Single-Payer Health Care and Universal Basic Income
“Ever,” of course, is a long time, which is why I’m sticking to this month. The two current worst political ideas cannot – mercifully – be compared to such ideas as communism, Nazism, or the 18th Amendment to the Constitution enforcing prohibition.
But they’re pretty bad ideas nonetheless…
Single-Payer Health Care
On September 14, Bernie Sanders introduced the “Medicare For All” bill in the U.S. Senate. With today’s Congress and president, it hasn’t a hope in hell of passing.
But what’s frightening about the “MFA” plan for the federal government to control all of America’s doctors, nurses, hospitals, and clinics, is that the bill had 16 co-sponsors. The co-sponsors include Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, and California Senator Kamala Harris – the so-called “Democrats of the Future.” (More on Kamala in this issue here.)
Come 2018, control of the Senate and maybe the House could fall into the hands of Warren, Booker, Harris, and their ilk.
Quite a fall that would be. And the presidency could take the same tumble in 2020.
Even more frightening are some recent public-opinion survey numbers pertaining to “Medicare For All.” A September poll by Politico/Morning Consult showed 46% of voters in favor of some kind of single-payer healthcare scheme. And the news was worse yet from a Kaiser Health tracking poll in June that indicated the single-payer idea has the support of 53% of Americans. That’s up by seven percentage points since 2009 when Obamacare was about to be signed into law.
The bad idea of having the government give us things for free is hard to resist. And as the bad idea gets worse and worse, resisting it grows more and more difficult.
Another bad idea that’s currently gaining ground is…
Universal Basic Income
The “UBI” figure most often named is $1,000 a month – to every citizen over 21 with few or no strings attached.
This UBI would replace current federal welfare and retirement income benefits, either completely or mostly or partly – depending on which UBI advocate is advocating. (The UBI idea is a bit fuzzier than the single-payer idea, which is fuzzy enough.)
A worrisome thing about UBI is that the notion comes to us from both the political left and the political right. (There is some hope – opposition to the notion comes from both sides, too.)
In March, the non-partisan Intelligence Squared organization, which holds debates on current affairs around the world, conducted a debate about UBI at the Kauffman Center on the Upper West Side of New York.
Arguing in favor of UBI was the sternly libertarian conservative sociologist Charles Murray (a dear friend – and never more so than when we disagree). Charles had been recently chased off the campus of Middlebury College for his politically incorrect views. With Charles on the “yea” team was Andy Stern, the very liberal former president of the Service Employees International Union.
On the “nay” team were, of all people, two stalwarts from the Obama administration – Jason Furman, former chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein, former economic advisor to Joe Biden.
I listened to the debate on NPR and am glad to say that the audience of Upper West Side New Yorkers, whom one would expect to be of lefty tendencies, rejected Universal Basic Income by a margin of 63%.
But there are people in favor of such a plan who have much more political clout than Upper West Side New Yorkers… These people are, again, not easily slotted into “left” or “right” political categories. These people
are Silicon Valley powers-that-be.
According to articles in the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, Elon Musk wants a Universal Basic Income. So does Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, along with Zipcar founder Robin Chase. Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, has donated almost half a million dollars to a UBI pilot program in Kenya.
Plus, there is a long history of UBI proposals that span the ideological spectrum…
Thomas Paine argued for one. Napoleon Bonaparte argued for another. Fans of UBI include Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman – two gods of free-market economics who were mere misguided mortals on this subject. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, towering intellectual of the 20th century left, hatched something called “GMI” (Guaranteed Minimum Income) in cooperation with Richard Nixon, the towering dirtbag of the 20th century right.
UBI keeps popping up like a bad penny. Indeed, it’s much like the bad penny we now get from the U.S. Mint – worthless zinc with attractive, shiny copper plating.
If the Universal Basic Income idea really gets going and smashes into the single-payer health care idea, the collision will leave American society a total wreck.
Americans will be turned into beggars and thieves.
We’ll all be panhandlers squatting on the curb of the political avenue, rattling our tin cups at our elected officials to bum more spare change off the government.
And we’ll be worse than that. We’ll be robbers, too.
Democracy gives us the gun and the mask for the mugging. The majority of people are always of comparatively modest means. As a majority, we can vote to make our means less modest by stealing everything we can from other Americans.
There are plenty of good practical and ideological arguments against single-payer health care and Universal Basic Income.
But I don’t intend to make them.
