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November 9, 2013 | 42 Comments

Obamacare Predictions: How’d We Do So Far?

Quiet! The secrets of WMB are about to be revealed.
Quiet! The secrets of WMB are about to be revealed.
One of life’s real pleasures, though it lessens us to admit it, is when we get to say I told you so.

Nobody in the world, except those who believe in magic, wants health insurance. Most people, except those who like hanging about in waiting rooms, don’t even want health care. People want health. And not everybody wants that. Many people are willing to trade health for other pleasures or risk health for great rewards. Life, these people say, is meant to be lived and not spent cowering in a corner saving up health points…to be spent where? Hell? Heaven?

The government says all people want health all the time and, by gum, it will force them into it whether they want it or not. Hence bans, such as trans fats, and the monstrosity which is Obamacare.

Obamacare commits many fallacies. The first is obvious: health insurance is not health, nor does it guarantee health. The fallacy that insurance equals health is also embraced by a growing number of citizens, who now won’t venture outside without first checking with the government whether they—and therefore you, too—should wear a sweater.

Here’s a conundrum: if people didn’t spend money on health insurance, which disguises and necessarily increases the cost of health care, they would have either saved it for health care or saved or spent it on something else. Which set of people are healthier? Those who bought (expensive) health insurance? Or those who knew they’d have to pay for their own health care? I say the latter: knowing you have to pay changes your behavior, and towards those activities which are more likely to bring you to the level of health you desire (and not all desire high levels of health).

Now you can say many things to this argument, but what you cannot say is that it is certainly false. Just as you cannot say it is certainly true that forcing people into buying (expensive) insurance makes them healthier. People are going to be required, mandated, muscled into spending not just more, but much more. Hello, stress!

From a friend on Facebook, this image, which shows his Humana insurance went from $80 a month to $350 under Obamacare. I’ll leave for homework what shocking percent increase this is. His poor heart! Luckily he has insurance.

Fallacy two: government experts know the precise insurance which is not only best for you, but for your neighbor. Monstrous hubris, here.

Fallacy three: despite what his robedness (yes, robedness) John Roberts said, being forced by law to fork over your money to another private citizen is not a tax. It is extortion. The mafia was never as efficient. It is crony capitalism at its purest, most vile. Just you watch the bottom lines of insurance companies. Bonuses for everybody!

But enough. Let’s see how our predictions fared, keeping in mind that the other penny hasn’t dropped. That is, the employer mandate strikes next year, which effects more people.

Prediction Scorecard

Back in March of 2010 we made a forecast of the fun which would befall us when Obamacare hit. Lots of material here, so we’ll only cover the two main posts which were entitled “Obamacare Predictions” (Part I, Part II). I introduced only this caveat:

Here are some things I think will happen if Obamacare is passed. When I say “you” or “your”, I mean “people on average.” Obviously, some people will benefit.

Your insurance costs will increase. Nailed it.

I have tried many times to show that insurance is a bet. You are betting you will get sick and the insurer is betting you won’t. If you do get sick, the insurer pays. If you don’t, you pay. This bet is remade monthly. If you bet you’ll get sick and you already are, you are, in effect, cheating. The insurer has to pay and there is no way that the money you give him will make up for his loss.

Your health costs will increase. Got this one, too. Not only are deductible rising, but so is the cost of care. And so will it continue to rise, too. There’s also words about what will happen when the employer mandate strikes:

You or your employer will face higher insurance premiums. Thus, the extent of your coverage will be shrunk. To keep costs down, you will see higher deductibles, lower limits on payouts and such forth.

The costs of insurance paid by your employer will be offset by either cutting pay, reducing future raises, or most likely by hiring fewer workers in the future. That later will be especially true of large employers.

Your taxes will increase This one is an open question, but surely true. The full force of Obamacare has not yet been felt. However, one this is certain: government spending, as we predicted, has increased. Tax increases must inevitably follow, so this prediction will eventually come true.

