Thursday, September 19, 2013

Negating your rights - Canadian Health Insurance.

Most Canadians understand the need for insurance. People buy insurance to avoid catastrophic expenses, major damage or liability in an auto collision, fire damage in a house, or life insurance. It does not make sense to insure routine maintenance. People don't buy car insurance to pay for oil changes or even major expenses like new tires, or a brake job. These need to be factored in with the cost of car ownership.  Car ownership is a responsibility and it includes paying for all associated costs.

Unfortunately, when the Canadian health care system came into existence in the 1960's, those involved in creating the legislation considered health care as a "right," a positive right.  I agree that access to healthcare is a right, and cost is sometimes a barrier. So when healthcare legislation was conceived by federal and provincial legislators 50 years ago in Canada, they realized that catastrophic health events happen over the course of people's lives and these should be insurable. That makes sense, but having the government do it doesn't. The problem was made much worse when legislation was written to provide ALL health care as a right. Even routine medical visits which are on the level of automobile oil changes were covered by insurance. Everything was covered, and the scarce resource that is healthcare became virtually "free," an obvious contradiction. The government even takes pains NOT to make the cost of healthcare known to Canadian consumers. We have no idea what anything costs and they won't tell us.

Nothing is free, and its almost axiomatic that whenever a government gets involved in mitigating an expense, you can be certain that expense will increase, beyond all good intentions.

"Free" healthcare is the number one budget expense in Ontario, and probably every province. Why? Because in the rest of economy free markets and competitive innovation are the primary forces that reduce prices and keep them as low as possible. When a government monopoly takes over any aspect of the economy, the government sets the price and taxpayers have no option but to pay. Every routine procedure is theoretically covered by our Canadian health insurance, which at the same instant tries to control costs, while increasing wages and benefits to employees, and its all controlled by a small cadre of bureaucrats. Exactly the opposite of an innovative free market.

What the government has determined as a "right," actually negates rights. Access to healthcare is a right, but as governments try to control costs they ration care, and access becomes a problem. Canada is exceptional as one of freest countries in the world with some of the poorest access to timely healthcare.

The original intent was to make healthcare available to everyone, even the poorest in our society. The result is that we are all treated as equally poor and our right to timely care is out of our hands.

The video that follows needs to be shared and widely distributed among all your friends. Dr. David Gratzer of the Montreal Economic Institute explains what is good about modern medicine and bad about Canadian Healthcare.        


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rights versus Duties

People often misuse the term "rights."
Many people, even political parties and governmental or nongovernmental organizations, advocate for individuals to have an assortment of rights other than the commonly held right to life, liberty and property. In philosophical jargon those three are considered negative rights. Yes, you have a right to those three, but no one is required to provide you with anything. That's different from the photo above which implies that the right to an education can be legislated. This means that someone has a duty or obligation to provide it. This is a positive right. In the libertarian tradition, negative rights are the rights that governments should be protecting.
Of course there is nothing wrong with someone volunteering to provide an education to those unable to obtain one. This idea of voluntary charity is a virtue that most libertarians would support. The idea of providing positive rights to individuals usually involves infringing on the rights of those who must provide the rights.
Here is an explanation of that view of Positive vs. Negative Rights:


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Horse manure piled 60 feet high......

There is an apocryphal story about futurologists in 1860 New York City, predicting that NYC would not exist in 100 years because the present (1860) growth rate indicated that 6 million people would need 6 million horses, and that NYC could not handle the amount of manure produced.

Indeed the amount of manure produced in NYC was prodigious. In SuperFreakonomics, this section is worth reading because it graphically illustrates the problem. In 1900 there were 200,000 horses, and each horse could produce 24 pounds of manure or 5 million pounds a day, so manure lined city streets like banks of snow, and up to 60 foot piles of it was stored in empty lots. Summer heat must have been fun. And you thought cars were polluting.

I mention all this because the future is tough to predict and sometimes the errors made are spectacularly laughable in hindsight. There is even a webpage that collects and displays erroneous predictions. Here, have a look.

When governments make these errors which are paid for from coerced taxes and which create huge "malinvestments," it's just that much worse. Lately the Ontario government has made some doozies, from subsidized wind turbines to poorly placed gas generators. Money is wasted.

The newest government craze in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is mass transit. An arm of the city government wants to expend $50 Billion to create a mass transit system to relieve traffic congestion in the GTA over the next 25 years. Given the rate of change of technological development, the problem may be alleviated best with much cheaper solutions. This article by Lawrence Solomon points to solutions that were used in Singapore for similar issues. Building more highways and luring people out of their cars to take transit are both partial solutions at best, and the article continues.."As Singapore and others have shown, software can turn our now-clogged roads into smart roads, creating effective new road capacity that eliminates the need for either major new highways or mass transit." Here is a link to Intelligent Transport Systems used in Singapore.

