February 2, 2010
Do We Have What It Takes?By Vasko Kohlmayer
The election of Scott Brown as Massachusetts senator has made it strikingly clear that a seismic electoral shift is underway in America. So profound is this shift that even left-leaning populations are now willing to vote for those who refer to themselves as conservatives. While liberal pundits still shake their heads in disbelief, this is not all that surprising, given the manifestly misguided and destructive actions of the progressives in Washington, D.C.
Unrestrained spending, nationalization of the private sector, and the rapid expansion of the state in every direction have frightened and repulsed the American people. As a result, the power pendulum is now swinging fast to the other side. That this is no wishful thinking is affirmed by a string of announced retirements by prominent Democrats who have apparently seen the writing on the wall. This combined with the fact that self-identified conservatives constitute the largest ideological demographic in the United States almost guarantees a conservative electoral resurgence.
But even as the American people are increasingly looking to conservatism for deliverance, we need to ask whether we have what it takes to tackle the existential challenges this country faces. Many of us may be startled by this question since we take it for granted that our side has exactly what America needs at this difficult hour. But even a quick look at the Massachusetts race should make it obvious why this question must be asked.
It has been widely observed that health care was a pivotal issue in that contest. As one pundit put it in the Wall Street Journal, "a centerpiece of Mr. Brown's campaign was opposition to the president's health-care plan." So strong was Brown's opposition that he referred to himself as Brown 41. He did this to emphasize his intent to be that 41st vote to bury the current reform bill in the mire of the Senate's legislative filibuster.
In light of the growing discontent with Obama's proposed reform, Brown's stance paid rich electoral dividends. In addition to being politically expedient, his opposition was, of course, also the right line to take. This is because the president's proposed takeover of one-sixth of the American economy is a sure prescription for disaster. There are even those who think that its implementation would mean the end of America as we know it. Judging from what happened in other countries, they are probably right. Nationalized medicine -- which is without question where Obama's "reform" would eventually lead -- is often that final straw that breaks people's spirit of independence and turns them into docile wards of the state.
But amidst all the raging passions and strife, we should not overlook the fact that Barack Obama is right about one thing: America's medical system is in trouble and needs to be reformed.
Thus President Obama is correct in identifying the problem. It is his proposed remedy that is wrong. In the president's mind, the crisis is a result of market failure. On this point he could not be more mistaken. To begin with, the free market cannot be responsible, because there is little of it left in that troubled sector. One of the most tightly and extensively regulated spheres of our economy, health care delivery is governed by countless rules and regulations. Those who think that American medicine is a free-market affair need only to ask medical practitioners, who every day labor under the crushing burden of government-mandated decrees and requirements.
Truth be told, American medicine is half-socialized already, and it is this pervasive government involvement that is the cause of the problem. This should come as no surprise, since what is happening in health care happens every time government gets involved in any area. It has been well-established -- both by empirical observation and by theory -- that government intervention invariably introduces inefficiencies, disruptions, and dislocations. There is, in fact, a direct correlation between the level of government engagement in a given sector and the degree of dysfunction that the sector will suffer as a result. The many deep and serious problems that afflict the health care industry -- the rapidly rising costs, the inefficiencies, the onerous administrative and bureaucratic burdens -- are the inevitable result of the relentless and extensive interference by government.
There is only one way in which America's medical system can truly be reformed: by getting government out of it as much as possible. Only by turning the industry over to the free market can costs be brought down and the system be made more efficient. It has been shown over and again that the free market delivers goods and services in the most efficient way at the lowest cost. If we let it operate in this sector, it will in time optimize efficiency and drive prices to the lowest level possible. Government intervention, on the other hand, will accomplish the exact opposite. Given all that we know about economics, it cannot be otherwise.
And this brings us back to Scott Brown, whose opposition to Obama's plan will thankfully help to forestall the disaster which the president's plan would inevitably foist on the country. But we also need to ask this question: Does the man whom many would like to make the standard-bearer of the incipient conservative revival have what it takes to help solve the crisis?
Unfortunately, he does not. Scott Brown is actually for government-managed health care, as evidenced by his support for Massachusetts's program of mandated health insurance. While it is true that Brown will vote to stop the kind of socialization Obama has in mind, he himself cannot effect workable reform. Any attempt by him to implement his ideas on the national level would, in fact, only exacerbate the crisis.
It may be suggested that Scott Brown is not a real conservative, even though he often identifies himself as such. The issue, however, extends far beyond Scott Brown. Startling as it may sound, there is no major conservative who calls for taking government out of health care. Try as we may, we can go down any list of top conservatives today and not find one politician, leader, or even a commentator who would propose the only sensible health care reform.
This should make us all pause. Here we are faced with a crisis, and yet no leader or major figure on our side advocates the only solution that can truly fix it. There is something deeply wrong here. After all, we put ourselves forth as the ones who have the right answers for the problems afflicting our nation. But on this one, at least, we are not even close.
When pondering this, some may think that perhaps in this modern era, some government involvement may be necessary, and that is why our leaders do not fight against it. But that is simply not true, which is something we quickly recognize when we survey the havoc that government engagement has led to. Almost every medical professional will readily confirm that regulatory intervention has created only problems and difficulties. We would be very hard-pressed to find instances where it has made things better, or less costly, or more efficient.
Some among us may think that this does not matter all that much. We may not have the right answers for health care at this time, but there are more pressing crises facing this country. We will deal with medicine once those are taken care of.
But we cannot be cavalier about this. For one thing, health care may well be the greatest crisis we face. This is because Medicare -- a government-run medical program for the elderly -- has an unfunded liability which some estimate at $89 trillion. To give a sense of size, this number is seven times larger than our national debt and more than forty times larger than the government's revenues last year. Worse yet, as health care costs go up each year, so does this figure. Given the numbers, there is simply no way the federal government can deliver on the promises inherent in the program. If it tries, it will bankrupt our already-overstrained federal finances. The fact that conservatives are not making an earnest effort to tackle the approaching Medicare disaster is in itself indicative of serious weakness. "We cannot deal with this because we are not in power," one may reply. But did conservatives try to do anything seriously about it when the GOP was in power not too long ago? The truth is that we did not. In fact, most of us were complicit -- either by directly supporting it or by not raising objections -- in Bush's expansion of Medicare's prescription drug program, which added trillions to the liability.
But apart from all this, an even more fundamental question must be posed. Given the failure of conservatives to push for -- or even to propose -- the only sensible solution to the health care crisis, is it possible that we may be deficient in other areas also? In other words, can it be the case that our solutions to other problems may likewise be lacking in some way?
Stopping the radicals who now control the federal government should not be our ultimate objective. This is only the first necessary step. Our overarching goal should be to set the country on the right course. But to do this, we need to have solutions that work. Since it is becoming increasingly likely that our side will be soon given the privilege to lead, America's future depends on our capacity to honestly ask those hard questions. This is something we should earnestly seek to do in the weeks and months ahead.