Taxes are already guaranteed to increase to pay for many of Obamacare’s provisions: this is in the bill. But they will increase more than estimated because the bureaucracy must be fed. All experience shows that bureaucracies grow fatter in time, consuming more tax dollars as they do so. There has never been an instance in history where this was not so. Health bureaucracies especially grow quickly.

Your health care will degrade. Haven’t had enough time for this one, either. This is actually quite a technical prediction, and to save space here I’ll assume you have clicked through to Part II and read the prediction in full, which differs from what some pundits are saying.

Health care must eventually be “rationed,” in the same sense as it is in other countries with socialized medicine…Doctors will receive less money for their services, and this will persuade some that would opt for that career to do something else.

Your liberty will be restricted. Oh, baby! Score will bells on. Man, oh man, did I ever tell you so? I did, I did: I did tell you so. I weep over my own prescience.

Health can mean, and will come to mean, anything which is related to human behavior. Absolutely everything you can think of, or say, or do can be plausibly related to health.

Since the government will be paying the bills, it will feel it has the right to proscribe or tax any behavior that would adversely affect your “health.”

Your sense of paternalism will increase. I’m out of superlatives, but if you have any, here’s your chance to use them. I’m worried my hat won’t fit anymore. Oh, I’m so good, so very good.

But no more. Increasingly, people see “government” as something other than themselves. They see “government” as an entity that somehow exists independently and can be called upon to fix all ills, even personal ones. Resources appear like magic.

People will not be as quick to think that they or their families can take care of themselves. They will more often go to the government and asked to be looked after.

And they will be.

Results

Although you shouldn’t trust me with presidential predictions (too much wishcasting on my part), everybody should come to a hush, just like in those old stock broker commercials, when it comes to my insights into bureaucracy. When W.M. Briggs forecasts, people listen.

If you’re upset over my crowing, be happy in knowing that my reward shall be a smaller wallet and smaller list of freedoms. Same reward you get, coincidentally.

Further reading Search for Obamacare on this site for plenty of juicy words. But don’t miss Obamacare: Sympathy for Homeopathy?, Supreme Court To Rule On Obamacare for other predictions, Mark Twain On The Dictatorship Of Health, My Failure To Purchase Something In The Market Subjects Me To Regulation, Sandra Fluke Mows The Lawn: A Play In One Act.

November 8, 2013 | 72 Comments

Beneficent Government To Ban Another Thing (Trans Fats)

We ban because we can.
Studies show the government cares about you more than you care about you, that the government loves you more than your fractured ability to love it back, that this most beneficent government, people to a man (and to a woman!), with infallible, caring, really quite brainy and ardent experts, knows what is best for you: best for you to eat, to drink, to read, everything.

I know what you’re thinking. But if the government occasionally has to lie to you, well, it’s for the greater good, for your greater good. The ends justify the means. And when the ends are bliss itself, human and earthly perfection, life without inequalities and disparities of any kind, then any means are the right means.

The hell with clinging to God and guns: the other G is where it’s at. The Government has your back, bro.

The latest bump to be removed on the path to Utopia are trans fats. The expert-filled Food & Drug Administration— without this watchful group to guide us people might eat brick dust1—has decided that you are not allowed to make a choice about whether to eat trans fats. They will ban them.

As I was writing this, a reporter came on the radio to announce the FDA will accept public comments about the “proposed” ban for the next so many days, “and then it will implement the ban.”

Yes, even reporters know what “public comments” means to agencies like FDA and EPA: nada, rien, nichts, nil, nix, nothing. (See how diverse I am?) They will do whatever they want regardless of what any member of the public says, and everybody knows this in advance.

I might remind you that the FDA is a part of the executive branch of our most wonderful government, and that bans such as this are not laws per se, but mere bureaucratic rules, fiats, made under the umbrella of whatever legislation the FDA’s clever lawyers might point to. Bans are, in effect, presidential actions. So much for Congress having the power to make laws. Truly, the Constitution is outdated.