The collision of smart transport systems in congested cities with self driving cars is likely to happen BEFORE the last mass transit line is in place in Toronto in 2038.

Technology and innovation are disruptive when allowed to happen to solve problems. The City government of New York did not need to find storage for more manure, the free market solved the manure problem and saved New York.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Where are the Atlantic Hurricanes of 2013?

Not that I miss large destructive storms but, there has not been one named Hurricane in the 2013 season as yet. We're half way through the six month June 1 to November 30 Atlantic Hurricane season, a season that was predicted to be "extremely active" last spring. There were lots of warnings in media, but so far nada.

Now its too early to start criticizing the computer models that were used to make this prediction, but things look fairly quiet through to the middle of September. In fact 2013 could produce a record for the latest named storm in the short history of hurricane prediction. That is, assuming a storm happens. Wouldn't it be something if NOAA's prediction was wrong? I guess climate science models need some revisions?   

Exploiting the worker

Just to follow up to my Labour Day post. One of the primary reasons for the existence of unions was to prevent workers from being exploited by capitalists. If markets were free, does that make it inevitable that workers are exploited? Not according to the video below:

In fact, the chances of workers being exploited are far greater in the present situation where free markets do not exist. Today in most Western democracies (including the US and Canada) governments do favours for capitalists and capitalists provide donations to political parties on the "understanding" that favours will be done. This crony capitalism is far more exploitive than a free market would be as explained here:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labour Day & the Zombie Apocalypse?

Labour (Labor US) Day traditionally celebrates the contributions of workers in the US and Canada. Nothing wrong with that. It's become an annual parade event, celebrated mostly by unionized labour, especially in Canada.

Unions are in trouble all over the world. In almost every OECD country there has been a decline in union representation since the mid-1980's. In some countries the decline has been huge over the last 30 to 50 years, in others things have changed little. In the US 30.9% of workers were in unions in 1960, only 11.6% by 2007; in Canada, 29.2% in 1960, 29.4% in 2007. In almost every OECD country recent trends have been downward. Lately Canada has up-ticked because of a growing public sector. Globalized labour markets have shifted jobs to lower wage centres around the world. The unions see the writing on the wall, their position has been made even worse by the financial crisis after 2008, followed by recessions and austerity moves in Europe and elsewhere.

So how are unionists and zombies related? Zombies are difficult to kill, they frequently operate in large groups, seek brains to consume, and most compelling, they seem mindless with respect to their opposition. 

The strength of unions in Canada makes them virtually indestructible without an act of Parliament. Their ability to collect fees, and control labour markets are enshrined in a variety of arguably illegitimate and ill-considered laws that have accumulated over the years. Today most of the reasons for these protective laws have been enshrined in other laws, which makes them unnecessary, redundant. The fact that union membership represents 30% plus (extended family) of the electorate, makes it political suicide for any government Party to contravene union legislation. They are unstoppable.

Lately, noises made by some Canadian governments, and unfriendly legislation by others, have forced unions to amalgamate into much larger groups; strength in numbers.

But underlying much of the thinking amongst union leadership, both public and private sector, and transferred to their masses, is a distorted theory of value. What is the actual worth of the labour provided by their workers public or private?

When I was a young teacher, I spent enormously long hours trying to work out effective lessons for my students. This went on for years. I often thought that if I were paid at the hourly rate of my actual teaching time, I'd make a lot of money. But I knew I was not worth it. My job was protected by my union, and the teaching job market was controlled by the union together with the government. No one could have my job without their say-so, and I would have to screw up pretty badly to get booted out of teaching. This is typical of government monopolies.

Was I even worth what I was being paid? How was that determined? That number was determined by negotiations in what is called euphemistically collective bargaining. If someone was a better, more experienced teacher than I, but lacking certain credentials, applied for my job, they were out of luck even if they tried to underbid for my job.

The compensation for my job had little to do with reality, it was contrived. I understood that as a young teacher, very few of my colleagues did. The entire government public school teaching profession is based on the Labour Theory of Value. The worth of your job is based on the effort you put in to get the credentials (the years of schooling etc.) plus your experience. That sounds fair, but its wrong.

It would mean that each job could be assigned some objective value unrelated to the market place. That's the way union shops and their leadership think. If that were true, my junior years should have been my best in terms of effort expended and salary paid.

Zombies seem mindless and unwilling (unable) to even acknowledge those who appose them.

The truth is my job should have paid, much, much less if it were bid for by parents in a competitive market place. This should be the way to think about value in a job. How much would a competitive marketplace of parents looking for teachers actually pay for the service of teaching their children. It's a purely subjective value, worth something to some, and nothing to many others. This Subjective Theory of Value, makes every union negotiated settlement (by collective bargaining), a distortion of the labour market in that field or market place.

It's early days yet, but the Zombie Apocalypse is coming.