jaundiced y
At milk spilled so nie
To a warm piece of pigh.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Attention Genesis Fans

I have to believe that some of the folks that visit this esteemed website are fans of the band Genesis, that is fans of the pre-Abacab Genesis (when they were great). If that is you, I've come across something you need to hear. If you know the album “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” you are probably familiar with a song called “The Colony Of Slippermen.” Classic album, wonderful song.

My brother, who is a professional musician and did some recording with a later version of Genesis, reworked the Slipperman song with a bunch of country musicians from Nashville. These guys had never heard "The Lamb" and were not at all familiar with Genesis, let alone the older stuff. They listened to it, charted it all out for a totally different sound, and the result is spectacular. Here’s some information from the Spocksbeard website:

Nick has teamed up with Nashville Engineer/Producer Mark Hornsby to record a truly unique version of an early Genesis song: "The Colony of Slippermen". Recorded at Java Jive Studio in Nashville, TN, the song features some of Nashville's best musicians, taking the song in a whole new direction. "We wanted to see what would happen if we exposed the song to a different climate of musicians," says D'Virgilio, "The early Genesis recordings are so musical and very bluesy when you get right down to it. They really lend themselves to some different interpretations." Although all of the original elements of the song are still there (drums, bass, guitar, and piano), it now takes on a more "acoustic" vibe. This, coupled with accordion, electric sitar, and a fantastic horn arrangement, takes the song to an entirely different place. "We had talked about doing something like this for awhile," says Hornsby, "With the recent success of the Genesis reunion tour and the re-release of the Genesis catalogue in 5.1, the time seemed right to see what we could come up with." "The Colony of Slippermen" is part of a larger project that has yet to be announced. The song is currently available as a free download at Nick D'Virgilio's Myspace page: myspace.com/ndvmusic.
Check it out. I promise you’ll dig it. I certainly hope they find a way to do the rest of the album.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Spell of In(s)anity

As Ogden Nash never wrote:

One ought not to laffe
At the poor old giraugh
He is infected with stalf
Cutting his neck in haph.