As we scrimmaged over healthcare all the summer long, right wing pundits came up with the term "death panels." I thought to myself, damn, that's fiendishly clever. I had this vision of a futuristic "Logan's Run" type of thing going on, or instead of a draft board having to go in front of the "Death Panel." But to millions of Americans in declining health, the idea of marginalized health care was not so amusing. It was real. And they knew which way the decision would probably be handed down in their own case.
Who could have thought that up? Hollywood is in desperate need of such cleverness. Sadly, the truth is they didn't make them up; they actually wished them up.
From the Bloomberg article by Caroline Baum, "If Government Pays Us to Spend, Then Spend We Will. Paul Kasriel, chief economist at the Northern Trust Corp. in Chicago gives his October economic outlook,
"If increased government spending on retiree health care comes at the expense of business spending on capital equipment and R&D, then the productivity of the current labor force and long-run growth rate will be adversely affected."
Road spending good! Healthcare spending for seniors bad! Even more to the point is the term "government" spending. The private health insurers pour their billions in profits back into Wall Street. That's good! A government option or single payer plan would invest, like Social Security, in Treasury notes and bonds; government spending bad! The entire healthcare issue dissolves in front of us into Wall Street saying, we don't like any plan that won't allow us to profit from it.
Like the floats in the Thanksgiving's Day parade, they trot out last year's tax cut float and redecorate it with new crepe paper and proclaim, "If increased government spending on retiree health care comes at the expense of business spending on capital equipment and R&D, then the productivity of the current labor force and long-run growth rate will be adversely affected." That's newspeak for government spending bad.
All the hundreds of millions of dollars for private jets and bonuses apparently has no affect on capital spending. But now government spending on healthcare could put a drag on the economy for years to come. Because Wall Street won't profit from it.
There's a movie that's recently come out based on an old parlor game: if I offered you a million dollars to push a button, but if you pushed the button someone would die, would you do it? On Wall Street they play that game for real every day. It's not that they hate you. It's only a question of can they profit from you. Are you a plus or a minus? The system culls out all emotion; if your health insurer does a good job and pays all of your claims, it will be leap-frogged by the companies that don't pay claims.
Stockholders will ask why the other companies are making so much more money, and Wall Street will frown upon them. The share price will go down; the board will be replaced by those more understanding of the system. Those who understand what "Executive Bonus Package" really means. It means that there is good spending and then there is bad spending.
The other day US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, threw the switch on a new electrical power plant in Kabul. Eikenberry asked the Afghans to think of the US taxpayers when they turn on their lights at night. Eikenberry metaphorically called it the emergence out of the "darkness" of oppression and isolation.
There are just a few little loose ends to tie up. First, the Afghan government says that they never wanted the plant; that it was the Bush administration trying to showcase concrete improvements in Afghan society. Second, only 6% of Afghans have electricity and most couldn't afford a light bulb even if their house was wired for it. It's like running cable TV into Darfur, that's great that they've got Showtime but they need food so much more. And finally, "It's a sophisticated power plant," said Guy Sands, an assistant inspector general, which means the plant will require another $60 million per year so that contractors can oversee and operate the plant.
That is considered good spending. Contractors profit and there's no end to it in sight. Good God, man, that's a stock to watch! A $50 million restoration of a hydroelectric dam with the potential to supply twice the electricity of the new diesel plant has been shelved due to security concerns. Starting to get the picture? A $50 million hydroelectric dam project, bad spending. A $300 million diesel plant with an annual operating budget of $130 million, good spending. It is no wonder that Eikenberry asked the Afghans to think of the US taxpayers when they turn on their lights at night.