I don’t give a damn about trans fats. The last time I thought about them was when Nanny Bloomberg—soon, alas, only citizen Bloomberg, replaced by a genuine communist; but never mind—bade the city ban them. I neither avoid nor seek trans fats. I have no idea, and have no interest in having any idea, how many of them I consume.

What’s that? You say “Research shows they’re bad for you”? So? What is that to you? You avoid them and leave me alone. Why force me to be like you? Are you worried about passive trans fatism? That stray molecules of trans fat from my cookie will waft to your gob and instantly cause your arteries to seize? Then stay far away from me.

Or are you so pathetic that you can’t exercise any self control and will gobble up any quantity of trans fats without Big Brother slapping your hand away? What an awfully sad person you must be.

“But if they government has determined that trans fats are bad, then there is no harm in banning them.” Two claims here, both wrong.

There is harm. The ban will cause a great many people inconvenience, loss of livelihoods, loss of freedoms, and so on. But worse will be in the increase in servility. People will assume the ban was right because it was the government that proposed it. Citizens are willingly entering into serfdom in exchange for a pittance.

The government may have determined trans fats are bad, but this is far from proof that they are. I have seen the statistical evidence against trans fats. It is poor, it is marginal, it is on the threshold of detection. It is ambiguous: not every study that seeks a connection between trans fats and, say, heart disease finds it.

This means the government’s claim that banning trans fats “could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths each year” is far from certain. Wait. Strike that. The government is 100% correct. Banning trans fats “could” save so many lives. That is logically true.

But the ban could also cause heart attacks and other deaths. That is also logically true.

The full truth is that nobody knows what the ban would do to the healths of Americans. This is not an argument in favor of a ban, in the form of some foolish precautionary principle, because we could say the same about any substance. Why not ban wheat or cars or #2 pencils because we have no idea of their effects?

We are under those sympathetic to the slogan “Whatever is not forbidden is mandatory.”


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1See this pdf on history of FDA banning drugs. Via MedicalSkeptic (@medskep).

November 7, 2013 | 22 Comments

Students Eschewing Humanities In Favor Of Science

This magnet taught me that stealing is wrong.
This magnet taught me that stealing is wrong.
The Times is reporting that students are high-tailing it away from the humanities, scurrying into “STEM” departments.

STEM is the educational buzzword of the day—theorists in education surf from fad to fad like teenage girls deluge then snub clothing stores in a mall—and it means science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Who can be against those?

Well, I, a scientist and mathematician, user and creator of modern technology, am against them. At least I’m opposed to the idea that they are adequate replacements for history, philosophy, literature, art, music. In the last, and at base, all of those are more important.

Science and math give us terrific toasters, efficient ways of annoying strangers with our electronic toys, and are darn good fields at extracting money from Leviathan. But none of them say word one about what is the best in life, which is the ideal way to live, what life is about, why life even exists, why anything exists, what is good and what evil, what is right and what wrong.

Sure, STEM extends the lives of a few of us. But just as a for instance, consider the hidden implications of that statement. Is living longer always better? Surely not. Otherwise there would be no mountain climbers, soldiers, priests—or doctors, come to that (exposed to plenty of diseases, those fellows). Are three extra years in Shady Acres nursing home strapped to an oxygen tank worth pursuing? Or should you smite the sounding furrows like Joshua Slocum? And you can go on and on, with not one question answerable by STEM.

There are two reasons for the turning tide away from a classic education, both of them rational, more or less.

By now the almost ineradicable idea that college is a jobs training program has seeped into the minds of parents and would-be students. Not many positions teaching philosophy, music, or art history. And those venturing into these courses have to endure repeatedly the you-wants-fries-with-that “joke”, and suffer jocular taunts that they must not want a lot of money.

