RCH: The United States and the Middle East

My latest for RealClearHistory is all about ‘Murica and the Mideast. An excerpt:

2. The Iranian Regime. During the Cold War, the U.S. government supported a number of regimes that were illiberal in the name of fighting communism. The necessity of such tactics are beyond the scope of this article, but the Pahlavi “dynasty” of Persia was one such illiberal regime. The Pahlavis were anti-Communist and pro-Western, which meant that women could dress how they pleased and go to university, and that religion was pushed to the sidelines of political life. This made the Pahlavi’s enemies of not only the socialist reformers of Persia, but also the majority of the conservative religious clergy. One Pahlavi was ousted by a joint British-Soviet invasion in 1925, and his son was deposed in the 1979 revolution that turned Persia into Iran. After the British-Soviet invasion, the United States became heavily involved in Persia and supported the secular autocrat almost blindly, which is why the anti-Shah revolution of 1979 was also anti-American.

Please, read the rest.

The Real Cost of National Health Care

Around early August 2018, a research paper from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University by Charles Blahous made both the Wall Street Journal and Fox News within two days. It also attracted attention widely in other media. Later, I thought I heard sighs of satisfaction from conservative callers on talk show radio whenever the paper came up.

One figure from the study came and stayed at the surface and was quoted correctly many times (rare occurrence) in the electronic media. The cost of what Senator Sanders proposed with respect to national health care was:

30 trillion US dollars over ten years (actually, 32.6 over thirteen years).

This enormous number elicited pleasure among conservatives because it seemed to underscore the folly of Senator Bernie Sanders’ call for universal healthcare. It meant implicitly, federal, single-payer, government-organized health care. It might be achieved simply by enrolling everyone in Medicare. I thought I could hear snickers of relief among my conservative friends because of the seeming absurdity of the gigantic figure. I believe that’s premature. Large numbers aren’t always all they appear to be.

Let’s divide equally the total estimate over ten years. That’s three trillion dollars per year. It’s also a little more than $10,000 per American man, woman, child, and others, etc.

For the first year of the plan, Sanders’ universal health care amounts to 17.5% of GDP per capita. GDP per capita is a poor but not so bad, really, measure of production. It’s also used to express average gross income. (I think that those who criticize this use of GDP per capita don’t have a substitute to propose that normal human beings understand, or wish to understand.) So it’s 17.5% of GDP/capita. The person who is exactly in the middle of the distribution of American income would have to spend 17.5% of her income on health care, income before taxes and such. That’s a lot of money.

Or, is it?

Let’s imagine economic growth (GDP growth) of 3% per years. It’s optimistic but it’s what conservatives like me think is a realistic target for sustained performance. From 1950 to 1990, GDP per capita growth reached or exceeded 3% for almost all years. It greatly exceeded 3% for several years. I am too lazy to do the arithmetic but I would be bet that the mean annual GDP growth for that forty-year period was well above 3%. So, it’s realistic and probably even modest.

At this 3% growth rate, in the tenth year, the US GDP per capita will be $76.600. At that point, federal universal health care will cost – unless it improves and thus becomes more costly – 13% of GDP per capita. This sounds downright reasonable, especially in view of the rapid aging of the American population.

Now, American conservative enemies of nationalized health care are quick to find instances of dysfunctions of such healthcare delivery systems in other countries. The UK system was the original example and as such, it accumulated mistakes. More recently, we have delighted in Canadian citizens crossing the border for an urgent heart operation their nationalized system could not produce for months: Arrive on Friday evening in a pleasant American resort. Have a good but reasonable dinner. Check in Sat morning. Get the new valve on Monday; back to Canada on Wednesday. At work on the next Monday morning!

The subtext is that many Canadians die because of a shortage of that great free health care: It nice if you can get it, we think. Of course, ragging on the Canadians is both fair and endlessly pleasant. Their unfailing smugness in such matters is like a hunting permit for mental cruelty!

In fact, though, my fellow conservatives don’t seem to make much of an effort to find national health systems that actually work. Sweden has one, Denmark has one; I think Finland has one; I suspect Germany has one. Closer to home, for me, at least, France has one. Now, those who read my blogging know that I am not especially pro-French or pro-France. But I can testify to a fair extent that the French National Healthcare works well. I have used it several times across the past fifty years. I have observed it closely on the occasion of my mother’s slow death.

The French national health system is friendly, almost leisurely, and prompt in giving you appointments including to specialists. It tends to be very thorough to the point of excessive generosity, perhaps. Yes, but you get what you pay for, I can hear you thinking – just like a chronically pessimistic liberal would. Well, actually, Frenchmen live at least three years longer on the average than do American men. And French women live even longer. (About the same as Canadians, incidentally.)

