Home > Politics (general) > Make them pay, part 2

Make them pay, part 2

November 1st, 2005

In response to my last post about taxpayer-funded IR propaganda, Things I’ve Seen comes up with a neat suggestion.

At the end of every advert, where we currently have “Authorised by”, add “This advert was paid for by the Australian taxpayer”. Then let democracy take its course.

The neat thing is that if ads were genuinely helpful and informative, tazpayer-viewers wouldn’t mind.

A requirement of this kind could be inserted by legislation, and it would be a brave government that subsequently removed it. Of course, it would only happen if it could be done in the first few days after a change of government, when the habits of power had not yet grown familiar.

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  1. November 3rd, 2005 at 13:17 | #1

    Russell and Wilful, I didn’t say that those things were provided in non-governmental ways in all the past. Disraeli wrote “Sybil” at about the same period that Dickens described, and in that he suggests that much of the shortfall in that sort of service provision dates back to the Dissolution of the Monasteries – which, of course, was an analogue of privatisation that removed the services that monasteries formerly provided. It was done at the hands of the state, just like privatisation.

    You can see how some of these things worked out in the generation that followed. In the short term England didn’t suffer from the lack of education provision since there was still a stock of educated people around. For instance Sir Thomas More got his education in the household of a Catholic bishop.

    But a generation later the shortage showed up, and various charities were formed to fund grammar schools. At the state level, the Elizabethan Poor Law had to be brought in to ameliorate the condition of England’s poor – the people who were displaced directly or indirectly by land being turned over to more directly commercial uses like sheep walks. (Of course, Utopia shows that this process was under way before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but that privatisation massively increased general distress as it widened the conversion of land to more directly commercial uses.)

    You can see from this that education was adequately provided for the needs of the time by non-state means, even after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, once the need was fully recognised. And even the Elizabethan Poor Law was implemented with high subsidiarity, at parish level. Once you get to Dickensian conditions you see a further shortfall – but that too arose from further encroachment on individually accessible resources.

  2. StephenL
    November 3rd, 2005 at 14:06 | #2

    Do tell, PM Lawrence, what wonderful private services there were preventing cholera until the government stepped in to provide a sewage system.

    True its a pretty easy example, and there are cases where alternatives probably did do a better job than the government. Trying to prove which side has the majority is hard.

    However, the US health system is the perfect demonstration of the problem. You can rave all you like about the quality of care in the best US hospitals, but this is irrelevant – they may be good, but they are so expensive that not only can the general population not afford them, but no nation on Earth could afford to subsidise to the point where everyone has access.

    Assuming you measure the quality of a healthcare system though factors such as life-expectancy, infant mortality etc vs expenditure public wins by a mile. Of course if you think the test of a good healthcare system is one where a few people get truly magnificent coverage and the majority are left to die…

  3. Terje
    November 3rd, 2005 at 14:09 | #3

    QUOTE: I note that the US government provides less services in many social areas, and has distinctly different outcomes to Australia in aeas such as healthcare and education.

    RESPONSE: However US spending on the military ensures that their tax burden is about the same as ours.

    QUOTE: I guess you agree with Margaret Thatcher, there is no such thing as society.

    RESPONSE: Ever read that quote in context? Nobody ever quotes the following part in which she said “It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour.”

    http://briandeer.com/social/thatcher-society.htm

    John F. Kennedy said much the same thing but more eloqently: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for your country.”

  4. November 3rd, 2005 at 14:33 | #4

    A:) You seem to be under the impression that it somehow costs a private organisation more to run a hospital than it does a government organisation. What leads to this irrational belief?

    B:) Again, the cost of Healthcare in the US is a result of the cost of malpractice insurance and the cost of pharmaceuticals. It’s not (as many lefties seem to believe) that private companies are charging 7000% profits on providing medical services.

    C:) The majority of the general public in the US have their health insurance through their employer, and if this is the case then the rates are quite comparable to the costs of private health insurance in Australia. “The majority left to die” is so far from the truth it’s not even funny. Since the US has a very low unemployment rate this means the poor are actually not the worst affected.

    The people who get hit the hardest are the retired and the self-employed, who usually tend to forgoe insurance because of the cost and get hit hard if they develop chronic conditions where ongoing treatment can become very expensive.

    Of course this is somewhat offset by the fact that they pay an average of 15% less tax than what we do in Australia, which in the majority of cases is more than enough to cover the cost of health insurance.

    D:) Life expectancy is not as good a measure of a health system as you’d like to believe. There are many other factors involved such as diet (I think I remember reading somewhere that Americans have bad diets), exercise (ditto) and demographics. It’s no coincidence that 4 of the top 10 countries for life expectancy have fairly homogenous east-asian populations, and all of those with high populations with African descent have relatively low life expectancies.

    As far as some people would like to tell you that race is a social construct, some ethnic groups are more susceptible to congenital conditions and inherited health problems that negatively affect life expectancy. It should come as no surprise that countries with a relatively homogenous white european population have higher life expectancies than the US which has significant african-american and hispanic minorities (about 13% each of the population).