And there it is: money. Always money. You can use all those equations you learned in STEM classes to track your endless bounty of money. What STEM can’t tell you is what the love of money leads to. Or why should want it in the first place. Incidentally, it’s not the pursuit of money which is objectionable (even bloggers have to eat), but its unthinking pursuit.

And there’s the real problem. All of life’s real questions are left tacit with STEM, to be filled in happenstance. Everybody thinks they know the answers to questions which they’ve spent scarce time studying.

Reason two: who the hell wants to sign up for a humanities class taught by raving ideologues, by professors more intent on indoctrination than on honest exploration of truth?

Exceptions? Sure there exceptions, and plenty of them. But they are exceptions and not the rule.

Who signs up for “Philosophy of Feminism” or “Theory of Gender” courses? Something has gone badly wrong by the time a student expresses interest in a “Studies” program (Black, Women’s, Queer, Latina; endless, endless). Academic historians are fascinated by race and sex quotas. Do teenagers need courses in masturbation (yes, these exist)? And modern music and art seem purposely designed as instruments of torture.

Is it any wonder students emerging from these majors are snot-nosed brats?

What’s worse is those kiddies who spend four years studying “disparities” think they know everything worth knowing about science, technology, and mathematics. They all quote cherry-picked statistics showing the end is nigh because the world isn’t being run along what they imagine to be Utopian lines. This wouldn’t be so awful except these people have the audacity to lecture STEM graduates on STEM topics.

What a dismal situation.

Solution? There is none. Or, at least, I have none to offer. Except this: turn off all your gadgets and go read a book, preferably one written before the demographic characteristics of the author became more important than his (or her!) words. Or go talk to a priest.

November 6, 2013 | 13 Comments

The Boston Globe’s Failed Assassination Of Willie Soon

What is he so happy about?
What is he so happy about?

Christopher Rowland, the Washington Bureau Chief for the Boston Globe, is not a child molester.

The Boston Globe has covered child molestation stories, suspiciously at times when Rowland was with the paper. Rowland has been spotted in the presence of underage girls. Some of Rowland’s detractors might claim that this establishes a connection.

This imaginary item demonstrates a stupid and discreditable journalistic trick employed by ideologically addled reporters ignorant of their subjects, in which it appears to the non-discerning and ill-educated that something important and true has been said, while in fact nothing occurs except a flattering of readers’ foolish biases.

This legerdemain, as obvious and annoying as a drunk asking you to pick a card, any card, in no way fools those of even modest intelligence. But as it is easier than the hard labor of learning difficult material, or honesty, it is often used.

How To Do It Wrong

Case study: Christopher Rowland and his infomercial “Researcher helps sow climate-change doubt: Industry-funded Cambridge astrophysicist adds to partisan divide“, a “portrait” of Willie Soon (my friend).

The title reveals the marked deck. Industry-funded. As in industry-funded reporter Christopher Rowland? Why is his industry funding purer than Soon’s? Is Rowland claiming that his (Rowland’s) own words can’t be trusted because he’s industry-funded?

Helps sow climate-change doubt. Nobody, not a soul, not anywhere, and certainly not Soon, doubts the climate has changed. Hence nobody wants to “sow doubt” in such an obvious proposition. Rowland never bothers to discover that “climate change” is notoriously ambiguous. It can mean trivial changes in long-term weather to spittle-flecked calls for government control of every aspect of the economy to “save” the planet.

Rowland says, “Never mind that Soon, an astrophysicist, is no specialist on global sea levels, and his most notable writing on the subject was an op-ed article in the conservative Washington Times last year.”

Never mind that Rowland is no specialist on global sea levels and couldn’t evaluate Soon’s work if his meager life depended on it (I’ve seen Willie’s work: it’s good: the statistics in the field are atrocious.) Never mind that Rowland’s most notable writing on the subject is a political hit piece in the far-left Boston Globe yesterday.

Math Is Hard

Rowland on Soon’s views: “Polar bears? Not threatened. Sea level? Exaggerated danger. Carbon dioxide? Great for trees. Warming planet? Caused by natural fluctuation in the sun’s energy.”