Now, the underlying reasoning is a bit tricky here. I am not stating that French people live longer than Americans because the French national healthcare delivery system is so superior. I am telling you that whatever may be wrong with the French system that escaped my attention is not so bad that it prevents the French from enjoying superior longevity. I don’t want to get here into esoteric considerations of the French lifestyle. And, no, I don’t believe it’s the red wine. The link between drinking red wine daily and cardiac good health is in the same category as Sasquatch: I dearly hope it exists but I am pretty sure it does not. So, I just wish to let you know that I am not crediting French health care out of turn.

The weak side of the French system is that it remunerates doctors rather poorly, from what I hear. I doubt French pediatricians earn $222,000 on the average. (Figure for American pediatricians according to the Wall Street Journal 8/17/18.) But I believe in market processes. France the country has zero trouble finding qualified candidates for its medical schools. (I sure hope none of my current doctors, whom I like without exception, will read this. The wrong pill can so easily happen!)

By the way, I almost forgot to tell you. Total French health care expenditure per person is only about half as high as the American. Rule of thumb: Everything is cheaper in the US than in other developed countries, except health care.

And then, closer to home, there is a government health program that covers (incompletely) about 55 million Americans. It’s not really “universal” even for the age group it targets because one must have contributed to benefit. (Same in France, by the way, at least in principle.) It’s universal in the sense that everyone over 65 who has contributed qualifies. It’s not a charity endeavor. Medicare often slips the minds of critical American conservatives, I suspect, I am guessing, because there are few complaints about it.

That’s unlike the case for another federal health program, for example the Veterans’, which is scandal-ridden and badly run. It’s also unlike Medicaid, which has the reputation of being rife with financial abuse. It’s unlike the federally run Indian Health Service that is on the verge of being closed for systemic incompetence.

I suspect Medicare works well because of a large number of watchful beneficiaries who belong to the age group in which people vote a great deal. My wife and I are both on Medicare. We wish it would cover us 100%, although we are both conservatives, of course! Other than that, we have no complaints at all.

Sorry for the seeming betrayal, fellow conservatives! Is this a call for universal federal health care in America? It’s not, for two reasons. First, every country with a good national health system also has an excellent national civil service, France, in particular. I have no confidence, less than ever in 2018, that the US can achieve the level of civil service quality required. (Less in 2018 because of impressive evidence of corruption in the FBI and in the Justice Department, after the Internal Revenue Service).

Secondly, when small government conservatives (a redundancy, I know) attempt to promote their ideas for good government primarily on the basis of practical considerations, they almost always fail. Ours is a political and a moral posture. We must first present our preferences accordingly rather than appeal to practicality. We should not adopt a system of health delivery that will, in ten years, attribute the management of 13% of our national income to the federal government because it’s not infinitely trustworthy. We cannot encourage the creation of a huge category of new federal serfs (especially of well-paid serfs) who are likely forever to constitute a pro-government party. We cannot, however indirectly, give the government most removed from us, a right of life and death without due process.

That simple. Arguing this position looks like heavy lifting, I know, but look at the alternative.

PS I like George Mason University, a high ranking institution of higher learning that gives a rare home to conservative American scholars, and I like its Mercatus Center that keeps producing high-level research that is also practical.

RCH: Imperialism and the Panama Canal

Folks, my latest over at RealClearHistory is up. An excerpt:

The political ramifications for Washington essentially stealing a province from Colombia were huge. The United States had just seized a number of overseas territories from Spain in 1898, and the imperial project was frowned upon by numerous factions for various reasons. The U.S. foray into imperialism led to governance issues in the Caribbean, where Washington found itself supporting anti-democratic autocrats, and confronting outright ethical problems in the Philippines, where the United States Army was ruthlessly putting down a revolt against its rule. So acquiring a “canal zone” in a country that was baited into leaving another country was scandalous, especially since Colombia’s reluctance to cooperate with France and the U.S. was viewed as democratic (the Colombian Senate refused to ratify several canal-related treaties with France and the U.S.), and the two Western powers were supposedly the torchbearers of democracy. To make matters worse, many elites in Panama, after agreeing to secede in exchange for protection from Colombia, felt betrayed by the terms of the Panama Canal Zone, which granted the United States sole control over the zone in perpetuity.

Please, read the rest.

The Helsinki Follies

Myself, my wife, Rush Limbaugh, and a couple of others on FB, alone of those who express themselves publicly, have taken leave of their senses. The obvious has stopped waiving at the American intelligentsia (Russian word, on purpose).

Mr Mueller, in charge of demonstrating that Russia gave Mr Trump the election, announces three days before a president’s meeting with Mr Putin that he has charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with crimes (presumably, violations of American law).

Several things are wrong with this picture.