    That said, life expectancy in the US (77) is only slightly lower than Germany and the UK(78) (whose health systems are significantly more socialist than Australia’s) and higher than Denmark’s (which is too).

    Australia’s health system is much more private than any european system and we have the highest life expectancy of any country with a non-east asian majority. I guess this means that more private = better? Or not?

  5. Dogz
    November 3rd, 2005 at 15:11 | #5

    Yobbo,

    A:) Private hospitals are run for profit. The users of those hospitals have to pay the profits. Public hospitals are not run for profit per se. All other things being equal, the private hospital will cost more (of course all other things are not equal, but it’s a complex mess isolating where the inequalities are between private and public healthcare – see my previous comment).

    B:) The contribution of malpractice insurance to healthcare in the US is a convenient myth the US insurers are happy to continue to promulgate. The insurers make a percentage profit on top of premiums – their incentive is for costs and hence premiums to go up, not down. But they don’t want Joe Public to blame them so they stick it to the trial lawyers.

    In fact, what jacks up the cost of hospital care in the US is partly the emergency room patients. They (by law) cannot be turned away, hence the hospitals are providing (very) expensive treatment for the uninsured in their emergency rooms. The hospitals make that up by charging the insured patients a lot more.

    C:) Private rates through employers are comparable to private rates in Oz, if you can negotiate a group rate. But if you are self-employed or your employer has less than 20 employees, insurers can refuse to ensure preexisting conditions of the employees, and they do. I know people who are running their own companies who have children with preexisting conditions that they simply cannot get insurance for. Doesn’t matter how much they’re willing to pay: their children are _uninsurable_. And that’s legal. In my book that’s also disgusting.

    The 15% tax break only works if you ignore social security tax (15c in every dollar you earn up to around US$80,000 pa – employer pays half and employee pays the other half), and local tax (property taxes are way higher because they fund the schools). Otherwise, if you have kids, you are worse off after tax in the US compared to Oz if you earn less $100,000 or so. If you live in a high taxing state (eg California), you can be worse regardless of income. Now most stuff is a lot cheaper over there, so a straight dollar for dollar comparison doesn’t tell the whole story, but as far as tax goes, the US is no haven.

  6. davey
    November 3rd, 2005 at 15:13 | #6

    Australia’s health system is much more private than any european system and we have the highest life expectancy of any country with a non-east asian majority. I guess this means that more private = better? Or not?

    But then again you could argue that Australians’ higher life expectancy is a result of a policy of public health provision over the past helf-century – since it’s only been compulsory for Australians over 30 to have private health insurance for a few years now, isn’t it a bit of a long stretch to say we have a higher life expectancy because of that? Surely the opposite could also be argued?

  7. jquiggin
    November 3rd, 2005 at 16:19 | #7

    “well – looks like “Dogzâ€? is being moderated. I had a nice long piece extolling the virtues of public health disappear into JQ’s bitbucket.”

    Dogz, this is getting tiresome – you’ve made a string of complaints of unfair treatment that reflect your own ignorance rather than having any actual basis. As you would know if you’d been around a bit longer, lots of comments are auto-moderated by the antispam software. They get put up when I get around to checking the moderation queue, as yours was.

    If you don’t like the way I run this blog, feel free to go elsewhere. Otherwise, please stop with the ad hominem attacks, and focus on the issues.

  8. Dogz
    November 3rd, 2005 at 17:28 | #8

    Some “string of complaints”. The one above – which is hardly a big deal given that yobbo got moderated at the same time so it looked awfully like human intervention, and a misinterpretation of “RWDB” from SJ who called me “stupid” in the same breath. I would note that your use of RWDB against me was accompanied by a sarcastic ad hominem attack, so on the evidence my inference that it is a perjorative term was quite reasonable (a conclusion reached by at least one other commenter not “in the know”).

    Lighten up JQ.

  9. Terje Petersen
    November 3rd, 2005 at 20:52 | #9

    QUOTE: Private hospitals are run for profit. The users of those hospitals have to pay the profits.

    RESPONSE: Historically this is not entirely true. A lot of hospitals in the days before the state got big were non-profit community enterprises. For example the first hospital in Alice Springs was built by the community, for the community and it did not make profits (or receive public funding).

    Everybody say “CIVIL SOCIETY”.

  10. Terje Petersen
    November 3rd, 2005 at 20:54 | #10

    L=C

  11. November 3rd, 2005 at 22:14 | #11

    oh dogz.
    (*hugs*)
    daddy q only deletes things that have cussing and advertising, he gave me a lecture on it. :) LJ likes cussing and advertising, though. come over to the darkside.

  12. Katz
    November 4th, 2005 at 07:26 | #12

    In relation to the IR legislation, the Counter Terror legislation is a straw in the wind.

    The Coalition Backbench Counter Terrorism Committee galvanised themselves to spike the Rodent’s cannons on some of the more dangerous elements of the CT Bill. I see no reason to doubt that they did this for reasons of principle.

    Now it’s time for the Coalition Backbench to begin acting out of self-interest. They deserve a bit of latitude. Perhaps some of the Coalition backbenchers who represent marginal electorates have begun to realise that the IR legislation is for them a short cut to superannuation-free political oblivion. Many voters in their electorates might be inclined to forgive these members any disloyalty they might display to the Rodent by opposing politically unpopular aspects of this IR legislation.