Men and women who are smarter and more politically savvy than I am will (I hope) do that for me. Instead, I’d like to tell a couple of stories.
Sitting in Waiting Rooms Forever
First, a story about the supposedly “dysfunctional” private health care system we’ve got now…
About 10 years ago, I was treated for cancer. (Successfully, I’m glad to say.) I underwent treatment at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire.
Because I’m a journalist, “everything is a story,” including me getting sick. I took a lot of notes. I’ve just consulted those notes and I quote a passage verbatim:
I was nagged by a concern about the quality of my medical care. Was it too good? I’m well insured and passably affluent. I asked Jason Aldous, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s media relations manager, “What if I weren’t?”
“We’re a charitable institution,” Aldous said. “No one will ever be refused care here. On the other hand, we have to keep the lights on. We do try to find any possible means of payment – government programs, private insurance, et cetera.”
The hospital has a whole department devoted to that. “In about 60% of cases,” Aldous said, “people who think they aren’t eligible for any assistance actually are.” Then there are the people who have income but no savings, or assets but no income. Discounts are provided and payment plans worked out. Failing all else, treatment is given free – $63 million worth in 2007.
I asked Aldous about who gets what treatment from which doctor. Do my means affect the hospital’s ways?
“The doctors,” he said, “don’t know how – or if – you’re paying.”
Looking back, what Jason Aldous told me seemed true from what I could see of the hospital’s patients, a cross section of Yankees, flinty and otherwise.
The Norris Cotton Cancer Center treats more than 5,000 patients a year. And we were all amiable in the waiting rooms. Anytime someone new came in and sat down, he or she was tacitly invited to spend about three minutes telling everyone what was wrong. Then the conversation was expected to return to general topics. The general topic of choice during the summer of 2008 was how the Democrats would destroy the private health care system that was saving our lives.
If medicine is socialized, we’d have to sit in waiting rooms forever… if we lived.
What $1,000 a Month Would Have Bought Me
The other story I’d like to tell is the story of my life if there had been a Universal Basic Income of $1,000 a month when I was 21.
As I mention elsewhere in this issue of American Consequences (here in my sidebar to Buck Sexton’s piece on the “Antifas”), I was a rotten person in my youth. I was the kind of loud and obnoxious anti-war protestor who, by my dress, speech, and behavior, actually increased support for the Vietnam War among America’s “silent majority.” In fact, I myself, personally, probably prolonged the Vietnam War by several months.
I was not only a left-wing agitator… I was also a hippie/beatnik/bohemian worthless human being.
Then I ran out of grad school fellowship grants and my folks ran out of patience with paying my bills and I had to get a job.
The pay was $150 a week. I was to be paid every two weeks. I was eagerly looking forward to my check for $300 (as was my landlord).
But when payday came, I found that after withholdings for federal, state, and city income tax, Social Security, health insurance payments, and pension plan contributions, I netted about $160.
I’d been struggling for years to achieve socialism in America only to discover that we had it already.
What with the job, I was too busy to be involved with left-wing causes anymore.
And truthfully, all causes are boring. They’re a way of making yourself part of something bigger and more exciting, which guarantees that small, tedious selves are what a cause will attract. Plus, I liked my job. I was finding my job to be as big and exciting a thing as my own small, tedious self could handle.
And I had begun to notice something else about left-wing causes. Radical leftists claim to seek what no one claims to want. The “collective” has been tried in every conceivable form from the primitively tribal to the powerfully Soviet, and “the people” who are thus collectivized immediately choose any available alternative, whether it’s getting drunk on Indian reservations or getting shot climbing the Berlin Wall.
My aging hippie friends were boring, too. They continued to be convinced that everything was going to be shared soon, so they hadn’t gotten jobs. They hadn’t gotten married either, although wives were the one thing that did seem to be getting shared. Occasionally they had kids. These children, though provided with remarkable freedom from discipline and conformity, didn’t seem to give much thanks for it, or ever say thanks, or please, or even “How are you?”
My friends were living the lives of unfettered bohemian artists. Except the lack of fetters seemed to tie them to rent-controlled dumps on New York’s Lower East Side. And where was the art?
If I’d had a UBI, I could have afforded to live this life forever. And I could have afforded all the drink and drugs the life entailed. No, worse… I could have afforded much more to drink and far stronger drugs.
The short version of the story of my life if there had been a Universal Basic Income of $1,000 a month when I turned 21 is… I’d be dead. And you’d be glad of it.