First, is it a surprise that Russian military intelligence is trying to mess with us? Is this new? Did they used not to? Why make a major announcement of it? It’s routine stuff. Catch them; slap them! Is it the case that US intelligence agencies never tried to mess with Mr Putin’s endless re-elections? What’s their excuse if they did not? Is it the case that our intelligence agencies are not interfering with, say, Venezuela’s political processes today? Really? I liked better the days when our CIA had balls and was the scourge of everything and everyone progressive and socialist.

Second, ignoring the futility of the charges, what’s the chance any of the twelve is going to show up to be tried in America? Not great? Reminder, tentative reminder: Kidnapping them on foreign soil to bring them to American justice would probably violate someone’s law. So, why bother; why indict them? What was the purpose? What was the purpose, a couple of days before President Trump was to meet Mr Putin publicly? Was the purpose other than satisfying justice? Was the purpose to cover up and distract from something more important? Did it have to do with Mrs William Clinton?

Mr Putin offered – short of extraditing the twelve – several compromise solutions so that Mr Mueller could interrogate the Russian intelligence officers named. Will Mr Mueller accept any of those offers? Why not? Give a good reason why he should not.

Reminder: Extradition treaties between countries are always reciprocal: I send you the people you charge; you send me the people I charge. There are really good reasons the US should not want to have such a treaty with Russia.

Does Mueller really want to interrogate the Russian intelligence officers he charged, really? Does he want the truth? (Isn’t it already known?)

How was Mr Trump supposed to respond to such a brutal and vicious attack on his honesty, proffered by Mr Mueller while he was going to be on foreign soil? Was he supposed to lower his eyes, smile sweetly and keep mute? I would not have! He should not have! Should he not have allowed doubt about our intelligence agencies pass his lips, after what the FBI, for example, did? Is he crazy; is he stupid?

Putin is a brutal dictator, a meddler, and probably a murderer. With its nuclear arsenal, his country is the only one really capable of hurting us irreversibly. Good reason to talk to him. We don’t have to be friends but some formal courtesy is required.

The collective reactions of the American political class to the Helsinki meeting tells me that it has lost touch with elementary reality. It’s folly; it’s in a state of collective hysteria. I remember being there before. That was in the eighties.

Warning: If you are sensitive, please, don’t read the next sentences.

In the 80s, the media were awash with denunciations of brutal sex abuse of small children by Satanic cults. People were charged, convicted and sentenced on the testimony of four-year-old coached by eager, man-hating social workers. I remember well, especially, a story in The Atlantic. A father of two confessed to nailing his small daughters to the floor of his living room so his buddies could rape them. The next day, the girls would go to school as usual. No problem! I believe no apologies were ever issued. The justice system was very reluctant to let go of the imprisoned.

A senior Wall Street Journal journalist, Dorothy Rabinowitz, had a solitary struggle of several years to get the wrongs righted.

Wake up, America; get a grip! Those are wooden nickels you are taking!

Separation of Children: an American Tradition

Many Americans deplore the forced separation of children from their parents when they attempt an unauthorized entry into the USA. The recorded crying of children traumatized from having their parents taken away is terrible to hear for anyone with empathy. Administrations excuse this by claiming that they are only enforcing a legally mandated zero tolerance, that this separation acts as a useful deterrent to immigration, and that the law is ordained by God.

The claim by those opposing this policy is that this cruel separation is un-American. But in fact, the forced separation of children is an American tradition. Under slavery prior to the end of the Civil War, children were sold separately from their parents. This action too was presumably a law ordained by God.

The separation of children from their parents was also imposed on native American Indians. Children were forcibly removed from their homes and put into boarding schools, the aim being the assimilation of Indians into Euro-American culture. Indian children were not allowed to speak in their native languages. Rather than being un-American, this physical and cultural separation was seen as an Americanization. Canada had a similar program for its Indians.

This separation continued the genocide of Indians by having a high rate of death. The misery that children felt in their familial and cultural separation was compounded by abusive treatment and a high mortality rate.

Since the current child separation is a continuation of past policies, we can expect similar outcomes: abuse, death, and suicides. Feeling no hope of ever seeing their parents again, confined to small cages, suffering from boredom, and constantly hearing other children crying, there could be substantial illness and even suicide in these detention camps. It would at first be covered up, and then exposed, and denied as “fake news.”

This anti-family policy is supported by many Republicans and conservatives. The conservative claim of supporting “family values” has now been shown to be fake. The real conservative stance is the imposition of traditional European culture and supremacy. Most of the migrants from Central America and Mexico are of native Indian ancestry. When they are rejected and sent back to their home countries to get killed by the violence from which they fled, this is in accord with the American tradition of European racial supremacy over native American Indians. If those seeking to immigrate were Norwegians, those families would not be split up.

Indeed, those subjected to forced family separation were races that were conquered and regarded as inferior. A large immigration from Mexico and Central America would repopulate the USA with native Indian “blood,” unacceptable to Euro-American supremacists.

Therefore the forced separation of native Indians from their parents and the rejection of further immigration is as American as one could get.