  13. November 4th, 2005 at 13:42 | #13

    It’s of questionable validity to take the absence of adequate healthcare availability before the state provided it, as evidence that the free market couldn’t do it. Capitalism has been massively statist since its beginnings, with the enclosures, laws of settlement, combination laws, and state-enforced special privileges for owners of land and capital.

    But even under those circumstances, with labor being robbed of most of its product, workers managed to create sick benefit societies and other cooperative forms of mutual aid for themselves, as described by Kropotkin, Colin Ward, etc. Imagine what they could have done in a free market where the state didn’t intervene on behalf of landlords and usurers, and they had their full labor-product to dispose of.

  14. November 4th, 2005 at 14:10 | #14

    “DogZ”? “Katz”? Oh, I get it. Therefore something like MouseZ… MiceZ… Aha! Mises!

    StephenL, I can see how this is going. You are presenting areas where you don’t actually know the alternative but you do know what the state did, then if I don’t answer you will decide in favour of the state rather than admit that the point is undetermined. Please do not try to throw the onus of the matter on me, since that simply means that governments are assumed right if not definitely wrong – it’s a false dichotomy, ignoring other alternatives, discounting the possibility of not settling a point, and discouraging enquiry.

    As it happens, I do know a lot about the alternatives in the matter of cholera:-

    - Cholera is a non-problem outside the tropics and population aggregations. The lack of not providing something that was not necessary does not show a private failure.

    - Cholera is an endemic problem in the tropics. But government intervention there isn’t much help anyway. In Nigeria we did not have proper sewage but a septic tank, and although we had tap water we boiled it faithfully anyway.

    - In most of history, population aggregations were caused by state activity, like the great cities of China. One case of poetic justice was when one of Rajah Brooke’s largest tax gathering expeditions against rebels (i.e. non-taxpayers) fell prey to cholera (it was mostly a levy of tribesmen in canoes).

    - Even when sewage is addressed collectively, it need not be handled by the state but at a lower level. See the old LCC boundaries, and in particular its anomalies; one detached part included sewage works, and another was related to the public transport system. Of course, one can take municipal enterprises a step further and not lump all municipal arrangements under one municipal head.

    - Finally, the private alternative to government sewage treatment is to enter the disease cycle at a different point, purifying your own consumption water rather than targetting waste water – as we did in Nigeria. The true cost benefit analysis is not the cost of private purification versus “free”, but as against the hidden cost of government services.

    You may note, post hoc ergo propter hoc, that London’s sewage was reformed under Bazalgette in response to the cholera problem etc. However the turning point was recognising the nature of the problem; the immediately preceding crisis wasn’t cause by private failure but by general ignorance, including public service ignorance.

    In fact the state actually hindered the work of the doctor who – individually – took up the task of tracking the epidemic to its source, polluted water. Government activity hindered his efforts to stop polluted water getting out.

  15. jquiggin
    November 4th, 2005 at 16:26 | #15

    It seems to me reasonable to take the poor performance of the US on healthcare as evidence that movement towards more reliance on private insurance and less public provision is not going to produce good outcomes. This, rather than the hypothetical performance of a pure free market, is the relevant comparison.

  16. November 5th, 2005 at 17:42 | #16

    JQ, that reply of yours at no. 65 is not the relevant comparison. To suppose it is is to repeat the mistake of the man who, when strucggling with alligators, forgot that the reason he was there in the first place was to drain the swamp.

    Remember that I started this train of thought by distinguishing between the lack of philosophical justification for most government services on the one hand, and on the other hand the practical problem of getting to the idealised situation from here. So it is no criticism to point out that the comparison is with a hypothetical ideal; the point of raising the matter was to make it real.

    Furthermore, the palliatives you suggest, government provision of service rather than a shortfall of necessities, have a deeper practical problem; they aggravate the difficulty of getting out of the underlying mess incrementally, tha is, one individual at a time. Once in place these measures not only place more burdens on individuals, they raise the transitional barrier since simply cutting services makes a greater shortfall.

    So while your criticism has all the soothing air of reasonableness, it in fact fails to address the issue of solving rather than palliating and actually prevents us from addressing that, all the while incrementally making the task of cure harder.

  17. November 8th, 2005 at 04:54 | #17

    So, John, your approach is to take as a given the concentration of power in a small number of interlinked state and corporate bureaucracies, and the control of health and other services by a small professional elite, and then determine the most humane way of providing such services to the corporate serfs.

    Well, we’ve certainly narrowed the debate to manageable terms, haven’t we?

    Peter,

    Seems to me the centralization costs of disposing of waste “downstream,” and organizing water distribution through a large-scale system, is a problem of bad design in the first place. Dealing with such issues at the point of production or consumption (as you mention) might make more sense in many cases. Certainly composting of wastes on-site, and recycling them through sustainable agriculture practices, seems much more efficient. Likewise the use of cisterns and other rain-traps for irrigation water, and the on-site treatment of drinking water.

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