There is reason to believe that if the GOP will agree to raise the taxes on the super rich, President Obama will agree to cuts in Medicare. It is morally abhorrent to cut benefits to any current or future seniors before much greater efforts are made to stop large scale raids on the Medicare coffers by nefarious corporations.
Take the revealing and far from atypical case of Health Management Associates (HMA). When a person visits an HMA Emergency Room, company software loaded onto the ER computer automatically orders a bunch of tests, whether they are needed or not, before the person is even seen by a doctor. When doctors try to discharge a patient from the ER, the computer intervenes, presenting them with a warning that the patient is a candidate for admission. If the doctors go ahead and override that warning, they must face the wrath of hospital administrators. Docs are continually evaluated on the basis of how many patients they admit and how many procedures they order. If not enough, they are warned–and if they still do not comply, they are fired.
A recent report by the prestigious and non-political Institute of Medicine found that the estimates for Medicare fraud and abuse fall between $75 and $98 billion. I say do not cut anyone’s benefits until the government triples its accounting staff, quadruples the number of corporate crooks in jail, and reduces Medicare shortfall by cutting fraud at least by half.
My colleagues in economics (and many others, including quite a few
liberal ones) tend to scoff at the majority of the public that is
troubled by globalization. Never mind the false medications, poisoned
toys, and pirated goods, you just don’t understand—these economists
say—free trade is good for you, me, and the man behind the tree.
Economists are quick to argue that free trade reduces the costs to
consumers and thus ensures an ever higher standard of living. Citizens
of nations like the United States that are losing jobs to India and
China (and scores of other nations) are told to not fret, that these
are menial jobs, that off-shoring allows more Americans to specialize
in high tech, well-paying, “clean” work. Often disregarded is that
neither God nor anyone else set aside these choice jobs for Americans,
and that Indians, Chinese, Finns, and Israelis—among others—can do
these jobs too, and often for a fraction of what Americans charge.
(One economist, Alan Blinder, suggests that hence Americans should
specialize in those jobs that are hard to ship overseas—cutting hair,
policing the streets, and flipping hamburgers. How many such service
jobs there are, and how well they pay, remains to be determined).
If you are a renter, home buyer or potential seller, or merely an investor—be sure to read this Sunday’s New York Timesfront page story about the unraveling of the mortgage bubble. The New York Times points out that despite soothing reassurances from those who formed the bubble, the major shake-up in the housing market is yet to come. In the past, in such situations, the free market advocates -- rushed to the government to bail them out. This is what happened during the Savings and Loan debacle, to framers who are still heavily subsidized, and to Chrysler among others. Most recently various airlines tried to stick the public with their under-funded pension plans. If the banks and builders succeed, taxpayers will cover the losses caused by wild speculation in the real estate market.
The Sunday Washington Postfront page features a report about a fight between free market ideologues at the Department of Commerce and the military and State Department realists in Baghdad. Ever since the U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2003, the occupation authority has maintained the monthly handout every Iraqi had been getting under the Saddam Hussein regime. These handouts include a staple supplies such as wheat, sugar, salt, and soap and detergent. They cost the public about $4 billion a year. Commerce ideologues, most of whom have never been to Iraq, hold that only the poor should get such handouts, and even they should best be given cash instead. Many economists would agree with them. However those familiar with Iraq hold that the result would be major social unrest—about the last thing the country needs. Just another example where the free market theory falls down.
Update: Rarely have my predictions come true so quickly (those that come true). Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) just announced that he would seek billions of taxpayers’ dollars to bail out irresponsible borrowers and reckless lenders.