If Rowland had done his homework he would have discovered that it’s just as Soon has said. Polar bears aren’t threatened. Sea level rise is wildly exaggerated. Trees adore carbon dioxide. The sun is responsible for climatic fluctuations to a great extent. All this is well known and even grudgingly admitted by scientists.

Rowland: “The work of Soon, and a handful of like-minded scientists, is seen by a [sic] critics in Congress and elsewhere as a case study in how this deadlock has been engineered by energy companies and antiregulation conservatives.”

Rot. Balderdash. Rowland, who has never been linked to child molestation, just can’t help but to cast aspersions without ever making a direct claim. Child molesters often use this device. Rowland uses it so often that if you were to strip out every instance of the genetic fallacy, his piece would have shrunk to, “Some people don’t like Willie Soon and I’m not too fond of him myself.” It could have fit in a tweet.

Besides the genetic fallacy, Rowland cherishes the ideology of our age: what you say matters more than what you do. Government and activists say they are “for” “the people”, therefore whatever they pay for is pure, beneficent, moral. But civilians say they are for themselves, therefore whatever they pay for is impure, greed-drive, immoral. Never mind that it’s government responsible for creating most of the ills it claims to deride.

Again I ask: what effect does the money Rowland receive from a far-left group have on his work?

Fill-In-The-Blank Journalism

Rowland tracked down Soon and Baliunas’s 2003 paper which showed that it’s not worse than we thought. Not having the intellectual chops to understand the work, Rowland sought quotes from those who claimed they could. Like Michael “Whimpering” Mann, a fellow whose work is so poor that when other scientists hear he is coming suddenly discover appointments they just can’t miss.

But very well. Rowland is ignorant of statistics and is so forced to rely on experts. It’s natural he should ask for a space-filling, bias-confirming quote. So who did Rowland quote in support of Soon and Baliunas?

You wait here for an answer.

We At Harvard Never End Our Sentences In Prepositions

Rowland, who has never answered accusations of child molestation, scored a quote from Soon’s boss at Harvard, which makes Soon (and nobody else, so far as I know), put a disclaimer on his work saying Harvard had nothing to do with it. Harvard has long ago given up on its slogan in exchange for government funds. But never mind.

“As far as I can tell,” Soon’s boss Irwin Shapiro sniffed, “no one pays any attention to him.” Sure, Irwin, you keep saying that to yourself. Grip your pillow tonight and chant, “The public reads my papers.” So many no ones pay no attention to Willie that Rowland was forced to write this piece.

Politics, Politics, Politics

Rowland is pleased to tell us the American Association for the Advancement of Science says, “The scientific evidence is clear: Global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.” Our lackadaisical reporter couldn’t be troubled to learn that this was not an uncontroversial statement by AAAS leaders. It was considered by many of its members as blatant rent-seeking, as a means to cozy up to government and say, “We want some of the luscious grant money, too.” This same scenario played out at all major scientific organizations, greedy and fearful of being left out to a man.

It wasn’t all politics. Rowland cadged a quote from non-scientist Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island far-left Democrat, who said of folks like Soon, “They are merchants of doubt, not factual information.” Wait. I guess it was all politics.

Just how can Whitehouse (let’s hope his name is not an omen) can be so sure that Soon’s work is wrong without having any exposure to it we never learn.

We’re also left in the dark as to why Rowland’s is so certain the sky is falling. After all, he hasn’t the ability to properly evaluate Soon’s work. We’re left with the depressing conclusion that Rowland believes the world is going to hell, climatologically speaking, because that belief is consonant with Rowland’s political ideology of more, of ever more, government control.

At least Rowland leaves Soon with the last word, though he did so in what he mistakenly thought was an ironic way. “Stop politicizing science!” Soon said. “Just stop!”

Amen to that. And, oh, keep your kids away from Rowland. You never know.